Tag-Archive for » Denver «

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015 | Author:

Dear Denver,

I came to you 8 months ago with my life packed into my Toyota Camry.

It was a long drive. 18 hours of leaving my past behind. My own tears surprised me as I drove away from my family standing on the porch of my parent’s house, waving as they watched me go. That’s become our tradition. And I’m always the one on the leaving end.

I was ready for you, for this new, temporary chapter of life. I was excited to leave the past.

But while it was a new town, I wasn’t a new me. I quickly realized that by changing states I was not changing stories. My past was mine to own. My story was mine to tell. My life was mine to live.

So I came to you, and I told you who I am and where I have been. I told it to church members in diners. I told it to distant family members in the mountains. I told it to dates in bars. I told it to neighbors in hot tubs and living rooms. I told my story to you, and you didn’t grimace. You didn’t run away. You listened and you welcomed me.

You let me play on your trails, exploring your mountain peaks and your forests and your waters. You let me make friends in fun restaurants and pubs and venues. You let me sit in peace, overlooking a lake with the mountains beyond, and the setting sun beyond that.

You have given me the space and time to become more myself. And while I’ve always known you would be a temporary dwelling place, you’ve been a good one. Most importantly, you’ve given me an atmosphere to learn how to be at home within myself.

Aside from your horrible drivers, you’ve been nothing but lovely to me. Thank you for being such a big playground for life. Thank you for housing me while I felt at home here. I’ll come back to visit.

-Jo

(I’ll be on the go for the Story Project for all of May and then moving to Wichita, KS Beginning of June)

Favorite Denver/CO things:

– Hiking

  • Mt. Bierstadt
  • Mt. Quandary
  • Colorado Trail
  • Hanging Lake Trail
  • All of the trails during fall
  • Paddle boarding on our lake and slack lining in our “yard”
  • Food/Drink
  • The fries and cocktails at Williams & Graham
  • The atmosphere at Linger
  • The atmosphere at Crema cafe
  • The chocolate at Dietrichs
  • The eggs benedict and the beignets at Lucilles Creole cafe
  • Blackeye coffee
  • Pie and cocktails at the Green Russell
  • Cheap movies at the Century Aurora 16 Theater
  • Eggs benedict and sweet potato pancakes at Snooze Eatery
  • Burgers & Brews deals during MNF at Stoney’s bar & grill
  • Atmosphere & coffee at Roostercat
  • The view from outside the dome on the Capitol building
  • Being at Redrocks/ the view from Redrocks
  • The river in golden
  • Stranahan’s whiskey (both the product and the free tour & tasting)
  • The Denver German Christmas Market on 16th St. mall
  • Even though it’s not just a Denver thing, I discovered & fell in love with it here: Waffle House

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If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 | Author:

“Do you know of any churches in Denver?” I texted a pastor I know from California when I had just moved to Denver last fall.

He texted back right away: “Scum of the Earth Church. Pastor is Mike Sares. We went there last summer. If you want to go, I’ll let him know you’re coming.”

“It’s f—ing hard to find a church when I don’t trust the church,” I thought to myself, frustration welling up.

“Thank you. I’ll go tomorrow,” I texted back.

Then I found the tears rolling down my cheeks as I sat at the table alone in my new apartment, overwhelmed at the thought of trying another new church. Getting to know people who would eventually have to know my story if I was to be known. And knowing that with telling my story, I might be judged, outcast, burned again.

I pulled my laptop out right then and wrote the blog post from last fall that I titled “I don’t trust the church (but I wish I did).” Many of you have read and commented on that blog post, and in the responses, I have realized that I am not alone in my distrust of the church, of religion, of pastors.

But I went to Scum of the Earth church the next day after I first typed out that blog post.

While driving by where it was supposed to be, I did see one church kind of looking building between a dirty alleyway and a house, it didn’t have any sign saying “Church” or anything at all, actually. No signs. So I wasn’t sure that was it.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetI parked and walked back, asking the people in patched vests smoking on the steps if this was the “scum of the earth church.” It was, so I slipped in and found a seat while the folks inside were singing in the dimmed light. A little girl, maybe 6 or 7 years old, danced barefooted and beautiful in the open space in front of the worship band.

Soon, a big, white-haired Greek man got up to the microphone at the front.

“We have something we do a few times a year here at scum, and it is consistently one of the most important things we do. That’s tonight. Tonight we are having our “story night” and we have a few people who will share their stories with us.”

I was interested, immensely, because I love stories. But also somewhat skeptical — I had images of “I was doing bad stuff, and God saved me, and now my life is awesome and I have no problems” testimonies. I was prepared to discretely walk out if that was the case.

But instead, three or four people shared their scarred stories, and none of them were just about some sort of conversion of how they “came to Jesus.” Rather, they were their personal stories. Stories of them as whole people, not as “good christians.” Stories that didn’t have pretty bows to tie around them at the end.

The stories did involve their relationships with God — sometimes how they started to get intrigued about God. Sometimes how they met him. Sometimes how they wanted to follow him, how they wanted to accept His love, but how the dark draw of cocaine, of men, of alcohol, of resentment and pain over the wrongs done to them made it a rocky pursuit at best.

