Kirsten Panachyda

Writer, Speaker, Singer-Songwriter

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Fantasy Life

I tried not to hobble as I made my way to the kitchen. Hobbling did not fit in with the fantasy I was trying to maintain during my trip: living as a Parisian woman in my charming apartment two blocks from the Seine. I ignored my sore feet which had been carrying me all around the city and through miles of museums. They had been shod in supportive ankle boots, not fashionable heels, so I did not consider their complaints legitimate. They were going to have to get on board with the fantasy, and at least let me walk gracefully across the room.

I fixed the perfect meal for Dan and me (he did not care about the fantasy and was lounging with his feet up): slices of baguette from the boulangerie down the street, glasses of wine from the bottle bought, after much discussion with the clerk, in the shop around the corner, three kinds of cheese chosen with help from the passionate fromagerie owner at the market. Eating cheese was one of my favorite French pastimes. So. Much. Cheese.

In France, cheese and wine are characterized by region as much as by variety. The concept of terroir reigns among the vintners, farmers, and cheesemakers. Terroir refers to everything in the environment that affects the product: water, minerals in the soil, plants eaten by the animals, climate, neighboring crops. It’s possible to receive quite an education simply by taking the time to ask questions and then listen to the market vendors and small shop owners talk about their food.

We all grow the fruit of our lives affected by our unique terroir. It can make our produce sickly and bitter, or it can feed those around us with delicious nutrition. We have a choice about what we want to offer the world. The psalmist tells us the one who follows the Lord is “like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither, and in whatever he does he prospers” (Psalm 1:3). God provides the best terroir for our fruit, and in return we can extend it to our hurting families and communities. If our fruit is grown in the environment of God’s love, then it will impart the fragrance and taste and healing of His grace. Dwelling in the environment of God’s love also keeps us – the vines, the sheep, the trees – healthy and ready to grow.

Friends, sink your roots near the life-giving water. Eat in God’s green pastures where He leads you like a Shepherd. Be nourished yourselves so that God can nourish others through you.

And sit down with some of the delicious bounty from the earth. Indulge in a little fantasy of your heavenly home, waiting to welcome you someday.

Monet and Maureen

The benches welcomed me with cushioned comfort; the hush invited a loosening of neck and shoulders. A handful of other visitors spoke in low tones, if at all. I spent a few minutes on each bench, before getting up for close examination, and then a move to the next viewpoint. Serenity intensified the experience of color, scope, light, mist, life.
I spent a holy hour at L’Orangerie in Paris, letting Monet’s magnum opus get under my skin. The oval rooms showcase the massive canvases of the artist’s offering: the view of his gardens from the blush of sunrise through dazzle of afternoon to the depth of dusk. After my lingering circuit, I returned to a bench in the last room.
This is not the view on the Monet-themed postcards, coasters, stationery, umbrellas- not the bright golds and pinks and teals. This panel shows the garden in the velvet purple and indigo of twilight. Light has departed. The vibrating life in the rest of the oval rooms is hidden by the ruling shadow.

Fifteen years previously, I had visited these paintings, but then I had lingered with the dazzle of daylight. Now my eyes followed the subtleties of brushstroke and fade of dark to darker. As I traced the artistry of shadow, my appreciation of the aging master artist grew. It occurred to me that Monet had lavished just as much care and attention on the dark section of canvas as on the rest. His eye perceived the details and beauty of the twilight garden. He didn’t just paint a block of black to indicate nightfall; he labored over day’s end with affection. He knew that the day in his garden was not complete until deep dark cloaked the view.

Last week I lost a dear friend to cancer. There is a gaping hole in her family, and in her circle of friends. We all reveled in her brightness, in the color she brought to our lives, the exuberance. When my family was deep in the crisis years of Nicholas’s illness, she faithfully prayed and listened and emailed. In the dark time, God painted her as a glow of His love.

Oh, how we will miss her! It’s not hard to wonder if God messed this one up.
But our Master Artist cares about every brushstroke that composes the picture of our lives. The times of darkness, the walking in the valley of the shadow of death, receive the same tender care and attention as the rest. He sees the sweep of the whole canvas. He chooses every shade with love. Perhaps when the view is obscured, we can more easily see the the purity of His hand at work. When I’m not distracted by the pretty flowers, bridge, ponds- maybe then is when I can focus on the Hand that is doing the painting.
Maureen, I will miss you every day on this earth. I’m grateful for the parts of your painting I got to see. I am so happy for you that you now stand encircled by the everlasting arms and see the whole thing.

Cabin Life Part 2

My hand drifts to the mug next to me, fingers curling around the warm rough pottery. My third cup. Where else could I sit and muse over coffee all morning? This place- its quiet, isolation, lack of agenda but fulness of life- I could never have imagined it.

The cabin in its maturity feeds my woman’s soul as the rawness of its youth never did when I was a kid. Now it draws my gratitude to the surface, bubbling up through layers of weariness and cynicism. During the “crisis years,” when my boy was so ill and I was so afraid, this place gave us rest.

Respite is essential when a crisis grows and spreads from a moment to weeks, months, years. I found the slices of rest during that time to be grace from God. I came to recognize them as gifts He longed to give me. Rest for my disquieted mind and sore heart was His love.

Cabin life isn’t required, but vision is. Sitting on the porch in the woods with the sun sharing its glow makes me slow down and contemplate. Right perspective changes my attitude in the same way. Asking God to help me see His love unclenches the crisis response. I consider the hard work it takes to bring a life to fruitful maturity. Just like my dad could see how special our Vermont home would be decades later, I want live the truth that “He who began a good work in (me) will be faithful to complete it” (Philippians 1:6) and “then (I) shall be like Him, for (I) shall see Him just as He is” (I John 3:2).

I am thankful my parents had the vision for our family home. I am even more thankful that God lets me peek into His vision for my life. The view includes grace generously poured into this broken world, and rest in trusting Him for the Big Picture.

I reach up high , stretching my lazy body into the sunlight. Finally rising from my rocking chair, I gather my empty mug, journal, and Bible. I head inside to slip into the rhythm of the day- gentle housekeeping tasks, singing along with the radio, conversations trivial and deep, until the next lingering time on the porch.

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 ‭


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 ‬

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