God transforming beauty from our ashes is awe-inspiring. Join me in this intimate conversation – “Beauty from Ashes with Kimberly Phinney” and your host, me – Deborah. I loved every moment, smile, and word. And that Angels love jazz and finding holy in the mountains. You will also hear Kimberly read her lovely poem “Angels Like Jazz.”
You have the choice of listening to the podcast, reading an edited version for print, or watching the video – see the links below.
Kimberly’s story is a Beauty from Ashes story where we first-hand watch God transform her life. We learn from Kimberly’s story that God’s promise of Beauty from Ashes is for all of us. God showed her the vision of a path in the Blue Ridge Mountains that was a way back to herself. Only it wasn’t her old self but a renewed self that only God could orchestrate.
You can LISTEN to the podcast here or scroll down to WATCH or READ our conversation.
God transforming beauty from our ashes is awe-inspiring.
Join me in this intimate conversation – “Beauty From Ashes with Kimberly Phinney” and your host, me – Deborah. I loved every moment, smile, and word. And that Angel’s love jazz and finding holy in the mountains.
- Kimberly’s story is a Beauty from Ashes story where we first-hand watch God transform her life. We learn from Kimberly’s story that God’s promise of Beauty from Ashes is for all of us. God showed her the vision of a path in the Blue Ridge Mountains that was a way back to herself. Only it wasn’t her old self but a renewed self that only God could orchestrate.
- We emphasize the importance of personal connections, slow growth, and divine direction.
- Kimberly shares her experiences with adversity, particularly her struggle with stage 4 endometriosis, and how these trials have shaped her life and perspective.
- Despite the challenges, we both expressed contentment with their current situations and the blessing of showing up with faith, obedience, and joy in watching God multiply what we might have thought meager or only crumbs.
- We also discussed the power of offering even small contributions and the ripple effect that can occur from one person’s actions.
- We delve into shifting from focusing on individual pursuits to community building.
- Our discussion highlighted the role of spirituality, personal growth, and authenticity in their healing processes.
- Beautifully, Kimberly reads her poem, “Angels Like Jazz.” We would love to hear from you. Does it give you hope, too, that God makes beauty from our ashes? That no suffering or adversity goes unnoticed by Him. That our faith and obedience lead to the most beautiful blessings. We would love to hear your story too.
If you would like to read or watch at Behold-Her Beauty or continue reading below:
Also, we would love to hear from you. Does it give you hope, too, that God makes beauty from our ashes? That no suffering or adversity goes unnoticed by Him. That our faith and obedience lead to the most beautiful blessings. We would love to hear your story too.
“Beauty From Ashes” With Kimberly Phinney (Edited for print version)
Deborah: Welcome, Kimberly, and I love all you’re doing. I met you at the beginning of the summer and didn’t know I was looking for a poetry community, but I was. The moment I showed up on your Instagram page, you were so welcoming. You were just like, come on in, Deborah.
Kimberly: Yes, that to me is like the cornerstone of care that we want to emanate at The Way Back 2 Ourselves. It’s not just about putting out great work, that’s important, but it’s soul care, too. I want to know the people in our community and look at them, find them, see them, celebrate what they’re doing, and support them — for it to be like a symbiotic relationship. It’s about compassionate care.
Deborah: I would like to introduce you. Kimberly is an English professor, counselor, mother, wife, writer, poet, essayist, article writer, soul seeker, and beauty seeker. And you started The Way Back 2 Ourselves, a blog, a literary journal, and now a podcast. And you do it all with such grace and love. I would like you to tell us about yourself and your story.
Kimberly: Absolutely. Thank you for your kindness. I would probably say the centerpiece of it is suffering. And the answer is beauty from ashes. If I didn’t go through immense suffering, let’s be very honest, I would still be teaching in room 925 because I’m a bloom-where-you’re-planted kind of girl. That’s how my mom raised me. If my community and my reach are small, if it’s good and holy and purposeful, I am happy, and I was happy in room 925. I was intentionally making my life very small and focused.
I quit all social media for about six years. I withdrew from a lot of things. I put many things on hold, namely my career and my family. Doctoral studies and many other things because we had a miracle daughter. I struggled with years of infertility and serious health problems. And it was because of aggressive stage four endometriosis, which I still suffer from today.
It’s something that I didn’t want to come to terms with because it’s such an intimate disease, and for those of you listening, it primarily starts with the reproductive organs in a woman, but it’s so much more than that. It behaves like a cancer without cancer cells, moving throughout your body and attaching to multiple organs. When you’re stage four, it’s that dire. And that’s where I live. To try to put a positive spin on it, the suffering led to extreme trials that almost killed me but did not because I decided, and really this has to do with the Lord and my family and my faith, that we decided we would not be defeated.
