First You Need Ashes:

A Personal Story of Release and Resurrection

By: Laurel Rhinehardt


On the day after Christmas, 2011, I went to work and, after working two hours of a six hour shift, I was called into the new manager’s office and told I was being suspended, for stealing. It would be another two days before I got the confirmation that I was “termed” (or, as I soon thought of it, “released”), but something told me that, no matter what, I wouldn’t be back, not to a place where the manager could suspend me for stealing without even talking to me first.


After a moment of stunned panic/shock/anger, I went into action: I put everything from my locker into a bag, nearly danced out to my car, rolled down the windows, and sang my way home. (One of the tunes was “Riders on the Storm.”) I was thrilled to be absolutely free, for a few days at least, to do anything I wanted to do, and I immediately went into my studio where I quickly created a new line of fiber art which I call DreamScapes. I did have this niggling little thought: How long will this last before “reality” sets in? The universe began to answer this “prayer” in a very interesting way.


Right around Thanksgiving, my solid, grounded five year-old cat companion, Clive, went missing, leaving a huge hole in my heart, my house, my life; in my sixty-two years I’ve almost never not had a cat in my life. On New Year’s Eve day, just five days after my suspension, two friends independently contacted me to say I should get to the Humane Society, because they were having a “sale.” With just two hours to spare, I got to the Humane Society and started looking for a large, solid tabby like Clive. It took three times through before I spotted one of the last remaining kittens, a three and a half month old black (my favorite), who could have been the litter mate of two brothers who had been with me earlier in my life for sixteen and nineteen years. When I heard his name, Trip, I just had to laugh; what a perfect companion for a brand-new trip of my own.


Trip has lived up to his name. The first night we were together he initiated a game of fetch which lasted for an hour; his latest game is hide and pounce. He’s an indoor/outdoor cat like all of my cats have been but, unlike them, the first thing he does when he comes home is to flop at my feet and wait for me to lie die on the floor and go nose to nose with him, at which point the purring begins. Then he wants to play; only after that does he think about eating. Whenever I begin to feel scared or down, his enthusiasm for life, ebullience, energy, excitement, and ecstasy remind me that I have a choice, and I keep choosing joy.


And as I do, the universe continues to respond: a quilt of mine was accepted into Grovewood Gallery; I have had several shows since Christmas, some juried; I have had three speaking engagements; I was in an artist studio tour; my signature “pieced/quilted labyrinths” are currently featured in a national quilt magazine. And that’s just my “work” life. I was hoping to get up to WI this summer to visit some friends, and someone asked me if I’d like a ride up to Chicago. Perfect! Where will it all end? Nowhere, I hope, because I feel like I am living in heaven.


But I want to go back and tie up a loose end: the fact that I was suspended, and then “termed,” for stealing. I have been vindicated in this matter but, since I do think about life metaphorically, I wondered and chewed on this for a while. “Have I been stealing?” I wondered. And the answer finally came to me: Yes, I had been stealing… from myself. By staying in a toxic work environment, out of fear, I was stealing life energy and creativity from myself. Though it took a nudge, I stepped out into the void and energy literally flooded back into me; I am happier, healthier, and lighter now than I have been in years.



I’d like to close with this, the last stanza, from Robert Bly’s poem, Stealing Sugar from the Castle:


“You’re a thief!” the judge said.


“Let’s see your hands!” I showed my callused hands in court.


My sentence was a thousand years of joy.



I am a recovering psychologist working as a life/wellness/joy coach, fiber artist, and certified facilitator of the Transformation Game. I am a joyful companion of cats. My work can be seen at: and, and I can be reached at

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker