Dear Me.

dear me

Sweet friends,

This song.

I am sitting in a coffee shop trying to figure out if I should just turn the speakers up, hit play and run out of the shop.

Alas, I kind of still need my computer.

So I’m sending it to you. Find a quiet place, turn the sound up, and let it rip.

Lyrics are below.

Dear Me, By Nichole Nordeman

Dear Me
This is a letter to the girl I used to be
Dear Me
There are some things that you should know
It’s not my intention to embarrass or to shame you
What’s inside the rearview mirror is closer than it appears
We do the best that we know how, with what we have been given
And the difference between you and I is I’ve been given time
In time, you’ll see
Dear Me
This is a letter to the girl I used to be
Some things are not as simple as we said
Remember when we thought there were a handful of some magic words to pray
A guarantee and a down payment on a mansion
Remember all the rules we made about the Body and the Blood
The hoops we made them jump through though He offers it to everyone
I’m so sorry
Do you remember now the things I said I thought that I deserved
My flag, and safety, a place to learn
The things I know I didn’t earn
And bless their hearts, I’m sure it’s hard, but handouts don’t help anyone
And all the talk about the system
I sure hope someone can fix them
I said those things
Dear Me
This is a letter to the girl I used to be
You’ll see, you’re gonna take the long way
And there is nothing you could do or say to separate you
From the love of God who made you just exactly as He meant to
And you cannot imagine all the places you’ll see Jesus
But you’ll find Him everywhere you thought He wasn’t supposed to go
So, go
And hold all the mothers, whose babies bleed from bullet holes
And feel all the hunger, the bellies and the bones
Shout for the prisoner, cry for justice, loud and long
And march with the victims, as Jesus marches on
And sit at all the tables, ‘cause Jesus eats with everyone
And dance to the music, if you can’t sing its’ native tongue
And cry for the wombs, the mothers and the empty arms
And hold high the warriors, fighting now for freedoms’ song
And love, love, love, love like it’s your own blood
Love, love, love, love as you have been loved
Dear Me
You did not learn this in a day or two or three
So ask a lot of questions
But Jesus loves us, this I know
And there are no exceptions

We’re Neurotic and We Know it


In his book The Spiritual Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives Dallas Willard quotes Carl Jung stating:

“Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.”


Read it again: “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.”

Clear as mud?

I stumbled across this line about eight months ago and last weekend when I was perusing my journal entries from the last several months I found it again.

I don’t know. Maybe it struck me because I was interacting with a few somewhat neurotic people at the time. More likely those people were simply holding up mirrors to the ways in which I can be neurotic in my own life. And oh my God, the longer I live the more I realize that I have more neuroses than you can shake a stick at.

An example:

At some point on this blog I am sure I will go into detail about how Ellie came onto the Beck family scene. Ha, well, not THAT much detail. you sick people. I mean the decision process that we went through (or more accurately, stumbled through) to start a family.

Of course, had I known we were going to have ELLIE I would have signed up for the first plane to Elianaland. God, I LOVE that kid. But when you’ve never had a baby before the ball of cells that will soon turn into a watermelon sized baby in your tummy might as well just be, well, a watermelon! I should probably be more sanctimonious about all this, but there’s no clearer way to put it. Pre-Ellie Courtney only knew the miracle of life in theory. Current Courtney will probably weep like its the last scene in Steel Magnolias should we meet an Ellie sibling some day. Clearly, I just didn’t understand something I had never experienced.

This inexperience uncovered a whole host of fears I never realized I had when it came time to step out in faith. And while the grace laden process that unfurled for us calmed many of my fears they didn’t just magically disappear once I jumped over the first hurdle and birthed a baby. Several of those fears stuck around and continue to stick around for this part of the race too.

