Kirsten Panachyda

Writer, Speaker, Singer-Songwriter

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Author: Kirsten Panachyda (page 1 of 2)

Cabin Life

Leaning back in the rocking chair, I let the sun warm the side of my face. A spider web glints delicately between the birdhouse and one of the sturdy cedar posts supporting the porch of the cabin. I’ve come out to escape the heat inside. The wood stove has done a little too efficient a job at battling the early morning chill of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

I am surrounded by memories here. My parents, my sister Linda, and I all live in different states and the house I grew up in was sold years ago. This cabin serves as the family home and the logs have soaked in not only our memories, but a good portion of sweat, blood, afternoon cocktails, and tears.

My parents bought this land four hours north of our house in Connecticut when I was about ten. It was nothing but woods then, and our first years coming up for vacations meant building and using an outhouse, then a small A-frame shelter. Within a couple years, a driveway led from the road 1/3 mile down to a clearing, ready to accommodate the only big machinery that would come to help with the project: a backhoe to dig out the basement of the future cabin.

This development improved matters somewhat, once the first floor was laid, forming a ceiling for the basement. We lived in the underground concrete room while we worked on the cabin. We even had a wood stove down there. My sister and I spent our time clearing brush, stripping bark from cedar logs, hauling water from the spring, collecting kindling. My parents, and especially my dad, worked their tails off actually building the cabin log by log, cut by cut, course by course.

I was so unappreciative. I love being outdoors, but I have never enjoyed roughing it. Plumbing. I love plumbing. And I’m not too keen on extensive physical labor either, to tell the truth. Black flies, grit in my shoes, an unrelenting list of jobs sucked the gratitude right out of me.

There were good moments of course. There is a small lake a couple miles down the road where Linda and I could swim for hours. We liked to go “into town” when there was a movie in the tiny theater. I distinctly remember one rainy weekend when it was too wet to work much and I read Wuthering Heights for the first time, in the A-frame by the light of a Coleman lantern.

But in general, I whined and complained. There may have been a vow to never return once I was grown up and could make my own choices.

I didn’t have the vision. Not then.

To be continued…

How Many New Normals Are There?

“The New Normal.” It’s a phrase on its way to cliche. Encapsulating that odd experience when life’s unthinkable changes morph into habit, “the new normal” helps us make peace with transition.

Now that I’m back after a brief summer sabbatical, I’m ready to talk about yet another new normal. Last year at this time, I was glowing with the joy of sending Nicholas off to college. How could we have imagined, two or three years prior, that this kid with unrelenting suicidal depression would be able to make such a step? The victory felt so real that I could almost see the gold medal shining on his chest.

He had a successful year, with some bumps in the road. He handled the separation and homesickness, the schedule, and the unfamiliar environment. Not all his grades were stellar. He suffered a relapse in January that sent him to the ER one night for evaluation (he was sent back to school, not needing a higher level of care. First time an ER evaluation didn’t result in hospitalization!) However, he finished with a solid grade point average, and with his mental stability intact. Success.

How I wanted him to be all set- merrily following the path to independence and adulthood and a career he loved.

He did not go back to college this fall. He is still doing well. This change is not the result of his illness, but of a change in direction. His original major didn’t work out and now he wants to major in something his school doesn’t offer. In taking a year off to explore the new career path and new colleges, he chooses wisely.

I’m the one who struggled a bit to turn the ship around. One day it occurred to me that it’s kind of funny: a mom who spent fifteen years providing alternative education for her kids through homeschooling, now wrestling with the idea that one of them is straying from the traditional path. It also took me a while to come to terms with the truth that this new decision doesn’t take away any of the remarkable success of last year.

So how many New Normals are there? As many as there need to be for God to work His plan. Or maybe I need to accept that a life lived following Christ is never about normal. It’s always about trust, and grace.

Whatever success is, it surely rests on this:
“Be content with such things as you have, knowing that He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Hebrews 13:5.

Bold to Approach

Please check out my guest post on Fruit of Brokenness:

You Make Me Bold: Kirsten’s Story

 

Thanks for inviting me to share my story Melinda!

Solar Eclipse 2017

Today, attention is turned upwards toward the solar eclipse. The shadow will arc from Oregon to South Carolina like the mark of a foot swept through wet sand, to disappear in moments.

Since I do not live along the path of totality, I turned on NASA’s live stream. I felt a little envious of my friends who traveled down to South Carolina for the event. It’s probably not quite the same experience folding laundry in front of my TV. But I am enjoying the views of different places in the country getting ready to marvel at the spectacle.

The coverage includes a lot of filler (solar eclipse safety glasses, people!) and commentary. One broadcaster called the exact geometry required for earth to experience a total solar eclipse an “amazing cosmic coincidence.”

As a writer and musician, I think I would be a little miffed if someone commented on a well-turned phrase or melody that way. “What a perfect metaphor to express that idea! How lucky I am that this book coincidentally said that!” Or “That singer’s interpretation elevated that moment in the music. What a fortunate happenstance that her vocal cords and breath combined like that right there!”

