Episode 31: Visiting with Karyl Wackerlin of Atlanta, GA, and her story, “Trust Your Journey”
Hosts Kerry Rossow and Jenette Jurczyk connect with Karyl Wackerlin about the origin of the She Said: Soul Journey Mission Trips to Haiti. In her story, “Trust Your Journey,” Karyl shares how she overcame challenges in her marriage and learned to choose joy.
ANNOUNCER: Raising women’s voices. One story at a time.
Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast.
JENETTE JURCZYK: You are listening to The She Said Project Podcast, where ladies from That’s What She Said shows around the world (or in Champaign, Illinois) come together to talk about the experience of sharing a personal story live on stage and the power and meaning that comes with that experience.
My name is Jenette Jurczyk, your host of this awesome podcast. I am the National Director of The She Said Project. My dear friend and amazing inspiration and “the wind beneath my wings” is here in the Zoom Studio with me: the one and only, Ms. Kerry Rossow.
KERRY ROSSOW: [laughing] Wow. No pressure! “The wind beneath your wings?” Wow! All right.
JENETTE: I’m just in that mood today, Kerry. I mean, you’re one of the founders of That’s What She Said, which started as a live show in Champaign, Illinois back in 2013. And when you started this, you had an amazing team—an amazing group of women who you inspired to jump in and take this in so many amazing directions. And one of those, like I didn’t join the team until 2015, so, I’m empowered and inspired because one of your original She Said sisters is here on our podcast today.
KERRY: I am over the moon to welcome her because as many stories as we’ve heard and as many sort of Me Too moments or “that’s how I feel” or “that’s happened to me” or the ones that, like never thought of life that way—all of it—I think, when I think back to those first days of either sitting on someone’s patio or in the living room or sitting around the table at the Country Club, the power of encouraging each other and.. I’m just going to say her name—Karyl Wackerlin—she was always sort of the voice of reason, the voice of encouragement, and then, the many times we needed it, she was the voice of “Pull yourself together!” [laughs] Or if I was unsure, there were many things that I would feel like I would be at a crossroads and I could always count on Karyl’s directness, and honesty and that she truly understood the vision of what we wanted to do. And when I would get distracted by shiny objects, I could count on her to say, you know, “Keep your eye on the ball.”
JENETTE: Yes, and she brought so many of her unique talents to The She Said family, and we’ll get to chat with her about those. She appeared on stage in more than one That’s What She Said production. But we’re going to share one of those stories with our audience today. But first, let’s bring her on the call, Karyl Wackerlin, one of the original She Said Mommas, is here with us. How are you sweetheart? Where are you?
KARYL WACKERLIN: (3:00) Well, I’m sitting in my home in Georgia, where I’ve been for three years, not that I’ve just been home for three years. We moved to Georgia about three years ago, this week actually, and miss all you guys!
JENETTE: We miss you too! Do you remember those early days of The She Said Project and figuring out how to share stories and how to create this unique world for women to have a voice?
KARYL: I remember hours of brainstorming, hours of brainstorming, just, you know, you start with one little idea and then we all talk about it and then we pass it off to somebody else and talk about it some more. And I remember how the Soul Journeys were born because we… Kerry and I talked about photography, we talked about mission trips. She had just been to Haiti and I had been on some mission trips and we said well wouldn’t it be fun to put together something where we could empower women to do something like that? And then all of a sudden, boom: Soul Journey was born. So, that’s the kind of brainstorming we did and it really was pretty special.
JENETTE: I love telling people who are learning about That’s What She Said for the first time that this, this group, this organization has either organized or inspired at least seven separate trips to an orphanage in Haiti to create that opportunity for women to come together and provide that volunteerism, that fellowship, you know, that purpose.
KARYL: (4:17) We started with the idea of taking women but then each of those women went back to their community and shared stories of that, and of the camaraderie they had with the women along the way, not only the Haitian women, but the, The Soul Journey people on their team, so it’s really taken off, I think, and even though we haven’t had one in a while, I would say.. what it did for us, for our souls— is going to stay with us forever.
