Living the Dream…?

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

When did you let go of your great big dreams or put your once exuberant soul to slumber?

Then I took the next most likely leap of faith and filled my room with space – outer space – because I just had to know what heaven was all about. After Shaun Cassidy faded from the scene, posters of rockets and galaxies and even F-16 Fighting Falcons and F-15 Eagles graced my bedroom walls – because I knew you had to start somewhere and jet pilots were frequently chosen to be astronauts. I’m not quite sure when that dream faded from view – it was a focal point of my Tomboy days for sure, along with my wardrobe fixation of flannel shirts and waffle stompers. I’m sure my mother wondered where her little girl disappeared to.

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Enter the late 70’s and early 80’s and the debut of the epic television series FAME. I was convinced I would be the next Coco played by Erica Gimpel (she even shared my name – though not the spelling of it, darn it all) flying across the stage with athletic rhythm along with singing and even acting! I played Scrooge in our 5th-grade play and nailed it! Then we moved to Virginia where I put in hours and hours of practice choreographing dance routines in the cool air of our basement during our stint in Washington DC for my father’s job. I practiced the piano religiously and played competitively – first under the tutelage of an old bat who rapped my knuckles with a ruler over any mistake and then under the angel of all piano teachers, Mrs. Pataro, who believed in me and encouraged me and saw me shine at every piano recital and guild competition. I was going to make it as a star somehow! I even lived in a metropolitan area where the dream really could come true (not some hick MT town from whence I came!) Anyone heard of the Kennedy Center?

Ah yes, those were the good days when anything was possible. By the time I reached high school we were living out west again (but far from Hollywood) and it was time to start settling down and setting real goals (according to my father.) By then I was writing – quite prolifically. Ronald Reagan was president and I hung on every single word of his speeches. They were brilliant in my mind, and so I determined I would become a presidential speechwriter and then the White House press secretary. Having been exposed to the world of government and politics when one could be proud of both, this seemed a worthy avenue to pursue. While it may not have been as concrete a goal in terms of landing a job post-graduation as becoming a nurse, a teacher, or astronaut, it was at least academic.

And so I pursued mass communications and political science with a focus on public administration in college. I put in my time in a U.S. Senator’s field office (what an eye-opening experience THAT was into the true nature of politics and one’s constituents…a.k.a Your Constituents Hate You 101), the Public Relations office of the Bureau of Land Management (Bureaucracy and Politics 202), and interned at the CBS news affiliate in Billings (You Have a Face for Radio 402). Everything seemed to be falling into place, right? Except by the time I graduated from college life had gotten in the way of my dreams in a rather dire way. Rather than graduating into the field of my choice, I spent considerable time (and money) in the hospital and then recovery. By the time that ordeal was behind me, my dreams seemed out of reach and unrealistic so I took whatever job I could find that would help me emerge back into the land of the living and make a living. I have been working my way through the land of the living rather than the life of my dreams for some 25 years now. I have a great job and a vast array of experiences behind me, but my dreams are still just that – dreams.

I bring all this up now as we watch the launch into space of the 82- year old Wally Funk, who was on the first crewed flight into space by the rocket company Blue Origin. Funk is the oldest person ever to travel into space. “I didn’t think I’d ever get to go up,” Funk is quoted as saying.

Years ago, Funk had dreams like I did. Then a 21-year-old pilot, she was the youngest of the 13 women who passed the same rigorous testing as the Mercury Seven male astronauts in NASA’s program that first sent Americans into space between 1961 and 1963 but were denied the chance to become astronauts themselves because of their gender. She went on to become the first female flight instructor at a U.S. military base and the first woman to become an air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board. But she never went into space – until now. She did not live out her ultimate dream – to venture into outer space – at least on her schedule – but she made the best of her pursuit nonetheless. I doubt her life was one of ennui or regret. Quite the contrary it appears, for in various interviews she recounts a very full and vibrant life utilizing her gifts and skills to help many others, especially women, achieve their own dreams of flight.