Not that their pursuit of God used to be rocky but now was great. But the fact that one woman still was fighting the urge to not go out and F— some random man a few weeks ago after church to temporarily fill that void, that ache. The stories felt real. And in the midst of conflict. In the midst of wrestling. In the midst of the battle between I-want-to-love-and-follow-God and this-world-has-screwed-me-over-and-it-sometimes-feels-like-I’m-dying.

The church itself is not what I’m used to. It’s a conglomeration of church styles and ideologies, not many of which fit what I’ve grown up in.

But what I found during story night was a church who was willing to be honest about the struggle. Not the I-used-to-struggle-but-now-God-has-saved-me, but the I-am-currently-struggling. A church that is willing to be honest about the messes of life, and be a safe place for people to admit that they are sinners, that they are hurting, that they are doubting, that they are wrestling.

And I have never seen another church like that. I have never seen an entire church that can be honest about flaws. That can be honest about life. That enables the people in it and around it to not pretend to be better than they are.

There are still challenging messages about how we can and often should do things differently. How we can allow God to better us and heal us. But the bleeding wounds of the church people’s souls don’t have to be ignored or hidden there. And that is the most important thing I need in a church right now.  That’s why I stayed.

I sat down with Mike, the pastor, the other day and he asked, “did you ever go check out other churches?”

I told him the same thing: No. I saw that you could handle struggles in honesty. And that’s the most important thing I need right now.

Though I think I told him then, as I told them the very first night 7 months earlier: I like this church. But I hate the name. Scum of the Earth? Really? That’s not how God sees us. But I’ll overlook it because of your church’s honesty about life.

I went to dinner after that first church service with Mike and his wife and several others from the church. And I told them my story. “So, I don’t really trust the church, or pastors right now,” I said.

And without missing a beat, Mike, this new Pastor I had just met said: “I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t trust the church or pastors either.”

Again, he and the church seemed willing to have people be honest about where they were on the path. Not just in a general message from the front, but at dinner at Pete’s Greek Town to me, specifically. They were giving me permission: I didn’t have to pretend to be better off, or farther along than I was. I was welcome. And I was welcome to be honest. As was the rest of the church.

When you look around the church, about half of the people look like the outliers of society — the punks, the goths, the homeless. They have different colored and styled hair, lots of large plugs and piercings, tattoos galore.

The other half of the people look like they’d fit in well in clean, professional social circles. You could find people who look like them in bulk in any church on a sunday morning — well dressed, they sit up straight, speak with an educated tone, and their classic-ness gives them the “good church people” air. I’ve always found this mix of the type of people in Scum curious, but valuable.

And as I sat in the back of the church on Easter sunday, I noticed that someone a few seats down from me smelled heavily of BO. And I noticed that a woman across the aisle smelled freshly of sweet perfume. And I realized as I looked around, as I’ve gotten to know peoples’ stories there, why it’s called Scum of the Earth church.

Because it is for those who society thinks, the church thinks, or they themselves think that they look like scum on the outside, or that they are scum on the inside.

And it was the first time I realized and admitted how scum-like I have felt over the past few years.

This church, it has brought me up a bit farther out of the cesspool. It has given me space to be honest from day one about who I am, where I have been, and the fact that I’m still wrestling. That I’m still doubting and questioning. That I’m still distrusting, and they said, “you’re welcome to be all of those things here. We are and have been all of those things, too.”

I get it now.

I’ll be sad to leave Scum as I move on in a few weeks. They have taught me that it is not a sin to be honest about life and struggle in the church. They have restored some hope to me about what a church could be.


If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 | Author:

I was at the post office. It was 4:40 and I needed to mail a stack of about 7 envelopes all registered mail (meaning, apparently, that I have to fill out a form for each of the already-addressed envelopes with to-from info as well as estimated value included inside, and then they have to be specially sealed, then stamped all around that seal, then addressed again and sealed with an additional sticker of authenticity, and then weighed and posted). I’m tired just writing that.

So I filled out my portion of the form for each of my 7 envelopes hurriedly while I was in line, letting several people go in front of me. By the time I reached the counter it was about 4:50, 10 minutes until the closing. A tall, thin man in his 50s or 60s waived me up to his empty station at the far end of the counter. His name tag told me his name was Ike.

I came up and told him, apologetically, that I needed these 7 envelopes sent by registered mail and the rest sent regular post. He turned and walked away without saying anything. I wasn’t sure if he was getting something or heard me or just decided that enough was enough and it was close enough to closing.

I hung in the balance for a good 45 seconds, not knowing, until he turned around the corner with a roll of brown sealing paper in his hand. As he re-joined me at the counter, he set to work slowly, but not dawdling, just taking his precise time, still not saying anything. His face was kind, though, so I started: “How’s your day been today?”

“It was pretty good, then you showed up,” he said dryly, looking up at me with a glint of humor in his brown eyes. A beat. Then he smirked, softly.


