Nine months ago might as well have been ninety years that I have endured. When I think about it, I have a hard time comprehending the entirety of my journey. Last year, I arrived in Colorado shrouded by the darkest of clouds and beset by distress and ennui. The bottom had fallen out from beneath me and I had few places to turn. While staying with a dear friend in New York—penniless and hopeless—I made the biggest decision of my life using the most unconventional means possible.
When in a sea of sorrow, we have a way of grasping on to things that made us happy. I hearkened back to my childhood hoping to find a path out of my melancholy. My once passions of wanting to be in the ministry and my dream of being a farmer offered a glimpse of a possible redemption. So one day, in the middle of a cold New York March, I Googled “mission, farm, and God”. After surfing through a couple of pages, one link stood out. I clicked on a website titled “Harvest Farm” and I was directed to a farm mission in Wellington Colorado.
For the next month, I kept returning to Harvest Farm’s website to read about its mission and how the farm gave a second chance to people down on their luck. The thing about anxiety is that it paralyzes decision making and impairs our cognitive ability to act. Too apprehensive to move forward and too daunted to stay in place, I prayed for a week for God to guide me in the right direction. After seven days of deep contemplation and hazed out dejection, I took a chance of a lifetime and flew out to Colorado with just my backpack and a few dollars to my name that my friend gave me.
After staying a few weeks at the Fort Collins Rescue Mission, I finally transferred to Harvest Farm. When I arrived in Wellington, Colorado, I was a wreck. I was assigned to work in the kitchen where I cooked five days a week feeding 71 other men who sought a second chance on a farm in Northern Colorado. For nine months, it was just me, myself and I as I was forced to face myself without the distractions of trying to help other people. You see, it is so much easier to come to the aid of others than it is to fix ourselves; for close to twenty years I made it my purpose to feed others while running from the very pains that I found too hard to face.
I can’t really point to one incident that started the spark of light where a once smoldering ember threatened to entomb me in perpetual darkness. Perhaps it was the time I forgot my clothes in the dryer and thought that I would find my possessions strewn about the laundry room floor only to find my clothes neatly folded and placed it in the corner. Random acts of kindness can change someone’s perspective; that small act of kindness lit a fuse of hope in me even though to this day I have no idea who folded my clothes. What seems like an insignificant act can literally change the trajectory of someone’s life; if we want to transform the world, we can do so with incremental gestures of kindness more than we can with billion dollar philanthropic ventures or top down programs.
The other profound moment transpired when my chaplain Jason encouraged me to start writing again. I remember the first time he told me to pick up the pen—I looked at him with utter exasperation. “What do you want me to write about!” was my question to him, an inquiry laden with frustration and anger at the world. The next time I met up with Jason, he gave me a notepad and a pen and just told me to write whatever came to mind. That night, I picked up the pen Jason gave me and tried my hardest to write something, anything that would give me encouragement. My mind was Ebeneezer and the pen might as well have been a boulder; nothing but blank thoughts—I went to sleep defeated shortly thereafter.
Over the next couple of days, I kept picking up the pen and started to write without thinking about what I should write about. A mind that atrophied all the sudden started to spring to life. A week later, I decided to start writing a book that I always wanted to write titled “Broken Water: the Journey of an Invisible Ethiopian” themed after a book written by Ralph Ellison. There is something healing about putting pen to paper; the act of writing serves as a pathway to release the poisons we all bottle inside. The book is a work in progress, I’ve finished about 70% of it. But at some point, instead of forcing myself to write, I put a pause on the book and started to compile the litany of poetry I wrote over the past 20 years. Along the way, I started writing new poems that helped me put my journey into perspective and started to give purpose to a seemingly purposeless tribulation.
Serendipity. The word popped in my head when I started to ponder what this book of poetry would be titled if I ever actually published my work. What an appropriate title; random burdens can actually be blessings if we choose to see goodness in the midst of injustice. When the list of poems reached 200 pages, I decided to take the next step and publish the book. I needed a title, I settled on Serendipity’s Trace (link to book). Within a couple of months, I finally published a book—something I always wanted to do but never acted in faith on it. It took a mind bending travel and travail of a lifetime for me to find the wherewithal to tell my story and not worry about judgment and how people will receive it.
I decided to give away the first thirty copies and walked around Fort Collins giving Serendipity’s Trace to random strangers. It was my way of saying thank you to the endless strangers who kept me while I was in my time of torment. One day, I walked by an art gallery and saw a lady greeting customers and being nice to everyone that walked by. Usually one to speak to anyone who crosses my path, back then I was still mired in the embrace of depression so I just walked up to the kind lady and gave her a copy of the book without saying too much. She was touched by the act of kindness and thanked me profusely for giving her a gift where she was not expecting it. A simple act thus blessed two people; my action made her smile and her smile made me feel valued.
