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Pen Flights of Nancy Roe

Lending voice to life in search of beauty…

#5 EXCERPT. ORDINARY ODYSSEY: A MEMOIR

By Nancy Wilde Sartz Roe

Sandburs and Tumbleweeds

The highways took us West. My family laid to rest its migrant ways to settle into the Northern Midwest. We settled into the land of towering bluffs where rattlesnakes sunned themselves on rocky bluff outcrops. Here we found a land of rolling hills and coulees untouched by ice age glaciers. This region of black fertile soil and lush farmlands flowed with pristine springs and streams offering plentiful fish and fresh tender watercress at early spring thaw.

But my family put down its roots in the city. We came to live down the street from the large muddy river that flooded deep waters out of its banks and up into the roads after a winter that piled snow second story high. We hunkered down in the heart of it, in this river country of sultry humid summers thick with may flies and river barge traffic. Here the mighty river cut a deep valley through bordering bluffs in bordering states. Here in the Mississippi River valley of La Crosse, Wisconsin we made our new home.

My world sprouted new beginning excitement, crisp and bright, as my family began afresh in the distant Midwest. We started out in an arid pocket of urban landscape in south side La Crosse. Our first home was a tiny ranch house, complete with laundry shoot and small postage stamp yard enclosed by a chain link fence.

Though now, out on the black top over at my elementary school playground, delicate weightless tumble weeds the size of beach balls danced and rolled in clouds of stinging sand, powered by wind gusts and back lit by the warm autumn sun. Here we played, my new-found small girl companion and I, running, laughing, swinging. Free as the wind whirled the bliss of our new friendship, and free as the tumbleweeds we danced in the gusts of it. But eclipsing the joy that we shared came a creeping animus that stuck and pierced like the sand-burs around us.

WORDS COME TO PLAY

I am coming home again. The call came. I am being roused awake as if from stupor. A fair breeze wafts in on the words, the musings of others, the telling of their stories. They are the writers whose words I study and marvel at, whose words I soak in and relish everyday. The message comes clearly as sun bright blue sky uncluttered. It invites. It beckons. It calls me to that familiar place where I scribble my words and conjure up beauty and images and relive and revive emotions. The rousing stirs me to ponder and reflect as it playfully dances like soft caressing wind currents.

“Come. Play. Free the Words. Free your life. Free your life force. Let us go to new fresh dreams and visions. Let us warm ourselves before the bright, hot, fragrant sparks flying up from night fires, dizzying our senses in the deep wild blackness of woods.”

I am hearing this call again, this call to write. But this time, afresh. This time, I am being invited to play, to soar, to return to the garden. I am making my way back to the beginnings of the wonder that has ever been with me. I am making my way back to imagination, story, and adventure.

Here I stumble upon myself. I am startled to find I am one created, a masterpiece and image bearer with capacity to etch out the wonder and the mystery. Here gravity and other earth constraints do not limit. For I may fly, sail, voyage, discover, unveil, and heal without leaving the quiet small ordinariness of my chair. It happens in the reading, and it happens in the writing. There is so much living in the seeing of it and the telling of it. The unearthing of wonder and pleasure and new thought landscapes abound here.

Come with me. Ascend and transcend with me to the beauty, the holy, the sacred, the intimate union, to seeing and being seen, knowing and being known. Come with me.

The path is unknown to me too. I have never been here before. Should we venture out together? Shall we seek to find the wild free, the antidotes for the poisons, the return to the garden, together? Come with me.

 

#4 EXCERPT. ORDINARY ODYSSEY: A MEMOIR

By Nancy Wilde Sartz Roe

President Eisenhower comes to Laconia, New Hampshire in 1955. Our small New England town bursts alive with bustling excitement. Parades, brass bands, and adoring throngs line the streets to welcome and behold him. Eager and excited, my family and I join the throngs. As if in a spotlight, the memory of him waving from the cavalcade to the crowds radiates brilliant clarity. In those light-filled moments, the sight of the president imprints me deeply, and feelings of awe, reverence, joy, pride, and safety wash over me.