Art is a complex integration of thought, heart, craft, and inspiration. If this is true for human artists, made in the image of God, then how much more for the Creator?

I’m not a scientist. I don’t pretend to know even a fraction of what an astronomer might know about today’s event. But I am a tiny trickle in the river that is humanity’s art endeavor. I know that artists make choices and have reasons.

What is God’s reason for arranging our moon and sun in the precise ratio and distance that allows for a total solar eclipse? I believe that part of the reason is that God, as an artist, wanted to give us a beautiful, awe-inspiring community experience.

“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” Psalms‬ ‭19:1‬ ‭

A Day, A Life

My husband and I had our 25th anniversary the other day. We are planning a getaway to really celebrate, but the day itself was a bright bubble reflecting our life together. Dan went to work at the office and I worked at home. Before we parted in the morning, we hugged and kissed and agreed to think up options for our evening together. Dan called mid-afternoon, a smile in his voice. “I have a plan!” He outlined a walk around downtown, with shopping and a progressive dinner. I ditched my options in the face of his enthusiasm and waited for him to come home- early!- so we could go on our date.

A couple places we intended to visit were unexpectedly closed. One just didn’t seem appealing when we looked in. But we walked and held hands and ate a wonderful meal and poked around in a couple shops.

We started out in a giddy mood, nostalgic and laughing. We promised we wouldn’t talk about the kids. Over dinner, the conversation turned serious; we did talk about the kids, and our marriage, and relationships and how we were doing in our walks with God.

Halfway through dessert, one us suddenly felt unwell. We made our slow way back to the car, with the sick one periodically pleading to “walk slower.” I won’t say who it was, but I did sit in the passenger seat with my eyes closed and a plastic bag clutched in my hand the whole ride home.

The well one shooed the kids away from the sick one, tucked her into bed, and checked to make sure there was a plastic wastebasket next to her. In a couple hours, the sick one felt better, and Dan lay in bed reading funny stories to me. We fell asleep as we almost always do, hands clasped palm to palm.

The day was our life, encapsulated. Plans, and acquiescence to plans. Anticipation and happiness in being together. Open doors, shut doors. Doors we thought we wanted to go through that we later changed our minds about. Silly and serious. Better and worse, sickness and health. And at the last, the comfort of companionship.

Happy Anniversary, my Love.

Holy Detachment Part Two

Tightness in the breathing muscles. Aching in a clenched jaw. Overflow from eyes. Struggle to enjoy beauty or happy moments. These are some of the signs that an intentional practice of holy detachment is needed once again.

To review, detachment allows a person to have a healthy emotional life apart from the unhealthy or harmful behaviors of a loved one. Holy detachment extends that health into the realm of the spirit. It is detachment which seeks to practice the unconditional love of God. Based on an eternal perspective, holy detachment protects a core where my life is in God alone. It is a trusting surrender of the ones I love to the wisdom and power of God.

The problem is, sometimes it feels safer to cling to the worry. Detaching can feel like a step out into the cold unknown. Worry deceives us into investing in its false real estate by telling us we get something out of it- control. Detachment accepts our complete lack of control and we get scared that we will be without shelter when the storm intensifies.

But when we seek to practice holy detachment, we are running to the only real safety: the arms of God. Friend, if you are trying to find a place of security for your heart and soul, while trying to love someone else with God’s love, then I pray you will find help in these words.

“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; The LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, Nor the moon by night. The LORD will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in From this time forth and forever.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭121:1-8‬ ‭

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:6-7‬ ‭

“The name of the LORD is a strong tower; The righteous runs into it and is safe.”
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭18:10‬ ‭

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!””
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭91:1-2‬ ‭

Escape

My family has had exciting times lately. We’ve prevented a prison escape. Thwarted a bio-terror pandemic. Shut down an evil self-aware computer. Proved our mettle to Sherlock Holmes. Defeated an ancient curse.

We’ve discovered escape rooms.

Have you tried one of these yet? The idea is that your group is “locked” in a room with a set period of time to solve the puzzle or mystery in order to escape. The group breaks codes, solves conundrums, figures out locks, pores over clues. Once you have gotten everything right, you have escaped. All is well, disaster is averted, and the happy crew gets their picture taken for the wall of fame.

If only life were like this.

If only we could just figure it out, and then everything would be great. Just follow the steps, keep the rules, be smart enough, fast enough, focused enough.

Oh, we try. We read articles about “Five things that will help you live longer” (but what if there is a car crash?) or “Ten activities that will help your child excel in school” (but what if there is a learning disability?). We read books about how to keep romance alive in our marriages (but what if there is a painfully broken childhood that is still unhealed?). We attend workshops to help us succeed in our careers (but what if the economy takes a nose dive and the company fails?).

We want so much to believe that ABC always leads to D. But life is not a puzzle that can be solved. It is a path to be walked, through mess, beauty, danger, birdsong, exhaustion, exhilaration.

In loving someone with a mental illness, I’ve learned that people issues cannot be solved. My son is not a conundrum to be dissected until the answer is found. He is a person who needs to walk his own path with the challenges particular to him. I can support and help and guide.

