When Your Soul is in Chaos, Chop Vegetables!

It’s a rainy fall day here in Boston. The bells at the church across the street just chimed five times, telling me it’s almost evening.

I woke up restless and sad, a soul in chaos. The gloom outside found its way inside and I struggled to find a rhythm. The news has not helped. As you who read this blog know, I’ve long loved the Kurds.

Three years before we moved to the Kurdish Region of Iraq (Kurdistan) we had the opportunity to visit. It was at the height of the ISIS crisis, and displaced people and refugees had altered the landscape of the area. ⠀

Even before that time, we had always been interested in Kurds and the Kurdish story. ⠀

Having the opportunity to live and work in Kurdistan last year was one of the great privileges of our lives. And by all accounts, it ended too soon. We grieve the loss of community and miss the deep friendships we formed every day.

Kurdish people face challenges, threats, and obstacles from within and without. From their own leaders making rash and ludicrous decisions about finances, pay checks, jobs, and governance to outside forces making tragic decisions on invasions and non-interventionist decisions when they have already intervened, Kurdish people in Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria suffer. ⠀

Despite this, resilience, hospitality, and sheer joy are hallmarks of who they are as people. This group that spans man-made divisions and borders needs your prayers and help. ⠀

The news of the attacks in Syria have deeply affected the community where we lived and worked in Rania. Our friends are sad, but they are also angry. They feel betrayed. I feel betrayed with them and I have felt it in my soul.

But I am many miles away, and my restless, chaotic spirit is not helping anyone.

I learned long ago that there are some antidotes to restless, fractured souls, so if you are feeling as I was today, here are some ideas.

  • Bake bread. The measuring, mixing, kneading, and baking will go from your arms to your heart to your soul.
  • Chop fresh vegetables for a soup or stew.
  • Clean the house. Scrubbing, scouring, mopping, and dusting – cleaning out the dirt that accumulates can satisfy in immeasurable ways.
  • Write a letter to someone. The old fashioned kind that will have them shocked and deeply pleased. Taking pen to paper and writing news or a note of encouragement is a way to take your mind off yourself and focus it on someone else.
  • Donate time or money to a local charity. There are so many organizations doing good work in our world. It just takes intentionality to find them.
  • Light candles and listen to music. There is something about light and music that pushes against the darkness we sometimes feel in our souls.
  • Phone or text someone. There is someone out there who is feeling as chaotic, lonely, or sad as you are. Reach out and offer friendship through your phone.
  • Read the Psalms. Even if you are not from a Christian tradition, the Psalms can offer extraordinary comfort. King David who wrote many of the Psalms was up against some bad guys. He regularly cried out to God, begging him to destroy the wicked. His words resonate to this day , offering us a blue print of prayer and communication to God.
  • Read a book about someone who made a difference. Right now, I’m reading the book Stronger than Death by my friend, Rachel Pieh Jones. It is an a remarkable story about a woman who broke boundaries and rules to love those at the margins of society. It takes me out of my current chaos and reminds me that loving others is a costly calling that I know little about.
  • Dance. Just put on that music and go for it. Besides being good exercise, your body will pour forth endorphins in gratitude.
  • Call one of your friends who has a baby and go hold that baby. Blow on its belly and listen to that baby laugh. “A baby is God’s opinion that the world must go on”*
  • Read The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman. This book has nuggets of wisdom that surprise and delight. At one point she encourages the reader to look at doing the next right thing for the next ten minutes. It’s an exercise that continues to stay with me.
  • Love someone well. “Ordinary love, anonymous and unnoticed as it is, is the substance of peace on earth, the currency of God’s grace in our daily lives.” (Liturgy of the Ordinary, pp 79)

This list is not exhaustive and it’s not extraordinary, but today, as I chopped vegetables for soup, kneaded bread, and scrubbed the dirt off the floors of this little red house, my soul rested and I felt an incomparable peace.

*Carl Sandburg

6 thoughts on “When Your Soul is in Chaos, Chop Vegetables!

  1. Dear Marilyn, I have never written to you before, but I often read your posts. Not sure where I first got your link, but it has spoken to me many times. Today, less than a month into my home leave in Dallas from my role in Thailand, I woke up with the gloomy cold wet outdoors at 4 a.m. Writing helps me, so I wrote the following. Just wanted you to know you are not alone in reentry. Blessings and prayers from a fellow traveler, Ruth Leatherman

    *October 29, 2019 (4 a.m.)*

    *Rainy Days and Mondays*

    Reentry has challenges

    As one leaves a community

    Where there can be transparency

    And connections not perfect

    And certainly not ideal

    But, there is shared history

    Thursday Spaghetti night

    Places to go

    People to see

    Things to do if I choose

    Coming to Dallas to my “home church”

    To my biological family

    With restrictions in when I can meet

    And where I can be

    Organizing time together

    Lots of time alone

    Navigating new groups and experiences

    Driving everywhere

    Lack of regular exercise

    Rhythms unfamiliar and different

    Weather and clothing changes

    Even what I wear on my feet

    Including socks and boots

    Jackets and scarves

    Fear of going to my car in the night

    … At church, what’s that about?