Which begs the question that corresponds to one of my boss’s favorite lines: “I’m living the dream.” Just how does one live the dream? And furthermore, what defines a dream worth living for?

If you were to go back to your launching pad into life, what would you do differently, if anything, to achieve the dream(s) you once had? What stopped you from attaining them? Money, health, lack of education, family issues, or circumstances beyond your control? Maybe it was a more personal reason: doubt, fear, lack of vision, or a commitment to others above yourself.

Or, maybe you are one of the lucky ones who had a dream, chased it, and realized it. What now? Is living the dream any different than pursuing life as best possible?

As one who may have more years behind me than ahead – unless I somehow manage to defy my octogenarian heredity-fated lifespan – I wonder if it is worth taking time away from living my best life to pursue living the life I dreamed of? Is it worth asking the question “What could have been, if…?” Am I setting myself up for a nostalgic walk down “What-a-Failure Way”?

Or, maybe I am already realizing the dreams I once had but in my own unique and different way? I’m not an ordained Pastor with my own church but I am a Lay Pastoral Associate serving and preaching in the church and walking closely with God in His grand creation; I’m not a star of the stage and screen but I am singing – on a stage even – (when we can safely resume that art) – though no one would pay to hear me; I don’t dance much anymore but I would with a partner; I’m not a concert pianist but I have two pianos that I play with great abandon for an enrapt canine audience; I’m not flying into space but I can climb to what I now consider heaven on earth during less crowded times, and though I am not representing the President of the United States, I do write for a pretty swell boss and have my own blog!

“Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;”

How about you? Are you living your dream or living your best life possible? Is there a difference?

Whatever your answer, I think we can all raise a toast to Wally Funk in her flight to the heavens above. She has lived a life with a heart for any fate, still achieving, still pursuing, learning to labor, and to wait. I pray that when I come to the end of mine, I will be able to say the same.


A Psalm of Life
What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

Let Your Light So Shine!!!

December 31, 2015 Throwback Thursday… Ch Ch Changes – My Plans for 2015

Note: This was my workplace newsletter contribution that ran for January 2015. It is an uplifting glimpse into my hopes for the year that lay before me and worth reflecting on today.

snowshoe“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)

Last year, in our debut issue of the Coco Connection I introduced you to my “Why Not” approach to life and how this approach led to some pretty dramatic changes in my life. Changes that ran the gamut from getting more involved in my church, taking my running to the races, to a complete life change by jumping on a new job, pulling up stakes, and moving to Whitefish. (You can read that article by clicking on this link)

As I shared then, my “Why Not” approach took the place of my list of New Year’s Resolutions.  I realized that the only thing that was holding me back from living life to the fullest was my approach to life in general. I was raised to be logical and pragmatic in my decisions and I approached life with caution. When faced with change or an opportunity, my modus operandi always started with the question “What If?” Unfortunately, the “what if” was always followed by all the negative outcomes that might befall me if I changed or jumped at an opportunity. The result was stifling. So, rather than making a few resolutions to jump-start my life, I changed my approach to life as a whole. Of course, changing my approach to life required, you guessed it – more change. However, I took some deep breaths and instead of following my “What if” with all the reasons I liked staying in my comfort zone of safety, I challenged my “What if?” with a “Why Not?”

I continued my “Why Not” approach throughout 2014, jumping at chances to become more involved in my new community, accepting challenges I never dreamed I could accomplish, taking life by the horns and literally saying “Why Not” to every opportunity that came my way. The results were wonderful! I have never been as involved and connected to a new community as quickly as I am now. I focused seriously on hobbies I always pushed aside as not worth pursuing (photography, taking writing classes) and worked at perfecting my craft. I joined Toastmasters (a great organization by the way!) after years of thinking about it.  I joined three choirs and sang to my heart’s content. I volunteered with the symphony and theater company. I joined two hiking groups and found myself in the mountains nearly every weekend tis summer and fall. I spent lots of time in the presence of others, maintaining relationships, and nurturing new ones. It was, in every respect a year filled with all opportunity and experiences I could ever ask for, and more!

