The Courage to Become | Eva Sheie Kiser
Thanksgiving 2016. Just as my dad was about to say grace before Thanksgiving dinner, my sister’s baby girl Amelia threw her head back and smashed my sister’s lip with her head. My sister left the table with a fat, bloody lip. Later she told me she was really sad because she felt so alone in that moment knowing that neither I or our younger brother Rob would ever understand what it was like to have children.
I was 40 then, flying every other week from Austin to work in Seattle. Having finally landed the best job of my life, my husband and I were traveling whenever and doing pretty much whatever we wanted to do. It probably looked like we had finally “made it.” But it felt really empty.
If it’s ok to have a favorite member of the Trinity, I’d like to admit I am a big fan of the Holy Spirit. In my life I have heard both the still, small voice and the yelling, sign-waving, dancing-banana-on-the-street-corner sign of the Spirit. All I can tell you is that in order to hear that voice, you first have to listen.
Sometimes my life choices were pretty kooky. I like to joke that the Spirit even tricked me a few times, starting in the middle of my senior year of college by calling me to apply to grad school in Texas by reconnecting me with a long-lost teenage music camp crush in Houston. My (I still think this was genius) plan was to get my parents to buy me a plane ticket to Houston to visit Rice University and see if it was an option for graduate school, then I’d meet up with the old flame from camp.
As I plotted and schemed, my heart changed and I found myself really caring about getting into Rice and not so much about the boy. And then somehow I got into Rice, and that was a miracle too because I showed up to audition for the viola program on the wrong date and they weren’t expecting me. The elusive professor Martha Katz just happened to be in her studio with nothing to do at the time I arrived. I played for her that afternoon, and she recommended me to the legendary Karen Ritscher, who accepted me sight unseen on Martha’s word.
I arrived in Houston on the 4th of July in 1998, with $800 in the bank and whatever I could fit in the car. My nine years in Houston were spent first in school, then scraping a living together with gigs, teaching viola lessons, and eventually a part-time job in medical marketing. The rest of my time was devoted to drinking and related activities where drinking was involved. During this time, I strayed a long way from who I was called to be, struggling through many dark experiences and destructive relationships.
I’d feel guilty and drag myself to Lutheran church a few times each year, but didn’t emerge from the drunken fog until I got hired for a gig with the praise band at River Pointe Church in Sugar Land. I would drive away after the gig laughing to myself and judging the people waving their arms during worship. It became a regular gig that I kept for years, and for the first time I was in a place where the Bible was the singular focus, not the traditions, the liturgy, the hymns, the choir, or my family legacy. It was here that my heart was changed and I finally understood that Jesus was calling me back home. He just had to trick me into getting there by paying me to do a regular gig.
I could feel a sea change coming. I felt antsy or nervous like I was waiting for lightning to strike. But I kept saying, I’m listening. Show me where you want me to go, even if it’s crazy.
In the summer of 2006, a very close friend got married in Wisconsin, so I flew up for the wedding. I met the bride’s cousin there, which developed into a long distance relationship. He was a professional musician in Seattle, he promised could get me hooked up with the good gigs if I moved up there, he had the whole family background thing going and pursued me relentlessly.
Eventually I dismantled my life in Houston, got rid of almost everything I owned and packed what was left into my car. He flew down to help me drive, and I sobbed as we left Houston on a stunning and bright Texas morning in February 2007. When we reached El Paso it was snowing sideways and I had come down with a fever and a nasty cold. He and I had never lived in the same place, so I had no idea until that day how he’d treat me when I was sick, and it was not good.
By the time we reached Salt Lake City on the third day, I was wearing headphones inside the car so I wouldn’t have interact with him. Once I got to Seattle, I had to stay at his home for a while and it was just miserable. I needed to find a place to live immediately, and again, a miracle happened. I found a 2-bedroom apartment on Alki Beach with a direct view of the water and picked up the job as the building manager, so my rent was only $650/month. When I tell Seattleites that story today, their jaws always hit the floor. You can’t rent a closet for $650 today.
