Sunday Blessing

May we rest from the cacophony that deafens.
May we allow ourselves to absorb beauty and find peace.
May we be gentle with ourselves and those around us.
May our eyes close with hope tonight.
Choose to bless and receive blessing, my friends.

#SundayBlessing #SequoiaNationalPark #ExploretoCreate #getoutside #staystrong
Photo Credit: Julia Penner-Zook
© Julia Penner-Zook, 2018
follow me on Instagram: @julia_penner_zook
follow me on Twitter: @J_Pennz

Of Seabiscuit and Hands


A foray into vulnerability.

A journey I would rather reserve for an intimate group of people I already know have my back. But, I forge ahead!


Think back – oh say 18 or 24 months. Did anything significant happen to you? As you’re thinking back, things like a professional change, a fantastic trip, a surge in writing acclaim or book sales, a new connection, maybe a dream house may come to mind!

Significant doesn’t always relate to the glowing and exuberant times in our lives, however. It is simply something that is noteworthy. Yes, I know. Many times we’d rather not pay attention to less desirable blocks of time in our lives, as if not everyone experiences them. We have convinced ourselves that the dark times in our lives would set us apart as inferior. Less-than. Indicating a failure of sorts.

img_1612In spite of that, I will venture a stroll through a significant change in my life. Care to join me? If not, I won’t be offended if you sit here on this park bench and we’ll resume our conversation after the significant portion, simply carrying on as if nothing ever happened.

It began as a harmless nodule. Annoying at first, then the focus of a few jokes and flippantly suggested home remedies. But whatever it was, grew. Turns out it was not dangerous – as anyone who does not depend on his / her hands would classify danger. But you know what I mean: this was not a terminal condition. At least that was reassuring. The follow-up questions, however, most certainly included:
What is the prognosis?
…..What treatments are available?
……….How effective are the treatments?

Here’s what was happening: my fingers (one on each hand, at this point) began curling inward towards the palms. At any point, it could affect other fingers. Initially this genetic condition was neither painful nor was deterioration rapid. In time, however, it was very clear that something had to be done. Without obsessing over timeframes, treatments, the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of each, suffice it to say: multiple treatments were only marginally effective and I’m left with pain and some limitation in both hands. And, possibly because I’m a writer (or just because) there have been many sleepless nights of fear, anger, uncertainty and sadness. Deep, dark sadness.

So, here I am, dutifully exercising both hands 2-3 times daily and wearing rigid splints on both hands every night. I’ve moved from dictating everything I write, through numerous phases of inefficient and painful typing, to where I can now write on a computer for a few hours, using 3 fingers and 2 thumbs – with varying degrees of pain. Not bad! I’m functioning and I am most certainly not delving into this tale to solicit sympathy. This story is merely a foundation.

At one point in my journey of recovery I happened upon a brief article about Laura Hillenbrand, author of the two best-selling books, Seabiscuit and Unbroken. What’s remarkable about this woman (she is 49 years old at time of writing) is that since she was 19, she has been chronically ill, in excruciating pain, sometimes housebound for years at a time. Yet she has not allowed this debilitating challenge to keep her down. (On a side note: I had fallen in love with the story of Seabiscuit and was delighted to learn more about this gifted writer.)


While I hesitate to share Hillenbrand’s searing story as a point of reference to mine, her experience of debilitation, courage and perseverance strikes a chord! I cannot allow anything to stand in my way. Not pain. Not uncertainty. Not disappointment. Not delay.

I have a passion for writing. I get to write; I have to write. My mental, emotional and physical wellbeing depend on it.

How about you? What’s your passion? What is it you live to get up for? Have you lost the drive for this passion – for whatever reason – and landed in a place you think you can’t overcome? Sometimes all it takes is one story! One other person, in essence, coming alongside saying: get up, dust yourself off and move. Move forward.

I hit a solid, massive wall recently. This low had been coming for some time, and I know it’s not the last. I am positive there will be more threatening canyons and other dismal nights.

But there’s something I know for a fact: there are those who have blazed the trail for us, just as there are people in our tribes who lift us from our knees. These are the ones who look us in the eye (or whose words leap from a page) and say: What do you think you’re doing? You’re not giving up! You’re moving on. Moving forward. Now get up and we’ll walk together a stretch. I’m here for you! I’m here with you!

So this story is as much for me as it is for anyone who reads it. It’s one of my accountability tools that says: you summoned the courage to put yourself out there, now you can’t quit!

Same for you, my friend! We can’t quit! The world needs each story, each voice, each painting, piece of music, sculpture, photograph, each marathon run – more now than ever. These masterpieces and achievements breathe life into our taxed and battered souls.

Are you with me?

© Julia Penner-Zook, 2017
Photo credits: Wikipedia; Unsplash

Standing Up and Showing Soul

img_1487“One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul.”
Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Native American poet, author, spoken word artist, elder.


Today I attempt to stand up and to show my soul – in part, ever emerging and evolving with hope.

