Essays

Finding Opportunities in Moments of Crisis – Niki Holzapfel

Finding Opportunities in Moments of Crisis Niki Holzapfel                 The gluten battles my intestines. It punches and kicks, rattles and stabs. It infuriates my insides, which know that this protein does not belong here. I live with a gluten allergy. A pesky protein (to me, at least), gluten pervades wheat, barley, and rye. While most consume it thoughtlessly, I interrogate the ingredients in my food, knowing the suffering gluten inflicts: a bloated stomach, swollen fingers, achy bones, and intense grumpiness. It leaves me in dizzy spells. It exhausts me. My throat does not close up as in a severe peanut-allergy sufferer, but instead, the suspect particle devastates in a few hours, as it rages against the walls of my stomach. I learned of my allergy the summer after I graduated from high school. It explained the two seizures I experienced, the dizziness, the constant hunger and fatigue, but eliminating all the wheat from my diet left me salivating during commercials for flaky, buttery Pillsbury crescent rolls and hovering over the bagged loaves of bread at Wal-Mart just for the smell. No longer able to eat at restaurants because of the possible contamination, I dreaded social events billed as “meeting for dinner.” Restricted to food labeled on the box, jar, or bag as gluten-free, I could only brood over what I did not have. Then five pounds of flab disappeared after omitting drive-thru windows, and my body felt fitter. A set of culinary skills developed, beyond just assembling a bowl of cereal. Using rice, potato, and almond flour, I baked graham crackers and a vanilla cake with a lemon-orange filling. I became the fruit smoothie queen in my house, blending yogurt, frozen fruit, and milk for a sweet and healthy treat. I opted for fresh instead of processed, an orange over a Pop-Tart, eggs over Krispy Kreme. I began drinking more water; it’s one thing that pacifies the stabbing pains in my stomach when I’ve been glutened. Forced to scour a snack’s ingredient list every time I eat, I realized how many chemicals and preservatives I blindly consumed in my former life. Though they had long, science-y names, I still sent the additives clunking through my digestive system. Now, I must care more about my food, and thus, my body. I believe in finding opportunities in moments of crisis. I believe that bits of positivity hide in negative situations, waiting for unearthing, no matter how abysmal things may seem. It might require ingenuity, but that is a part of the upside; crises extract creativity. I do not believe my gluten allergy has ended my life. I believe it has spawned a new...

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Insight: A Message from Within – Karalee Sutton

Insight: A Message from Within Karalee Sutton             Life seems to be full of patterns that repeat ad nauseam. God, the universe, and the innate wisdom within people will present lessons like broken records until they are learned. Once the human mind finally grasps these messages and applies their knowledge, it is time to move forward. I feel as if some people breeze through existence. They see challenges, acknowledge them, and overcome events without the intrapersonal struggles that I experienced. When puberty struck, negative thinking patterns rode its coat tails. As each teenage year progressed, I buried myself with stagnantly thick and unconstructive beliefs. Depression permeated my soul. In desperation, prescription drugs were showered upon my fragile, fifteen-year-old brain, and there was no relief in sight. While conversing with an older, wiser woman one day, she recommended a self-help book entitled The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I do not know why I listened to her; there was not an individual who was able to chip through this lead like layer with which I surrounded myself. Underneath all the muck and self-doubt, there remained a speck of hope inside my withered heart, a glimmer of hope that one day I could sense the warmth of happiness, again. I followed this inner wisdom to the bookstore. My consciousness engulfed the recommended paperback like a tidal wave consuming a sand castle. Wading through the blackness of despair, I discovered that I have the power to change my thinking patterns. As a tender, but seemingly tough teenager, I began to apply the wisdom of positive thinking. Growing up, my parents could not have been more opposite. Mom wore rose colored glasses and saw the bright side of every situation. Dad’s glasses were gray, and nothing was ever good enough for him. After becoming an adult, I came to discover that he was never “good enough” in his own psyche. I absorbed his pessimism and anger. He picked it up from his mother, and I am sure that she learned it from someone close to her. Even generational patterns exist. I had the determination to break this cycle, but it has taken years of intense self-study and an ability to gather knowledge from many different traditions in order to feel that grace of sunshine on my soul again. I have been blessed with a deep spiritual connection to a universal force my entire life. While depression swam in my head, I was swept away and dismissed this union. The Power of Now was the first pebble that began my accruement of wisdom practices. In another book, I read about finding a “happy place,” sitting quietly and imagining a blissful environment. I called...

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Through My Writing – Shelley David

Through My Writing  Shelley David                 I started an uphill journey 2 ½ years ago, a lifelong yearning to become a nurse. After completing the Certified Nursing Assistant course in January 2011, I began the prerequisites for the nursing program the following spring at Metropolitan Community College. My first two classes were chemistry and algebra. On the second day of classes, I became more overwhelmed than I imagined I ever would and decided to drop the classes, ending my dream to become a nurse. I felt completely devastated. No matter how hard I tried, however, I could not get over the strong urge to fulfill this crazy desire. Something inside was tugging at me, telling me to not give up. I decided to take the college plunge, one more time. It is what I needed to do, for my sanity, for peace. I will never satisfy my inner soul until this true calling is accomplished. Learning is much more fun for me, now, than it was when I was younger. The fact that I have hiked up the “mountain of life experiences” gives me a huge advantage. I love to learn, and I love to read, two things I never desired in my younger years. Thankfully, I am still climbing the mountain; I will never stop growing and learning. At my age, I have reached the point where I am confident that I can complete my wish. Right now, I am exactly where I need to be. Regardless if I complete this nursing path or not, my college experience has been life changing. The writing class I am in, now, has taught me that I can speak for those who cannot. Words are powerful; they can build up, and they can destroy. With social media overtaking our world, young people are drawn into a place where words are power. Sadly, so often, they use the power given to them in destructive ways. Through my writing, I want to improve the lives of others, not tear them down. My words can be small drops in a lake which ripples of hope to all who read them. God has placed me here, in this class, for a purpose. I have discovered what a joy it is to write, and as a nurse, I appreciate how influential writing will be in my position as a health-care provider. It is therapeutic; it is healing, and it can bring hope to a hurting world. That is what creates change; that is my...