Enter our first year of life with a baby. In many ways God was immensely kind to us. My pregnancy, labor and delivery were miles away from the worst I had feared. I was honestly downright blissful once the second trimester hit. Her delivery? A total dream scenario (bless you modern medicine.)  But those feel good hormones finally settled down after several weeks and Ellie started sleeping through the night and we were starting to figure out a routine. I realized that those original fears of not being able to parent her would just crop up at the most random times. I’d look up at the clock and realize it was 6:00 and get hopeful knowing that my partner in parenting crime (that’s Andy) would be home at 6:30. Then when he’d get caught up in a late meeting or something at the lab or even just traffic I would, oh so neurotically, start fuming and preparing my remarks. He’d come home and I’d obnoxiously snap at him for not alerting me to his tardiness in advance. It was never completely the late night that bothered me as much as the reality that I was doing mental gymnastics with my own fears and concerns related to parenting a newborn and he became the target. His change of plans meant I had to stay on the monkey bars for longer than I anticipated and that, in those early days, made me, well, neurotic. For lack of a better word. (tho, honey, if you’re reading, there’s late and then there’s LATE am i right? well of course I’m right! Oh stop, we’ll talk more about this later.)

Can I be straight with you? 1. This is not the only thing I can be like this about. I can have neuroses about anything from personal time to relationships to global terrorism to travel (by plane, car, or train, thank you very much!) and 2. YOU ALL, faithful readers, ARE DOING IT TOO.

Secret’s out. But don’t worry. I’m not outing anyone publicly. We all out ourselves on a daily basis. There isn’t a soul I’ve conversed with for more than 20 minutes in the past decade who hasn’t in some way revealed to me a fear or anxiety. Its 2017 after all. 10 minutes on these days and we’re all quite certain that the world will probably end by late next week. Which we internalize until the next news flash makes us realize that, no, it might actually hold together until next week but based on this new bit of information from the world stage it will MOST CERTAINLY be the week after THAT. And the cycle continues on and on upping our cortisol levels until we’re all running around ready to pounce on whatever threat might jump off of CNN’s home page and land at our front door.  And when it doesn’t land there. Because lets be honest, it almost never does, our family members or friends become the object of our bottled up emotions.

So what to do…We’re neurotic and we know it. Carl Jung would say we have to suffer legitimately with the things that keep us in turmoil. Jesus put it this way:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

In some ways I see this as Jesus calling us to condition our souls as we would condition ourselves in the gym. He’s teaching us spiritual technique here. One of the first things any trainer will teach you in a gym is proper technique. “No,” She’ll say. “Don’t put 10 pounds on the lat bar and pull erratically. Put 30 or 40 pounds on and slowly bring the bar down behind your neck. Now slowly raise it back up.” This is how you properly build muscle. First listen to your trainer. Then remember your training and repeat the exercise on your own. Call the trainer back over if you run into problems or forget the proper technique. The same is true of any other discipline or endeavor. Why would it be any different for the spiritual life?

Its easy to imagine that the yoke of a plow that Jesus speaks of takes some getting used to. There are going to be blisters and tired muscles at first as our bodies adjust to the weight on our shoulders. Yet Jesus is kindly reminding me to come to him when I’m scared as opposed to anxiously ruminating on a fear and then vomiting that fear in displaced accusations at my husband (so sorry, dear). You know what? I think for the first time I’ve actually got a shot at living freely. Freedom doesn’t mean we get to do whatever we want to do when we want to do it. That version of freedom is still at the mercy of available resources. Once you blow the bank your right back where you started.

The freedom God trains us for is the liberty to walk confidently even as the ruts and rocks and weather threaten to derail the plow from its path.  The ability to look out and know that you’re strong enough now. You’ll surely be able to plow this whole field before the rain starts tonight. And it all starts by coming to the plowman first, the Lord himself, and letting him fit us for the work. As good parents hope for their kids successes, the Lord has hopes for us too. Yes he wants to plow fields and produce a crop of justice and equity and righteousness that this world has never dreamed of. Yet he also looks with pride on the people he has bought for a price and says “You are mine. I want to produce something unbreakable within you too. We’ve got some training to do. I see what you can become and you’ve just got to trust me. Its worth the blood, sweat and tears. So here’s a burden I need you to carry right now. Steady on now, you can handle it. I’ll be right behind you. Not too much longer now and you’ll be fit for the King.”

When Millennials are the Solution

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A couple of years ago I had the humbling and terrifying opportunity to lead a Habitat for Humanity affiliate in suburban Houston. I was at the right place at the right time and when the woman who hired me for a family services position decided to take her career in a different direction I found myself applying for a job I never thought I’d want.