I was in my wheelchair, and for those of you who are reading, some of you know my story, some of you don’t, but I’ve had multiple surgeries, and in one of them, I got sepsis, and then I battled this infection. I had multiple hospitalizations on top of still having aggressive stage four endometriosis, and together, they made me bedridden. They crippled me. I was too ill to be operated on while the disease spread. It became critical. In that, you do want to die. All I could see was waking up and suffering. I was a mom to a very young child at the time because it’s been about a four-year fight, and she’s only six, and yes, even retelling this to you makes me feel — it’s an otherworldly feeling to talk about.
On my third surgery, I was able to be made stable. But over the past two years, I’ve declined again because the disease is not curable. You keep having many surgeries and therapies, and you can make your life more livable. But I am out of a wheelchair. I fought and learned how to walk again — PT, prayers. In that journey, over a year ago, I got COVID and when I was a little more stable, out of the dark period, I told my husband, “You know that thing I’ve been dreaming about? This idea of the way back to ourselves. I’m going to make the website.”
In the middle of me having COVID, He’s like, this woman has lost her mind, but I love her. And I support her, and he’s a very supportive husband. But he’s worried about me because it’s my MO to overextend, especially in the middle of health issues. I started it and I was happy to see it be a nice little blog with maybe 50 readers, and that would be fine, to put something good out there and connect with a few like-minded people.
To minister to people, and this is where the God story comes in because in my own healing, in my own humanness and vulnerability, and being willing to share. I had the attitude of I almost died. What’s going to happen, like what can happen to me now? People can tell me no, they don’t like it, or I can get rejected, and I don’t want that, but I am not risk adverse anymore because I feel so called. When you have a near-death experience, everything gets reordered. I got so much clarity at 37 instead of 67 or 87. I saw things we usually don’t see until the end of life if we’re blessed. So every day I bring my crumbs. I offer them up to the people here and to the Lord, who has multiplied them.
Faith & Obedience
Deborah: Faith and obedience — how do we show up when we feel like our offering is meager or crumbs?
Kimberly: That if you just minister to the one, if you impact the one, then you can see what God does, and that is so redeeming, and it feels so good, especially if you felt rejected or, not seen in your life.
I love being able to see people. Not only is that bringing healing with them through the Lord, but it also brings healing into my own life. It’s the idea of that wounded healer, and I just feel like that’s so meaningful that sometimes I tell myself, Get over yourself just show up. I posted that the other day about the podcast, where it’s like, but I don’t know — just show up. But I’m sick, just show up. And that’s what I’ve been telling myself because even on the most rotten days if I feel like I don’t have much to offer up, the power of just showing up and admitting that still touches somebody.
Deborah: It does. There’s one person who needed to hear that, but it’s the ripple effect because that one person goes on to the next person to the next person, and that’s how God works.
Deborah: In Episode One of The Way Back Podcast you felt like God was talking to your heart and then your husband took you up to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and you kept seeing a path. Then, when you said that (it just gives me chills now).
Kimberly: It’s very emotional.
Deborah: There must be a way.
Deborah: Find a way back. And that’s so powerful.
Kimberly: And that’s where the name came from.
Deborah: So if you want to talk about that some.
Kimberly: It’s a story of critical illness and mental illness. I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, and postpartum. It could be coming to terms with things you’ve done that you regret. I mean, there’s a point in time where I feel like all of us can wake up and say, How did I get here? And how do I get there — BACK? For me, the soul-wrecking thing is it was an overnight illness that made me sicker and sicker. But then it went from, okay, I can control this, I can hide it, I can medicate to critical mass to the point where I was hospitalized bedridden. There was a stretch of time where I was not much more than a sack of bones. That’s how it felt. I would lay in bed at night because I couldn’t sleep and was becoming delirious, and I kept seeing this road, this pathway.
My parents moved away to the Blue Ridge Mountain area when I was 18. I’m in Florida, and I’ve been here since I was five. We are from the outer Boston area, and our family were New Englanders. That’s how I’m connected and rooted there — that was my second family home. I would go there whenever I could. My parents had roots there until about seven years ago.
The end game is to move there when the Lord wills but the past four or five years have been survival mode, but that would be the plan. For me, church and being a part of a body and being in the Bible and all of that, all sacred, all important things, but my true church where I feel like the Lord comes up to meet me and I can see his beauty I find a tangible place where my soul rests. It’s standing on the Blue Ridge Parkway, staring at those Blue Ridge Mountains.
We’ve been able to get back but very limited. It doesn’t look the way it used to, but we sat out there, and I looked over those mountains, and that was right before The Way Back 2 Ourselves came to be. I breathed deeply, and I got a knowing that there was a way back and it won’t always look the same. You don’t want to crawl back into exactly what was. It’s a forward path that reaches back. That vision, what God was doing in it, I hardly take credit because it was such a deeply moving, stirring image that I could not shake.
Deborah: In the podcast, you said that this dream that God gave you was a gift that you needed at that time.
Deborah: I think God does that. He knows when we need the gift of a dream to give us that hope.
