I sensed the shift before it came. That doesn’t always happen, at least not for me. But like a slight change in the air hours before a storm arrives, my bones knew. I don’t know how, but something, maybe deeper than my bones, told me to pay attention.
It was July 2022. Ben and I sat on the front porch (where you can often find us in summer) when I told him I thought change was coming, that perhaps more would be asked of me than what I had to give. A summer breeze caught the small hairs that framed my face as I postulated about what the change might be. Over and over, I tried to tuck the stray strands behind my ear, but they seemed intent to dance around across my cheekbones and my eyes—as elusive as the answers I was seeking.
That same summer, our two youngest boys became obsessed with bringing me dandelions. For days, bouquets of yellow weeds sat in my kitchen window. Each time, I saw them, I would smile. Innocence emanated from the blooms, a reminder of the little eyes that saw possibility where others saw pests.
But another image of a dandelion became embedded in my mind as the winds of change blew gently. I thought often about the fragility of the end-of-season dandelion, its soft cotton-like seeds so easily scattered by the arrival of autumn. While stripped of color, each bloom retained a delicate beauty that seemed to whisper, “Not all death is dying.”
I scheduled the appointment for my dandelion tattoo the day I turned 39. While the tattoo artist was booked out months in advance, expectation coursed through me as we gathered at my parent’s country home that evening and ate strawberry jello cake with the Cool Whip topping, just the way I like it.
A week later, Ben and I went out for our anniversary dinner, celebrating 18 years with sushi, yellow curry, and mixed drinks topped with exotic flowers. We used the word fancymore than once. But six hours later, we did not feel so fancy amidst the sound of Ben’s sudden illness. Food poisoning hit him hard and fast. Yellow curry was quickly added to the no-go list in our home.
But little did we realize this was just the beginning of an unraveling.
On the morning of August 15, Ben and I woke early. I settled down at my writing desk, first cup of black coffee in hand, while Ben headed out for his morning bike ride. Over the years, cycling has become one of his greatest loves. The rush of morning air and the circular movements of his feet upon the pedals make him come alive. That summer, he on his bicycle and me at my desk had become our new morning rhythm, a way to start our days well.
But not fifteen minutes after he left, his name flashed on my phone. I stopped typing and answered, “Hey. Everything okay?” Immediately, I knew everything was anything but okay.
“Yeah. Don’t worry. But I think I got hit.”
“Wait. What. You got hit?! What do you mean? Are you hurt?”
“I’m not sure, exactly,” he stammered, a little unsteadily. “But I…I’m walking home.”
I jump from my desk, blowing out the candle as I left, “No you’re not. Stay where you are. I’m coming to get you.”
Quietly, I crept into our oldest son’s room, whispering to him that I had to go pick up dad real quick and I’d be back, knowing all four boys would remain asleep due to the early morning hour. On instinct, I grabbed some beach towels on my way out, jumped into our truck, and began driving Ben’s route. Not two miles from our home, I found him in a random driveway, fiddling with his bike, his face covered in blood. I immediately handed Ben a towel and helped him into the passenger seat.
In the hours that followed (patched together by bits and pieces of Ben’s memory and the confirmation of a police office), we’d come to hold a new reality: Ben had been hit by a bus. Not a metaphorical bus. An honest-to-goodness yellow bus. All things considered, his injuries were minimal. He was able to walk home from the hospital the same day. And gosh, we were grateful.
But the fragility of life lingered, haunting us with whispers of what could have been.
And then, just days after the accident, I found out that things at work would be changing. Change is never easy. I had even expected it, to a degree. But this felt less like unease and more like grief, as if a favorite pair of sweatpants no longer fit and I knew it was time to give them up. As August turned into September, it became apparent that letting go would also include a job I loved and a team I adored, and by October, I too was a dandelion coming to its end—easily scattered by the faintest breeze.
Letting go is part of living. I get that. Every year, spring leaps into summer that deepens into autumn that gives way to winter. Tiny babies turn into toddlers that explode into teenagers who eventually tower over you and then leave. During every sunset, our souls nod along with the writer of Ecclesiastes, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (1:9 NIV). So much of life is surrender.
But like a T-shirt tossed into the laundry pile, last year turned me inside out. Somewhere, amidst all that letting go, I unraveled. I lost my sense of self. I went from Peter, confident upon the waters, to Peter, crying out “Lord!” and grasping for anything to hold on to. Sure, the weave and shape of my fabric were still the same, but looking in the mirror, I struggled to remember my original design, what was once written so boldly across my chest. Instead, all I saw were questions—blurry imprints of what once had been.
The end of November 2022 brought with it the much-anticipated tattoo appointment. I walked into the Painted Lady ready to be marked. As the needle began to etch fragile fronds of the dandelion into my forearm, I knew not everything would change all at once. I would not walk out of the tattoo place revived and renewed and full of clarity. But I was ready for some permanence. I was ready to have that dandelion inked into my flesh like a promise, a visual reminder that the death of one thing can bring life to another.
I cannot pin down one singular thing that revived my sense of self. Book-writing, laughter, long conversations on the front porch, existential crises voiced over Voxer, spiritual direction, discovering I like spin class—all these things played a part in helping me find the ground beneath my feet over the course of winter and spring.
But today, as I turn 40, all I know is that the soil feels good between my toes. I am not new, but I am settled. A little more myself.
That’s the strange thing about being lost. Like dandelions, we might be fragile and adrift, but we are still there. Even as one season surrenders to another and we are spread thin across the landscape only to be tucked beneath a blanket of winter, the seeds remain. The divine essence God planted in the beginning quietly remains, tenderly waiting. Because, as James K.A. Smith writes, “Not everything that fades has been stolen.”
Maybe we cannot see who we are in the moment.
Maybe floating allows us to shed the things that once kept us down.
But after this year of feeling adrift but not alone, present but path-less, held but healing, what I believe is that even when we cannot see who we are or where God is or what in the world we are going to do next, we are not lost, not really. We are simply on our way to becoming more found.
“There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.”
–Zora Neale Hurston
He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.
—Psalm 18:19 NIV