So why, as I surveyed the year that was, did I feel like something big was still missing in my life? I like to ponder so I spent many wintry walks pondering this feeling until I could define it. I realized that all my “Why Nots” had certainly filled my life with opportunities, but also created a definite imbalance in areas of my life that in all honesty, still needed work. Boy, it is hard to admit that! After all, my life is as full and happy as I can remember… but all that activity and jubilant busy-ness are exterior trappings, my “public face” so to speak. Instead of realizing any concrete accomplishments at the end of the year, I felt internally scattered and completely unfocused.

Thank goodness I have a compass I can use to reorient my Why Not’s for 2015. The Coco Enterprises SPRIF model for living is something I have internalized as a Coco Enterprises employee from day one but I have let those tenets get buried under the busyness of life. All five tenets (Spiritual, Physical, Relational, Intellectual, and Financial) are certainly present in my life but some (Relational and Spiritual) have clearly dominated my priorities at the expense of the other three.  Moreover, even the two tenets that were priorities in my life were, in retrospect, not focused in the right direction.

While I fed my spirit with my personal relationship with God and nurtured my soul with weekly mountain wanderings, I did not extend my quest for spiritual health to the tending to the needs of others. In other words, my Spiritual focus has been rather one-sided and selfish. I have not been God’s hands in the world as I am called to be. I will work on this in 2015 by finding ways to give my time and talents to the benefit of others.

In the area of my physical health, I am out of balance in exertion and I do not get the rest and refueling I need to be as active as I want to be. I play hard and tend to believe that I can rest when I am dead. This leads to days when my mind is scattered and I cannot focus on the task at hand or mornings when not even the sound of two alarms can raise me from my slumber. I will work towards finding a positive healthy balance between work, play, exercise, nutrition, and rest in 2015. I will learn to listen to my body’s signals of distress and heed them.

In the area of Relationships, I need to remember my relationship with myself and respect it. I need to spend as much time maintaining my personal connection and not lose sight of my own goals and objectives as I do focused on making new connections and maintaining the relationships I hold dear.

I have let my Intellectual Pursuits fall to the wayside… I let the tenets of relationship, spiritual, and financial health overwhelm my time. Sure Toastmasters is a skill-developing activity that I can proudly say I have focused on in 2014, but I let other pursuits dominate time I used to spend engrossed in a book. For 2015, I am going to allot at least 2 hours per week to time spent in a book, simple as that. Not surfing my Facebook news feed, or using the newspaper as my excuse for reading material. No, I am going to get back to my love of reading and curl up with a good book!

Financially, I have always been conservative and lived within my means, saving when I could. Yes, this has allowed me to maintain the status quo in terms of day-to-day living but it has done nothing to advance my prosperity. I carry no debt so my focus for 2015 is going to be building my nest egg and acquiring a level of financial security that allows me to see past this year and actually have a plan for moving up, maybe into the next tax bracket!

Do any of these focus points resonate with you? Perhaps, seeing one of my thoughts on paper will help you formulate the positive steps you would like to take in your journey through life in 2015.  I can certainly make a Why Not statement out of all of them without any hesitation. Let’s take them on together! I would love to cheer you on along the way, and would welcome your feedback. Feel free to connect and join me.


November 27, 2014 ~ Thoughts at Thanksgiving

1795353_897513270273272_6053940868719391842_o“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11

This Thanksgiving I find myself in a very reflective mood. This morning I spent time thinking about the journey I have been on and thanking God for the life He has blessed me with. It has not been an easy hike, but one whose path has been filled with experiences I would not trade for anything.