That relationship fell apart within weeks. I was so flat broke from moving, I didn’t even have anything to sit on in my apartment. I was quite unhappy to find out that the beach was sleepy and quiet unless the weather was nice, and people weren’t generally outgoing or friendly. The “Seattle Chill” is real and doesn’t do any favors for introverts who are prone to seasonal depression. I just wanted to move home to Houston. I was so ashamed and embarrassed by my mistake that I lost my sense of self-worth.
That pull to go to Seattle had been so strong over the previous year that I never questioned it. I ignored every red flag in that bad relationship along the way. I had been so excited to start this new adventure, but instead my entire plan fell apart. I was angry. I was embarrassed. I asked, why did you bring me here, God? It didn’t feel like courage, it felt a lot more like foolishness.
I started practicing viola again and won some orchestra gigs. I worked hard to make friends and connect with people, but it wasn’t easy. I changed day jobs and took a big leap forward in my marketing career.
In July, I went back to Houston to see friends and took a road trip up to Lake Travis with one of my longtime BFF’s Andrea. We rested, read books, hung out in the pool, and it felt good to be home. She made me pick myself up off the floor and forced me to reactivate my match.com account. I determined that my profile was much too interesting and deleted about 80% of it, leaving a description that essentially said “I like to go fishing and have fun.”
It was crickets for months, I got no messages. Eventually one guy wrote me a message about fishing. I didn’t see anything too exciting about his profile, but I also had no friends and nothing else going on, so I went with it. We talked on the phone a lot, and had some great conversations. He was a teacher, and I was raised by teachers so it felt normal. I made a lot of interesting excuses not to meet up, but it got to the point where it was weird not to so I generously offered to show up at 9pm on a Tuesday night after beach volleyball. I arrived at Applebee’s covered in sand and sweat with no makeup on, because that’s how much I cared about this first date. It was awkward and uncomfortable, so we went our separate ways and I thought, “I’ll never see that guy again.”
By the end of that week I could not shake the feeling that I had really screwed that up, so I called him. We kept talking, and saw each other again. I asked him, “why do you keep calling me?” He told me to call him when I felt like talking.
It grew slowly from there. It wasn’t “perfect on paper” the way I had sized up and assessed every date I had ever been on before. He wasn’t Lutheran or tall or Norwegian. I swore I wouldn’t date divorced guys or guys with kids. I still smoked cigarettes back then and he swore he’d never date a smoker, and somehow he looked past it. I had no friends in Seattle and no money and not much else to offer. But it was in that deep darkness that the light started to shine.
Woodroe knew the bible. We could talk for hours and he never bored me. He loved his daughter mightily and his family was his primary social circle. He was thoughtful and kind to me. He had gone to college in Texas and wasn’t opposed to moving back someday. I was able to take him everywhere in my world, he’d go to orchestra concerts and to art exhibits, to dive bars and to upscale restaurants. He just fit and it was so easy.
Our first Seahawks game, where I realized I would have to become a Seahawks fan and move the Texans and Vikings to secondary positions in my heart.
We got married a year later and lived in North Bend, Washington until we moved back to Texas in 2013. Life in Washington was hard, we were house poor and depressed and I always knew in my heart that I wanted to be back in Texas. North Bend is a dark place 30 miles east of Seattle where the rain clouds get stuck against the mountains, where Twin Peaks was filmed and bizarre things happen in the woods. Our seven years living in the “Bermuda Triangle of Washington” were filled with many more challenges, blessings and victories, and is another blog post for another time.
It took courage to leave that life behind too. But Texas had my heart, and when my husband’s school permanently closed, the door swung wide open for us to make the move.
I had already moved across the country twice before, so I knew that all we had to do was get in the car and go.
In September 2017, we were blessed by the greatest joy of my life, our baby girl Kari. Her name (you know, like the babysitter’s name in The Incredibles) means “pure in spirit.” Seven months later, my brother and his girlfriend welcomed their baby boy, proving my sister’s Thanksgiving prediction wrong again.
Only now in hindsight can I see how much courage it took to make these moves and what God’s marvelous plan was.
Courage starts with hope. You cannot hear if you don’t listen, and it’s in that place between hope and action that courage lives and propels us forward. It wasn’t about the courage I needed to become a wife or a mother. It was about finding the courage to listen to the Holy Spirit and having the faith to move forward even when the moves looked risky or crazy.
It is as simple as saying, “I’m listening.”
Essay by: Eva Sheie Kiser
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