Every time I go back to Colorado for a visit, I have a standing date with my friend Colleen Gottlob. We each commit to walking together around “our” lake in Littleton at least once, even if my visit is only for 48 hours. We call it “our” lake, because after Lucy was born, we walked either that lake, or the track right next to it nearly five times every week for almost five years up until I moved to Washington. On those walks, I got to know a lot about Colleen. At 55, she can add grandmother to her other roles of sister, wife, mother, aunt, avid runner, voracious reader, encourager, friend and fan. On my last visit, I asked her if she would be willing to share her story. She seemed surprised because she didn’t know what there was to tell. I reminded her that she is the most loyal, supportive and encouraging person I know and I would like others to get to know her as well. She agreed to let me interview her via email over a couple of week’s time, and this is what transpired.
K: Colleen, recently you told me that you just received the best compliment someone could have ever given you. Tell me what was said and why it was so important.
C: While I was working at an outdoor buying show for Boone Mountain Sports and 32nd West, I went over to say hello to a woman, Susan, whom I only know as an acquaintance. She said she had seen me walking around and been trying to figure out where she knew me from. Even though she couldn’t place where we had met, she said what she remembered about me was my kind face. I think that was a big compliment. It was not about my outfit or my fitness or my shoes. It was about me.
K: So, it seems easy for people to comment on outward appearances, but less on the character of a person. Why do you think that is?
C: Krista, this question is hard. I am going to try to think this through… it is easy to compliment people on their outfit, shoes, purse, new hair cut or color. But, to compliment them about what is on the inside, you would have to know them or have been paying attention to them. That takes some time, generally.
I love the opportunities I have had to meet people in so many situations. Some I may just get to have a conversation with only one time. You have to open yourself to the possibility of maybe getting laughed at or facing a negative reaction or even a bit of heart hurt. I think I have always been willing to risk my heart. And I have received from it. I have just a few couldn’t-ask-for-better-friends. And I am thankful for them every day.
K: I’m so glad that you mentioned the risk required in order to be known by others. How have you calculated that risk? In other words, have you chosen certain people to open up to? I am not sure I am so “open”. What makes someone safe for that risk? Or worthy of it?
C: I don’t think about the risk at all. You never know what some people are going through or their past life experiences. I try not to take things personally. So, I don’t know that I choose anyone. I think they are just where I am. If someone becomes a friend, I am thankful. If not, there will be another person sometime. The ones that become a friend are very important to me. I am very thankful for my close friends. I feel like I love them like a mother lion. I am on their side and love them no matter what.
K: Before I ask you about your mother lion prowess that I have experienced from you, I’m curious about what your risk has afforded you in relationships. You said, “I think I have always been willing to risk my heart. And I have received from it.” Can you give me some examples of what you have received?
C: Well, I received your friendship as a gift and you are one of the most important people in my life.
K: I like how your answers bring me down from the clouds and back to reality. You’re right. Our friendship was a risk that has paid off immensely. Maybe someday I will write about how our friendship came to be. I’m glad you took that risk for me.
I have often struggled with an inability to receive. I have believed that somehow, I’m not worth the attention or the money or the time and effort that others want to spend on me. Thanks for modeling what it looks like to receive goodness from others for whom you have risked your heart. Speaking of modeling…back to your mother lion prowess. I have seen this side of you in action with your kids. One thing you always did that I’ve tried to model is jumping through whatever hoops necessary to just see your girls, even if it was only for five minutes. That simple act showed me how a mother can be her kids’ biggest fan just by making time to see their faces and kiss their cheeks. Where and/or when did you learn how to do that? Who has been a model for you?
C: I think this takes a couple answers. The first one is a man I worked with when I was about 20. I worked for a veterinarian for 7 years from when I was 18-25. I did front desk, tech work and some light bookkeeping. I can’t even remember his name. It might have been Jim. He was one of the techs. Every now and then his young son would come in. I noted that he always made a big effort for his son and would really get down low to hug his child every time he saw him. He mentioned it in passing one time as he was giving his son a big hug. Jim told me his father didn’t hug him and he didn’t want to be the same with his children.
The second part of my answer is that I am not sure. I love my children. I always wanted them to feel special. Every child should feel special by their parents/grandparents. I wanted them to feel like I loved them unconditionally. I do. I am not sure I have felt that a bunch in my life from others. There are only a few that make me feel that way.