20 years ago, God gave me a second chance at life. I thank Him for Dr. Merchant and Dr. Hemmer who kept fighting for my life when I could not.

I thank God for Remuda, for the new reason for living I found and the determination gained there.

I thank God for my Billings Good Shepherd church family. There, in their presence I came to truly know God’s grace, abiding love, and steadying guidance. Not just through the Word as preached but through the deep friendships I formed with those who gathered there with me. It was there that I realized that God truly had a purpose for me. Through their confidence in me, I realized I could lead. Through their acts of love and acceptance, I found a place of welcome and peace.

I thank God, for every smile that has greeted me and warmed my heart.

I thank God for friendships that cross the miles, for friends that have walked this journey with me, sometimes walking beside me and lending an empathetic ear, sometimes walking behind me pushing me forward through my doubts and fears, sometimes walking in front of me and inspiring me to keep going and growing.

I thank God for new friends in new places, that bring shared joys, fresh perspectives, common conundrums, and a sense of belonging that cures a homesick heart.

I thank God for the wonderful gift of music he has flavored my life with. A gift that provides solace and joy to my weary and wild heart.

I thank God for his majestic mountains, where I find tranquility and know no boundaries.

I thank God for my new Flathead family, who has welcomed me as one their own and made me strive to be as generous, gracious, and intelligent as they are!

I thank God for my family back home, who has loved me through it all.

I thank God for the opportunity to live, to live fully and to share my life with the amazing, inspiring, humbling, and hilarious people I have come to know and love along the way.

I thank God for giving me the determination to live 20 years ago, the strength to start living vitally 8 years ago, and the courage to truly embrace life with abandon 3 years ago.

I thank God for the gift of Love.

I thank God, for every tomorrow, for the opportunity to start anew each day and keep trying to be the woman He created me to be.

“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. The will walk and not faint.” ~ Isaiah 40:31

March 2014 ~ Birthday Reflections

11037654_953755714649027_4515885121722983838_o“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~Jeremiah 29:11

There were certainly many things I thought I would be by the time I reached the regal age of 44….

As a 5 year old I was pretty sure I was going to be a pastor…oh how before my time I was!!

As a 10 year old, I thought I would be old.

As a 15 year old I envisioned myself happily married and the mother of 4 boys : Will, Peter, Grant, and Thor…..

As an 18 year old I was pretty sure I would be wrapping up my stint as the longest serving White House Press Secretary and probably NOT a mother of 4 boys…

As a 23 year old, I wasn’t sure I would make it to 24 let alone 44…

As a 30 year old I started dreaming again but had all the time in the world to make those dreams happen and 44 seemed awfully far away…

As a 35 year old I was in wonder at my wisdom as a 5 year old and giving serious thought to becoming a pastor, then decided it wouldn’t be prudent to just be getting settled somewhere at 44… (ha!)

As a 40 year old, I was certain I would be a homeowner near the western edge of Billings, serving another term on the church council, with a serious case of wanderlust and an adorable dog to keep me company….

As a 41 year old, I didn’t know what a week from now would hold for me let alone 3 yrs down the road.

As a 43 year old, with my 44th birthday dawning within hours, I don’t have to wonder what I will be when my day on the calendar is celebrated…. What I am is far less important than who I am and who I continue to become.

Who I am is a woman still full of dreams and laughter, too young to have kids of her own but happy to play with yours. I am a woman who tries to be courageous and strong in her daily walk in life but is shadowed by doubt. I am a woman filled with hope and the knowledge that every day is a gift from God and a chance to start anew.

I am woman who loves her life and WILL continue to change and grow for the better.

Who I am is a surprisingly adventurous woman who wants nothing more than to savor every breath of peace she finds wandering in the mountains. A woman who has no idea what her future holds but knows that God has been shaping her for some purpose greater than she can understand right now.