    I long to be connected

    To be honest and sharing my own story

    Vulnerability and challenges

    People are so “Biblical”

    Almost as a cover or mask

    To keep the real person from

    Oozing out or showing

    Pride in being in “studies”

    Perpetuation of knowledge

    Limited connections

    Limited conversations

    Limited transparency

    Help me not to judge

    Help me to observe and be real

    Thank you for the groups in the community

    That offer a place and space for growth

    The recovery community

    With structure and opportunities

    For all people to have a voice

    Are where I feel the most like me

    Why can’t we do that

    In our churches

    Why is the culture of church

    One of masks and pretense

    Yikes, I long for the connections

    That Journey group offers,

    That my trio prayer group gives

    A chance to say and be all that I am

    Without fear of losing myself

    Or being judged

    My new culture of vulnerability

    And lack of shame

    Is certainly challenged

    As I enter the US once again

    How can I be all that I am

    And share my intimacy with you

    And share in the quietness

    Without all the words, words, words

    I miss my friends

    I miss my rhythms,

    I miss sweating and stretching

    I miss being touched

    And feeling a part of the community

    Help me oh, Lord to continue

    To be close to you

    Send me some people to have fun with

    To laugh with and enjoy connecting

    Ok, you’ve reminded me of the week ahead

    With Deborah,

    Reunion group and Hillsong

    Prayer and Praise

    Journey group

    Lori and coaching

    Seeing Dad and Corrie on Wednesday

    Coaching with Vic

    Going to the Golden Gate Church on Wed

    With the choir

    S Anon on Thursday

    Yes, there is connection

    And rhythm is coming

    Just because the Monday group

    Does not have space for me

    At a meeting

    I can be just fine

    With the other things

    That are happening for me

    The longing to belong

    To someone who enjoys

    And gets me who I can look out for

    And who will look out for me

    I have in you Oh, Lord

    Keep me close to you

    Dray me into your arms

    Of strength and compassion

    Understanding and peace

    I belong to you, wherever I am

    Because you are mine

    and I am yours

    Thank you for your reminder

    Of your care and that you are there!!

    Things are not nearly as bad

    As they feel or seem

    With rainy grey days

    Your growing girl

    In Dallas,


    P.S. Thank you for the fireplace

    With warmth and light

    Dancing and brightening the place where I live!!

    P.S. I just chopped vegies and put a soup into the crock pot!!

    On Fri, Oct 11, 2019 at 5:46 PM Marilyn R. Gardner wrote:

    > Marilyn posted: ” It’s a rainy fall day here in Boston. The bells at the > church across the street just chimed five times, telling me it’s almost > evening. I woke up restless and sad, a soul in chaos. The gloom outside > found its way inside and I struggled to find a rhyt” >


  2. To your list, Dear Marilyn, I add my own antidote to the tragedies in the world that often threaten to suffocate my soul with sorrow. I light a candle held by a ceramic angel and name aloud those for whom I ask healing or protection. All week I’ve asked for both for the Kurdish people. And for peace and healing in our sorrow-full world. This nightly ritual helps to bring light into my kitchen and then deeper into my soul.


  3. I’ve thought about you and your work with the Kurds a lot over the last few days. My heart and work has been in the Middle East so every time it flairs up I feel the pain too. The gift of travel and TiCK life is we do not separate from those we see on the news and yet it fills us with pain so often. I made pancakes for my family yesterday and spent breakfast sitting together and laughing. Those moments help so I love your list. Thanks as always and my thoughts are with all of those in turmoil.


  4. Yes! This is something I also discovered this past year in dealing with anxiety and OCD. Chopping vegetables became like medicine to me. It got a healthy supper on the table and also distracted me from my troubles.

    Also, LOVE the Carl Sandburg quote! ~Elizabeth


  5. I’ve had the honor and delight of befriending a Kurdish refugee family. Because of this friendship, my world is bigger and news that was once impersonal now has a face and my heart is more open to the pain of this world. It’s so difficult to watch my friends suffer with this news. Thank you for this post.


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