Kimberly: I’ve said it so many times since whenever anybody messages me or DMs or reaches out to invite me on something and, sometimes, they might say, “Oh, you’re writing or what you’re doing or who you are, it’s such a gift,” and I always want to turn it back and say, no, God bless you. You are here reading what I’m writing, and you’re partaking, and you are the gift.
I definitely feel like a pauper standing amongst the gifts. My job is to keep showing up and curating a space to offer that soul-care, love, and opportunity for people to come together and not make it about me but this community.
Deborah: When it’s a community, it’s like this celebration of people and it feels really good, fun, and exciting, but when it’s just you, it feels…
Kimberly: Right. I love the divine “we” so much more than the self-serving “I”. I’m reading David Brooks’s The Second Mountain. I’m not very far into it, but what you mentioned. There are two mountains in our lives. Not everybody gets to their second mountain.
The first mountain is egotistical. It’s the “I”. It’s driven. It’s when we’re finding — what will my job be? Who am I going to marry? My white picket fence — and all of these things we get tied up in. It’s not that those things are wrong but it is about that self-driven trajectory.
Then something catastrophic happens that dashes us off that first mountain into a valley, which can be suffering and all the things we’ve discussed. Then he said people can choose to stay in the valley and become shut-ins and become bitter and not grow or rebound from what’s happened, or they can choose the second mountain.
The second mountain, isn’t that beautiful? This is a different mountain entirely, and it’s about altruism and community. It’s about serving something divine, something larger than ourselves and man. That resonated with me because I was on my first mountain until I was 37. And again, I want to emphasize if you’re on your first mountain, you’re not a bad person.
If you’ve never suffered, like maybe some of us have, you’re not a bad person. But suffering and being dashed off your first mountain will carry a layer of learning you can’t otherwise. What’s wild to me is I went through this, I’m still in it, and I’m starting to climb the second mountain. I find that so perfect for The Way Back 2 Ourselves because the imagery is the mountains.
Deborah: There’s a book — Stuff I’d Only Tell God.
Deborah: It’s Jennifer Dukes Lee. “Thin places are physical locations where the veil between heaven and earth seems very thin and porous. Here, you sense that you are in the middle of a sacred transcendent place. You can breathe again. God is very near.” (Stuff I’d Only Tell God: A Guided Journal of Courageous Honesty, Obessive Truth-Telling, and Beautifully Ruthless Self-Discover, P. 106, Bethany House.)
Then, in the journal prompt, you write down your thin places down. I wrote the Smoky Mountains, on the beach, a sailboat in the Bahamas, and in St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest. That relates somehow to me, your second mountain.
Kimberly: Yes, I can see how you saw that because the second mountain can be a thin space because it is something more than ourselves. Like we’ve been knocked around. We decided to summit out of the abyss, which takes a lot of fortitude, and like the Phoenix, you’re reborn.
It’s interesting, too, because here I am, 40, and in many ways, I’m in the infancy of a lot of things. It definitely feels like a rebirth. I had to walk away from my job and everything that was. I had to learn to walk again. I have had to deal with the fact that I will never be able to have another baby.
So what else can I mother and birth? It makes you double down on the mother that you are to the only child that you have. So I’m also reborn into motherhood in a lot of ways to say how can I be radically present? This is my one and only rodeo as of now, and adoption is a possibility. But also, you can’t do that when you’re critically ill. They need healthy parents, so we’re just trusting the Lord through what could be the future.
Ashes From Beauty
Deborah: Through your story, God is showing us how He turns ashes into beauty. I haven’t suffered physically the way you have, but that doesn’t mean that I possibly won’t in the future. So your story helps me see how to live it.
Kimberly: I would say that one, and it doesn’t sound nice, but it is true that it’s not when suffering will happen; it’s when it happens for us. So, I would say to start preparing for that in your spirit.
If I could go back, I would want to help the younger me, the mid-thirties me, before everything got very catastrophic and you’re not in the control that you think you are. You can’t outrun suffering. You can’t. Trick it. It’s going to happen to all of us in one way or another. It’s important in your faith, virtues, and character to work on that aspect.
There is a little phrase that I have — mission over misery. When you give God your misery, your suffering, in turn, He does have the capacity to heal us. But because we’re in a fallen world and broken creatures, He gave us the gift of free will and the gift of life and biology.
Those things do backfire depending on the choices we make, and our bodies do break down. It’s a gift that a package deal suffering comes with it. Mission over misery is something I tell myself because it’s like suffering happens to all of us. I’m not an exception to the rule. There’s nothing special or unique about me other than that, yes, not everybody has this exact story.
But God is in the pieces, and if I trust him with my misery and suffering, He can give me a mission. Now the counselor in me is going to come in and talk about post-traumatic growth, right? And it is true now. We have research, neurobiology, and our nervous system, that when we go through something catastrophic, yes, there are going to be negative ramifications. But there is such a thing as post-traumatic growth. This is a spiritual principle, and you get a value-added because we now know that faithful people who pray and people who have a spiritual discipline get it.