Our affiliate was at a pivotal juncture. My predecessor had raised enough money to open the organization’s first ReStore – a business venture that would profit our organization’s affordable housing efforts. The next leader of our affiliate would be charged with getting the business to a grand opening and into its first years of operation. Having seen a ReStore open at a previous affiliate, I knew in a slightly uncomfortable way that I was supposed to lead this project. After a brief interim period as Executive Director I was offered the full time job and got to work opening the store.

A month or two before we the Grand Opening I attended a luncheon that was hosted by a  local credit union. At the time, AMOCO was gaining network traction by hosting quarterly luncheons that brought business leaders from various backgrounds together to connect. The luncheons were always great opportunities to meet current leaders in the community and once people sat down to lunch we were always entertained by a public speaker who would discuss some important topic of the day.

At one particular luncheon a human resources guru came to speak about the changing 21st century workplace. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this speaker, already trying a too hard to get a laugh from the crowd, was planning to spend his entire session ripping on the millennial generation. His primary message seemed to be that the current generation of twenty to thirty five year olds were in one fell swoop bringing down the American economy with their lazy, entitled attitudes towards work.

I’m willing to take one on the chin for the habits me and my generation have that are less than admirable. Every generation has its glaring flaws. That being said, I couldn’t let the speaker off the hook because his incessant nitpicking about the 25 year olds in our workplaces was so off putting. I angrily pondered his words all the way to my next meeting which was to be held at our newly acquired 30,000 square foot ReStore. As I walked in I realized why the entire event had rubbed me the wrong way. Brian, my newly hired store manager in his late 20s, was running around the space with his staff. All five of them, each around Brian’s age, were working with volunteers on various projects that would allow us to host a Grand Opening in the coming month. Some were building cashier stations. Another crew was unloading donations in the back of the warehouse and organizing them on the sales floor for pricing. Another group was building and painting a lighing display case for donated light fixtures that we would sell. I knew immediately why a lunchtime speaker on millennial laziness bothered me. From what I was seeing, his comments were simply not true!

This all came to mind as I read this article this weekend about millennials in the workplace. Shortly after I left the ReStore that day I called the public relations firm that we had hired and asked if she could send a press release to Houston new outlets. I wanted them to cover the new area business that would be opened and run by millennials the following month. Sadly the story never got picked up. If it had, I hope some of the points that were made in this article would have been included.

I realized in working with this group of people that we were starting a business in a very millennial way. We were passionate about the mission and we were constantly connecting via phone, text, and even by social media to get the store opened and the word out that the ReStore was coming. The staff used Pinterest and Facebook to solicit ideas for re-purposing store donations for resale. And yes, at the end of a hard day’s work, the staff closed up the store and played ulimate frisbee together or got a drink at the new vietnamese pub that had opened down the street.

I’ll never forget the sense of accomplishment we felt when we opened and made $17,000 on our first day. The entire process was one of the most enjoyable accomplishments of my early career and while we hadn’t planned to hire a staff of millennials at the outset we certainly didn’t go wrong by doing so in the end. My generation, myself included, has a lot of work to do. We need to understand what Spirit led commitment to people and places looks like. We also need to figure out a more life giving way to handle the fact that we all now walk around with computers in our pockets. Those computers help us open businesses more efficiently but they can also get in the way of true connection with others. Every generation has its difficulties to address but unlike the speaker that day I sense that mine is up to the challenges we face. We are passionate about doing good in the world and we’re not going to let the negative press tell us who we really are. I think that is something work celebrating.

I’m interested in what other people think! What’s your assessment of the millennial generation? Do you agree with the negative hype? Where do you see this generation rising above the negativity shaking up the bad press? 

Everyday a Hurricane

Everyday a Hurricane

By Courtney Beck

After the Hurricane

Hit New Orleans

I went to Jazz City

To see what could be done

Hundreds gathered

Early one morning

Rallying for orders

and direction

Our leader took to

a makeshift metal stage

An open top,

turned upside down,

Elevating him

above the crowd.

He shouted

from his belly

That Jazz city

would rise again because

Lumber and nails

could join together

Via voluntary hands

The crowd

shook off their slumber

As his cadence quickened

into shouts of



filled the air

in audible crescendo

as my neighbor;

a German native

cheered and laughed from

her guts.

“Oh how wonderful!”

She exclaimed.

“This is all

So incredibly


A hurricane hit my

neighbor’s house last night.