For our dear “Ike” later spoke these words, “To be true to one’s own freedom is, in essence, to honor and respect the freedom of all others.” And, “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”

As a small person, I know not any of this. But beyond words, luminous and sure—inspiring depth, breadth, and height from its very core—the essence of patriotism radiates the untarnished, unsullied, and intuitive. Does it not offer a place of love for fellow, joy, and peace? It did then for four-year-old me.

When in the first grade, we pledge allegiance to the flag at the beginning of each school day. Solemn joyful reverence lights up the air as my small classmates and I rise to our feet, put our hands on our hearts and gaze at the American flag, elegantly draped with its gold braided tassel on the polished wooden stand at the front of our classroom. We then rhythmically recite the words in soft hushed tones.

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Deeply moved, I find I choke-up at the end. Though the under-God part puzzles me. I don’t quite know what to think about it. But the weight, the hush, the solemnity of the words, “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” carry with them a sacred charge, a joyful promise, like wings ascending.

 

#3 EXCERPT. ORDINARY ODYSSEY: A MEMOIR

By Nancy Wilde Sartz Roe

With the changing weather, the golden days of summer give way to brilliant autumn displays and rain drenched shivering coolness. Days grow shorter, and the sunlight casts long horizontal rays and growing shadows. Now wild brisk winds whip across the field, scattering ragged clouds as I wander out back. My friend and I travel far today, and Lady Beauty stays at home. Today my boy companion and I hike beyond the field, beyond the far distant end where the trailer and danger dwelt. Sunlight and cloud cover dance in the wind scattering light and dark all over the landscape as we reach our destination.

The expansive gravel pit spreads out distant, open, and high before us. A small shallow rocky stream gurgles brightly as the cold rushing waters carry away sticks, leaves and debris—like small boats speeding to a far port. The brisk rushing waters offer a place to launch new voyages for floating things, a place to stride, jump and balance on large rocks as we ford the waters, a place to slip, immerse and feel the cold and wet seeping deep.

Such “mountains” beckon us from the heights in the gravel pit. But first, we run on the glorious “plains” leaping and garnering speed to take flight as we ascend and climb—scaling over rocks, grasping dirt, loosening rocks that cascade and crash down the hill. We race to see who will be king of the mountain. We reach the top and mount the summit. Now breathless, we shout and laugh, our hair whipping in the darkening sky. For we rule as kings over all that we see as the land spreads out distantly all around us. We reign mighty conquerors, kings, and queens as we descend and ascend again and again as we play. My boy child friend and I are free travelers and adventurers today. For the dirt beneath our nails, the rocks, the coursing waters, the cold winds on our hands and cheeks, the changing lights in the autumn sky and the sheer bliss of our “mighty” agile feats have exhilarated us, washed us, and crowned us wild and free.

 

#2 EXCERPT. ORDINARY ODYSSEY: A MEMOIR

By Nancy Wilde Sartz Roe

A landscape of vibrant contrasts fills my early childhood. As one young and small, I live in the village lands of New England. And, oh—during the 1950s—what a glorious time and place I found there. But the darkness lurked. Here I find the idyllic and the fearsome. I discover dazzling beauty of nature’s offerings spilling bounty, but I endure bursts of wounding chaos. Bliss abounds—the fresh, new, tender, bright, and playful—but so does illness. Creative skills immerge—budding and blooming—though fear gusts rend me ragged like a cloth in the wind. The wide-open discovery—of all the wild and the wonder and the vast and the tiny—welcomes me. But lonely heartbreak lies in wait

My family moves to Laconia, New Hampshire in early October of 1954. Spreading out south of the White Mountains and encompassed by lakes and water ways, its motto remains “City on the Lakes.” Here my family and I find a land of vast clear pebbled waters and, oh, so much more.