I think that’s because it is the promise in the Bible to the beauty from ashes and that when God says, I will deliver my people. I feel like if we’re willing to give Him our suffering, it doesn’t bypass it, trust me. If I had an answer for you today on how to bypass suffering, Lord knows I’d be doing it every day, selling it, and getting rich. I’m just teasing but we can’t bypass it, right?
The question is, how are we going to live in it? For me, the day that I decided to allow this to become my mission field, to get over myself and show up in pain and authentically. If I’m going to be in this space, I’m going to be real. I’m never going to let this be anything other than a mission field. I will post pictures of me looking completely sick in bed and then with a prayer or ministry to someone.
What’s so interesting is we have all this bright and shiny stuff on Instagram. All these dancing TikTokers, and everybody looking perfect, beautiful, and precious. I’m sure there’s space for that. I mean, obviously, people follow it. But what’s so resonating for people, and at least what I’ve noticed, is when we show up in these spaces and say, hey, look, I’m not doing anything interesting today; I am laying in my bed and suffering, but even God is here with me. And here’s a prayer for you. Those are the days when I’m the most feeble, and if I’m daring enough to share it, it really ministers to people because they’re feeling just like me.
Deborah: Sometimes, maybe not even physical, but it’s emotional or mental.
Deborah: Or spiritual.
Deborah: Then to see that honesty and that they’re not alone. Having your honesty in your space helps me be more honest because I’ve struggled with hiding behind words or something rather than just saying what I am feeling.
Kimberly: Yes, and it becomes contagious because you’re permitting people. Someone needs to be a permission giver. I don’t mind doing that. Like I said, I was in a wheelchair. I’ll never forget that it will dash every bit of your pride. And I will carry that feeling with me for the rest of my life.
Kimberly: Kate Bowler said ever since her critical, she feels like she lives life inside out. She doesn’t know if she would want it any other way. And I heard her say that to Krista Tippett On Being the other day. It just made me want to cry and covered me in goosebumps because I’m thinking this woman is speaking my language.
That’s exactly what it feels like when we have gone through the wringer like that. And I never want to forget. I don’t want to unsee. I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to become so distant from that because I think there’s something so beautiful there in that space. So I’m happy to give permission and show up for other people and say, I see you in that vulnerable space.
Deborah: In the vulnerable space and connected to God. That beauty of this, He’s carrying you.
Kimberly: And what’s so wild is if you let Him carry you, you’re more equipped to carry others because He’s carrying you. So it’s like, we’re all tucked inside of one another. That’s the beauty of community.
I have a spiritual mentor. I had terrible postpartum depression. Now we know part of it was the endometriosis because it attacks your nervous system and gets everything off balance, hormonal imbalance, inflammation, and then, having my daughter. He was my long-term substitute. But he happened to be a pastor and a counselor, too.
God knew exactly what I needed. We would talk on the phone every couple of days about lesson plans and everything. We became great friends over the time that I was out which was for half the year. I was crying my eyes out to him one day. At this time, I was a perfectionist and control freak. I was at home alone with a new baby. I was terrified because I had miscarried so many times, and you get brainwashed almost to think something horrible would happen. I was afraid to, like, let her sleep.
Being a new mom is hard, and he told me you need to be weak in Jesus. You don’t need to be strong. You don’t need to be in control. You don’t need to have answers. You don’t have to know what the rest of today will look like. You know when you hold that baby, be weak in Jesus. When you’re struggling, be weak in Jesus. That has stayed with me for all these six years since that.
That’s another way that we can show up as broken vessels, weak vessels, but when we have that armor and faith, and we’re walking with the Lord, he will enable us to do far beyond what we can expect. I had some release because I never really thought of it like that.
I thought I had to be strong, in control, and brave, and He gave me permission to say no. I would get up and pray when I was showering in the morning, getting ready to teach my students. I would start telling myself, just be weak in Jesus, Kimberly, get out of his way and just show up and see what happens,
I would pray, Lord, let me get out of my own way. Get out of your way—more of you, less of me.
Deborah: I started feeling overwhelmed these last couple of days, and Jesus said, I never asked you to do this alone. I’m your strength. You’re weak. I’m strong. You can’t do this alone, but I’m going to help and do it with you,
Kimberly: I love it when people tell me stories like that. I’m always saying that’s the same God and He has His ways and wants to have those breakthroughs with all of us.
At The Well –
Deborah: I love that you said you’re a red-letter girl.
Kimberly: Yes, I’m a red-letter girl.
Deborah: You were talking about the woman at the, well, the Samaritan woman, the outcast. Something I’ve been wrestling with this past summer is how I love the people God puts in my life When they’re different from me. How do I not be judgmental? it’s so easy to become divisive.