I have known some children (roughly the same age as my children) who have lived with me for a time. One of them calls me every mother’s day. I also love them a bunch. I would stick up for any of them and be on their side and hopefully they feel the lion love. There are also a few adults. When they trust that I will (hopefully) never hurt them, they fall into a lion love category for me…
Who was a role model? Possibly, the people that treated my children the same way as I tried to. My oldest daughter’s high school counselor was still calling to check in on my oldest daughter when she was 25. She was someone that I really admire. Another time, the same counselor took care of a problem for a student that was not in her half of the alphabetical part of her kids. I will always remember her for how she went above and beyond. She was also completely trustworthy. My current employers were also a wonderful example. In a time that I was separated, they (among others) took care of some financial things for me and my kids. They also took a lot of care of the many, many young people who worked for them…really cared for them, talked to them, including my youngest child…including many who still come visit them when they are in town.
K: You said that when others trust that you won’t hurt them, they fall into the lion love category. That sounds like part of your protection of them comes when they trust you. That is a brand new thought/concept for me. Can you say a little more? I’d like to understand better.
C: Let me think. I hope they know that I love them. I hope they know that I would not hurt them intentionally. I hope and pray I say the right things and help them make good decisions. I hope I help them with their self-esteem. I hope I am positive. I hope I am discerning. I feel like I am encouraging. Some of them are just in my world for a time – so, I guess it gets to be a bit of a friendship for just a little while.
K: I know our friendship seemed like it might have been for only a little while, but it still stands strong even with my move away from Colorado. So, if you had a chance to share one last piece of advice or thoughts to younger women and/or moms, what would you tell them about friendship.
C: Try to remember that nobody is perfect. We all screw up. Accept your friends despite their faults. Try to remember them, write to them, call them, send them a “thinking of you” text or card. Try to not let time go by without checking in. Pray for them. Make time for them.
K: So, what you’re saying is just…
C: Love them.
K: Again, you bring a simplicity to your encouragement – not denying that loving is challenging, but that nevertheless it can and should be given liberally and without condition. Thank you so much for extending that kind of love and friendship to me. I hope others are inspired to go forward and do the same. And blessed are the ones who get your lion love – they will have their biggest fan in you – indeed, a gift worthy of receiving.
Colleen Gottlob is a mother to two young women and grandmother to one little lady. When she is not working as a merchandise buyer, you can find her running the mountainous trails of Evergreen with her favorite four-legged companion, Tillie. Her favorite drink is iced Bhakti Chai.
As I mentioned last week, this summer I am taking time to reflect on what it means to say good-bye. Summers have always been a season of transition for me and this year is no different. This summer marks five years since I moved from my hometown of Denver and relocated with my family to Seattle. This season is also the end of many requirements such as a master’s degree, internship, externship and thousands of clinical hours necessary to become a licensed therapist in the state of Washington. For the first time in five years I have no one that I must answer to for a grade or for a signature of approval. And while to some, that may feel freeing, to me, it is terrifying. It means that the constant state of someone else being responsible for my fate has now shifted to me being responsible to create my own assignments and requirements for what it is I want to achieve.
I’d like to illustrate this contrast more clearly anecdotally.
On our recent family vacation, we visited two separate water resorts. One was Glenwood Hot Springs resort and the other was Denver’s epic Water World Outdoor Family Water Park. Going to both locations was a treat for me to share with my kids the places that I frequented when I was a child. And each experience was markedly different from the other.
Dipping into Glenwood Hot Springs was like sinking into one’s personal bathtub. The water is a balmy 93 degrees naturally and its presence on my skin felt like a hug over every inch of my body. If the pavement all around the pool was positively blistering, the water was its salve. In fact, I had gotten two large scratches on my arm earlier on the trip and had put ointment on them daily to try to prevent both scarring and infection. But after my time in the magic sulphur spring my wounds closed perfectly and looked better than they had since the initial puncture.
Even before we swam in the pool, when we exited the I-70 tunnel out of the canyon and into the town, I felt a sense of ease and peace and knowing. I had been there many times before and memories of youth trips and diving contests and steam off the hot water in the winter filled me with consolation and giddy elation. It was like coming home from college for Thanksgiving dinner. I was met with the sites and sounds of the familiar, of tradition, of knowing and being known and I was comforted.
My experience at Water World was vastly different. We went there in the afternoon because the astronomically priced tickets were half off. We knew this meant that we wouldn’t get to do everything we wanted to do, but Lucy and Peter are still young enough that a full day might have been too much sun and water for their little bodies to handle. Since we only had a few hours at the park, we chose our rides carefully, because we knew we would be waiting in line for at least an hour. Neither of our kids had been to water parks that had the caliber of rides that Water World affords, so they were wide-eyed and mesmerized from the time we entered the gates. So, even though waiting in line for an hour was less than ideal, we kept telling them that it was worth the wait. And after we rode on the spiral spinning cavernous Journey to the Center of the Earth, they agreed.
Next, we chose to wait in line for a ride where all four of us were seated in a large raft that would take us plunging down a steep incline and dump us into a toilet-bowl like structure where we would swirl around and around and around and finally be dumped onto another landing that slid us through a waterfall and out to the finishing pool.