His father just

passed away

There’s no day

Quite like this day

To be an


Whatever is True: Jesus Shows us the Way


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Well, I’m not sure how many of you have been with me from the beginning but to kick off this blog I decided to start with a series entitled “Whatever is True.” You can head to my previous posts or click on the links below to check those thoughts out. I thought for my last post of the series that I’d share what I think is the thread that links all those four posts together.

I’ll never forget the day that Andy finished graduate school. After six and a half years, Andy’s committee was finally ready to sign off on his project and we were preparing to leave Galveston. To put our move in context I just have to write here that moving half way across the country to a barrier island on the coast of Texas was both one of the most important things Andy and I have ever done (both personally and as a couple) and also one of the hardest journeys I’ve ever traveled. I can’t really put a finger on why I found it so hard. Plenty of people make big moves like this and don’t experience it in the way I did. If pressured to explain it I would say this: It’s as though my personal spiritual and emotional make up at the time and the state of Texas geographically and culturally were just iron against iron for all the years we were there. I felt like my soul was constantly on the battlefield.  For all the good experiences we had there (and there were some amazing experiences and friendships made) I just never felt at home.

It turned out that the day Andy’s final copy was due to his committee on my 32nd birthday. To put it mildly, Andy and I have vastly different schoolwork habits! I tend to look at a deadline and set out a schedule of sorts in order to finish on time. The idea of pulling all night sessions at the end of a big project makes me mildly nauseous.  Andy is the opposite. He collects bits and pieces for his final project along the way and then puts them all together at the very end. If you ever needed real life exhibits of the Judger/Perceiver dichotomy in a Myers Briggs personality profile then Andy and I can gladly serve as your poster children!

So, true to his style, Andy spent the entire night before the due date in a study hall on campus putting in some final tweaks to his paper. In retrospect, I could have been more understanding as it was essentially his final day of grad school. But after multiple weeks of crazy hours and promises to be home at one time only to see him hours later, I found myself steaming that he couldn’t just hit “submit” and be done with it. I wondered what changes he could possibly make the night before the due date that would make or break his committee’s final decision.

After a restless night of irritable sleep, I finally saw him walk up the steps looking like a bedraggled zombie, at around 10 or 11 on the morning of my birthday. Our house was in total disarray as we were preparing to move a few weeks later. All of our stuff was either packed away or on its way to an open cardboard box. At 30 weeks pregnant we even had our first daughter tucked away waiting to make her debut in Georgia once we moved.

It was in this chaos of mind, body and surroundings that Andy entered and presented me with a manila folder. Inside was the front matter of his final thesis. I had enough presence of mind in that moment to mask my frustration from my obviously exhausted spouse and began to leaf through the pages he had presented me with. He had dedicated his project to me and the dedication page was (and still is!) lovely. I will always cherish those words. Then I read his notes to his family and mine followed by words to colleagues and close friends we’d made both in Texas and back home.

Lastly he wrote a note to our unborn daughter. He encouraged her, should she read his work one day, to consider the health of others. It is virtuous, right and good to do so, he said. At this final sentence, whatever trace of anger I had gave way to two hours of completely unexpected tears of relief. I finally called my mom at some point to blubber afresh to her for another hour after Andy retired to get some sleep.

For the next couple of weeks the two of us were extremely emotional. When he defended his dissertation publicly, I silently thanked God that he had maneuvered things in such a way for me to NOT be in attendance. A doctoral candidate often invites close family and friends to the public portion of the defense but because of some last minute rescheduling I would be attending my own baby shower in Virginia the morning after his presentation. This last minute change up was a minor miracle as no sooner did I receive the first text message from a friend in the room on the morning of his defense did I start sobbing anew at my mom’s kitchen table. I don’t think I would have kept it together if I had actually been physically present in the room.

I don’t know how else to describe those weeks after grad school but to say that the burden I had carried just lifted in the most surprising and unexpected way. I often think about that experience when I consider this world and whats actually required of us for joy and life to come forth. Sometimes I think it looks like surrender. My brother-in-law David has often asked me over the years if I resisted when we decided to move. My response has always been some version of “Yes. There was a lot of resistance.” followed by, “But I knew somewhere deep down that in this particular situation I was being asked, by God more so than Andy, to lay down my preferences. I just knew at this gut level that the future marriage and family that I wanted depended on my willingness to go somewhere that I didn’t want to go.”

