Gift of Compassion

I was reminded the other day of an exchange my daughter and I shared with a stranger some time last fall and the lesson of compassion that came from it.  My daughter was five at the time, and she and I made a quick stop following our flu shots for some Tylenol.  As we walked into the store, I noticed a man who appeared to be homeless sitting on the bench just outside. I noticed my daughter notice. 

I started with a conversation with her upon entering the store.  “Did you notice that man outside?”  She nodded.  I wondered aloud with her if he had a place to stay, or anything to eat.  Following her receptivity, I said “let’s get him something.”  She immediately jumped aboard, and marched throughout the store, talking excitedly about what to share.  She chose a roll from the bakery and I chose a piece of fruit.  We topped it off with a bottle of orange juice.   “What if he is gone when we get out there? Hurry up mom!”  She placed the groceries and the Tylenol on the belt, and without hesitation took the bag from the clerk, and led me back to where we saw the man.  He was indeed still there.  She walked shyly up to him, gesturing for me to make the first move.  I said “good morning, we have a little breakfast treat that we wanted to share with you.”  On cue, my daughter handed him the bag.  “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”  We all exchanged friendly smiles.  He took the bag, and we walked to our car.  

I feel blessed to have witnessed the collision of this experience with my daughter’s spirit.  Once alone in our car, I remember her saying “if I saw someone that couldn’t walk, I’d help them mommy.” 

And so it begins.  Compassion…noticing the need in another and feeling moved to respond.  We live in a pretty individualistic, self-serving and competitive society.  We work hard for our money, to provide a home for our families, and ourselves and constantly strive to do better.  But what often gets overlooked in this is the need for us to look outside of ourselves, and to know that we can make a difference in the lives of those around us. 

We should not be compassionate to others to fill ourselves, or get others to notice.  We need to be compassionate to others because it is the right thing to do.  If you need more than “it is the right thing to do,” how about the side effect? If executed authentically, not only the receiver benefits, but the giver does too.  The receiver has been given a meaningful and often times needed gift, no strings attached, and the giver is bathed in value and well-being.

We need to teach our kids the importance of noticing the need in others.  As much else in life, this too begins in our homes.  It starts with the modeling of compassionate and respectful exchanges between husbands and wives or parenting partners, among extended family members, and with friends.  People are people.  I want my kids to grow up believing that and seeing the good in others.  I am grateful for that moment with my daughter and a complete stranger last year. She saw this man for who he was inside, a person just like you and I.  A person who, just needed a little compassion. 




My love affair with horses…

When I was in the third grade, my parents bought me my first pony.  She was a brown and white Shetland, named Daisy, who held a special surprise that apparently no one knew about.  As her belly became rounder, it was more apparent that she was carrying a foal.  “Oh yeah,” our neighbor said, “our donkey got out, broke through his fence and was with the other horses for awhile.  She must have gotten pregnant then.”  …from a donkey.  When Daisy was full-term, my family and I were blessed to witness the birth of Misty, a beautiful little mule with the biggest ears you have ever seen.  Fences didn’t keep her in, and our inexperienced horse-owning family just let her roam.  She never ventured far from her mom.  I remember riding Daisy bareback through our cornfields, and Misty would come with, jetting in and out of the rows, sometimes startling both Daisy and me.  We sold Misty when she was of age, and our little farm again became orderly.

And so began my love affair with horses.  I’ve often said that finishing a two-year old Quarter Horse in Western Pleasure as a ninth grader was one of my greatest accomplishments of all time.  In that experience, I learned more about myself and life than I ever thought possible.  If you can learn to communicate with a 1,000 pound animal that could honestly hurt you if they really wanted to (innately they do not), then you can communicate with people.

Nothing could touch the freedom I felt when I was with my horses.  My family eventually moved into town, I went away to college, and my two horses needed new homes.  I quenched my thirst for horse-time wherever I could.  I worked at a bible camp for two summers as the Wrangler with 20+ horses at my fingertips.  I was able to go on a few trail rides here and there, while visiting family, and on weekend escapes to Mackinac Island, land of no cars, only horses and horse drawn carriages.  After some research while in graduate school, and learning of a mental health treatment approach involving the use of horses, my long-term goal became very clear – to blend my calling as a therapist with my passion for horses – to help others seek the peace and respite that is possible when joining with a horse – to practice Equine Assisted Psychotherapy.