Here I sit,
Lie awake – tossing amongst
twisted sheets,
Drugged by staccato
………image –
some people jubilant,
many horrified,
……others rising up, facing
existential fear –
for their lives,

Here I think,
Peer deeply into my soul –
so raw, so utterly vulnerable,
Inundated by sinister recollections of
that target people
in our families,
……o our circle of friends,
………our homes and world communities –
at the core.

The calls for moderation,
good will,
peaceful continuance
in forgiveness,
fail to pause, overlooking
the fundamental prior question:

What is it like to be YOU?

What’s it like to have
a skin-tone that immediately
places you into an even more
menacing place than you’ve
already been relegated to?

What’s it like to wear
clothing, easily
identifying you as belonging
to a member of a minority
faith community?

What’s it like to have a
heritage, first exploited, now
facing massive backlash,
children fearing
upheaval, uprooting, unthinkable loss?

What’s it like to be a woman
where you not only have to
fight harder, work longer, outperform,
but you now need to be EVEN more vigilant –
poised to defend yourself at every turn?

What’s it like to be differently abled
in a world where we have seen
we do not hold accountable those
who mock and disregard people
who are different from us?

What’s it like to be the original
dwellers on this soil, hearing
the recent conquering peoples’ choice
threaten others’ welcome to this land
based on belief and country of origin?

What is it like?

Unless we have been there,
experienced that,
humbled ourselves to listen,
to come alongside,
witnessed in silence,
sat down with
rather than risen up above,
We must peer deeper still into our soul.

To show my soul is to confess
I will continue to peer –
to discern where I
harbor self-serving derailers,
perpetuate acquiescence,
become an enabler of oppression.

To show my soul requires
a stronger commitment
to solidarity with
those who walk another path,
……to stand my ground with
……those whose inalienable rights are
……being stripped away,
………to learn by listening,
…………walking side-by-side
…………for as long as it takes until
…………we all stand together as one.

© Julia Penner-Zook, 2016
Photo credit: Alex Wigan via


img_1485I hear calls for unity
I read admonitions to
… move on
…accept reality
…respect feelings
…support the new direction.
…”rejoice with those who rejoice.”

I will.
I resolve to.
I can.
In time.

In your haste to move on
to celebrate,
to share victorious congratulations,
remember those who are grieving,
as I hope I could have,
had the tables been turned.

I have lost.
Not an election, but
I have lost ground.
I have lost ground on a path towards

* respect and dignity
* full acceptance of my loved ones of color
as equal, protected, valued,
* recognition of those who are “abled” as well as
those “differently abled”
* the assurance that people – high ranking and the rank and file – will be held accountable for aggression toward
and disregard of girls and women
* truly caring for people who are in desperate need
* respect for the other – whether that is a foreigner,
someone who is LGBTQ, a person who worships differently than I do – or not at all, or one who falls into yet another other category.

It’s like losing a loved one!
Many have quick, pat answers for that, too;
formulas for how grief and life works

“It’s God’s will…”
“You will make it…”
“It’s just like when I…”
“Don’t be so dramatic…”
“This is no time for self-pity…”
“Dust yourself off…”

Please, don’t.
Can you just give me a little minute?

I will rally.
Yes, I will.
But today, I humbly acknowledge
the pain, the loss, the disappointment.
I work hard to keep from using
pejorative language
that would label you.
It helps me to imagine sitting
across from friends and loved ones
whom I disagree with, but still respect.

I will rally.
Yes, I will.
But you cannot regulate grief,
put an expiration date on disillusionment,
disregard the time it takes simply
to process all that has been,
and ponder the ramifications
for the future.

I will rally.
Yes, I will.
I will rally to fight,
Not to fight you.
Not to prove who’s right or who’s wrong.
I will fight
NOT against, but FOR all I value.
… FOR all the things I wrote about yesterday,
which are as true today as they were 24 hours ago.
I will fight for
and opportunity.

Because of today’s loss – today’s grief –
my fight may be stronger
more public
more outspoken
less afraid.

I suspect there will be times in which
we may fight together.
You and I.

We will rally.

© Julia Penner-Zook, 2016
Photo credit: Milada Vigerova via

On This Election Day

img_1483If someone had told me
two, three, four years ago
that I would not be voting
in the 2016 US election,
I would have thrown my head back…


OF COURSE, I would vote!
It was a given!
I’d make it happen,
no question!
This was long before
I had any idea whose names
would be on the ballot.

But… I’m not voting.
That’s right.
I didn’t cast a ballot online,
didn’t go to early voting,
and I’m not standing in line today
in order to do my civic duty.

Now, before you either
congratulate me for not
succumbing to the messiness
of the insults, innuendos,
threats and accusations
of this election cycle,
lecture me for my
irresponsibility – even recklessness to
be uninvolved in this
historic election,
let me calm your fears,
interrupt your assumptions, and
help you with your rising blood pressure.

Here’s the thing: I CAN’T VOTE!

That’s right.
If I tried, I’d be one of those
dastardly individuals who is
allegedly pretending to be someone
she is not!

Believe me: I had every intention of voting.
I moved forward in plenty of time – years, in fact –
to ensure that I would add “Citizen of the United States of America”
to my already beloved designation of “Citizen of Canada”.