I don’t write these sentences with any sense of heroism about them either. Its hard to tell how my own writing sounds at times so I hope I’m not coming off in that manner. I wasn’t exactly a compliant sheep about it all. There was just this internal integrity that I knew would be broken if I didn’t go.

Have you ever considered this? The fact that getting what we want often requires us to go where we don’t want to go? It sounds morbid but if I know anything I know this one truth. Jesus asks us what it is that we want and we respond with our desires for family, career, joy, marriage, children, or home and then he often responds to the deepest of those desires with the most paradoxical and devastating news. “Ok, these are great things to want. But I don’t want you to miss the point it all. So first we’re heading into the wilderness. You’re just going to have to trust me.”

The wilderness, perhaps you’ve experienced, is as frightening and exhausting as I, for one, never could have imagined. Its tears streaming down our faces and sleepless nights wondering when the anvil will come off of our hearts. Its depression and anxiety and loss and being stripped to our cores until we feel incredibly exposed and alone.

But then one day, just as your putting the last of your dishes into cardboard boxes and sweeping the final crumbs into the trash you realize in a moment that its finally finished. Months later you’ll be sitting down to write about it all and realize you just spent six and a half years in a spiritual and emotional gymnasium in order to prove to yourself, your spouse and your God that you can handle whatever comes next because you’re not going down without a fight.

I think that’s the point of the wilderness. Its a place to discover who you really are. When its finally over you stand up and walk into the light that’s now pouring into an empty and spacious room and you realize that you’ve got new skin on. You know in some small and strange way that a part of you died. The life breath was gone. There was no pulse. But somehow, against those crazy odds, your heart just starts beating again. You’ve risen back from the dead.

This. This promise of resurrected bodies, minds and hearts. This is what draws me to Jesus of Nazareth.

Every. Friggin’. Time.

He’s the only person I’ve ever encountered who reverses this very real and frightening reality that is death. And he’s the only person in living history who, full of highest integrity, calls out to us and says: “You can do it too.” 

“Embrace me.” He says. “Embrace my pattern for life through death in the wilderness and along the way you’ll come to know what it means to really live in the first place.”

This is the most astonishing news to me. It finally lays the foundation for what our lives are all about in the first place. Its about letting God uncover our desires and letting him show us that the things we all desire – even the very best things like loving families and happy marriages and inviting homes – are just shadows cast from a Creator who gave us those desires in the first place.

You want to know what I think? I think Jesus is just beside himself trying to keep quiet until we follow these shadow desires back to the source of them. He doesn’t want to spoil the surprise. But I’m sure he must look with great anticipation to the  day when we’ve followed those shadows all the way back to its smallest width and we realize we’re actually staring at his feet. At this point there’s nothing left to do but look up. And there he is. There he was. There he will be. The one forever father. the one devoted husband. Our one and only home. Our strongest desire.

No sane human person ever willingly takes on a death. This is what makes faith in the wilderness so difficult at times. Even writing this makes me mildly uncomfortable because one day I know one of you readers might just email this piece back to me and tell me to read my own damn writing. Ha!

But this place. The place where the shadows of my greatest desires meet the shadow giver’s sandals is my favorite place to be in the entire universe. Because this is the place where we’re at his feet saying we just can’t do it and we’re just too screwed up. And this is the place where divinity bends down to lift up our chin and say “its OK. You don’t have to. Not by yourself. I’ve already done all the heavy lifting. Just rest in my arms. Just sit at my feet and enjoy my presence. I’m not going anywhere.”


Yes, you are BROKEN. But its OK because you are indescribably LOVED.

Yes, the path to JOY is hard. But its OK because I’ll give you GRACE when you need it.

Yes, getting what you really want will require a DEATH on some level.

But its OK. Because you have JESUS.


To this, all I can do is let the tears drop down to the dirt on his toes, and say

“Oh Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” Mark 9:24


Officially Published!

Hi Everyone. Still working on my next post but I wanted to let you all know that an article I submitted to an online periodical has just been published! Super excited about it. She Loves Magazine is an online mag that focuses on women and justice issues.

You can check out the piece I wrote here.

Thanks for your continued reading. This has been a fun adventure with you all!