In Laconia, a world of fresh beauty and delight surrounds me. For where my family and I live, the woods, brooks, green fields, and distant towering mountains dwell all around us. Here my family enjoys summertime swims in cold clear lakes as we gather for family picnics in the park. The bright gurgling waters of the Winnipesaukee River rush under an arced stone bridge there in Main Street, downtown. My world overflows excitement, glee, and awe amid the 4th of July celebrations. Raining brilliant stars in the black night sky, the fireworks captivate us all. Then, held near the heart of our small downtown, the annual summer carnival comes, bursting thrills and delights. Here, I ride the Ferris wheel and merry go ‘round and sample billowing fluffs of melting cotton candy sweetness. And as the season turns, the New England autumn advances with blazing glory.

In the fall, I pulse alive with vivid leaf colors. Dazzling sunlit magenta, crimson, canary, pinks, and golds light up the sky with tree fires. Later, these fall trees—like loving custodians—cast their gifts to the ground. I romp free with family and friends as we join in to gather the scattered brilliance into towering pillow mounds for jumping in and plunging into. In New Hampshire under crisp clear night skies, I find that place for deep longing and wishing upon a star. Here my dreamy harvest moons glow promise. Here I find my beloved home—the best of homes—but all is not well in paradise.

 

#1 EXCERPT. ORDINARY ODYSSEY: A MEMOIR

By

Nancy Wilde Sartz Roe

Introduction

It took me a long time to realize I have a story—a story worth telling, a story worth knowing. You see, as a 1950’s born, mostly middle-class, mostly Midwestern grown, mostly Caucasian American—I am ordinary. Mostly. The third of four children, I entered a family where births came every three ½ to six years. The lot of us grew up with two cats, two dogs and two birds. We lived in small homes with big yards for playing and for raising vegetable gardens. Early in our family life, Mother stayed at home and Daddy worked. On the outside, we appeared very much like everyone else in our culture in our time.

But on closer examination, the extraordinary rises to the fore, overshadowing the story of ordinary. For there exists beneath the ordinary, seeds of something else, something more, buried deep. Over time and with the right conditions, the very seeming commonplace and of no consequence life can burst out of the constraints and restraints, burst out of the hum drum of ordinary into the extraordinary—out into the open, into wild adventure. Though a tale worth telling reveals those things, not easy to live or survive. But survive I did. And so, I dare to tell it.

As I embark on this story telling adventure, I sink into the depths of reflection. Here, I find that my life plays out as a fairy tale with all the trappings. Beauty, honor, privilege, promise, wonder, light and laughter, adoration, esteem, adventure, exploration and transcendence weave through a landscape of loss, death, torment, desolation, suffering, trauma, abandonment, sorrow, bitterness, abuse and exploitation. Or is it the other way around? Perchance, the stories of loss and suffering weave through a tapestry of light and beauty. I imagine it will become clearer to me and to you as we explore this landscape together. Perhaps you will meet yourself here. Perhaps you are ordinary just like me.

 

LIFE IN THE WAR ZONE

My writer sister births life in her words like a doula. Her raw beauty and honesty beg me to move, to respond as in song. In safe open sacred spaces, her words welcome and invite me to find and birth my own. So, I am raw here.

Dear Lord, HELP!

I am caught in a whirlwind swirl of sweet hope, a glimpse of life, and the forces of hell shrouding my identity with ugliness, emptiness, despicable shame, a reject. I’m lost in the void of panic, restlessness, purposelessness. It comes every day. I laugh when I’m empty and hurting. I grasp at TV viewing to find relief. I eat, drink trying to fill in the gaps. Panic infuses, what do I do? I do not know what to do.