As for escape, well, that mystery is already revealed.
Love has triumphed.
Mercy wins.

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭15:51-57‬ ‬

Gravity of Suffering

 

Has the suffering in the world increased? Or is it only that I am overloaded with information, and so much of it carries the weight of suffering? Perhaps all that knowledge we can now access, the heaviness of it, is a kind of suffering in itself.

I feel so lethargic with it sometimes, as though gravity pulls more strongly than it should under my footsteps, even while my shoulders rise up in tension to my ears.

A whole generation of refugee children growing up displaced. Millions trapped in the nightmare of human trafficking. Mental illness rampant, misunderstood, and under-treated. Wars that last decades without any winners, but countless losers.

And meanwhile, we have our private intense suffering. Cancer, or the cancer of someone dear to us. A child lost in the wilderness of depression. A spouse with addiction. A parent with dementia.

The gravity pull of suffering collapses our frames under the weight.

Every person suffers. The question is: what do I do with it?

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him… that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
‭‭Philippians‬ ‭3:8-11‬ ‬

Will I know the power of resurrection when I respond to suffering in my life? Will I recognize that not only the bad stuff, but the good stuff too, is nothing compared to knowing and being found in Christ?

Crucially, will my suffering be in fellowship with His? Confronted with the weight of suffering, Bob Pierce wrote, “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.” Resurrection comes after participation in death, willingness to suffer for the sake of others and die to my own comfort.

To suffer pointlessly is the existential horror we all fear. But suffering doesn’t have to pull us down into depair. It can pull us to face-down worship of the crucified, living Christ. It can join our hearts to His in service and compassion. It can bring us to the place where deep calls to deep and our souls change and grow and refine.

Every person suffers. What will we do with it?

Precious Freedom

I had a great time celebrating Independence Day with my family yesterday. We laughed and played games and ate and walked through a storm of lightening bugs to our fireworks-watching spot. I hope you all had a wonderful day too.

But I know that sometimes a holiday is not laughter and happy family time. The memory of past holidays can feel like poison in the veins.

One Fourth of July I stood on a hotel balcony, alone in the company of strangers, to watch the fireworks. My son was in a nearby hospital, the rest of my family home, two and a half hours away. It was horribly different than the way we had always celebrated in past years. I could feel the stinging poison circulating. Before the grand finale, I slipped back to my room to release the sorrow that boomed through my body louder than the colorful rockets.

I learned something about freedom that night. As much as I cherish the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, there is a freedom I value more.

No government could extend this freedom to its citizens. No one could buy or earn this freedom. This freedom can only be extended by grace: freedom freely given. It is the freedom to drag my poisoned soul to the place of healing and rest.

“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭4:16‬ ‭

When I left the celebration of our American freedom that painful night, it was to exercise the most precious freedom I possess. In the privacy of my lonely hotel room, I approached the throne of grace. The place had been offered to me without condition, with abundant love. I found help in time of need.

Friends, I pray that you also receive this freedom.

And Happy Birthday, America.

10x as Sweet

Going through a hard time, like walking a child through a mental health crisis, can bring emotions to just beneath the surface. One small touch can release them. Of course this is true of tears, hanging there behind the eyes, tightening the throat. But I found that on days when I felt tremulous and ready to cry, that vulnerability also affected my funny bone.
Laughter is ten times as sweet when it surprises me during a time of pain. So for my tenth post, I decided to share some “funnies.” (Does your family call them that too?) These are moments in dark seasons. Some people may find them a little inappropriate, but we roared with laughter- and it was good medicine.

 

Our family rode along the highway in silence, broken by Alex, who had his mind on his theater homework.
“Do you think I should write a character in my play who just comes in and falls asleep?”
I thought about it for a moment. “Only if he wakes up occasionally and mumbles something.”
Silence ruled again for half a minute. Then, all four of us in unison:
“I wanna ride the pony!”
I guffawed and snorted without dignity. When I paused to gasp for breath, Dan said, “Are you going to laugh the whole way there?”
“Yeah, and intermittently for the rest of the day.”
And I did.

 

(P.S. Dear Reader, if you missed this reference, please go back and watch Toy Story again. Maybe it wasn’t the soundtrack in your home for two years straight like it was in mine.)

 

We were staying at a bed and breakfast inn. At the communal table in the morning two other couples and our family, full of delicious breakfast, chatted over coffee and tea. One couple was older with adult kids and young grandchildren. The other couple was young, newlywed, no kids yet. The older couple shared some marital and parental wisdom with the newlyweds, who were charmingly grateful. But when the subject turned to parenting teens, the older man shook his head. “Sometimes I thought I should just check myself into a mental hospital.”
I leaned over and whispered to Dan, “We went the other route. We stayed home and sent our teen to the mental hospital.”
We excused ourselves from the table soon after, and fled to our room where we giggled uncontrollably.

 

I dumped the white and beige pills out of the little cup into Nicholas’s hand. He stood there examining them for a moment. “What’s wrong, honey? Is the dose wrong?”
“No, I was just thinking. You’d think they’d make pills for depression in happier colors.”

How about you? Any funnies to share?

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