The last few years have been a time of complete change in my life. I’ve lost some friends and made some new ones. I changed jobs. I’m discovering my faith. I’m discovering myself. These haven’t been easy changes and I so often feel like I’m going crazy, yet it all feels right.
In 2019, I stopped hanging out with the majority of the people I used to hang out with. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them, but I felt like I wasn’t growing. I was just doing the same things every day and I wasn’t getting anywhere. About six months later, I met (or in some cases reconnected with) my soul family. These people radiate light and love, even when it isn’t intentional. They encourage my growth and they helped me find my path.
I was raised Methodist from the time I was born. When I was about twenty, I stopped going to church. I had no idea why, really. I still believed in God. I guess I just had started to feel like religion wasn’t serving me. It wasn’t helping me become my best self. There was such a divisive feeling when I stepped through the door of my church. I tried visiting other churches, but nothing felt like coming home. Coming home is the feeling I expected to feel when I would finally find the right place for me. I became discouraged and I gave up.
I started having “church” on my own. I’d sit under a tree or on a park bench and read my Bible and sing. It didn’t feel right, exactly, but it felt better. Then, I began questioning things. My brother was studying theology in college and I remember asking him why we separate religions so much. Even, within Christianity there are multiple denominations with different core beliefs. But my question was more basic than that. I asked, “Aren’t God and Allah the same being? Are we just creating walls where there don’t need to be any just because we use different words?” He said no. He said that God is God and Allah is Allah. But, he didn’t explain why. That was it. The end.
I didn’t realize it then, but that was probably the beginning of my long spiritual journey, the beginning of my awakening. Perhaps it would have gone more smoothly without the constraints of my indoctrination and conditioning. Perhaps if I had known then that I’m never going to please everyone, so I should do what makes my soul happy, I would have had an easier time of it.
Regardless, I pressed forward. I can see now where everything that is important to me has led me here. Everything. Genealogy, even. As I researched my ancestors for a lineage society, I was reading an obituary for my fourth great-grandmother and realized that it was the first time I had ever thought of her as my fourth great-grandmother. I had previously thought of her as my fourth great-grandfather’s wife. She is related to me by blood, so why did I do that? From that point on, I was more intentional about understanding connection and understanding individuals. Even those who are no longer living, whose stories I have to piece together from a collection of documents.
I have always felt like a black sheep in my family and I know why that is now. I’m breaking cycles. I’m breaking with my family’s established religion. I’m breaking generational curses. It can be lonely at times, but I’m also ideally suited for this task. I’m an introvert. I’m introspective. I’m an empath. I absolutely do need and have received guidance from my soul family, and I count myself so fortunate to have found them when I did.
As a child, I spent a lot of time in nature. I grew up on the family farm. I was often in the creek, in the woods, in the barn, all over the place. Nature was all around me. I’ve always felt a kinship with trees. I was heartbroken when the willow tree in our backyard died and had to be cut down. I was devastated when my great uncle allowed a logging company to come in and cut down trees in the woods, forever changing the place that I loved.
There is a rather steadfast maple tree next to the driveway. I park my car under its shade. This tree has been “dying” for probably a decade now, but it keeps going. It keeps growing. It keeps giving. In a lot ways, that tree is me. And I don’t think I realized that until right this very second. Anyway, during the lockdown of 2020, I tried to be intentional about getting outside to get some sun and fresh air. I spent time with the trees again. After that, I started laying a hand on the maple and thanking it for the shade and the shelter it provides to my car.
I noticed as I did this more frequently, that I started to feel less stressed, more grounded. So, I kept it up. One day, I was leaving the house to go to work and I heard a voice as clear as if someone had just spoken to me say, “My name is Gertrude.” I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was the maple tree. And I know how crazy that sounds. But it was so real.
I struggled with it for a while. How could a tree speak to me? Why would it speak English and not Entish, or whatever? Was I losing my mind? Would I know if I was losing my mind? I couldn’t reconcile this with rational thought or within the confines of my faith. I spoke to my dear friend, Meghan, about it. She suggested that perhaps the tree spoke to me in English because we are connected. She clarified that maybe it spoke to me in its language, but I heard it in my own. Like translation. And that made all of the sense in the world to me. Because my whole life is translation. I read people’s expressions and body language. I hear their tones. I hear what isn’t being said. I translate all of that into understanding someone. And now, it was happening with a tree.
I spoke to Jason about it, too. He said the tree spoke to me because I had established a connection by touching and talking. He said Gertrude is probably my spirit guide. Now, I’ve heard about spirit guides and I had always thought they were animals. I also always thought that because I’m white and of European descent, that wasn’t something I’d ever have. So often when people talk about having a spirit animal, what they really mean is that they identify with a particular type of animal, and to use the term “spirit animal” is cultural appropriation. So, to think of having a spirit guide made me feel like an imposter. I am understanding it now, though.