Kimberly: Especially in this day and age, it’s in the air we breathe, our culture, the gotcha moments. That buzzword “cancel” — cancel culture. My husband and I talk about it so much. He’s like, you are so unbelievably comfortable with people who are different from you.
I can’t take credit for that because I spent ten years in a tough inner-city public school. My students taught me that because I would stand in front of 150 kids daily for over ten years. So you can do the math. That’s a lot of kids. They were from all walks of life. I fell in love with my Muslim kids, my atheist kids, my Jewish children struggling with their identity, and those struggling with arrogance and pride. I have worked with 14 to 18-year-olds for almost 20 years.
I would tell my kids, and it’s in the books I like to teach. I said, “It’s hard to hate someone up close.” If we’re willing to get close and make that eye contact and see the pain in that person sitting across, the needs or humanity, for me, at least I couldn’t help but feel an abundance of love and care.
My kids (I took it as a compliment) knew I was a safe place. They knew I wasn’t going to kick them out, yell back, or shame them. Their nervous system and hearts knew that when they would lose it, I would sit in it with them. Something so powerful happens there, and that’s where the woman at the well comes in because I’m a bleeding heart. I told my husband that I want The Way Back 2 Ourselves to be unbelievably loving and welcoming to people who are walking in step with the Lord, struggling in their faith, and curious about this faith.
Because if Christ can create that woman at the well experience, and we want to be Christians, we want to be little Christ – let’s follow his lead. He’s seeking out broken, afraid, and confused people, and He’s leaning in. That’s the first thing He shows is that He’s leaning in. He calls her by name, and it’s very direct.
You can insert whatever sin or, confusion or belief system you want. For her, the woman at the well was the affairs, the infidelity, the sexual sin. It can be a variety of those things or anything else that any of us struggle with. Like we’re all the woman at the well, and we want to be pursued.
When you receive people with that love, it doesn’t mean that you have to agree with them. It doesn’t mean you’re endorsing their struggles, but it’s saying, I meet you here in this space. I see you. You are worth saving. You’re worth love. I could go on, but it came from working with diverse inner-city populations for a decade. It will humble you and any arrogance or Christian arrogance you might have where you think you’ve got everything figured out.
Oh, my gosh. Hard knocks. They will let you know. And it definitely humbled me. It shaped me, and it gave me wisdom beyond my years. I haven’t been for about ten years, but it’s a part of me. I see people; I want to lean in.
Deborah: I believe God does put people in our lives to love. And sometimes, they may be some of the most unlovable people.
Kimberly: It’s like in the Bible, the whole love your enemies. What is it to you if you love who loves you? I’m paraphrasing it, but it does say that. “And it’s good for you. I mean, I’m glad that you’re loving people who love you, but what I’m calling you to is to love your enemies as yourself.”
Today, we can insert enemy with other, outsider, or any other word that makes us uncomfortable. Loving your enemies like yourself is not easy. There has to be a great spiritual depth, growth, and humbleness to step into that space.
Deborah: Realizing all of us may be judgmental or non-accepting or non-Jesus-like. And then here we are trying to be, “Here come to Jesus”, but we’re not showing you who He is.
Deborah: But if they saw who Jesus really was, like the woman at the well.
Kimberly: They would be jumping and shouting and elated and unbelievable relief.
Deborah: Oh, absolutely.
Kimberly: Somebody said, “Be careful because you might be the only Bible somebody ever reads”.
Deborah: It’s true. Sometimes, I worry about whether I should post something. What if one of my non-Christian friends… then I think, well, wait a second — I’m the only one they will hear Jesus from. They’re the ones I’m posting it for. Usually, the one I’m worried about will press like, and I’ll be there you go.
Kimberly: Exactly. I’m not surprised to hear you say that. Going back to my students, the kids who would be the angriest at me, or because I had boundaries and I called them to something beyond themselves, years or months later, they would come back and say, “Oh my goodness, thank you.”
I needed that. And when you live long enough and get that on repeat, you’re like, okay, Lord, this is exactly where you have me. I need to do the work. It’s not about me. I’m going to plant the seeds. I’m not going to have an expectant attitude that I’m going to see anything bloom. I’m just going to trust You for it. And so, plant those seeds.
Deborah: I love that.
A Mission Field
Kimberly: Social media is a mission field now. It is. That’s where the people are. My students probably have a good chuckle because Ms. Phinney was so anti-social media. I quit everything and swore I would never come back, yet here I am.
But the Lord could trust me with it because it died in my life long ago as an idol. But it is a mission field. For me, it was I’m sick. I can’t leave my house, and I’ll be darned if I let this disease silence me. What do I have? I got my phone and my computer, and I can write and communicate. That’s what the Lord has given me. I went to social media because that’s where my kids are. All my ex-students, there’s over 2000 of them and I want to be in contact.