I am a woman who loves her independence but doesn’t want to be alone in the journey. I am a woman who loves deeply, cherishes friendship, and desires community. I am a woman who prays she shines the light of her Lord into the lives of those she encounters and leaves them with a smile on their face and peace in their heart. 

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” ~Matthew 5:16

August 11, 2013 ~ How the Journey Began – A Letter of Goodbye

churchMy life was forever changed by the community and grace I found in a place that became my second home in my thirties. The sanctuary I found in The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Billings, MT became the launching pad for my new life in and with Christ. I have always been a Christian. I was born and raised with the teachings of the church and my family was and is steadfast in their faith. But there is  difference in being born and raised a Christian  and actually knowing Christ and accepting His grace and mercy into one’s life. I came to know Christ and gave my life to Him in this place. It was here that He showed me I could not only walk in His light but shine it. It was in this place with the people that gathered together there that I became someone I didn’t think possible: a strong leader with a hopeful spirit. It was in this place I found life again and developed the courage to chase it.

“Beautiful Lord, wonderful Savior
I know for sure all of my days are held in Your hand
And crafted into Your perfect plan

You gently called me into Your presence
Guiding me by Your Holy Spirit
Teach me dear Lord, to live all of my life
Through Your eyes”

For those of you who have worshiped on Saturday nights and have had the opportunity to hear Shekinah sing, you have most likely heard our rendition of “The Potters Hand”. This song has
become known as “Erika’s Song” within our group and for good reason. No other song has captured the spirit of my life as it has— much like no other community of people has captured my heart as you have. This gathering of people has something very special to offer. No matter how different our lives may be we manage to come together as One Flock, brothers and sisters in Christ beneath the cross of Jesus. This flock knows when a wayward soul needs tending. When I was lost and stumbling like a lamb YOU came into my life BOLDLY and never let me go. I believe God placed me in your presence so that he could use me as he saw fit and in doing so, restored my soul. It was through your tender shepherding that I was reunited with my Good Shepherd. Today I live for Him. I rejoice in the new life and new purpose He has blessed me with and I found here at LCGS.

And I’m captured by Your Holy calling
Set me apart, I know You’re drawing me to Yourself
Lead me Lord, I pray

Take me and mold me, use me, fill me
I give my life to the Potter’s hand
Call me, You guide me, lead me, walk beside me
I give my life to the Potter’s hand

It is at LCGS that I came to truly know God’s grace, abiding love, and steadying guidance. Not just through the Word as preached but through the loving acts of and deep friendships formed with those who gather here as one flock with one Shepherd. It is at LCGS that I realized that God truly has a purpose for me and for every single one of you. Through your confidence in me, I realized I could lead. Through your acts of caring and concern for me and so many others in our flock – I found a place of welcome and peace. Inside these walls LOVE happens and that LOVE is carried forever into the community by the hearts you have touched.

“You gently call me into Your presence
Guiding me by Your Holy Spirit
Teach me dear Lord, to live all of my life
Through Your eyes

I’m captured by Your Holy calling
Set me apart, I know You’re drawing me to Yourself
Lead me Lord, I pray

Take me and mold me, use me, fill me
I give my life to my Potter’s hand
Call me, guide me, lead me, walk beside me
I give my life to the Potter’s hand”


the road As I write this letter of thanks to you today, I am filled with a mix of so many emotions – feelings of excitement and fear, joy and sorrow, hope and trepidation, strength and humility. I am about to embark on the next chapter of my life, one that could not be written were it not for your presence in my life. You have been God’s hands helping Him to shape and mold me into the person I am today— a much different person than I was what seems so long ago when I gave myself fully to the Lord in your midst. You have used my talents –helping me see what I am capable of and you have filled me with joy as I found peace and purpose in serving Him. The people of this church have become as much a part of me as the skin on my hands. I am honored and humbled to have served the Lord with you and I will be taking you with me. Following my heart and venturing to Whitefish, MT for a new career and new path in my life has been a very hard decision to make, but saying goodbye to the weekly – sometimes several times per week – gatherings with you that are such a blessed part of my life, is even harder. You may think LCGS needs to “get with the program, remodel the church building, bring in more people, change up the music, fix this, and fix that” but I have to tell you that something very special is already here in this place. Whatever comes of the above worthy goals, never lose sight of the presence of the Holy Spirit that dwells within and through all of you. That is what LCGS is about. The Holy Spirit is alive and thriving in all of you. Thank you for taking me in, calling me, leading me, using me, filling me, and walking beside me in my life’s journey thus far. I will dearly miss rejoicing in the grace of God, teaching the message of Jesus Christ, and ministering faithfully to all people with you. the road 2

