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for if you find yourself an outcast

We’re five miles or so in the air headed for Chicago and I’m staring down the aisle at a sea of blurred heads… balding grays, curly brunettes, tawny wilds, hipster hats.

I’m halfway through an article in April’s Outside magazine, an article titled “What Killed the Bear Lady?” It illustrates the life and times of Kay Grayson, a lady living on a rugged patch of nature in North Carolina with her bear friends, Munchka, Susan, Highway 64, Betty Sue and many more.

After a particularly large bear raided her house and was found sitting on her mattress eating a sweet roll, she started feeding them, desensitizing them to her presence until she was able to walk into the “woods, hold out her long arms, and turn her palms to the sky. Then in a loving voice she would sing, ‘It’s OK. It’s OK.’ ” Grunting, shuffling, out of the woods, her furry friends came.

for if you find yourself an outcast photo
Licensed under CC0.

I read fascinated, the pages covering her previous life of Vegas, immorality, dancing and partying… talent wasted. Until, one day she stumbled upon what she considered God’s plan for her life… to take care of the bears. And isn’t this how we so often find God’s path for our life. A tiny step, a stumble, head-long we trip into His will for our lives and in surrender, we fall safe into the guiding arms of our Savior. Our life, once clumsiness, now a beautiful dance. 

But as most stories go, there must always be an adversary and for Kay Grayson, these were the local hunters and poachers and often, she went above and beyond what was considered rational behavior to protect her bears, one time even landing herself in jail.

Upon her return from her short stay in the slammer, she found framed pictures of dead bears, one of these her beloved Highway 64, silent beside a gun-welding, smiling hunter. She screamed and raged until the police led her away.

The article ends with her death. That winter was particularly harsh and Kay was growing older. One neighbor reported her skin gray and discolored, hanging loosely on her ailing body. One of her bears, Susan, slept in her bed with her to keep her warm. And it is surmised that one morning, she didn’t wake and the bear, trying to save her, dragged her lifeless body into the woods, thinking she was protecting her.

“True or not,” the article states, “That’s a nice way to think of Kay’s end, her bears spiriting her body away into the wild. After half a lifetime of strife, she deserved some peace.”

I’m crying now, the sea of people all headed to Chicago blurring into one and I see myself standing to face this anonymous, blurred world of people and realize for too long I’ve considered myself “different, odd, too imperfect” to ever have purpose.

And yet, here, before me, I have read about a life, although different, eccentric, and hugely flawed… a life redeemed by surrender to God.

She challenged societal norms, fought hard for her beliefs, fought hard for the underdogs. Many times she got it wrong. Many times, she had to back up, say sorry, make amends. Her passion often led her astray but her vision never wavered.

Yes, count me within the numbers of the outcasts, the rejects, the crazies. Count me with these people, these people with their hardened insecurities formed by an unaccepting society to difference and I’ll show you, under all that, what a true soul looks like. Count me with these people. I see now, clearly, their beauty.

So to you I offer this, if you find yourself one of these people, I want to tell you something today that Kay sang to her bears…

“It’s OK. It’s OK.”

Sneed, B. (2016, April). What Killed the Bear Lady. Outside: 29 Best Trips of 2016, 98-105.

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the long way home (part 1)

Hello, journal.

It’s been a long time and I’m dreadfully sorry about that. I wish I were stronger. I wish I had the tenacity in which I so often admire in others.

But here we are. What’s done is yesterday’s memory and the people in suits tell me, “Look at your progress… give yourself credit.” To which I reply, shaking my head, “But look at the road ahead yet.” And aren’t we as humans like that; so often we fail to see the smallest successes because the failures cast even larger shadows.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s go back a year ago, a day when I woke and learned everyone has their tipping point. When life veers chaotically to the left and you grip white knuckled to all the absolutes in your life and one by one, even those are ripped from your grasp.

Then one day you wake in the morning and it’s night outside and it’s always night outside despite the hands on the clock and you find yourself pacing, caged, up and down the windows looking east, praying for the sun to rise because aren’t His mercies supposed to be new every morning?

But the darkness remains.

Maybe, when this happens to you, you turn to God. Maybe you turn to drugs. Or alcohol. Or negative thoughts. Or eating. Or a million other unnamed vices.

For me, my unending night happened over a year ago and I turned inward, away from everyone and everything. It’s a story all it’s own and I hope to share it with you in pieces the best I remember but so often when everything goes wrong, our minds block out, shut down.

I became an existence of pain, an unrelenting sorrow masked with a plastic smile and jokes I didn’t feel but told anyway to conquer the silence in my head. And at night, I’d lie down, start sorting through all the chaos in my mind, all the madness in my heart.

So all I remember are glimpses, sitting in my car after that initial doctor’s appointment, my head bent low over the steering wheel, sorrow dripping and I remember thinking my tears were all I had left of myself and even these were being taken from me.

But I turned the key and drove home, unaware of the road.

Pulling into the driveway, I knelt in the foyer, head buried in the soft fur of my dogs and they knocked me over in all their love and I cried and dug my hands into the scruffs of their necks even deeper and I’ve learned since then, God’s love does this: it shows up in odd ways and knocks us over, as if bending our will a little lower to remind us that here is where the hem of Jesus is found.

“I’ll be alright, God. I’ll be alright, won’t I?” I murmur.

I get up, walk to the windows and it’s still night outside, even at four in the afternoon.

So I go to bed.


Like I said, this isn’t a short story. I have over a year of healing to share with you. Did you hear that? I wrote “healing”. The men in suits say you can never be healed, you can only learn to live a different life. So you swallow their bitter pills and nod and in the back of your head, you know this: Healing hurts. It took a man dying on a cross to give hope to a broken world filled with broken people. And now, more than ever, I’m convinced, I’m among these broken people. So I cling to hope. White-knuckled, I cling.

A tiny yellow bird burps its cheerful notes. A squirrel darts up a tree. Ervin, my goldendoodle, huffs at it lazily from the window. And through this window, I see, hope. Rising bold in the eastern sky, a thousand mercies new for the day ahead.

(Lamentations 3:22–23)

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