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photo credit: TheeErin via photopin cc

We began chatting, slowly at first, with long pauses between conversation topics. But the process to complete my request was long and I was with him for literally 30 minutes, and we chatted about his work, his life, where he’s lived, that I just moved to Colorado…

“When did you move?” he asked, still looking down, busy with his work.

“Last week,” I said, a little too peppy.

He paused. Looked up. “Last week!?” he exclaimed drawing out the emphasis like Bill Cosby would when talking to his kids.

“Yessir,” I said, smiling, friendly.

“Man. Well, I think you’ll like it. It grew on me, but it’s home now. I think that you’ll find that people are kind here. And if you meet the few who have bad attitudes, just tell them to go smoke a bowl and chill out,” he sat flatly, then looking up at me with that same sly glimmer, he let his full grin slip and laughed.

“Just offer them some cheetos to compliment their necessary high?” I joked. He laughed and then coughed from laughing.

We parted ways and I told him my name and told him he may see more of me as I seem to mail things often these days. “I’ll run the other way next time,” he said, winking. And then he silently waived the next person in the still very long line up to his desk as I walked away, 20 minutes after closing time.

He’s been at his job with the USPS for 30 years now, and been in this particular post office for 20 years. Never had a mail route: “Heck no. I like to be indoors with the controlled temperatures. If I’d have had a mail route, I’d have made a liar out of their ‘through sleet hail and snow’ motto real fast.” And he was not just patient, but pleasant as I came in with my lengthy request at almost closing time.

“Sorry again that you had to do this,” I said. “I promise next time it’d just be a simple “Hey Ike, can ya ship this for me,” request.”

“Nah, nah, it’s alright Jo. It was mighty fine closing out the day getting to stand around and chat with you. Have a good one.”

I may have moved to a pretty big city, but so far, I feel like the connections I’m making are these small-town type connections. Getting to know my post office employees and the workers at my local Costco. I’ve become well acquainted with my maintenance guy now — he’s been to my apartment to fix and re-fix issues with the gas in my fireplace about 5 times now over the past week.

I went to church last night and was fortunate enough to have a friend let the pastor know I’d be coming, so I got to go to dinner afterward with the pastor, his wife, and several others from the church. And I found myself telling my story, and crying in a restaurant as I am so familiar with doing now in public places when I get real and share my past pain.

And I’ve been to two family dinners — one with a cousin of mine and one with my friend Kate’s Aunt and Uncle who live here.  And I spent part of an afternoon giving a ride to Kate’s little sister who goes to college here now and doesn’t have a car.

Like I said, I may have moved to a big city, but these connections don’t feel like it. In a week I have had more honest and real interactions with people than I had in probably the first several months of my time in my previous town. Which doesn’t say as much about Denver versus Rocklin as it does about me now versus me a year ago.

I am opening up again. I’m coming alive again and being vulnerable again and it’s opening up some beautiful doors of connection. Even at the post office at closing time.


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, June 10th, 2014 | Author:

It was Halloween day and I was wearing a princess costume. Think Belle’s dress from Beauty and the Beast but in a blue-purple shimmer hue.

I dressed that way for work for the costume contest (which I got second place in, but Medusa had actual (fake) snakes in her hair. Hats off to her.). However, I was also flying to Denver that evening. I do bold and funny things, though, so I thought, “Why not travel in this dress?”

Now, I am often late to things. But I know that airlines (and swiss trains) don’t wait, so I left work an hour and a half early just to be safe. Between leaving work and actually getting myself into the airport, there were constant delays — traffic, roadwork, an accident, shuttle buses not coming — so by the time I was checking my bag, I was still late. Really late. Late enough that they said, “Your bag may not arrive on your plane. If it doesn’t, it’ll come in on the next plane, which will arrive tomorrow morning.”

I didn’t have another option so I said, “fine,” and I rushed off to security.  I literally sprinted through the airport, one hand holding up the hem of my dress, and the other holding my tiara on my head.

Quickly, people got caught up in the moment.

“It’s Cinderella!” one lady exclaimed.

Her young daughter got very excited: “Hurry Cinderella!” she chimed in.

Soon everyone that I passed began cheering  (yes, like onlookers cheering on folks at the end of a marathon) and calling out things like, “Oh no! She’s late!”

“Don’t miss the ball!”

“Cinderella, hurry, your carriage will turn into a pumpkin!”

They cleared the way for me through security, through the walk ways, and I walked onto the already boarded plane and everyone looked up at the hurried princess. And then they applauded.

And then I took my place in the last middle seat available, because while chivalry may not be completely dead, even Cinderella had to run home like a hot mess when she was late, and the middle seat  of a 747 is a bit of an upgrade.

End Note: It wasn’t until I sat down that I realized, if my bag didn’t arrive, I would be in cold Denver stuck in a princess dress overnight. I don’t think I would’ve been such a popular disheveled-princess sight on November 1. Talk about a walk of shame. It’s amazing the difference a day makes. Luckily, my luggage did arrive, and it went down as my most favorite airport experience to date.

Photo taken in Denver, not while rushing through SMF airport

Photo taken in Denver, not while rushing through SMF airport

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon