Today, Elle speaks to us about the God who sees, cabin getaways, the role of hiking in her spiritual life and authenticity with God.
Tell us a bit about how you grew up and your childhood: I grew up in the Midwest, as a practicing Seventh-day Adventist. My parents were very involved in church, and so youth activities and weekly attendance were simply a constant part of my life. However, my mom’s family was Southern Baptist, and to keep things extra interesting my parents homeschooled my sister and me. We were also very involved in family and homeschooling events, and so these facts meant I got what I like to think of as a multi-denominational protestant upbringing. The benefits were, I never saw God as belonging to a particular denomination. The downsides were, I had a hard time feeling like I belonged in any particular community.
Combined with my INFP/enneagram 4 personality type (both of which are already prone to feeling like an outsider) and this not-belonging in church was a strong through line in my childhood, and something that continues into my life today. I also struggled with health problems, starting around the age of eleven. I got a bad case of mononucleosis during the fall of my 5th grade year, and I ran a fever for around 3-4 weeks. While I finally got better, I didn’t really return to health. It was definitely a before-and-after moment in my childhood. My teenage years were a constant battle with weight, allergies, chronic and acute infections, and mental health struggles.
However, despite being sick and feeling out-of-time with my community (and possibly even due to those facts), I developed a deep spiritual life. I would read the Psalms every night, even as a young kid. And as I moved into my teenage years, I started a practice of daily prayer journaling. I would wake up extra early and write these journal-prayers to God. These intimate written correspondence became a life-line for me, and I think of these letters as being foundational to the person I have become.
Inspiring biblical passage of the moment: “I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” John 16:33 (MSG)
Spiritual growth focus at the moment: This season my spiritual growth focus has really circled around parsing out what is my business vs. everything else. Like many women, I have often struggled with abandoning myself, and so finding my agency, and taking accountability have become these crucial components in owning my narrative. I think there are usually three kinds of business: God’s business, other people’s business, and my business. When I focus on my work, my calling, and doing what is my business? When I do that, I am at peace. When I frame things that way, I’m owning my narrative, and inhabiting my agency.
The second I try to take on the emotional labor of another person’s business, or I try to fix something that is way beyond my business (because it’s God’s business, or someone else’s business) In those moments, I lose my peace, my creativity, my agency, and my ability to actively contribute my gifts to the world. Learning to accept and let go of what is not my business, while simultaneously not falling into what St. Augustine calls the timidity in accepting responsibility, is the spiritual growth I am presently focused on. The focus for me is on taking responsibility for my narrative, and humbly surrendering what is not mine to shape.
Profession: I am a nutritionist, writer, and business owner.
If you wrote a memoir, what would the title be? Honestly I keep a running list of potential memoir titles (mostly humorous, and some of which I’ve collected from friends.) They include things like, ‘I should have peed before I left’ or ‘even the socks were too expensive’ or ‘I should have zigged instead of zagged.’ However, I do have a more serious title that I’m actually holding onto as a potential project at the moment, so stay tuned.
When did you first encounter God and how did you encounter Him? When you grow up in the church, it’s somewhat difficult to pinpoint your first awareness. I know that my first experiences of God came through family and church, and my first experiences with wonder came through outdoor recreation–often at the ocean or in the mountains–those moments when you really start to recognize that there is something so much bigger and more amazing than you can understand. But the truth is my first real encounters with God came in the quiet in-between moments. They often came like a coda at the end of something gone wrong, when I would run into God’s grace and in awe watch whatever happened be reformed into a new ending. Those moments became the sure and steady anchors of my faith.
How has your relationship with Him changed you? There are two major ways that come to mind. The first is that knowing God, and encountering that grace, has completely changed how I see myself. The more I know God the more I have developed a level of self-compassion that I could never have dreamed of before. I spent so much of my high-school and early adult life riddled with shame and self-loathing. I was full of body hatred, depression, and paralyzing degrees of social anxiety. And yet, in every instance where I’ve despised myself most intensely, these turn out to be the places where God’s grace sneaks in most profoundly. So many times, God has used these moments to reveal the ‘why behind the what’ –for instance my struggles with my body turned out to be a catalyst leading me to my current profession as a nutritionist. Furthermore this self-compassion completely changes how I see other people as well. We really do love others as we love ourselves so when we’re filled with shame and doubt we risk projecting those insecurities into our relationships.
