Getting From Here to There


I was talking to a friend earlier this week who was calling me back off the ledge. I was having a rare moment of exasperation at the fact that everything in my life these days feels so “in the middle.” We know the future will look different at some point but all the pieces haven’t come together yet. I feel somewhat stuck in the mud as I wonder what’s next and can’t do anything to get “there” any quicker. Wherever the elusive “there” might end up being.

Its such a weird feeling to have your life feel on hold. Upon reflection I will say that PMS does NOT help here in the slightest. I swear I was holding back every urge to grab all of my dishes off the shelf and throw them one by one onto the concrete slab out our back step as therapy.

As Heather and I talked though I mentioned to her again how this story of Jacob we’ve been reading lately is like God’s weekly nudge in my direction to pay attention. This entire story is the decades long saga of one man’s overwhelming longing to be blessed by God and how he both succeeds and fails (often miserably) to help himself towards God’s best for him.

Heather said something funny after I mentioned this long journey to joy. She said “You know Courtney…its not like Jacob didn’t have anything to smile about while he waited for his promised land. He married and had plenty of children during those twenty plus years. Each of those events would have been cause for joy.”

I really needed to hear this and it brought me back to what we had just listened to this past Sunday. In Genesis 33, Jacob is literally in between camps and neither of these places are his final destination. He’s leaving his conniving Uncle’s land and entering his brother’s territory – a brother whom he cheated out of his rightful inheritance two decades prior. To say that he’s in the middle of the unknown would be an understatement as he’s probably concerned that either his Uncle is pursuing him from behind or his brother is out to get him from the front.

But Genesis 33 is this really cool prodigal son chapter where Esau runs out to meet Jacob and gives him a tearful hug and looks in awe at Jacob’s wives and children and says “Look at all that you’ve been blessed with!” Jacob agrees and tries to convince Esau to take a large portion of his livestock as a gift for his kind dismissal of Jacob’s earlier actions. A cultural process of denial and acceptance of the gift ensues until Jacob finally insists Esau take the almost 300 animals from his flock by saying:

“because God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.” -Gen. 33:11

Ah, I just love this line.

As of this moment nothing has changed since that phone call with Heather on Monday. I still feel very much in limbo about most things in my life right now. But there was something about reading this again later that Monday afternoon. Ellie wouldn’t take a nap because she was all stuffed up with a cold and I was tempted to lose my mind once again as I also had the cold by this point and we both needed the rest. But I remember looking down in a moment of frustration and seeing a bag of chocolate chips on the table that I had picked up randomly at the grocery store the other day. Baking has never really been my thing but I remember thinking maybe we could figure something out some afternoon and threw them into my basket.

I reached up to the top shelf of our pantry and grabbed the recipe book that I’d leafed through a few weeks before and discovered that I had just enough flour and eggs and cocoa powder to turn these chocolate chips into homemade fudge walnut brownies. With Ellie strapped in her seat at the table I could engage her as my “helper” and make it a fun activity for us both to get involved with.

I don’t want to make this event more romantic than it was. I was still tired and kind of grumpy and I’ve truly never been all that excited by the process of baking. But for some reason making a pan of brownies was the activity we needed to get through a frustrating day. Once they cooled down we wrapped some of them up and took them to Ellie’s favorite people at the YMCA who watch her when I both work and work out. She totally dropped the whole plate on the ground on the way into the building but we all got over it and ate them anyway. We enjoyed the brownies and talked about the best way to eat them (cold,  from the fridge, with cold milk. AMAZING) and after a while went on our merry way back home.

I can’t help but think back to that day and how kind of centering it was to make a pan of brownies from scratch with my kid when I couldn’t figure out what was next. 

I think this is how you go from one camp to another camp without losing your mind. You look around and realize that while you might not have everything you want you probably have everything you need to do the next right thing. And then you do it. If you can, you invite some people in to do it with you or you offer them some of what you’ve put together while on your way to the next thing after that. Pretty soon, after doing this for a while, you might just realize when you look up that you’re almost there after all.

Pools and Puddles All Around Us


baby oak

Pools and Puddles All Around Us

By: Courtney Beck

You keep us close to the ground.

We grasp and claw hoping to rest our

chins on some higher plane

while the rocks and gravel and boulders at our feet

hinder the upward climb. We sit up in the dust with skinned

knees and bruised faces only to realize that for all our

grasping we almost missed the newborn

tree just over here that so recently started to sprout.

Such a vulnerable thing yet so certain of its need

to dig its roots down deep,

as far as they’ll go,

into mud.


Sitting beside it, our bodies exhale all our strife

into pools and puddles all around us and

We’re reminded that dirt aided by

the gracious sun and the waters of our difficulty

are the only things that ever built an oak.

The Value of Wrestling


Have you ever had a boss that you really admired? Or perhaps it was a beloved teacher or coach? Andy and I had one when we first met. Our boss in college was a man named Joe who’s worked at Loyola University (Loyola College when we attended) for the longest time. I remember the first time I met him was actually at a college day that I was attending in my senior year of high school to determine where I would go to school. Joe was in the student atrium after the event was over and he saw that my mom and I looked lost. He gave us directions to where we were headed and then asked if I would be coming to Loyola the following fall. I remember telling him that I was vacillating between Loyola and another school and he proceeded to tell me that I didn’t need to look elsewhere. Loyola would be a most welcoming home for me.