Whatever is True: Grace For the Moment

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I’m sitting in a bustling office waiting to be called back for an interview. Its April of 2006. The interview I’ve prepared for is for an internship that I want so badly I could scream. It would just be for the summer – 8 weeks total – but it would be paid and would bridge the gap while I submit resumes for full time jobs. More importantly, its an internship in the field that I love. I’d get to spend the whole summer working at various non profits and learning with other interns about the ins and outs of the organizations that I really want to work for.

The only thing standing between me and this opportunity is a panel of faculty and student leaders who are interviewing candidates and deciding who will be the best fit for the program. As I look back on it, I had no reason to be worried. I already had a resume that was charting a path towards this internship to begin with. I also had that sixth sense in my bones that this program was created just for me.

The major problem I was ruminating on was the fact that in that season I had a tendency to choke when the performance really mattered. I had my first panic attack in a classroom where I was presenting for a final exam in a marketing class. I looked at screen where my slides were projected and I couldn’t see what was in front of me. The notes I had practiced with suddenly made no sense as my mind became a jumbled mass of incoherent thoughts.

From that time forward, it felt like I was always one step away from losing my grip before I needed to do something important. For this reason, what should have been a confident interview started with me in a hallway waiting to be called, one step shy of full on panic.

If you could have read my thoughts in those 15 minutes it would have been saying something like this:

“What if I panic when they ask the first question?

“Escape plan! Just run out of the room like you did during the presentation.”

“But then your dream internship will be lost!”

“OK stay in the chair and breath. stay in the chair and breathe. stay in the chair and breathe. ”

“But what if I panic when they ask the first question?”

“Escape plan! Just run out of the room like you did…”

Now picture this conversation on a hyper drive loop. Like when you accidentally hit the button on the record player that makes all the voices sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks. And then picture those same four sentences playing over and over again non-stop for 15 minutes at Alvin speed. Add in regular rushes of adrenaline typically reserved for the top of a roller coaster or the appearance of a robber and you have my basic state of mind and body, minutes before my interview. At least that was my state of mind until something strange happened.

Greg Savarese, a classmate and acquaintance from various campus activities over the last four years, rounds a corner at a quick clip and stumbles over my foot. He looks back to see what caught his shoe.

“Oh hey, Courtney! Sorry I didn’t see you there. How’s it going?”

Surprised by the unexpected fumbling of people and shoes and then equally surprised to realize I knew the person I’d almost tripped, Alvin and the Chipmunks were silenced instantaneously.

“Hey, Greg. Fine, thanks. Where are you headed…”

We engage in a five minute conversation about our plans after graduation, only having to part ways when I am called back by Amy, another classmate who is facilitating my interview that morning. She chats me up all the way to the classroom where I see smiling faces with hands extended in welcome and greeting.

I finish a great interview and reflect on the fact that Greg Savarese turned a corner in the nick of time.

And I realize that this is what Grace looks like.

Unmerited, unworked for, unearned favor. Something I couldn’t have orchestrated if I had tried, in the very moment that i needed it.

A friend of mine texted me this week: “God doesn’t give grace for our imagined fears.”

It struck me that this is true. It also strikes me that he has given me grace over and over again in the very moments that I’ve needed it.

Oh, that this would sink into the marrow of my bones.

I’d be the freest woman of them all.






Whatever is True: The road to joy is mostly hard. Until, sometimes miraculously, it is not.

When I was in college, I rowed crew. I can’t really tell you why I joined the team other than to say that I left high school with a lingering crush on my high school boyfriend. This boyfriend was obsessed with his older sister, a rower for Clemson University,. I think a large part of me felt that the way to his heart would be through collegiate athletics. Just so you know how well that went, I am now happily married to Andy who does not have a sister and the boyfriend in question is probably somewhere out there with a boyfriend of his own to row with down a river in northern Virginia where I assume he still lives. We lost touch somewhere between his coming out of the closet and his raging at me in a public restaurant for quitting the team half way through my senior year. By that time I was exhausted and he clearly needed counseling.

For all the wacked out reasons that I joined the team, I can say that it was a largely positive experience for me despite them. I had been a decent enough soccer player in high school but was tired of the sport by the time I got to college. Crew was something new I could learn that kept me focused on goals outside of how many shots I could down in a given weekend. Our school had a reputation for partying and the idea of spending most of my college years drunk sounded worse than spending most of my college years getting up at 5:00 in the morning. So I chose the latter.