The second thing is that knowing God has changed my relationship with hope and reality. I think so many times we get stuck in the nitty-gritty reality of ‘the way things are’ but with God nothing is stuck in the way things are. In fact that is what the resurrection life is–it is never losing hope in the end of the story. Just because something is rooted into facts and reality, doesn’t mean it will stay there. I don’t believe everything happens for a reason, but I do believe in a God who can bring reason into everything that happens. Death isn’t a final say, and so nothing but God gets the final say in this world. Knowing God is an invitation into that kind of creative possibility. It is like Jeremy Courtney says, ‘Your presence has been requested on the other side of the way things are.’ Knowing God is a continual invitation into the kingdom version of reality.
“And yet, in every instance where I’ve despised myself most intensely, these turn out to be the places where God’s grace sneaks in most profoundly.”
What has helped you grow spiritually in this season? This season has been something of a wilderness season for me, both figuratively and literally. I moved to the Pacific Northwest about 8 years ago, and one of my goals was to become more comfortable solo-hiking in this beautiful outdoor wonderland that surrounded me. In pursuit of that goal, about two years ago, I took on this 52 hike challenge (where you hike one hike every week, for an entire year.) This project became a very physical outlet for my spiritual growth. I don’t think it’s surprising that so many Bible stories revolve around someone ending up in the wilderness. Going into nature is a really powerful way to listen to, and meet God. The beauty, the wonder, and the quiet, of going into the natural world is obviously amazing. But also, when you’re going at it alone, it requires facing both literal and imagined fears; rattle snakes, bears, mountain lions, wolves, driving up narrow/remote mountain roads, getting lost, other people, my own solitude? Every time I go into the wilderness, I know there is going to be beauty, and refreshment; I also know there are all these unknown variables and potential dangers that require my prudence and awareness. It’s such an amazing mixture of emotions. My hiking practice is honestly a little bit like a training ground where I learn and practice walking through the unknown in faith. This very physical practice of hiking has created such a place for refreshing growth in my spiritual life.
Just read/currently reading (and what has it taught you?): I recently finished Pure by Linda Kay Klein. Her discussion about the way that purity culture has affected so many people who grew up in the church was really insightful, and I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. The last year, I have really broadened my understanding of trauma, and the way it shapes our lives. I’ve become much more aware of the role the church can play both in inflicting these traumas, in failing to help heal traumas, and when done correctly, the profound way communities can help meet people in their healing.
Top three essentials: A hot beverage, a journal for writing, and a place (and time) for nature therapy.
How did God speak to you recently? I know it’s God when I suddenly find uncommon peace when there seems to be no reason for peace. Lately, anytime I find myself feeling that inner peacefulness, I am certain that is God. I realize that’s not a profound word of faith or anything, but it’s something I cherish deeply.
Hobby: Music (I play the violin, piano, and ukulele), hiking, and reading.
Top three practical tips for staying spiritually strong:
Say the authentic thing. It’s so easy to get into the habit of praying to God what you think you ought to say, or what you think you should feel. But try saying the authentic thing to God–say the angry thing, the hurt thing, the fearful thing–God is bigger than your dark emotions and so try saying the thing you’re afraid to say to God. Say the thing that you think might make God not love you anymore (if that’s the thing you are feeling.) Be authentic. God already knows, so just be real. And then you get to be surprised by how God will show up to the real you.
Resist scrolling first thing. Sometimes, I manage this, sometimes I don’t, but finding a moment of quiet with God before letting the world jump into my headspace, makes a huge difference in my spiritual life. Try to resist the urge to grab your phone and start the doom scrolling before you’ve said Good morning to God.
Find the place where you experience awe, and make sure you’re making time to go there. For me this is the outdoors, and I find it when I’m hiking. For others it might be art, music, reading what others have written, or maybe even in serving others. But find that place where you are reminded of what is bigger than you and the thing that will contextualize you and your worries back into their rightful place.