My husband’s career called us far away from our home in St. Paul, MN and into very unfamiliar territory.  I was pregnant and busy with our two-year old son, working to acclimate into a new home, new community, and new church family – all minus the geographical support of my own family.  Due to nausea and near complete exhaustion, both physically and mentally, my vision to practice therapy with horses took a far back burner.  I worked for a few seasons at a small non-profit agency and again grew more than I thought possible, professionally, personally, and spiritually.  During this time I became aware of a place locally that practices Equine Assisted Psychotherapy!  In the building of that relationship, and the culmination of several other events in my life, I am now positioned as a budding entrepreneur.  I am blessed to focus not only on my private practice as a home-based Marriage and Family Therapist and photographer, but also am learning all I can about equine therapies.

In my moments at the ranch, I myself have felt the spirituality and peace and witnessed glimpses of healing.  I have been blessed by the stories that arise from equine therapies, and been lucky enough to see some of the smiles and enlightenment moments first hand.  There’s a force at this place that works to bring healing and wholeness to anyone involved.   That goes not only for the clients, but also for the volunteers, professionals, and the horses.  It sends goosebumps throughout my body to think that this can be the therapeutic modality I work with – that I can breath in the goodness of my love of country life and anything to do with horses even when I do not live in the country and have no horses (yet).  My life is good, and God provides.  I wasn’t ready for this when we first moved, nor was I ready when I started my career at a small agency that saw clients in offices, jails and prisons.  But I was close when my path crossed with PEACE Ranch.  And I was ready when everything was rightly aligned, which was far longer than my earthly desires screaming from my pores.  But with some authentic reflection, I clearly see the timing was perfect.

I would be honored to help anyone discern how they may be able to be involved in the mission at PEACE Ranch.  You do not necessarily have to be a client, a mental health professional or a horse expert.  You could volunteer your time at the ranch, or maybe even from your own home.  You could help financially with the capital campaign for a covered arena that is so desperately needed at the ranch.  You could help by spreading the word in our communities about the power of equine therapies and the mission and vision of PEACE Ranch.  I would be honored to introduce you, and the Executive Director or Volunteer Coordinator would take over with positioning you where your gifts could be utilized to their fullest.

And so I am beginning to see the intersection, of my vocational calling and my lifetime love affair with horses.  To sit back and think about the journey gives me amazing peace and awe at the process.  I would not be here if it weren’t for my parents, who loved and supported (both emotionally and financially) my passion, and for my husband and kids, who believe in me and support me now.  I am forever grateful for the journey and incredibly excited about the future.

A week of quiet and anticipated productivity

My family is gone this week.  The kids have been with one set of grandparents in MN since Thursday, and my husband set off yesterday to retrieve them and travel to see the other set of grandparents in SD.  They’re gone for a week.  So it’s Riley (our 7 year old Boxer) and I. The only reason I’m not with them is that I’ve been working to start a private practice and photography business.  There’s a meeting I really should attend on Thursday with a company that has accepted me as a provider of mental health services to its clients.  I also have some volunteering/mentoring responsibilities that I really need to be present for.  Part of me thinks the decision for me to stay home was dumb, but another part says I really can’t be absent for any period of time should I miss some sort of connecting.  Fortunately, my parents have offered to fly me home for the last weekend of my family’s vacation.  So I’ll join them on Friday in MN, and therefore be able to drive home with them the following Monday.

It’s quiet…Riley and I took a trip up the peninsula today.  I captured some beautiful photographs and walked along some of the most awesome terrain anywhere.  I am so blessed to live in Northern Michigan. The cherries are oh so close to being picked!  One of my favorite times of the year!  The kids and I usually come home with about 50 quarts in about a week and a half span.  Much of them are eaten fresh, the pleasure of the sweetness totally worth the gut-ache that always follows.  The rest are canned, frozen, and made into jam.  It was a nice drive, but totally not even close to the pleasure of being with my family.  I miss them!

My plans for the week: network some more, continue to spread the word of my private practice and the mission and vision at PEACE Ranch.  I want to complete the two grants that have been on my computer for over a month.  I want to enjoy some time with friends.  To have a rocking first two photo shoots ever.  Clean the kids’ rooms.  Take a carload of stuff to Goodwill.  Take some pictures.  Spend one day hanging laundry on the line.  And to sleep well.