The only real problem with the Loyola College rowing team was that we weren’t very good. Racing shells, oars and coaching launches are so expensive compared to the price it costs to run a basketball squad that the school couldn’t afford to offer our team any scholarships. This left our coaches committed to recruiting people who were just masochistic enough to actually want to get up at 5:00 every morning during their college years and work on perfecting our rowing strokes. Needless to say, it was always a hard sell.

My sophomore year, my two closest friends on the team were two seniors who had just returned from study abroad years in Ireland and Thailand. Not only were they terribly out of shape but they were five foot four inches at most and no more than 125 pounds soaking wet. These two along with two others in our varsity eight were really much more fit to lightweight events – the category of rowers that allows shorter women to compete against teams more similar in size and thus more suitably matched for competition. Of course my  smaller teammates sizes were a problem given that the rest of our squad were closer to six feet, and, well, decisively NOT 125 pounds.

On a soccer team these varying sizes might not be such a problem but in a boat where the length of someones arm’s and legs determines how fast or slow you have to swing to keep a boat balanced, it can be a huge problem. This meant that most of our mornings were spent with our coach attempting to help us time our catches in a very specific way. Quicker with the shorter girls and a longer in the air with the taller girls. We practiced for hours on end, at 6:00 in the morning, on the world’s narrowest boat. We did this rain or shine for months.

I share all this to say that most of my time on the water with this squad was incredibly frustrating. Narrow boats with varying stroke times mean that the boat is constantly dipping from side to side and the oars are getting stuck in the water because the timing is off. There is no glorious sense of “swing” that you hear about when you talk to rowers in more suitably matched clubs. Practices are slow and choppy with constant stops to allow various rowers to practice strokes while the rest of the team balances the boat for her with oars flat on the water. After two years of this torture it hadn’t occurred to me to expect anything other than a slow boat with no swing. I didn’t know that things could be any different because I had never experienced it.

Then, at the end of our sophomore racing season, something strange and completely unexpected happened. We were at our conference championship regatta and in the final women’s race of the day. We were positioned next to Marist College that had a boat I was certain would beat us just as they had beat us at every race we had met them in that season. The starting gun went off and we started the race like we did every other race and practice that season. We each zoned in on the muscled back of the teammate in front of us, attempting to match their oar speed stroke after stroke.

Miraculously, 500 meters into the 2000 meter sprint, something happened that the entire boat felt. We got swing. Something clicked and the boat for the first time started feeling light. It was like rowing on air. Not only that but by half way down the course I could see out of the corner of my eye that we were neck and neck with Marist College – the team that had left us in the dust race after race that spring. On the other side of the boat I could see on land that our coach was now on his mountain bike racing towards the finish line and screaming  at the top of his lungs on our behalf. The rest of the men’s and women’s teams were soon running behind him cheering us on. What they hadn’t known until after we were already on the water was that the women’s races that had gone ahead of us had all gone very well for our school. Our coach and teammates on the sidelines knew what we didn’t: if we won the varsity women’s eight race we would be conference champions.

Eventually, we got to the final 250 meters and with a call from our coxswain we gave the rest of the race everything we had left. Marist did the same as we heard their coxswain yelling at her rowers to push harder but they didn’t have it. We won the race and then to our doubled surprise at the finish line we learned that we had won the entire regatta. We all completely lost our minds, started screaming and all but jumped in the water we were so happy.

I love remembering this race for several reasons but I keep coming back to two thoughts when I think of it. First, I keep remembering how quickly we forgot the drudgery of the months beforehand. Miserable practices were long forgotten once everything clicked that day. The rest of the season was incredible as we felt and performed like an actual legitimate crew. If I’m honest, sometimes I think that the heights of joy we felt that day would not have been as high if we didn’t have the miserable months behind us too. Its like the harder parts put the really joyful high in deeper relief.

The other thing I love remembering is just how elated we all were by the end of that race. I rarely think of it without a huge smile flashing across my face. It reminds me that happiness (as our culture views it) and joy are two very different things and that joy is totally worth shooting for.