Favorite person in scripture? This is a hard one for me. My favorite disciple is John. I love the gospel of John, and the John epistles. But in the old Testament, I have always loved the Joseph story, and as I get older, the Judah story. However, if I were to pick a slightly more obscure person, I’d have to say Hagar. She feels like a side character who is many times disliked by modern Christians as the mother of Ishmael, and the ‘other woman.’ But people forget that Hagar didn’t choose to be part of that situation. That abuse was done by Abraham and Sarah to her. And yet in the midst of her abuse, she runs to the wilderness feeling abandoned and alone and there in the wilderness God finds her–she wasn’t abandoned and she wasn’t alone, and she names God. She calls God El Roi the God who sees–and it’s one of the earliest names for God that is recorded. The fact that this story makes it into Scripture tells me so much about who God is and how much we are truly seen and beloved.
What do you want people to learn about God when they look at you? I want people to feel God’s acceptance, and I want them to feel awakened to their own agency. I want people to feel empowered to own their narrative, and feel that their voice in God’s kingdom is God given, and that it is crucial, beautiful, and dearly beloved.
“I want people to feel empowered to own their narrative”
How do you engage with your community? This has been hard for a while. In fact it’s very telling that the pandemic has not changed anything for me as profoundly as it should. But before the pandemic, I was meeting weekly with a small group to pray and contemplate. Since the pandemic, my practice has become cherished conversations with like-minded believers who challenge me and encourage me. Community for an introvert may always be a bit of ebb and flow. I continue to rumble with how to make this part of my life more authentic.
Favorite holiday? (Besides Christmas …) March forth! A bit of a pseudo holiday that happens on March 4th of every year–it’s the day when one Marches forth! It also just happens to be my birthday, and so I like to think of it as my personal New Year. I run my bullet planner from March to February (spring to spring) because in my mind this makes more sense, and also it takes the pressure of the Thanksgiving to New Year’s season.
A goal you have? I have so many writing projects I’m working on, and my endless goals involve finishing these projects and having the courage to put them out into the world for others to experience.
A special tradition you and your family engage in or keep: Since my parents live in the Midwest, and my sister and I live in the Pacific Northwest, for the last few years we have had a tradition of getting a family cabin every year. So far, this has included everywhere from Colorado, to Florida, to Oregon, to Idaho. This has been somewhat paused this year due to 2020 being this way, but I’m looking forward to more such cabin getaways in the future.
Question you will ask when you get to heaven? I have a book of questions actually–many of them promises I thought I heard or understood but whatever reason they remain empty or unanswered. Some of them may yet find answers while I’m living, but for the ones that do not I put them in my book and I will ask them later. For now, they are faith facing the darkness.
“For now, they are faith facing the darkness.”
Thing you want to raise awareness about: Trauma, and how it affects the human body. The deeper I went into my Master’s degree in nutrition, the more aware I became of how the emotional pieces of our lives are not separate from the physical pieces. I want people to become more aware of the ways that trauma can shape us, so that we can become more intentional about the ways we can heal trauma in the brain and in the body. I have become convinced that so many of the ‘whys’ behind the ‘whats’ of human behavior come back to unhealed trauma, and as such, these deserve our empathy, not our condemnation.
“I have become convinced that so many of the ‘whys’ behind the ‘whats’ of human behavior come back to unhealed trauma, and as such, these deserve our empathy, not our condemnation.”
What does your morning routine consist of? The way I want my morning routine to go involves waking up, making coffee, and spending around an hour reading and journaling, and setting my soul right. I manage this somewhere between 60%-70% of the time. The other mornings, I am a human who gets distracted with my phone and my scrolling, and if I do this, I often find myself having to fight my way back to feeling peaceful. This is particularly true these last few months as the world has been so volatile.
What is on your nightstand? Nutritional supplements, lotions, a heat pack, and oils. Really anything that I might add to my morning or evening routines, when I need to feel grounded and comforted.
Define Christianity in a sentence: Christianity is the coda to our perceived reality–a bridge to the other side of the way things are.
For more Elle:
Instagram: @ZeGingerQueen (90% hiking pictures of PNW vistas)
She blogs about her “feral faith” over on http://www.chasingwhippoorwills.com/
Her nutrition business is awellnessstory.com
Her nutrition Instagram is @a_wellness_story
Until next time, keep witnessing!