I was praying because as the season goes on, The Way Back 2 Ourselves is getting bigger, and I’m like, okay, Lord, there must be some restructuring. I have to ask for help. I must start creating boundaries because one of my things is the whole workaholism. But it’s that thing, that temptation, that I always have to be aware of. I have all these big dreams and visions. I’m so passionate about the platform that I can become this little worker bee, wanting to put out the content, answer every single message from everybody, and be a good steward. But I also need to make sure that I have space for rest and quiet time, mothering and being a wife and making sure I’m taking care of my body.
Deborah: Yes, creating that balance and those boundaries.
Kimberly: Prioritizing and being intentional about it.
Angels Like Jazz
Deborah: You write essays, articles, poetry, and completed a manuscript, “Of Wings and Dirt.” Of the poems you sent (I really loved them all), the one that really got me was “Angels Like Jazz.”
Kimberly: “Angels Like Jazz” is one of my all-time favorites.
Deborah: I’d love you to read it and tell me what inspired you to write it.
Kimberly: It was in the early spring. My health had plummeted in March, and I was back to being bed-bound, couch-bound, and home-bound. The biggest problem is it’s covering all my intestines and organs. So there’s a real problem when I walk.
I was having a hard time. I said, “I’m gonna try to revel in the beauty of what is.” I curled up on the couch and picked up some poetry books. I had some Mary Oliver with me, Billy Collins, and a few others. I flipped through the pages and came across a Billy Collins poem about angels.
Kimberly: It really stirred me, and it was beautiful. So, I wrote this poem as a letter back to him and infused it with some of my own biography. That’s what really made it personal. I’m proud of this poem because I submitted it to Fathom Magazine. It came out in the spring, and it was the cover. I felt blessed that they picked it and then to know that they led with it. So, this is called “Angels Like Jazz.” This is after Billy Collins’s “Questions About Angels”
Angels Like Jazz after Billy Collins’s “Questions About Angels” Sometimes I wonder about angels, too. I wonder, like you, if they have pulled up a chair— invisible and unannounced— and I am entertaining them with my coffee clouds in the late morning sun— unaware, as it spills light through the slits in the east window. Or if they open their delicate hands— to catch my tears as they slough off my jaw when nobody sees or believes in my pain. And if they like my poems at all—or not. I wonder about that, too. Or if I am their cup of tea. And might they like me best? Or do they even like tea at all— like the sweet vanilla rooibos on my nightstand I never finish? And I wonder, like you, what they might feel, or if their wings are heavy, and if they read my mail when it comes. And when I bend to tend my garden, I wonder if two little ones are with me to witness my tenderness and soft wishes for the lost generations that fell out of me too soon. And I hope angels like jazz like I do, particularly Billie Holiday, and most definitely “Blue Moon.” So, I hope they don’t ever feel alone or lonely, like I do, which are two different things, as you know. They must not— I think— because I suspect they have been the ones to give comfort with their soft breeze across my arm I mistook for the wind. And that lovely presence in the shadows cast down from the sweetbay magnolia last May I mistook for you? I suspect those were angels, too— dancing among us, like old lovers at the piano bar long after the music stops. By Kimberly Phinney first published in Fathom Magazine, 2023
Of Wings & Dirt –
Kimberly: The book’s theme is wings and dirt because it recognizes that we are humans living in flesh and blood and in the dirt. We will come and pass away, ashes to ashes. But we’re also of wings. We’re spiritual, we’re ethereal, we’re souls. So it’s something where I refuse to have only a foot in one place or the other. We are Christian souls, but we also suffer and are of this world.
With a lot of my poetry, I’m trying to do both, which is very niche because there the “Footprints in the Sand” and “The Chicken Soup for the Soul.” Listen, there’s a time and a place for all of that. I was a huge fan of all of it. I still enjoy it, but it’s cleaned up Christianease. It serves a purpose, but for me, it can fall flat sometimes for people who are suffering, searching, and looking.
This poetry, or when we can stand in both spaces matters to people trying to make sense of this world, living in our spiritual selves, and being bound in our bodies.
Deborah: What’s going on right now with poets, you and Nicholas and others, is that it’s a spiritual, faith, contemporary, and very honest and genuine, almost like a picture of real life, but also with everything that’s not so pretty. But then also with stuff that’s just glorious.
Kimberly: And that both live in the same space.
Deborah: And if we can live that way — because that’s what Jesus did. He came down.
Deborah: Then maybe that’s how we stay Christ-like.
Kimberly: That’s the deepest part because He didn’t come down only as God. God didn’t split the veil and say, I’m going to send a part of myself that’s all spiritual. It was in the form of a son born from a woman who had to go through growing pains and puberty, hurt and ostracization, yet never sinned.
Even Christ still has His scars today. And that is the idea of wings and dirt. I’m so glad you brought it up that way. Because that is the embodiment. Christ embodies both. He was a man, and He was God. And why we separate them sometimes. Especially in this culture where the sacred is separated from the secular, profane, or mundane. It makes us disembodied creatures. I love to see the two come back together.