I look forward to Friday, but aim to make the best use I can out of this week I have alone.  Here’s some of my photos from my trip with Riley today…


Change… requiring of us movement in a direction that we are not as familiar, calling upon skills we are not accustomed to using, and forcing us to stretch beyond our well established and often too small, comfort zones….can be hard.  Sometimes we do anything we possibly can to avoid it, even when it is what is best for us and everyone around us.  It can rock our foundation, threaten the equilibrium, and wreak havoc.  But, it can also rock the foundation and then give the ingredients necessary for a stronger foundation.  It can threaten the equilibrium that has been maintained for so long, but isn’t necessarily the healthiest.  It can wreak havoc as it encourages us to continue on the path of awareness and growth.  It’s crazy that we as humans would much rather cling to something toxic than step into the unknown, even though we cognitively know it holds a promise of something better.  It’s not familiar.  And we don’t know.  Another way to say that perhaps, is that we’re desperately afraid OF the unknown, the change, so we cling to something, even if it’s toxic.

I’m working to be friends with the change that is flamboyantly present in my life.   And at times it feels incredibly clumsy and extremely terrifying.  I’m learning.  Stretching, growing.  But I can’t forget my I, is a we.  The my I just referenced is actually an our.  That’s just another part of the self-discovery piece…we do not have to travel it in solitude.  No one has to navigate these things on your own.  If you are single, lean on your closest friends and family.  If you don’t use them, you’ll feel alone.  And then possibly feel incredibly distant from them, for they have no idea.  And then feel even more alone and even more hopeless about your ability to go through this with any semblance of grace.  If you are married, use your partner! Don’t leave them behind.  It’s their job to be with you, just as it is your job to with them.  Don’t ever forget that.

Picture a team of horses, pulling a wagon.  We’ve probably all caught a glimpse of this in real life, some of us an even more personal, up close experience.  Imagine all those ropes, each one with a purpose, each being vital to the operation of the entire setup.  Once fully assembled, the driver now has a clear line of communication open with both of the horses.  Imagine what would happen if the horse on the left decided he wanted to do it this way.  And the horse on the right disagreed.  What would happen?  Catastrophe.  And face it, there’s nothing the driver can do to force two +1500 pound animals to do what he wants them to do if they don’t want to do it.  He’s powerless, along for the ride.  Life doesn’t have to be that dangerous.  Look to your partner.  Talk about transitions.  Embrace the changes. 

I’m working to be present with mine.  To seek agreement between my head and my heart, between my human longings and my faith in God that my needs will be taken care of.  I’m working to do it with grace and strength.  I’m not always successful, I don’t always do as I should, I forget to practice what I preach.  But I come back to my center.  I want to embrace the changes, the gift of growth and forward movement.  I’m so thankful for my husband, my rock, my partner.  For my family and friends.  And for my church.

The Stone Church

Be still…be present…be faithful.  When I think of those words, my heart travels to Klein Ranch, the place Justin and I fell in love and where he asked me to be his wife, the place that helped solidify my faith and vision for my future.  It was a place where I felt close to God every, single, day.

One of the places we took the kids during the week was The Stone Church.  It was a highlight for many, taking place near the end of the week.  We had to take a bus to get there, through the hills of Isabel, SD, opening and shutting gates, stopping if the cows got in the way, and listening to the kids sing camp songs the whole way out.  The way back was usually quiet, everyone filled with peace, bits of discernment beginning to make sense.  Once we got close, we had to leave the bus because the final hill down was too steep and too washed out to drive down, not to mention back up.  Oh, I forgot the mention this trip took place near the end of the day, when the hot South Dakota sun was on it’s way down, because the valley this little church was nestled in was filled with rattlesnakes.  During the hot of the day, the snakes enjoy sunbathing, so our trip to the church would very likely be too eventful for our liking!  And then because we went in the evening, with the sun down, we had to light the little church with candles, because there was no electricity.

The church is constructed out of native sandstone, which was taken from the hills on its perimeter.  I believe it has since been nominated for the National Registry of Historic Places.  So perhaps some of these little pieces, no electricity, washed out drives, etc. have been taken care of.  Although, this all aids to what makes this place so special.

So it’s back here I go, to the simplicity, and beauty.  Back to the awesomeness of gathering in a place so rich with history, in front of the cross.  When there, nothing else mattered.  It was simple to just be…still…present…faithful.  Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in worry.  When not directed and appropriately managed, it can easily spread like the most invasive ground cover.  And nothing productive can come from that.  Our brains aren’t optimally functioning, our spirits are heavy and clouded, and our eyes are covered.  In this time, I’ve learned to do everything possible to surround yourself with value, with something that lasts, with people that care, and a faith that comforts and directs.  I suppose I’m human, susceptible to fear, to distractions, and the voices in my head.  I’m thankful I’ve never stayed there.

Working to live in value and faith, breathing the breath of life, and feeling at peace,



Almost two full years ago, I felt a stirring for something new.  I began to connect with and understand pieces of myself in a more mature and holistic way than I ever have before.  I credit the amazing community around me, and the stirring of the Holy Spirit.

