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.
It’s a strange thing to be in the midst of a panicked room while feeling an inner stillness. I certainly wonder at times if the inner stillness I experienced in those moments my body profusely poured out it’s lifeblood for the second time in less than 24 hours was a result of a drug-infused semi-conscioussness. Though my thinking brain attempts to dominate the internal dialogue and beckon me to surrender to this probability, there is a stronger more intuitive sense, however, that the inner stillness was reflective of something far more sacred. Perhaps it was the response of my soul as I waded through the waters of a spiritual realm more accessible as my very life hung in the balance.
It was only minutes before the panic struck that I became aware of the likelihood that something wasn’t right. After sensing a warm gush of fluid releasing from the life-giving canal of my body, I instinctually knew that I needed assistance. But how do you ask for help when your body has been drug-forced to cooperate with a ventilator leaving you unable to awaken enough to speak or even open your eyes? I knew my mother was still keeping watch behind me, but imagined she had fallen asleep once she began to believe that her daughter would actually survive the trauma of that 3rd day of January. I distinctively recall thinking to myself, “Well…Shauna, if you can’t communicate with words or movement of some sort, you’re going to have to use your mind to beckon someone to check on you.” And that’s exactly what I began doing. I was trying to “will” someone over to my side. It was only a matter of minutes before a nurse re-entered my room and decided to lift up the blankets covering the crisis my body was experiencing. Perhaps it was coincidence, but what if it wasn’t? What if my spirit really did beckon her to come to my aide? A year and a half later, I still wrestle with this sequence of events and the invitation to put my rational self to rest long enough to embrace the beauty and power of this spiritual possibility.
It was that particular nurse’s discovery of my condition that sounded off multiple alarms. Without being able to process visually what was happening all around me, I focused upon sound to guide my thoughts. The sound of beeping machines, the frenetic shuffling of medical personnel, and the panicked words of my mother filled the space all around me. The sounds emerging from my mother were what confirmed my earlier suspicion that something wasn’t right. After over two decades of working in the medical field, my mother was more often than not the one who remained grounded in crisis. She had learned how to navigate through the typical fight, flight or freeze response with grace in most traumatic situations. But in the late evening hours of that horrific day, I heard my mother come undone. As the doctors and nurses frantically unplugged me from all of the machines that were monitoring my pour beat up body, I heard my mother’s voice cracking as she called to tell Brian he needed to come quickly before they whisked me away for another emergency surgery.
Just before they ushered my hospital bed out of the room, my mother leaned in and tearfully urged me to fight like I’ve never fought before. “Don’t give up. Do not leave us,” were her last words for me. Her directive was the final indication of just how terrified she was at the knowledge of my condition. The awareness of the danger I was facing increased in those moments and I awaited the wave of fear I thought was inevitable. But it never came. Instead, I felt a wave of focused calm and reflection overtake the internal landscape of my mind as I pondered the possibility of my own end. I surveyed the terrain of my life as the faces of those I’ve been blessed with knowing appeared before me. Prior to even formulating a single thought, I simply felt compelled to trust. I somehow knew at the core of my being that all would be well with or without me. At that realization, I opened my eyes as my bed was being rolled beneath the doorway of the ICU room only to spot the image of a crucifix hanging directly above my head. With the same focused calm, I wondered if praying was required in moments such as these.
God, I’m not certain that you are real, but I certainly hope you are. I’m not even sure of what I need in these moments…Should I ask for Jesus to be with me as my body suffers such pain or to plead on behalf of my life? Should I ask for God the Father to protect me or provide care for my family in my absence? Or might it be possible for Mother God to hold me close and comfort my soul in the here and now? I guess I just need all that YOU are to be here right now.
I am here. That is what I knew, heard, felt. Love is here, was here, will always be here. It is enough. And it really was enough – enough to know that I was not alone and that those I loved would never be alone no matter what happened. At that moment of acceptance, Brian showed up just in time. He leaned down and whispered into my ear, “Just know that I love you.” It was more than enough.
When our family first moved to Seattle in the fall of 2009, Shauna was our concierge and showed us where we could find everything from grocery stores with the best produce to the quickest route to reach the highway. She and her family had already been in Washington for two years and were gracious to show us all the ropes. We had borrowed a friend’s Garmin navigation system for the drive from Colorado to Washington, but hadn’t yet owned a smart phone with a GPS. Having never lived long-term outside my own zip code, even finding the nearest Target in Seattle proved challenging.