KERRY: And the photos from those… well especially the first trip, it really shines through—partly because of your talent as a photographer but I’ll be driving around my own local town and I’ll pass Janine or Nancy or, and there’s just that pitter pat in my heart, of knowing we shared that together and whether I see them twice a year or you know, right now—never—but we all share that connection with each other and then with the women that we met when we were there and that was all you, girl.
KARYL: Well, no, it was not me, but it was a good sisterhood that we built and I.. you know, I know that we’re going to do it again someday, I just.. life is a little different now than it was five years ago when we took our first trip. So, when life gets to be a little more like it was then we’ll talk about it again. But for now everybody is branched off and they’re doing their own Haitian trips, somewhere. Even, you know, it can be in Champaign-Urbana, it can be anywhere. What we learned from that, you can’t take that away from us. I was thrilled to do it.
JENETTE: So true—and the world needs that kind of compassion right now and I think that we’ve all taken a piece of that with us. We owe you such a debt of gratitude, Karyl—for spearheading all those missions and really creating what became The She Said Soul Journeys and what came out of so many of those, those groups of women . But I want to talk about you and your story, particularly the one that you shared live on stage at the Virginia Theater in Champaign, Illinois, back in 2015. Do you remember that experience? Do you remember that night?
KARYL: I do, it was one of the scariest nights of my life actually. It was very, very personal for me and it was a journey that I had taken alongside my husband. And it was the courage that it took to stand up in front of a group of women and kind of bare my soul—particularly in front of my family and my closest friends who had kind of walked the journey with me, but it’s amazing to see five years later how things have evolved since then. I mean, we’re, we’ve gotten involved in a ministry that we wouldn’t have gotten involved with, had we not done that. We’ve had a chance to tell our story many places since then. But still, I mean, the fright of doing that, but the bolstering up, I felt, of everybody who’d also told their stories—unless you’ve done it once—you can’t—it’s hard to explain to people the strength you get from being vulnerable and the vulnerability piece is the ticket. It’s the ticket. I got strength from my faith to do that. I got strength from The She Said family to do that and it takes vulnerability.
JENETTE: I just wrote that down: “The strength you get from being vulnerable.” I am going to print that, frame it, hang it. That is..
KARYL: By Karyl Wackerlin.
JENETTE: By Karyl Wackerlin! I mean, that is everything—that is exactly why we do what we do. But for our audience who really understand how powerful your story was, let’s go ahead and play the clip from that night, though you’re listening to The She Said Project Podcast and we’re going to check in with one of our favorites—one of our longtime loves and supporters—enjoy this performance by Karyl Wackerlin on stage, That’s What She Said 2015, with her story, “Trust Your Journey.”
KARYL: (8:13) (from That’s What She Said, Champaign, IL 2015) One month ago tonight, I was sitting around a campfire in Haiti, making s’mores with the kids at God’s Littlest Angels Orphanage and the ten passionate women who had made the Soul Journey to Haiti with me. As coordinator of Soul Journey, one of my goals is to design trips that would empower, encourage, and inspire, not only the women on our teams, but the GLA staff and the Haitian women we meet along the way. It takes passion and a sense of purpose to put these trips together. But before I could start, I had to go on a soul journey of my own.
Mine began on August 27th, 2007. I remember that day like it was yesterday. We had just left home for a job interview in Atlanta. It was 10 a.m. Way too early for my husband to be slurring his words as he talked on the phone. I didn’t need any more proof that he’d already been drinking that morning and with an uncanny, really strange sense of calm, I closed my eyes, I said a prayer and I told him to take me home. I was finally ready to make the decision that life on my own would be better than life in the chaos that had taken over our 36-year marriage.