Being someone who is somewhat apprehensive about change, I went through periods of time trying to sweep the thoughts and feelings under the rug.  It’s easier to stay where we’re at, and a challenge to venture into the unknown, especially when things are so uncertain.  I tried, and failed.  The reminders kept creepingback, and God wouldn’t let me forget.  So began, the active phase of seeking.

There was a time when it seemed that every door I knocked on failed to open.  And then there was the moment, when I transitioned my thinking, from hoping someone else would accept me, to seeing myself as the one that needed to make it happen.  Perhaps the heavy doors were meant to have stayed shut.  They were rigid for a reason.  Interestingly enough, when my mind shifted gears, the doors became easier.  I fell into invigorating possibilities.  Ranging from hopes of this connection or that, to realizing my absolute dream career was just outside of town, and had been there all along, I had no idea.  Had those rigid doors been accidentally left open, it may have been some time before I literally stumbled upon this place.  So I sought to sow the seeds.  Thankfully, unlike my own garden, which I can forget to water as the summer goes on, these seeds were cared for, and tended to, and subsequently flourished.  And as the fruits became recognizably enticing, it was even clearer to me that changing my present situation was absolutely necessary.

I think I hung on to my perception of security as long as I possibly could.  It’s funny to think that what I thought I was doing was being practical, was really just being fearful.  Letting go of the rope as you swing over the bay, trusting your body to land where it’s soft, trusting the water to be there, praying it wasn’t an illusion.  I clung.  And then let go.  Since that point, I haven’t been filled with regret, despite the fact there is a great deal of uncertainty now!  I’m not certain how my material security will arrive, but I trust that God will provide.

So far, I’ve been listening to His guidance.  This is all His doing.  The doors, the grace, the community, I can’t even begin to explain it any other way.  They keep saying, this is the time of greatest growth…you’ve let go of your fear and put your trust in Him…He has led you this far, and you feel the peace, it HAS to work Anna.  So I find myself here, in the space of quiet, in-between.  And comforted by the knowledge that I am not in control.  “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.   It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.  It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit”  (Jeremiah 17:7-8).

Why question?  I know, I believe, I feel.  My roots, foundation, is being fed and watered by the Giver of Life.  My roots are my faith, my family, my health, and my self.  When struggle comes, I will persevere.  At the wire, I can make do with very little, and am very open to the conclusion that I have way more than I need.  And when I feel this, I will, because I have been, and believe I will be, blessed.

I’m thankful for the journey, even though it was hard at times, for it led me to where I’m at.  I’m ready.

My garden

I learned something very important about myself this weekend, that I don’t have to give up on gardening.  I used to think I was horrible, but I no longer do. I’ve always admired those with bountiful plots, secretly wishing I could be more like them.  The truth is, I just didn’t know how to get there.  Last year I threw my garden together lickety split.  I dug up the dirt a bit, made little holes where the seeds went, and dropped them in.  I then watered them, and I was done!  No planning, talking to the seeds, carefully prepping the soil so as to make the perfect bed for the seeds.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised about the fact we had very little edibles leaving the garden and entering our home.  I also learned it helps to stay on top of watering all summer long, not just the beginning.  This year, a very experienced and generous friend shared her wisdom with me.  We prepared the soil, made a beautiful bed for each little seed, prepping it with a layer of compost, then a layer of vermicompost (worm castings), then some water, and then the seed!  There was definite love that went into it, some quality preparation.  This year, the entire task took quite a bit longer!  But with just a quick glance, it’s quite evident the work that went into the project.

When I feel I’m not good enough, sometimes it means I just don’t have the right tools, or knowledge.  In those times, we are wise to ask for help.  There are others who have been there, and have a lot to share.  This means nothing bad about ourselves, and not even anything bad about our knowledge.  It just means I don’t know or haven’t experienced it, yet.

It pays to take just a little more time doing a project.  It’s better to take longer, and have a higher quality result, than finish it speedily, and not have the result you wish you had.  Good things come to those who wait, or those with patience and peace (my addition).

It’s no use whining about how poor your soil is (or how loud your car, or how thin your wardrobe), that energy is better directed toward how to make the best of what you have.

I have a beautiful garden this year, with chard, dill, arugula, lettuce, edamame, dragon tongue pole beans, eden’s gem melon, a mystery heirloom watermelon, crystal apple cucumbers, a zucchini named Black Beauty, bok choy, brandywine tomatoes, a few different types of peppers, and eggplant.  I can’t wait for the reward!  Thanks Amy!