One thing I discover as I reflect and view my thoughts and feelings is this. I am caught in the lies of my captor. These are the lies formed to destroy me. These are the lies that he wants me to believe, know, think, and feel about myself. This is the trap, the false identity that feels real. He tells me I’m too evil to consider Sacramental living, that I am outcast, unacceptable. I’m not like those good religious girls. And the telling is done with innuendo like a smear besmirching their characters.

This is life in the war zone. I live suspended between heaven and hell, and the forces of both are palpable and active.

My dreams at night are filled with hellish intensity trying to pull me under into torment. I wake in a stupor covered with oppressive death shrouds.

I have been embattled for years now, and I am worn out, worn down. I have suffered from shame and self hatred my whole (long) life. So I am easy, susceptible, a sucker for a bad familiar lie.

My habits need to change. I want to LIVE REST. LIVE STILL. LIVE ABIDE. LIVE RESTORED. LIVE FREE. LIVE TENDERHEARTEDNESS. LIVE GRACE. LIVE WISE. LIVE LOVE.

I want the Holy and the Sacramental.

I want shining boldness. I want to live a beloved warrior, an ezer kenegdo.

I know I must continue to seek, ask, knock. I know I must continue to follow my homing instincts.

Thus, I tumble to safety. Rescue from the fight, I find myself again in the Psalms. The Anchor secures me safely in the ancient words. My eyes stumble upon the mirrors of my soul looking back at me. Here the words echo my own anguished cries of longing, desperation, languish, and pain. I can exhale here. My prayers form and come alive, a familiar whisper, seeing and being seen, knowing and being known. Relief! Hope!

The war zone teaches me. I discover that in the deepest, blackest depths of all my darkness, GOD is afoot. He works, even when I have no awareness of Him. He works, breaking life, hopefulness, a sense of surety about HIS VOICE. PEACE. LIGHT. LIGHTNESS, springing up joy, whispering a future…

The casting off of death is rising now as sure as the slow steady indomitable move of flood waters. Coming. SURE. TRUE. FREE.

COME LORD JESUS.

WORDS COME TO PLAY

I am coming home again. The call came. I am being roused awake as if from stupor. A fair breeze wafts in on the words, the musings of others, the telling of their stories. They are the writers whose words I study and marvel at, whose words I soak in and relish everyday. The message comes clearly as sun bright blue sky uncluttered. It invites. It beckons. It calls me to that familiar place where I scribble my words and conjure up beauty and images and relive and revive emotions. The rousing stirs me to ponder and reflect as it playfully dances like soft caressing wind currents.

“Come. Play. Free the Words. Free your life. Free your life force. Let us go to new fresh dreams and visions. Let us warm ourselves before the bright, hot, fragrant sparks flying up from night fires, dizzying our senses in the deep wild blackness of woods.”

I am hearing this call again, this call to write. But this time, afresh. This time, I am being invited to play, to soar, to return to the garden. I am making my way back to the beginnings of the wonder that has ever been with me. I am making my way back to imagination, story, and adventure.

Here I stumble upon myself. I am startled to find I am one created, a masterpiece and image bearer with capacity to etch out the wonder and the mystery. Here gravity and other earth constraints do not limit. For I may fly, sail, voyage, discover, unveil, and heal without leaving the quiet small ordinariness of my chair. It happens in the reading, and it happens in the writing. There is so much living in the seeing of it and the telling of it. The unearthing of wonder and pleasure and new thought landscapes abound here.

Come with me. Ascend and transcend with me to the beauty, the holy, the sacred, the intimate union, to seeing and being seen, knowing and being known. Come with me.

The path is unknown to me too. I have never been here before. Should we venture out together? Shall we seek to find the wild free, the antidotes for the poisons, the return to the garden, together? Come with me.

HEAR ME

Hear Me

It is not easy to be me.

My life of 65 years has been a patchwork of light and dark, though the dark has ravaged deep from a young age into the present. Those holds and chains pervade hard, immovable, unyielding, and stubborn. I am too familiar with the lies and nuances, and they hide in the habitual. “The what has always been and what will always be” are insinuated into my psyche. The lies insist they are stronger now that I am older, that I am too weak, too fragile, too broken, too damaged.