I ran into the nameless friend I met at the art gallery later on in my journey—her name is Brittany Anderson (Facebook profile). This world is truly magical, serendipity is all about us if we only take a minute to notice it. A few months after I first met Brittany, I ran into a fellow named Kevin at a FedEx store as both of us were there working on promotional materials for our respective ventures. He invited me to a local small business event; as chance would have it, Kevin was Brittany’s boyfriend. As he was introducing me to Brittany, she said excitedly “I know you, you gave me the book by the art gallery!”. Full circle. Brittany and I became friends and I eventually found out about her story in person as she read about my story in the book I gave her.
Brittany, who is originally from Oklahoma, traveled the same path as me even if our roads were divergent. We all have these commonalities; we go through life trying to find a purpose and we travel about until serendipity finds us. As I set to depart Colorado on my new journey, I will always remember kind people like Brittany for there are blessings all around us if we only look for them. Brittany took a chance by moving to Fort Collins and that walk in faith paid off as she just opened up her yoga and meditation studio (Soul Shine Studios) where she focuses on spiritual healing and the connective energy that can help us all in this journey called life. She is a giver who found her purpose not by walking the easy path but by traveling on hard pavements.
Hard pavements though are wonderful; all exoduses eventually come to an end and trails of tears eventually give way to soul shines. Life is how we make it; I wrote a book titled Serendipity’s Trace and in time serendipity found me in ways that rivals any Hollywood movie. That script is being written but let’s just say a butterfly is leading me away from Colorado to a new life that is blessed like the city of Bethlehem. Likewise, Brittany aspired to open up a wellness studio and the name Soul Shine Studios was always in her mind. Her soul now shines and blesses countless people in Fort Collins. A long journey thus branches off into new directions; distress in time gives way to fruitfulness . From sadness to Serendipity, all souls eventually shine if we seek love within us. #Serendipity2SoulShine
“Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.” ~ Walt Whitman
If you appreciated the message behind this article and believe that there is a blessing behind every crucible, share this article on social media using #Serendipity2SoulShine
Check out the Ghion Cast, it’s a discussion of the options we all have. We have little control of what happens to us in life, but we have full control of how we choose to react to it. We can week sunshine or shadows. Be Joseph, do not be Jonah.
Check out Soul Shine Studios, click HERE or click on the picture below and if you are ever in Fort Collins or the Northern Colorado area, make sure you check out Brittany and take part in her Wednesday mediation sessions that she holds for free in local parks.
Below is an excerpt from “Serendipity’s Trace”, the blessing I found at the end of this long journey which is leading me on journey back to a home I thought I would never return to. An exodus ends in love’s embrace.
Sublime to Breathless (to Birabiro)
I’ll be damned
You are turning back the tides
It’s like you are reversing the ride
Is it possible you are inverting the chains
Refusing to let me revert to pain
Turning weeping willows into daises
Morphed endless cracks in pavements
Into Picasso’s pain strokes
Transforming tears and heartburn
Into chuckles and hopefulness
Once scorned and torn
You are restoring optimism
From bitter taste
You feed me gursha of bliss
Like a doctor you heal me
Like a teacher you lead me
From gutter to gains
Shifting all my misfortunes
Into abundance and blessings
I mean is this just perspective
or is it your essence and presence
I feel like analyzing it all
Life taught me to be tentative
Fearful of hurt and torment
But your tigist is slowly
Restoring tesfa in my wounded heart
Romance once buried
You are resurrecting my love
It took a perfect stranger
To make me believe in my last name again
Magical how life works
When you expect the worse
Unexpected joys visit without warning
From alone to your company
I was getting used to embi
Silently you whisper eshi
Lost as to what was mine
You became my yene
Keep changing my circumstance
Cocooned in solitude
You are the butterfly
Who is leading me to love
Rebirthed through your eyes
Sanctified by your lips
Your sway and your smile
Is converting a hard heart
Into a believer again
Where life dips
It’s a pause a blip
Before life takes off
Leading to new directions
Sublime is her name
I am breathless
~ Excerpt from “Serendipity’s Trace”, a book of our common struggles and connective hopes. Search “Serendipity’s Trace” on Amazon. Click HERE or the image below to check out “Serendipity’s Trace”. Poetry birthed through pains, but smiles in the end. ~
No matter how our journey starts, may all our journeys end as we are walking on sunshine
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.