But one barrier after another –
a collection of delays, a non-responsive elected official,
(he couldn’t know which way I leaned politically, could he?!),
as well as unforeseen circumstances left me without…
…a US passport.

I’m sad about that.
Not sad because I think MY vote would have
made the ultimate difference,
but sad, because the reason
I’m denied a vote is clear!
I’m not a citizen.
I weep for those who ARE citizens, but,
for whatever reason, will be unable to vote
this election cycle.

My inability to vote, however, doesn’t
change everything for me,
as it may for those whose voices
are stilled.

My inability to vote doesn’t absolve
me from participating in this nation –
one I’ve been honored to call home for decades.
In fact, my permanent residency
requires the same of me as of my neighbor
who is able to vote:
– I pay my taxes
– I abide by the laws of the nation
(well, sometimes I have been known to drive
just a little over the speed limit
And… I have paid my fine ON TIME!)
– I register my vehicles, and carry legal insurance
– While I may not be able to be on a jury, I can sit and I have sat in court, to be a presence in support of someone
who is under supported.

Dear US Citizen,
Today there is a gulf between you and me.
You have a bridge to the polling booth;
that is a bridge I cannot cross.
But just as I do not hold that against you,
I am also neither bitter nor smug.

Tomorrow you and I
will be eerily the same.
We will both waken (or remain awake!)
to hear the same news,
though possibly “spun” differently;
we will be called upon to live within
the same reality.

And we will both have choices.
Some will opt to be dismissive and despairing,
waiting for the next “told-you-so” moment.
Others will gloat, taking every opportunity
to bluster about how we’ve been saved
from imminent disaster.

But there is another option: one I hope to take,
even though I’m not able to cast a ballot.
I will keep on being who I am –
who I’ve been becoming for decades.
It may be easier or more difficult,
depending on who is elected,
but my choice still remains.

Here’s who I hope to be – and keep becoming:
I will continue to be passionately dedicated to
and opportunity.

I will continue to support those
who work towards those goals.

I will continue to smile at the woman I meet in a public restroom
– the one who’s dress identifies her as
belonging to a different belief from mine.
I will continue to be courteous in traffic, when a vehicle with
bumper stickers I disagree with, cuts me off.
I will continue to be a silent and verbal
witness for those whose voices are muted.
I will continue to allow those who have
a different history from mine to help me understand
how my words, attitudes and actions perpetuate injustice.
I will continue to listen to people who think, speak, believe and vote
differently than I do.

Tomorrow we will be much more alike
than we are different.
You and I.
My commitment is
not to allow an election cycle to get me off course
– make me into someone I have never been –
I will continue. I will persevere.
I invite you to join me.

© Julia Penner-Zook, 2016
photo credit: Elliott Stallion via

Passage of Time


Face lifted into gathering wind, she closes her eyes. Here she stands. Bystanders and beach walkers would classify the scene as idyllic. Serene. Yet, with sand all around, fading warmth giving way to nightfall’s chill, seagulls offering their voice of beckoning tranquility, her heart beats relentlessly. Her over-sized, faded denim shirt snaps like an oddly-shaped flag in the gathering storm. Deep furrows carved into her porcelain forehead, hair disheveled in salty breeze and invisible weights drawing her shoulders forward, she is momentarily quiet. At least outwardly.

Her mind is not at peace. Questions, uncertainty, fear, pain and loss fight for internal space – for the right to be heard. Felt. Acknowledged. Processed. These invisible warriors’ battle is impeded by the thick, impenetrable fog that seeps in from between floorboards, swirls out of electrical outlets, descends from ceilings already low and ominous. The room of her mind reels and rocks – like a vessel on open, moonless sea.

She recoils at her compromised mental condition. Far from shore, currents and torrents turbulent and wild, panic now engulfs her. How had she come to this place? Where is the end to convulsing and contorting – to the strangling images of subsistence, submersion, suffocation? She hears faint laughter – mocking, merciless. Even her own mind betrays her.

Her body trembles, she shakes her shoulders as if to cast aside an unnecessary garment. The sensation of sand between her toes magnetically draws her down to rest in its endless embrace, each grain a soothing invitation to stillness. Her eyes do not open as she resigns to quieting respite. Here, one with endless ocean sand, she finds shelter from furious wind, taunting turmoil, gloating grave. In silence – in time – constriction releases its grip, grudgingly handing the baton off to composure; contradiction to confirmation; commotion to calm.

She lies, crumpled, convoluted. Time ushers each ranting mental player to the sidelines, allowing tenderness and compassion to settle. She stretches. The gentle warmth of sand beneath, solitude surrounding and grace within caresses a scorched soul. Hope flows through inner desert regions, offering a benediction – raising its arms to lift her to possibility. Newness. Life.

Her eyes open to the faint shimmer of a new day. No longer does wind rage or sky threaten. Her breath comes in life-giving waves; her heart is stilled. This is not the end. Nor is it the beginning. It is a simple segment in the passage of time.

© Julia Penner-Zook, 2016
photo credit: JPZ – personal photo library