But I digress. Jason said that Spirit comes in many forms. Animal, tree, ancestor, pretty much anything. And things started to click. Because I also wondered, why Gertrude? And I suspect that I know now.
Mildred Gertrude Springer was my great grandmother. I never met her, but I know her story well. At the age of two, she lost her mother to tuberculosis. Her father was so grief-stricken that he left her with her grandparents and traveled the country. He would check in via postcard and send money, but was largely absent from her life. When she was an adult, she had six children. The two youngest both died before they were two. One of pneumonia and the other drowned. Grandpa said she was never the same after that. She was paranoid of losing everyone. I can imagine how that trauma affected her. She never did go by Gertrude, but I had thought way back when I still wanted to have kids that if I ever had a daughter, perhaps I’d give her the middle name Gertrude after my great grandmother.
That, I believe, is why the maple revealed herself to me as Gertrude. Gertrude is the personification of a soul who so deeply wanted to protect everyone and everything that she held dear.
Last summer, I went on a ghost tour. Many of the people on the tour had protection charms and things like that. I was told at the onset that I didn’t need a charm because I was protected already. There was no further explanation given. Just that I was protected already. By what? I didn’t know then.
Last fall, I was pet sitting for Jason and I had a morning appointment for a haircut. The front door is never used at Jason and Adam’s house, so it’s blocked off by a weight bench and a dog bed. I let the dogs out into the backyard before leaving, as I do, and everything was fine. I let them in. I put on my shoes and grabbed my sweater. I went to open the back door and it wouldn’t open. All of the locks were unlocked, but it would’t open. The doorknob turned, but it wouldn’t open. I couldn’t for the life me figure out what was wrong. Eventually, I gave up and decided to squeeze past the things blocking the front door and leave that way. I did so, and when I arrived at the intersection, I knew why I couldn’t get out. If I had been even one second earlier to that intersection, I don’t think I’d be alive today. As I pulled up to my green light, a truck with a trailer ran its red light and barreled through the intersection, narrowly missing me.
When I got back from my haircut, the back door opened without issue. I don’t know if the words “freaked out” are an accurate description of the feeling I had, but they’re certainly close. I texted Jason and explained what happened. I told him I think his house was protecting me. He said it was Gertrude. I didn’t understand because Gertrude is a tree and she lives at my house. But, Jason told me that spirit guides aren’t confined to their physical forms. Gertrude was protecting me.
Again, something I couldn’t reconcile with my faith. I thought about it and I believe that if you can’t reconcile or rationalize something like that within the confines of your faith, then either you don’t understand your faith, or your faith is wrong. I believe that I have a better than average grasp of Christianity. I’m no theologian, but I understand more than most. So, the conclusion must be that my faith is wrong. And that makes so much sense when measured against everything else that I had been experiencing. I still believed in a creator, but not so much in all of the rest of it. And I found that more often than not, instead of saying “God,” I was replacing that with “Universe.”
As I continued down this path, this way of thinking, more and more things in my life started to go right. I had more synchronicities. I had more encounters with nature. Things like a groundhog tried to get into my car when I spoke to it, and a robin came to visit me and would not be shooed away. It didn’t leave until I spoke to it. I told it I am alright and asked it to go and it did so. Butterflies were everywhere. Mushrooms were everywhere. In fact, I was standing in my driveway talking to Meghan about dinner plans one day and mentioned how much I was craving mushrooms. A couple of days later, Gertrude had started growing mushrooms on her trunk. My sister, who is into mushroom foraging, said that they are edible mushrooms.
I’m a spreadsheet person. I like logic and order. So, I decided to make a spreadsheet. In the column headers, I listed all of the synchronicities and unusual encounters that came up for me. Then, I looked up the spiritual meaning of a groundhog, a mushroom, a butterfly, etc. For each word that was listed, I entered it into one of the rows on the first column and filled in the box under the item(s) it went with. Then I counted how many filled in boxes there were for each word. I made a word cloud with those words, the one with the most occurrences being the biggest. I wanted to know what the Universe was trying tell me.
And it all made sense. Transformation, Awareness, Enlightenment, Good Luck, Protection, Rebirth… This is Awakening. But now that I know that, what do I do about it? I talked to Jason about all of this and he suggested shamanism. He recommended his mentor, Gina, to me. I did make initial contact back in early December, but between my awkward anxiety and my lack of spoons, I didn’t follow up until last week.
We met via Zoom this morning. I was so nervous to tell Gina about everything, because I know how crazy I sound to others, even though this is the most sane I’ve ever felt to myself in my life. She first asked me about my faith, which I get because it has to be difficult trying to explain shamanism to someone whose mind is so confined by the constraints of their religious beliefs. The beginning of my answer was, “I’m not the same person I was even three years ago. At all. Everything has changed.” We went from there.
I told her all that I’ve written here and then some. And when I explained about Gertrude, I could see in Gina’s expression that she knew what I had experienced. She knew because she had felt that before. And that’s when I knew that this was my path. This feels right. This feels like I’m coming home.