In the quiet of the car that morning, the decision seemed really easy to make. But the months and years that led up to that decision had not been quite so simple. In trying to make sense of life in a home controlled by alcohol, I had become bitter, angry and resentful. I perfected the art of walking on eggshells, and my self-esteem and my dreams had gone down the tubes. Memories of all our good years faded, as I became consumed with the pain of the last few. I was sucking the life out of my closest friendships as I bored my friends daily with detail after detail of my life as a victim. Though my friends were really sympathetic, I’m sure they were really thankful for caller ID. [laughter] During those years I learned that there are many ways to numb pain. Oh, I would have never used alcohol. You see, my grandfather was an alcoholic and I’d heard a lot of stories about his late night binges and the effect they had on my mother, my uncle, and my grandmother. But I discovered my own ways to numb the pain. Eating a lot. Working a lot. Traveling a lot, and even getting overly involved in church work. I craved attention and I tried to control whatever, and whoever, I could, but what I realize now is, while I was numbing the pain, I was also numbing the joy.
On that August morning in 2007, when I knew that life as I knew it was over, what I didn’t realize was that it had just begun. God had not only given me the courage to say, “I’m done,” but the compassion to see the pain that Gary was in and the willingness to help him find a residential treatment program when he said he was ready to get help. I finally realized that the choice to stay or leave was mine and I chose to stay.
And then I began a slow journey back to joy. I began to focus on myself and instead of telling friends I was just fine, I learned to be specific about what I needed and the answer was almost always the same: well, one of two: chocolate or Chipotle. After I just told you I had a problem with overeating. [clearing throat] Okay. Okay.
So on days when I was too exhausted to get dressed, my friends would show up at my door and refused to leave until I got dressed and join them for a walk. Friends and family prayed for me, drove me to Al-Anon meetings so I didn’t have to go alone and even took me to the riverboat to mindlessly feed the slots. Our kids were grown and living out of town. One called daily, just to check in and make sure I was okay. The other was supportive but more distant and sent daily letters of encouragement to dad. I wish I could tell you that I wrote letters too, but I didn’t. Gary received a lot of letters from family and friends while he was in rehab. But not one of them was from me. Looking back, I’m not very proud of that but I trust it was part of my journey—learning how to detach.
After 28 days in rehab, my husband’s counselor joyfully called and said your husband’s ready to come home. Home? Are you kidding me? I’m not ready for him to come home yet. Not much had changed except geography, he was in Minnesota and I was in Champaign. I was seeing a counselor but really spent almost all of my time talking about him and his drinking. Those first few months after rehab were really, really hard, as we navigated a new world for both of us, learning to set new boundaries and stay in our own lanes. Our counselors told us to mind our own business, he should work on his recovery and I should work on mine, but that we needed to find a way to share space together without talking about our issues. So what did we do? Together we watch three full seasons of 24. [laughter] I’ll forever be grateful to Jack Bauer for providing us with drama that did not include us. [laughter]
(14:15) I’d be lying if I said it was fast or easy. It took many months until I felt things really begin to change. It had nothing to do with Gary and everything to do with me. On the journey back to joy, I had to learn to forgive and put resentments behind me. I had to learn about the disease of alcoholism and the effect it had on each one of us in our family. I had to learn how to give up my victim role and how to accept responsibility for the ways I had contributed to the chaos in our home. Now, eight years later, I can say that I’m proud of the work we’ve put into this. On August 27th of this year (2015)—just two months after our 44th wedding anniversary, Gary celebrated eight years of sobriety. [applause] He now leads a ministry for others struggling with hurts, habits and hang-ups. I lead the women’s recovery group and have just returned from my third Soul Journey to Haiti. Now, that’s a miracle. [applause]
As I packed for this Haiti trip, I was amazed to see how much I could fit into my backpack. Eight years ago I was lugging around so much dead weight that there was no room or joy or the cameras I used to see the world. Back then my backpack was loaded down with resentments, anger, hurts from my childhood, need for approval, low self-esteem and pride. Some of those burdens I put there myself and some were added by family members and others. It’s incredible to see how much lighter my load became when I got rid of all that dead weight. These days, I pack light—free of the hurts of the past with a keen sense of purpose and joy. I love to see how God has used every detail of my life: the pain of those years of chaos, my years as a photographer, my friendships in this community, everything in creating a new purpose for my life, I am confident that had it not been for the pain. I would not have experienced the joy. When I left for Haiti last month, a friend surprised me with this bracelet. The tag reads, “For every woman who has struggled, questioned, realized, believed, accomplished and triumphed—trust your journey.” I am that woman. I have finally learned to trust my journey.