“The Potter’s Hand” Darlene Zschech, Touching Heaven, Changing Earth Hillsong 1998

August 9, 2013 ~ Another Door Closes


My last day of work at Wyo-Ben, Inc was bittersweet. As anyone who has worked for a family owned business knows, even when there are bad days and grumpy co-workers you find yourself connecting to your work in ways that you wouldn’t working for a large corporation. Not only did I have a sense of ownership in the work I did but a sense of comradeship with my coworkers. You go through life together, personal lives intersecting with work lives, failures, triumphs, death, new life…. your coworkers are by your side through it all. I was blessed to work for a family who valued the whole person in their employees. I was delighted to work in a beautiful place surrounded by wildlife that we were encouraged to enjoy. As I ended this five year stint in my working life and headed to a completely different career in the financial field, I had a sense of fear… I was good at what  I did. There was a comfort in knowing everyday I came to work I could do the job and do it well. But greater things awaited me and if I wanted to grow, I would have to take some chances and step out of my comfort zone. These were my thoughts that day.


Springtime gosling… an annual rite.

When I first came to work at Wyo-Ben, Inc. 5 years ago I had no idea what to expect. Yes, I knew that I would be working in a beautiful office and I would be shipping rail cars of something called Bentonite that had over 1000 uses to places far and away! I never dreamed I would be conversing with people from all over the world or dealing with overloaded rail cars, or discussing how BIG of a deal the difference in color between a light grey or tan material was for kitty litter — cats really are finicky and apparently so are their owners!! I think I had spoken to a Canadian once or twice in my life before coming to work for Wyo-Ben! Now I do it on a regular basis! I came to realize I was one of the lucky ones who learned the Oil Well business from none other than Harry Funk – a legend whose gruffness masked a very kind and funny soul! Not only did I learn about oil fields and the history of ALL of our customers from Harry, but I was treated to golf stories, and war stories, wife stories and music business stories, and jokes I probably should never have heard! That he worked up until his dying day– 50 plus years at Wyo-Ben – made me feel pretty darn sure I was working for a good company.


More babies!

What I found at Wyo-Ben was a family– from the Wyoming Wyo-Ben’ers to the Billings Headquarters gang – there was something deeper shared between us than just coming to work each day and doing our jobs. The Brown’s truly cared about each of us. We all cared about each other and we were encouraged to share what is important to us. The longevity of the Wyo-Ben employee – –something I won’t have there – is a testament to the quality of life Wyo-Ben offers it’s employees. Yes there were changes over the years- but all in all, it was a wonderful place to be with wonderful people 8 hours of the day, 5 days a week MOST OF THE TIME!!


Taking big steps of their own.

I thank my coworkers for your patience when I was new and just learning the ropes and rails. Thank you for the laughter shared despite stressful circumstances with our friends at the rail road. It is hard to leave a place such as this for the unknown but this place and the people in it were purposely placed in my life journey for a reason! If I can handle the rail road – I can handle anything, right? Truth be told, I have grown so much in the time I have spent at Wyo-Ben. Thank you for supporting that growth and encouraging me along the way.
I am going to miss our Christmas Parties, Springtime Gosling Watch, and each and every one of you.