The Poetry Hour –
Deborah: You also have your poetry hour, which I attended and will do again in October. It was incredible. How’d you go up with the idea? What’s the mission behind it? What’s the future for it?
Kimberly: It would be my teaching background and now, my English professoring. I am determined not to let this disease stop me from doing what God made me to be. I have no doubt that He made me serve others through teaching, support, and counseling. Early on when I was thinking about The Way Back 2 Ourselves, it was just going to be this blog, but then you start to get this bucket list and visions, and I was like, maybe down the road, Lord, if you let it.
It could be a podcast to minister to people. We could offer classes because this is something that I’ve done for 20 years. I have the skill set, this education — my master’s in English and teaching and I just don’t want to stop. So that’s how it started.
I was sitting praying. I was in agony over not teaching because I came alive; it was a spiritual experience for me. There’s nothing like being in a classroom, loving on people, and teaching them about the beauty of life through literature and writing. I told myself that even if I was sick, I could take pain meds. We can do it at night. I can sit, and it’s an hour, and maybe some people would want to come. I had very humble expectations. If just 10 people wanted to come, that was my goal. Then we’ll see if this is repeatable, but to do it once would, gosh, that would feel good.
So I started to put things together because I have a journalism and graphic design background. I published and ran a state-winning yearbook for about nine years. And I used to have a professional photography business, so I have the skill set to do all these things. Right. And why not repurpose them? And that’s what I did.
I was so blown away. We had 15 or 16 people the first time, and it fell right around our anniversary weekend. We were in Northern Georgia, right off the Blue Ridge. That was a circle moment. That was a God thing. He was like, “Hey, baby girl. I got you.” The full circle moment You’ll be teaching on Zoom to faithful creatives, right there in the Blue Ridge mountain where it all started, which was mind-boggling because it was never planned that way. We got such reception from that people were we’re, when will there be more?
It’s just been amazing. The purpose of it is community care. Of course, people are coming to learn content, and that is important. But what is most important is giving connection – community – inspiration because that is a seed you plant that lasts.
The on-ramp is, hey come learn poetry or learn about writing craft, building a platform, using social media for ministry, or whatever topic that we’re covering. But for me, it’s getting people together to love and support.
The greatest gift in the chat is sharing your website and Instagram. You’re going to find friends on that chat.
Nothing makes me happier than if I get on Instagram and see people who met through the Poetry Hour, and then they’re cultivating friendships and connections. I’m like, yes, they met at the Poetry Hour, and now they’re friends, encouraging each other and blessing each other. It doesn’t get better than that.
Tanner Olson @writtentospeak will be with us in the New Year for one. So, I have high hopes. The other thing I want to start when I get healthier is having a creative or community hour on Zoom on Friday nights.
Deborah: I love what you’re doing. It’s a great community, and I’m happy I found you.
Kimberly: We are very blessed. Thank you.
God’s Beautiful Daughter
Deborah: How do you see life as God’s beautiful daughter? Especially when maybe things get hard. You say, I’m not doing well tonight; I’m barely hanging on.
Kimberly: I would say that a big shift from before to now is thinking I had to hustle and perform. Check the boxes and practice certain disciplines to feel that you are enough as God’s beautiful daughter or enough for somebody else, or that you have worth or value because you know how to hustle or you know how to perform.
But the big thing is when that was all stripped away from me, what are you left with? I felt unbelievably invisible, worthless, and dead. And that’s the truth. And I know I had a character flaw. I had a blind spot that I’ve written about. God had to rebuild me from the bottom up. What that means is that I’m held and whatever the day looks like, if it is a day where I’m in bed until one or two o’clock in the afternoon, which happens more often than I’d like to admit, and the most that I could do is, work on my computer, take care of my daughter to the best of my ability, love my husband, and praise the Lord, then that’s going to be enough.
As a woman, we definitely have it tough as far as beauty standards. The expectations about sexuality and pressures and fertility and being able to have children. There are a lot of complexities about the divine feminine and femininity, such as losing my ability to have more children, losing my ability to walk, losing my youth and health, and things like that.
It’s easy to hear the voices you shouldn’t be hearing — that you’re not worthy. So, to learn that you’re God’s beautiful daughter because “period” and that you are held because “period.” We feel we’re worthy because we’re beautiful, young, do something better than others, make a lot of money, or have 50,000 followers on Instagram. None of that matters.
“It’s all because I made you – He sees you – Imago Dei.”
Deborah: So powerful because all that stuff can be taken away. Like that.
Kimberly: And that’s exactly where I found myself. God had to do work within me, and I had to have a reckoning with myself,
Deborah: That’s back to the beauty for ashes.
Kimberly: Definitely. One of my favorite phrases in the Bible. I keep reminding myself that He will give you beauty from ashes.
Deborah: God handed you beauty to give to the world through your writing, through your platform, through your love and your serving, and through your family, your daughter. And do you ever feel insecure about the mission?