One of the best moments of the whole trip was the look on Peter’s face when we approached the initial incline of the “toilet-bowl” ride. I had shifted in the raft to where I was heading backwards down the incline and couldn’t see where we were going. Peter, to my right, was looking dead ahead and saw what awaited us all. As I felt myself fall backwards, I looked at Peter. With goggles over his eyes and his mouth wide open, he screamed a sound that was a mixture of terror and delight while his face expressed the notion of being both scared and excited at exactly the same time. It was priceless. I would wait at least another two hours in line if it meant I got to see that expression again. In an instant, he captured for me what it feels like to be in a place where what awaits you is inextricably both exhilarating and absolutely terrifying.
Lest I digress into more dreams of time gone by, let me circle back to my initial paragraph. [The natural problem with using anecdotes is that they only illustrate the point if they’re not so long that one forgets the initial point meant to be made]. What I meant to demonstrate was contrast. The two water resorts were very different experiences of very much the same thing – water fun. One was comforting, soothing, even healing. The other was exhilarating, terrifying and unnerving. These are the two states that I currently find myself between. I am saying good-bye to the familiar of the last five years and awaiting the unfamiliar of the next five. One has been a source of consolation and healing, will the next be terrifying and unnerving, even if exhilarating at the same time?
Perhaps what is at the core of saying good-bye is that one is leaving the familiar and heading into what is unfamiliar. Who really ever wants to leave the cozy, warm and containing presence of knowing and being known into what seems to be the cold, stark and steep dive into the unknown? And yet, when I really think about it, if I had my choice, I would choose the experience of Water World and witness Peter’s face of exhilaration and delight over the comfort of the hot springs bath any day of the week and twice on a Sunday.
Our family just got back from a nearly three-week long vacation. We drove from Seattle, through Idaho, Montana and Wyoming down to Colorado. We swapped cars at my parent’s house and went on to Kansas to be with Karl’s dad before he went into open-heart surgery. After his dad made it successfully through the surgery and was in recovery, we drove back to Colorado for a relaxing week of visiting friends and experiencing some of what I know and love about my home town: Water World, Beau Jo’s Pizza, Casa Bonita, Colorado Mills, Heritage Square, the Renaissance Festival, The Market on Larimer Square, Lucille’s Creole Café, Snooze and much more. When we left Denver, we headed west to go through the ski towns of Keystone, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Vail and Beaver Creek and on to Glenwood Springs where we stopped off just long enough to introduce the kids to the natural sulphur hot springs the town is known for. We finished our trek through Colorado by driving through Grand Junction where I spent my freshman year of college and there I was also able to show Lucy and Peter the grand glory of the Colorado National Monument at sunset.
Next, it was on to Utah to travel through Moab near Arches National Park down to the corner of the state to re-enter Colorado again briefly to see Mesa Verde and end up at the Four Corners National Monument where we could all experience being in four states at one time. Afterwards, we drove along the outer rim of the gorgeous Lake Powell and ended up in Cedar City, Utah to stay with my dear friend Hope for just a day – long enough to visit the ranch where she works and catch chickens, feed horses, let baby calves suckle our fingers and scout out lizards and beetles. From there, it was a quick sprint back through Idaho and the corner of Oregon and into Washington to get home as quickly as possible as we had already spent nearly eight days driving.
The 10-state adventure was one we won’t likely make again in the near future. One generally doesn’t drive multiple hours to stand for mere moments at the Four Corners, which is out in the middle of virtually nowhere. So, we made sure to capture as much picturesque beauty and wonderful national spectacles that western America has to offer, even if only briefly.
The process was an interesting juxtaposition of saying hello and goodbye at the same time. I was introducing many things to my kids that I hadn’t seen since I was their age. And at the same time, I was saying goodbye to all that had been my familiar home for nearly 32 years, not knowing when we would be back to visit again. There were moments of nostalgia and downright glee, and also moments of pause to acknowledge that what was familiar to me as a child will be different from what is familiar to my own children. They will have different memories – ones of the Pacific Northwest. Instead of dry, desert climate attractions like Glenwood Springs and Mesa Verde, they will remember lush, damp forests of the Cascades and fresh, cool dips in the Puget Sound. I am excited at the new prospects of discovery for our family in an unfamiliar territory. And I am also saddened by the reality that what I now call home is no longer the mountainous, colorful terrain of Denver, Colorado.
I have been pondering what it means to say good-bye. I wonder about the value and significance of those two little words. They seem to hold great meaning by the sheer fact that many people do not like to say them. So, as I am finishing several chapters at once right now in my life, I will be reflecting more on endings and what they mean to me now, and perhaps what I’d like them to mean to me in the future. I hope you’ll join me as I embark on a new journey – the journey of saying good-bye.