One local tidbit that Shauna exposed us to was this fascinating megastore called IKEA. What was even more intriguing than a gigantic warehouse of inexpensive furniture was that IKEA offered free babysitting on site for an hour so that parents could leisurely drink their $1 lattes while perusing all that their wonderful business had to offer. And after your hour of sans kids shopping there was a café right next to the childcare to get everyone snacks after their romp in Smaland. Since neither Shauna nor myself had any family living nearby, an hour of free babysitting was no simple commodity. Hence, long after Shauna and her family moved back to Colorado, Karl and I have frequented IKEA less for their offerings (although rarely can we get out of there without buying several inexpensive things that we convince ourselves we need) and more for their childcare provisions.
However, recently Smaland has changed their policy from accepting children based on age, and instead accepts them based on height thereby excluding Lucy at age 8. Since she takes after her father and has consistently been in the 95th percentile for height, children years older than her and their parents can still receive the benefit of one hour of free babysitting, while sadly we cannot. So, our trips to IKEA are very different experiences now. Once, we could leisurely stroll through the entire warehouse at an inquisitive and curious pace examining book shelves that could also be mounted on walls, and boxes that folded into planks, and yards and yards of fabric that could create virtually anything. Our most favored purchase from IKEA is our current living room couch that has a chaise lounge and turns into a hide-a-bed. It is complete with storage for extra linens and is very easy to pop up and put away (for more on the awesomeness that this couch provides, see my first Happy Hour post). Now our trips through the store are often harried coupled with kids complaining that their feet hurt and asking us repeatedly to just hurry up.
On one such recent visit, we had stopped off mid-way to use the restrooms. Lucy and Peter had had enough of Karl and I’s stubborn attempts at maintaining a leisurely pace and their attitudes had turned grumpy and sour. I asked Lucy if she needed to use the restroom, and with her hands crossed over her chest she adamantly refused. So, Karl waited with her and Peter while I went. When I was finished, Karl and Peter went to use the restroom and I grabbed the back of the cart, while Lucy was at the front resting her chin in her hands with her elbows on the handlebar.
I did as I often do in those moments which was to reflect with my words what Lucy might be feeling on the inside. Putting words to emotions is very therapeutic for children who often have neither the language nor the recognition of what feelings are going on inside of them. It takes some guesswork, but if you can just imagine what a child might be feeling and say it out loud, more often than not, you’re accurately describing their experience. Naming feelings out loud is a way to order their inside world and ultimately give them the language to do it for themselves later on. I said things like, “I bet you’re really tired of all this shopping…” or “It must not be any fun to have to look around for things that Mommy and Daddy need, but not things for you and Peter to get.” Rather indignantly Lucy said, “Yeah! I’m bored. This isn’t any fun for us.” I retorted back, “Well, we could make it fun! How about we dance? I love this song!”
I proceeded with my best entertainer face to lip sync what was playing over the speakers, something like Tainted Love. [Now, let’s be honest. I wouldn’t dare lip sync when I can actually sing, right? So, I proceeded to belt out the words “Some-tiiiimes, I-I-I feel I’ve got to (bump-bump) run away, I’ve got to (bump bump) get away from the pain you driii-iiive into the heart of me…”]. Moving my hips to the bump bumps, I really got into the song and was thoroughly having a good time. And while my daughter had moved from having her chin in her hands to standing erect with her hands on her hips not at all appreciating my efforts, I continued singing and dancing.
“Once I ran to you (doing the running man, of course), now I’ll run from you (doing the reverse running man, naturally), this tainted love you’ve give, I give you all a boy could give you, take my tears and that’s not nearly aaaaaaaalllllll!!! Tainted loooovee…”
At that point, Karl and Peter came out to witness what was my spectacle in front of the bathrooms and Lucy said, “Daaaa-aaaad! Mom’s dancing in the middle of IKEA!” While drying his wet hands on the pant legs of his jeans, without skipping so much as a moment, Karl replied, “And that’s why I married her.”
His words stopped my dramatic dance fest. I relinquished my performance not to shame or embarrassment, but rather to gratitude and awe. Karl has not historically been so verbally liberal with his admiration. I have seen his sideways smile at my antics, but rarely has he delivered his love so precisely and clearly. His appreciation for who I am, and who I have always been was handed to me spontaneously, graciously and lavishly in a short six-word sentence.
I won’t turn away grand gestures of flowers and gifts and romantic getaways. But if I had my choice, I’d choose more moments like the one where I found Karl’s love for me in IKEA.
Have you experienced a surprising and delightfully unexpected moment of love? We’d love to hear about it! Let us know where, when, how and what it meant to you in the comments below.