I don’t know about you but I have a few things in my life these days that feel a bit like unending rowing practices on a cold and rainy river. I am also all too aware that some of these difficulties are things that might just stick with me in some form or another for the long haul. In rowing, some crews just never get past the drudgery. I am grateful though for these high moments in life that remind me to keep digging in, keep practicing and keep holding out for joy. Looking back I can say that it was worth the 2 years of difficulty to get to those 2 months of pure joy. I’ll never forget what that felt like.

I got a chance to row at the Houston Rowing Club a few years ago. Hardest sport I’ve ever been involved with! It sure is beautiful though when everything finally clicks.

For Andy


To Andy, on the week of our 9th wedding anniversary…for loving me like no one else can. You continue to be the greatest gift to me. Let’s grow old (and crotchety), together.

Like Falling Asleep

By: Courtney T. Beck

I tried to write about love once

but the words wouldn’t come

in any elaborate way.

So I considered my mother

who traced her finger

around my ear and

through my hair

as I fell fast asleep

while she read

by the light.

Now, in this season, I consider

You.  Who shows me love

by the way that I rest

when I’m with you.

We rise tired these days.

Pushing back sleep to

push on with the work.

We learn to die to

a certain vision of things

so we might rise to

something warmer and

more inviting.


it turns out,

is not so easy to come by.

Most days it’s throwing

mud and seeds and water

onto a table

that may or

may not have access to

the sun; whose

beams must shoot through

the necessary hole

we attempt to keep open

in the roof overhead.

But sometimes, a definite

miracle unveils a sure clearing

that appears in spite of

the mud that’s now pooled

below the table, beneath

the hole in our roof.

It’s a space that’s familiar,

from a younger season,

when there was no roof

that needed tending.

From a time when the skies

held our hearts,

lightly, like clouds that

could not be captured.

Soft feet step

into a new space

filled with light. And soon

the sun and mud and clouds and soil

give way to a mother’s finger

tracing over our faces.

And we fall fast asleep

while she reads

by the light.

Whatever is true: I am Loved.

When we lived in Galveston there was a long hot season when it felt like the light on my insides had gone out. The sun shown hotter than hell in Texas but internally I felt like my heart had grown a thorn bush around it. Getting to it was incredibly painful.

A friend and I met for coffee and she told me about a novel she had read. In it, a man is tormented by the darkness of the world. So much so that he walked perpetually bent over with sharp talons lodged deep into his shoulders. “The love of Jesus,” she told me, “slowly removes those talons, one by one.”

While out for a jog a few weeks later I kept thinking about that image and felt within me a boldness to ask for a replacement one. “God,” I said, with certainty. “I feel those talons in my shoulders too. And if you wouldn’t mind I kindly ask you to…kick the ever loving shit out of them. None of this one at a time business! And,” I continued confidently. “Please let me know when you’re done.” I left it at that, possessing this all too rare confidence that He would answer in a way that I would understand.

Months later, I had a dream that I was in Ocean City where my family vacations most years. A devious man with bad intentions took my four year old hand, full of innocence, and walked me down the boardwalk and off to an isolated place where no one could see us. Just as he prepared to take advantage of me, an unsuspecting child, Andy and my Dad slammed open the back door of the building we were behind with a force that surprised us both. The two of them pummeled the dark man to death with fists and elbows and body slams for what seemed like hours. They were still going at it when I opened my eyes.

Sometimes I fail to grasp the love that I’m told God has for me. I’ve spent a long time thinking that God expects a perfection from me that I can’t begin to deliver. But Andy? My Dad? These two imperfect men have given me their lives, and I know it down to the bottom of me. One when I was very small. And one when he said “I do. Come what may.”

And so, in His own way, God let me know that from the moment I was very small until this present moment that I stand in that He has been kicking down doors and beating up devils to get to me. I still often feel like I have talons lodged into my shoulders. This is probably because I am a lot like the man in the novel – I look out into the world and see suffering and wonder about the love of God in the midst of such misery in the world. Yet I’m finding that God is faithful to answer in any number of ways when I’m responsive to the nudge within that says to stop looking at the pain and to look up and out to the One who can take me to the other side of them. Little by little I come back to the place where I started from as a small child. I remember that I am loved.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
    Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my eyes,
    and honored, and I love you…”

Isaiah 43: 1-4