My soul and my home are filled with joy again. [applause]
KERRY: (17:25) Okay, so if you don’t know Karyl, one of the things you might not know is that Karyl is a crier and you might not know that I am not, but I cannot tell you the joy in my life when Karyl starts going into cry mode and her voice [raising voice, squeaking] starts going up a little higher. These are the greatest moments of my life—because even though I have a cold, dark heart—her vulnerability and love and joy, like, I look like the Grinch, like my heart starts growing and softening, because she… what-you-see-is-what-you-get, and she just wears her heart out there and if that means she’s boo-hooing, she’s boo-hooing. In Haiti and all the different times, those are some of my favorite, favorite times. And even though I laugh and tease, there are always those little nuggets—Karylisms—that I carry with me, always.
KARYL: Okay. Now you’re going to make me cry.
KERRY: There she goes!
KARYL: I love her so much!
JENETTE: Karyl, you don’t know how much you continue to be an inspiration to That’s What She Said and moving this mission forward. I mean you were such an integral part in sharing that story. I mean, you just exemplified being vulnerable, giving it your all, putting it out there and then using that to find your strength to do more and be more and find your next step. You are the giver of joy and I think that’s what you are known for. You choose joy, you find joy. You bring joy and I am so happy to hear that you’ve continued to do that. How does it feel to go back to that night for just a moment and think of everything you’ve accomplished since?
KARYL: Well, it’s kind of an odd experience to listen to that five years later, frankly, we’re different people that we were back then and that, that was part of the journey—that night was part of the journey, and everything we’ve done since then—the move was part of the journey, the new people that we’ve met, so it was part of an adventure that we’ve been on. I mean, we will celebrate fifty years of marriage in June (2021) so that… that could have maybe not been. And so that was an important piece. The healing from, from hurt is an important part of the piece. And it’s, it’s the, it’s the joy of vulnerability that everybody is so scared of that really, unless, unless they go through the pain, they’re not, they may not ever get there. So I guess, my, my challenge to everybody is to kind of look it square in the face and say, “yes, it’s scary.” “Yes, it’s hard.” But the gift at the end is strength, and it doesn’t make any sense, because everything’s opposite of what it really should be. But the pain is what gives you the strength.
JENETTE: Tell us about that sign behind you.
KARYL: Okay. So, behind me is a sign that says—I’ve had it on my shelf for four years—it says, “A year from now, what will you wish you would had done today?” And that’s been kind of my mantra since I first got it from my sister because there’s so many times where we put things off—I’m going to lose weight next week. I’m going to—I’m going to go on this trip next week. I’m going to have the courage to join a support group next week. But if you envision yourself a year from now, what will you wish you had started today? Today. And when you think that a year from now you can be looking at that and saying, boy, am I glad I had the courage to do it today and so that’s the important part for us to all grasp is we can’t put it off, especially in these days. We can’t put things off because a year from now we want to be able to say that day I was strong enough to start my journey.
KERRY: (21:08) Okay, stop it! Now you’re going to make me cry. I’m going to take myself off of here. Wackerlin!
JENETTE: I’m so grateful to just sit here and absorb, you know, all of this delicious Karylisms, you know? Like I just feel—you know, like not a day has gone by that you moved but we’ve been trying to get you on this podcast since it started and I just, you know what? Everything happens exactly as it’s supposed to because I am going to walk away from this. Okay? What will I have wished a year from now and I’m going to go write a list and give that some serious thought.
KARYL: A year from now what will you wish you’d started?
JENETTE: I’m going to check in with you, Karyl, one year from now.
KERRY: (21:47) Okay, so if we’re going to have some bookshelf sharing…I want to share—as we were doing this I turned around—I bought this when we were in Haiti, it says: “Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.”