Joe wasn’t selling me a bill of goods. He was and continues to be proud of the school he works for and it showed. Two years later I would end up working for him and I noticed from the start that Joe didn’t ask any of his students to do anything that he wasn’t prepared to do himself. The man was always moving and was rarely without something in his hands – including a broom to sweep the floors of the warehouse where we met on summer mornings before a day’s work started.

As I got to know him and the students who were loyal to him, I realized that Joe was the type of guy you grew to instinctively want to please. He would notice and honor our extra efforts at an event and was quick to get in the thick of an event with us. Those who stuck with him eventually wanted to honor him back by making him look good too. Joe had a pet peeve: He never let us leave an event until the last chair was stacked and the last floor mopped. If we only had two mops then the whole staff stayed on the clock and took turns mopping floors until the gym floor was shining.

Here’s the thing I’ve realized about Joe and other magnetic leaders like him: For as much as his loyal staff members want to anticipate his needs and make him look good, Joe wanted to tap into the larger vision of the school he works for and make that a reality. Joe was not a leader looking to host events or activities to make himself look good. He was doing it to make Loyola look good. And Loyola has a specific vision to form adult men and women that will be of service in the world. Joe has always been committed to that.

There were times when I actually didn’t enjoy working for Joe. When we were on the clock for 20 hours at a stretch and waiting for the final tarp to be wrapped up in the gym after a commencement or alumni weekend, I recall thinking to myself that he should let some of us go home. I would plan elaborate human resource schemes while we all sat practically sleeping on top of each other in which we would all work on shifts at future events so that we wouldn’t have to work such long hours. What good was it for the rest of us to split up in groups and do odd tasks that were not urgent when most of us could go home at this very instant and get some sleep? But Joe had a bigger plan in mind and that was that our team operated like a small family within the much larger family that was Loyola College. He kept us at work doing odds and ends so we’d know what a family that works hard and does quality work looks like. He kept us at work so that the Loyola community and visitors who came to campus like I did years before would know what it looks like to have a vision for the future. Usually it looks like doing the tedious tasks that no one wants to do so that vision can become a reality.

We had a good summer at our house here in Atlanta but it didn’t come without its share of frustration on a couple of fronts. With Ellie in full on toddler mode there are days when we wrestle her to bed on a given night and collapse on the couch wondering when we’ll get to clock out on the exhaustion front. I know I’m not alone. I have friends and family members who are also in various stages of life wondering when the frustrating circumstance is going to turn over. When will they get to clock out on the illness, frustrating job, morning sickness or temper tantrums.

At church on Sundays we’ve been hearing our pastor preach about the story of Jacob. Jacob’s name means “deceiver” and he spent two decades of his life attempting to swindle and claw his way into what he thinks will be a blessed life. Finally he’s backed into a corner by his own doing and turns to God who then essentially says: OK, now you’re going to wrestle with ME.”

The Spoiler alert? Jacob doesn’t win the fight. He wrestles for the entire night until God through an angel essentially says “give up already.” Jacob, ever the stubborn one, tells him that he won’t until he gets what he wants. To which the angel responds by giving him a new name and a limp in his leg that he would endure for the rest of his life.

The angel changes Jacob’s name from “deceiver” to Israel which means “I struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” God is telling Jacob that from this point forward he gets a new identity. The new identity comes from the only one who knows the big picture. Jacob need not identify with his former self that dishonestly took his brother’s birthright but can identify with the fact that God chose him to wrestle with and was willing to let him keep fighting. While Jacob doesn’t win the fight, he doesn’t exactly lose it either. He would limp for the rest of his life as a physical reminder that he didn’t need to cheat, lie and steal to get what he wanted. God was calling him to wrestle with Him and through the successes and failures of those wrestlings over a lifetime he’d win what he really desired: a legacy that pointed to the fruit of struggle for the generations to consider after him.

After a couple of year’s on staff with Joe and the full time event services team, you inevitably acquire a nickname. When we come back to campus, Joe and David and John and Pat give us big hugs and call us Topper and Courtney Love – names we probably got on a scissor lift in the campus gym on a late Friday night after a concert let out. Those names remind us that we are deeply loved by the people who make Loyola University go. And the people who make Loyola go are the people that taught us you keep wrestling (with sound equipment and boxes of black drape) until the work is done and the whole family can go home. You may be exhausted and even frustrated when you’re in the thick of it and wondering why your boss won’t just let you leave for the night. But years later you’ll look back and realize that a part of you is different because you mopped the floors with your family at 2 AM. If nothing else you’ll know what you have to do when life asks you to do odd jobs at an odd hour. You grab a bucket, put in some hot water and soap, and you mop back and forth, back and forth until the work for the night is done and the floor shines nice and bright.