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Weather Change – Brad Ashford

Weather Change Brad Ashford     Watching summer change to fall is a favorite event of mine. At home, in Omaha, this event occurs, generally, in the last couple of weeks in October. However, in Ely, Minnesota, where we have a summer cabin, it happens now at the end of September. Fortunately, I am at my cabin, now, watching as the wind is shifting from the South to the West. A strong wind is blowing in and the gray white bank of clouds rushes across the horizon. White caps dot the normally becalmed expanse of lake a few hundred feet in front of my deck. The maple trees are already a deep red, and the birch are topped off with a deep gold hue. The contrast with pine and spruce is dramatic. Maybe, most notably, the loons have left the lake. Their distinctive call is our church bell and street light. As a child, I remember awaking to the church bell in our neighborhood and returning home with the street lights. The loon, though not synced to Greenwich Mean Time, signals the morning, warns us of inclement weather, and portends the rising of the moon. I am told they are off to South America. Good luck. I am blessed, as I get to see this whole change of nature happen again, in a few weeks, at home in Nebraska....

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Game Changer by Kim Justus

In 1995, I suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm. I was thirty-five years old, in the best shape of my life, and had just gotten a clean bill of health with an annual physical. The incident resulted in the need for a craniotomy, where a metal clip was strategically placed to stop the bleeding. The blood seeped into various parts of my brain, so once inside, a massive cleanup was required. Back then, micro-neurosurgery was a relatively new technique. Prior to that time, the most likely outcome was death. Given the same circumstances, odds for survival are only slightly better now. The day started like any other Monday. I flew into work, coffee in hand, and went about my day. In the afternoon, I needed to make a sales call. Unexpectedly, my dad got a hold of me. He offered to drive me downtown for the job, and then he suggested stopping to have a cappuccino at a nearby shop. On the way, I had the sensation of a bolt of lightning crack through my head. Had I been driving, this story may have ended right there. The fact that I survived was attributable to what I consider a series of “miracles.” Some might say it was luck or coincidence, but I lived through it. There were just too many issues lined up in my favor to chalk my survival up to anything but a miraculous event. Initially, I was misdiagnosed in the Emergency Room. I was sent home, where I lived alone, and would have died but for the fact that I was with my dad. This changed the normal course of action and saved my life. By the next day, my speech and comprehension were faltering, after a violent night of writhing pain and throwing up. Soon, I entered an eleven-day coma, underwent brain surgery, and encountered a near death experience. It was too much for me to wrap my mind around all at once. My recovery would be relative, and it would take years to process. This period of my life was a game changer. Before this event, I felt “bullet proof.” Now, facing my mortality presented a number of challenges. Some residuals would resolve in time, and some I would carry-on forever. The way I looked at life and death was changed that day. In my months of recovery, I started journaling the events as they happened. This situation was so intense that it seemed to be the “stuff” out of which books were made. I did some writing as a child and always dreamed of writing a book. I was not an English major, and my life’s path took other directions. Still, the true events...

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One Meaning, One World by Cecilia Hiebner

How can I show my Spanish students the various similarities all languages share? In Spanish we say paz, in French one says paix, in Italian you see pace, in German one finds as frieden, and in English the translation is peace.  These words differ in spelling and in pronunciation, but all contain only one definition that the entire world understands. “This is amazing!” I tell them. Translating words has always been one of my passions since I was in fifth grade. My interest has been persistently focused on searching for the connection of words and phrases among languages. So, I grasped for every opportunity I had to assimilate one, two, or three words coming from the English language, which had been known in the world as the “the business language.” My first practical experience started when I was in fifth grade. I thought, the first eleven years of my life had been uneventful in my catholic elementary school until I encountered the new student who spoke to me in a language that was not Spanish. I could not understand what she was saying, but by looking at her facial expression and body language, I could guess what she was telling me. She appeared to say, “Hi” followed by a chain of words I could not figure them out. For the first time in my life I was hearing sounds with an unfamiliar tune, So, my first reaction was to look at her a little bit puzzled, but her friendly smile was telling me, “I want to be your friend.” Finger pointing, smiles, and hand gestures were all we could do in our early conversations, but this time we spent with lots of laughter, especially when we misunderstood the meaning of the words. It was fun teaching each other. Our fifth grade teacher, Sor Maria de Sales told us to sit next to each other, perhaps she knew in advance the good friends we will become. After a few months, we started communicating in both languages. Whallah! “¿Cómo te llamas?” I asked her. “Montserrat.” “¿De dónde vienes?” And in her broken Spanish, she shared that her father was a businessman who was being transferred from far away London to Quito.  We became classmates for the next three years, and this was the beginning of a longtime friendship. Meeting this new student opened up for me the opportunity to practice what I knew about the English language, to understand more about myself, to connect with others who came from other cultures, to conclude that the word peace has three different spellings and one definition, and to discover the abilities I didn’t know I had. Years have passed, and I’m still searching...

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