In honor of the tenth anniversary of Red Tent Living, we are featuring a monthly legacy post written by one of our regular contributors from the past decade. Ellen Oelsen is one of our original writers and served on our lead team for years. Her generous and nurturing presence helped shape and cultivate all aspects of Red Tent Living. This post originally appeared in March 2017.
The red light indicating low fuel shone brightly from my dashboard. Wondering how long it had been on, I pushed a button to reveal the distance I had left to travel. Four miles. “You’ve got to be kidding.” The response to my failure began inside my head.
The rest stop up ahead was a perfect place to get on my phone and Google “nearest gas stations.” 18 miles. My response to my dilemma was one profane word followed by quick judgment, ” How could I let this happen?”
I chose to suspend my judgment of irresponsibility with a deep sigh of relief that I am human.
I was driving home from a visit with my brother, Frank, who is struggling with fragile health. He and I were close friends when we were little, and we still are. His life’s journey with a debilitating illness and the pain of the judgments and stigma that surround it have often sent me to my knees seeking Jesus for Frank’s recovery and my courage, faith, and forgiveness of myself and others. Over the past several months I have felt the presence of a gentle but sobering compassion for him and for me as changes are taking place in his health.
There in the parking lot of a rest stop, I settled into receiving that same gentle presence of compassion for my own tender heart as well.
The clock and my desire to make my daughter’s band concert returned me to my present dilemma. Needing gas and convinced Google was wrong, I searched the nearest towns and was relieved to discover one three miles to the east. On fumes and a prayer, I rolled into a small Texas town the size of a hyphen. There beyond a deserted railroad track were two options: a leaning barn housing an antique store or a motorcycle bar.
I entered the antique store, the aroma of old and mold overtaking my senses.
“Hello?” I waited.
“You sound young and good lookin’!” A man’s voice came from somewhere behind a wall displaying old paintings covered in thick brown dust. For a brief moment my ambivalence knotted in my stomach. I rolled my eyes in resignation. An old yet familiar feeling of alarm announced the arrival of a sweet teenage girl inside me who years ago endured the uninvited catcalls and sexualized comments and touches from strangers. Through recovery, self-care, and counseling, I have come to know this feeling of alarm well, and I now consider it a gift from my body of an invitation for kindness.
My old judgments threatened to name the mystery man “a jerk waiting to pounce.”
I inhaled and nearly gagged on the odor in the air. The tension in my gut loosened as I chose to suspend judgment and instead risk relaxing in the confidence of trusting my own good gut. My husband’s face and the faces of several good hearted and playful men and women I love flashed before my eyes. I entertained the playful possibility that this man was probably harmless and joking, even if his words could be judged as “inappropriate.”
Venturing forward, I gathered data from my surroundings, and with each step, curiosity began to entice my imagination about the man waiting behind the wall. I poked my head around the corner and discovered a dear older man sporting a cowboy hat and a grin. He reached his hand to shake mine. “How can I help ya?”
His name was John. He was a maker of spurs. He was generous, kind, and ready to help. He made a phone call to his friend and invited me to the front porch to wait. I took a seat on a weathered and worn sofa, and in the warmth of a beautiful, sunny day, I enjoyed an unexpected rest stop and a delightfully funny conversation.
His friend arrived and filled my gas tank. I extended my thanks and headed home. In the quiet of my car reflecting on what in the world just happened, I embraced the evidence of a miracle.
I recalled information I learned at a conference: The brain holds memories of wounding as does the body. Repeated experiences of self-awareness, play, kindness, gratitude, and love in relationships can forge new pathways in the brain.
I thought of my playful and life-loving husband and children. I thought of my friends who have allowed me to bristle in judgment at their playfulness and who have loved me through it and accepted me anyway. I thought of Frank and his courage to love in the midst of painful judgment.
I thanked Jesus who showed up for me in an empty gas tank and two kind men.
God has been healing my heart all along through relationships. Living experiences within a loving and forgiving community has stretched my heart from the confines of judgment to the playground of compassionate curiosity for others and myself.
I hope you, too, get to enjoy living life in a community of grace. It is there that you might find that miracles can still happen.
Ellen Oelsen lives in the Texas Hill Country with her husband of 26 years. She is a mother of 4 children and loves their 2 dogs and 1 cat. Her hobbies include cooking, nature, reading, plays, and two stepping. She delights in offering hospitality of the heart and creating spaces of care, rest, play and reflection to inspire hope. She is beginning to expose the writer within her.