Kimberly: As artists and sensitive souls, the imposter syndrome loves to kick up and rear its ugly head. But I’m doing mostly better with that. I’ve had days where it kicks me in my teeth, but I don’t live there anymore. But I’m learning that if I make it about me, right, it’s that first mountain, it is easy to become riddled with anxiety, self-doubt, perfectionism, all the things. But if I stay on that second mountain, and make it about the mission and others.
I only care what God thinks about what I’m doing. Not that I don’t care about others. Of course, I do. But I have to put God first, right? I have to, and I have to put my marriage and my daughter — am I a living manifestation in their lives of love and faith and servanthood and care and whatever they need from me?
If I have that in order, then I’m good. I’m good to go. I have gotten a thick skin since getting ill because people whom I loved and trusted the most, had been hurt in very intimate ways. Of people not believing I was sick or all kinds of things. It’s not worth talking about because I don’t believe in living there either.
But again, Beauty From Ashes, it thickens your skin. You have to die to self. You have to die to the approval and the appraisals of others if you’re going to survive. The Lord was very frank with me about that. “You need to basically shut your mouth, trust me. And everything is going to be okay. You don’t need to fight the battle to set the record straight, right? Just follow me, live out loud, and serve others. And who cares if the record is set straight because you’re my child.”
Of course, we do know in this human world that if we keep showing up in integrity and faith, people will see who we really are, and the people who don’t, I wish them light and love.
Deborah: Learning, to have compassion. Because they don’t have the, like Jesus said, they don’t have the eyes to see, the ears to hear, the heart.
Kimberly: And at different levels and times in our lives, we might not have the capacity to be the best version of ourselves, too. It’s extending that grace and love even when we don’t want to in our flesh. And understanding as much as this hurts me personally, maybe the abandonment or the naysaying, or it was never really about me. I just ended up being on the receiving end of their personal capacities and internal narratives.
A healing thing is getting my doctorate in community care and counseling because it’s helping me do the deep work in myself. And that allows me to extend that deep work, love, and compassion to others.
Deborah: I love that. It’s so inspirational. You remind me of the Proverbs 31 woman. You’re using what God has given you to your fullest ability.
Connecting with Kimberly –
Deborah: Is there anything you have coming up that you want to tell us about?
Kimberly: We would love you to visit our website, our home, and our hub at www. thewayback2ourselves. com. You can find our blog, literary journal, podcast, and store there. Anything you purchase or provide to us, 10 percent goes to helping fight human trafficking with Hope For Justice.
The Poetry Hour is a great way to show up and meet the community. We do that once a month, and the next is October 23rd. Instagram is an active place, which is @thewayback2ourselves.
Also, I have a new substack called My Way Back. It’s a little more intimate. I’m committed to our website being a community space. I’m a member there. I am not the shining star. My story is there. But the blog says one mission: many voices. My substack, though, is me. Then, the podcast, which I’m excited about. We just had an interview with Nicholas Trandell.
We booked Tanner Olson @WrittentoSpeak. And Jordan Rayner, a multi-published writer, is a prolific writer. I would love for you all to show up in any of those places and spaces so I can meet you and say hello.
Deborah: Kimberly, Fantastic, thank you so much for this beautiful evening.
MEET THE AUTHOR – KIMBERLY PHINNEY
Kimberly Phinney is a professor of English, counselor, and writer. She’s been published in Ekstasis, Fathom, Humana Obscura, Truly Co, Radix, The Dewdrop, and more. A doctoral candidate in community care and counseling, she holds an M.Ed. in English and studied at Goddard’s MFA program in Creative Writing. She was featured on Good Morning America for a national award and teaching her students through critical illness. Visit her literary community at www.TheWayBack2Ourserlves.com and on Instagram at @thewayback2ourselves. And check out her new podcast on Spotify: The Way Back Podcast
Remember, you are Beautiful!
SUBSCRIBE TO MY NEWSLETTER BY PRESSING ON THE IMAGE OR PRESS HERE.
Beauty Is in the Eye of Our Beholder seeks to help women see themselves as God’s beautiful daughters. Some describe a faithful Christian as glowing. This spiritual glow from the Holy Spirit comes from the inside out, radiating our body, character, conversation, and conduct – our whole being.
I would love to connect more with you and give you my FREE gift – BEAUTY IS IN THE EYES OF OUR BEHOLDER MANIFESTO: 10 Affirmations to cultivate your glow. You can also sign up HERE for my newsletter and receive the FREE Manifesto, recent blog posts, book reviews, giveaways, and personal details only delivered to my lovely email tribe.
Follow Also on Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest – Thank you!
This site is ad-supported. Learn more here. Please check out my affiliate partners! Doing so helps you and supports my blog – WPengine, Sephora, Ulta, Barnes and Noble, Koh Gen Do, Dr. Perricone, and The Virtual Savvy.