KERRY: I bought that from Haiti. It’s one of those things—whatever it is, you find it and then everyday when you glance at it it sort of reminds you and…
KARYL: I have lots of bits of Haiti all over my house just a little bit. What’s been really weird for me is to move to a new place where people don’t know my story. They don’t know about my talk in ‘15, they don’t know the joy I got from Haiti and I’ve been able to leak the story a little bit, and it’s taken three years for people to be vulnerable enough with each other to even start getting it. So, that’s been one of the hardest parts of the move is that they don’t get me yet. They don’t understand why the pictures of the little kids in Haiti are so important. You guys get it. But unfortunately, you’re in Illinois and I’m not, so…
KERRY: But that’s the great thing about you is— you don’t hide it under a bushel. You really are out there… it’s that old saying of: “Your life is your sermon” and your picture should be next to that because it’s so true.
KARYL: I’m trying. I’m trying.
JENETTE: It just seems like we had to let you go so you can go spread that “Karyl Love” and open more hearts. I feel like that’s exactly your purpose that came out of this.
KARYL: And I 100% agree with that but just you know, personally, that’s hard. It’s hard. It’s hard to move away. It’s been a great move, but it’s hard at any age to pick up everything and as it turned out It was a great move. I mean, my mom died in March. So had I not moved three years ago I wouldn’t have had that time with her and so I know why I moved when I did—but it’s really The Soul Journey piece, and my fifty-year-old, my friends who I’ve had for forty or fifty years, that have made—it’s not the house, it’s not the snow. It’s not U of I. It’s, you know, but it’s Soul Journey that has tied me in many ways to Champaign. So it’s been hard to walk away from. I have to tell you, it’s been hard.
KERRY: Well, one of the things I like to say is it’s never too late to rewrite our script, but man, I don’t know, Karyl. I mean, I’m 48, I’ve been here for twenty-seven years and the idea of leaving after you’ve built community and you have all of.. you’ve settled in, to start fresh, you know. We aren’t spring chickens, sister. And to start all over again? That is courageous.
KARYL: Yeah, but it’s courageous, but it’s been the right thing. It’s been the right thing, but there are things you have to say goodbye to. And so, it’s the re-creation, which has kind of stunned me. I mean, I don’t have a photography business anymore, although I’ve shot some weddings and I’ve done some portraits, and people are starting to kind of get the point that I know how to use a camera. Somebody.. I did a engagement portrait last week and she said, “Oh, you really know what you’re doing!” And I said, I did it for thirty years.
JENETTE: “I’ve done this a few times.”
KARYL: But it is hard to start fresh
JENETTE: It is.
KARYL: And I wouldn’t change it. And I wouldn’t move back, but it’s worth the risk. It’s worth the risk to start a new adventure.
JENETTE: Karyl, you have just spoken so many delicious truths. Here is today, I am just so grateful that our podcast listeners will get to eat up some of this and be all the information that you’ve always brought to the table. Thank you for your time today. We’re so excited to get caught up with you and hear about your new journey is and how far you’ve come since your 2015 story. And grateful that you shared it with us and the She Said family because you are a sister forever, we love you so much. I can’t wait to check in with you 5 years from now and get more delicious…
KARYL: For free.
JENETTE: Tidbits. Yes, I hope we don’t wait that long. But for now I can’t wait to hear what our audience thinks of everything we talked about today and I look forward to sharing some more here on The She Said Project Podcast.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you for listening to The She Said Project Podcast in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in the podcast for the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That’s What She Said, LLC. for more information on our live shows go to http://shesaidproject.com
This podcast was made possible with support from Carle and Health Alliance and presented by Sterling Wealth Management, empowering women to live their best lives.
Hosts Kerry Rossow and Jenette Jurczyk connect with Karyl Wackerlin about the origin of the She Said: Soul Journey Mission Trips to Haiti. In her story "Trust Your Journey"— originally shared on the That's What She Said stage in Champaign, Illinois back in 2015—Karyl shares how she overcame challenges in her marriage and learned to choose joy.
The She Said Project Podcast is recorded in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in this podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That's What She Said, LLC. Learn more at shesaidproject.com.