I was 18 when my drug addled hedonism and atheism gave way to idealism, discovery, and faith in Jesus. The Great I AM showed Himself to me and I was utterly taken. All and everything, He was my desire. I swooned for Him, floated in Him. Such bliss in those days, heaven pulsated in and through me. The sheer intoxication of Him filled me with the ecstasy of joy, peace passing understanding, laughter, purity, and the warm palpable healing oil of His Spirit.

Heaven came to me on earth for a while. But I was young and had much living and learning in store.

The damage done by legalism and condemnation was far more heinous than I could have ever realized. No wonder Paul wrote so repeatedly, passionately and emphatically in his letter to the Galatians.

“See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” (Galatians 6:11)

Paul urged the Galatians to take heed:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! (Galatians 1:6-9)

He implored them:

“Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)

Paul’s fierce protective ardor is so evident in this:

I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.” (Galatians 5 :12)

Now, I get it.

But then? I was years in a “Christian” mind control cult. Though prior to this at my faith’s inception, the wolves in sheep’s clothing subtlety held sway. All those cunning, cruel, and wicked cords wove through my belief experience, tying me, locking me down, imprisoning me deep. This was new bondage, this religious dread and panic that wove itself into the older tapestry of my childhood guilt and shame.

Fear sets us out as fugitives on the run from God. So run I did, trying to find my way to what was real.

But, God…

His holy beauty swathes us, holds us, tethers us to His heart. In ways outside of our awareness, as we wander, as we drift, in all our clueless obliviousness, He keeps us. My drifting eventually plunged me into the currents of popular culture. I rode those waters for twenty years but not alone. Jesus was with me.

His scent was on me. It had never left. It wafted into my deepest longings, my reflections, in the stillness. He was there in the middle of my hedonism. He wooed me. He drew me closer as I felt safe. He groomed me for our Homecoming.

It was loss and books that ended it. My running and drifting stopped. I lost my job and devoured books. It was then and there that I found the ancient words. His words, love language, captured and melted my heart, inflamed holy passions, and pooled deep and refreshing in my parched longings.

I found myself all in once again forty years later. Though much difficulty lay ahead of me.

He melted me in a moment. I was in the middle of making my bed when the Voice came.

It had been months and months since I had returned to faith, and I so deeply admired the heroes in my group. They were the doers and the rescuers who poured out their lives to meet the needs of the refugees.

But for me, there was a flip side, a dark undertow to this admiration. My “doing and performing” motivation did not come from an overflowing, pouring out place of God Most High. Rather it was one of anxious, compulsive striving laced with panic and guilt. I saw myself as less than, defective, and not enough in my comparison to them. Waves of guilt and shame washed over me and through me, agitating my sin-sick soul like a washing machine.

I did not know who I was.

This is a hard thing, knowing I am loved. It does not come easy. The learning is in the wait, so I have found.

But that day in my bedroom, I had a glimpse when He came to answer the question I had been repeatedly asking, over and over. I asked “what is it that you want me to do?”

I crumpled to the floor in tears of sheer unbelievable wonder. His tenderness, indefinable gentleness, kindness, and compassion surprised me. It overwhelmed me, utterly delighted me. It was an “exceeding beyond what you can ask or imagine” moment. The words were Pure Love and I strove to interpret them into language.

“HEAR ME.”

And so, I saw myself sitting at the feet of Jesus as Mary had so long ago, having chosen the better part (Luke 10:42).

Today, I am not out of the woods yet. I struggle, flounder, fumble, and fall. I strive and get caught falling into the old traps that have worked so well so long. There I go. I am up there again dangling upside down by my heels in dismay.

I call and I cry and He hears me. He is on His way coming for me.

I learn. I discover truth in the wait.

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