Cliff Jumping and a Big Bag of Letters

One night last week I quite unexpectedly I found myself sitting in the middle of my rug, sorting through a bag of old letters. As I opened each one I was flooded with memories and emotion as I recalled the different seasons in which they were sent. Although they represented different moments in my life, they were all written to me in times of transition. Many of them were given to me the week that I left for Chile. Suddenly, as if a light bulb went off, I remembered that that very week was exactly seven years ago, nearly to the day.

Seven years.

Seven years ago I was leaving behind friends, family, culture, comfort, and the beautiful little life that I had built post-college to jump off the cliff into the great unknown. It was, for me, wild and risky. It was also, clear as day, the thing I had to do at that moment in my life. Everything inside me was saying go. I was so sure of being called and so scared all at the same time. It was as though I had been preparing for that step my entire life, yet somehow I was so… unprepared.

Three and a half years gone, three and a half years back. Although my dreams are different now, I often still feel like I’m there – peering over the cliff, trying to figure out what it is I was made to do, ready to jump when I hear the call.  In that place, I think we often need to be reminded of who we are. Many times others can see in us more than we can see in ourselves. My friends’ words told me that I was brave and that I could do it. They told me that Jesus was behind and before me. They reflected to me who I had been and who I would be going forward. I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t crazy jumping off that cliff. I had Jesus with me and a whole slew of people to back me up.

I’m glad I found that old bag of letters.

As Anne of Green Gables would say, there’s always another bend in the road. As I crane my neck to see what’s ahead, as I dream and pray, cry out and press on, I’m so thankful I’m not doing it alone. The longer I travel on this earth the more I’m convinced that this figuring out is something we do all our lives. There might come a day when I’m in a place that seems a bit more me, but we’re still not really home, right? The longing and the tension are part of the party. And so we band together and march on, beating our drum and whistling our tune, holding up a banner for all to see. We remind each other that we are not alone and we are not crazy.

May we not forget it.

 

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Dearly Beloved, We Are Gathered Here Today…

What a weekend.

This past Saturday I had the privilege of helping to officiate the wedding of two dear friends. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to state that it was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever gotten to do. Picture this: Standing before the room of expectant faces, watching the attendants come down the aisle one by one, feeling the entire room rise and hold their breath as the back doors swung open and the bride came out, eyeing the groom as he nervously smiled and saw her for the first time, standing face-to-face with my friends so close that I could hear the harmonies as we sang together, speaking words of life and affirmation to them, painting a picture of God’s heart and holding it up for all their guests to see, handing her the ring, laying hands on them and praying, giving that final command to kiss the bride, and watching the room erupt with joy. I loved every second.

One of the strangest things about the entire experience was that it was not strange at all. I felt as if I was exactly where I should be, doing exactly what I should be doing. Several people asked later if I had been nervous but my answer was no, I felt entirely in my element. I was talking to a friend at the reception who is a labor and delivery nurse. She commented that the first time she ever attended a birth she felt the exact same thing – it was the coolest thing she had ever done.

I’ve no clear picture of what the future holds, but moments like Saturday night give me a special glimpse of what it could be. This is certainly not the first glimpse I’ve had, but such a unique one. What a gift. What a challenge. What an honor. I can’t wait to do it again.

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As She’s Reminded Again That She Can

I had a moment of reflection in my car this afternoon as I drove back to my office from a presentation. It seems that I’ve been reminded again and again these days that I can be brave, in all types of ways. Spanish has been a process for me, a slow and at times extremely frustrating process. I’ve seen that I can do it, though, and that makes my heart sing a little. Here was a rare Facebook post that I did when I returned to work:

This afternoon I did my first truly bilingual presentation for work (as in translating myself on-the-spot). I have met with Spanish-speaking clients for years, but this was my first large presentation of this nature. Afterward, almost immediately, I was swarmed by folks who wanted to learn more about our programs and I was able to navigate the situation quite easily, lingering long after to answer question after question. It was a school cafeteria full of parents – nothing notable to most – but for me there was something so gratifying in being able to do it.

Language learning is one of the most humbling, head-aching, long-suffering processes I know. You have to be willing to sound foolish, make mistakes, and have loads of awkward moments. It’s so worth it, though; it really does build bridges. In our current environment of frenzy, fear, and hastily constructed walls, it feels good to build something different. May we keep doing wonderfully difficult things, living without fear in both our great and small tasks.

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Of Ballet Dreams and Baby Giraffes

Have I mentioned that I started ballet classes last year? At the age of 32 I began doing what most three year olds do. It’s been a fun adventure, completely my own, and at times I wonder what in the world I’m doing in a leotard and pink tights.

The first half of ballet class is typically my favorite part. As we work through the barre exercises I grip that lifeline, carefully executing my tendue, plie, and cambré. I work on my form, keeping an eye on the mirror as I perfect each movement. I love barre. It’s controlled and precise, anchored and safe. Barre work makes me feel elegant, as I imagine a ballerina should feel.

Shortly after, my safety net is taken away.

The second half of class requires the dancers to spread out across the room. Our teacher introduces the combination for the evening and suddenly I’m not so graceful. As I attempt to turn, leap, and move across the floor I feel like a baby giraffe taking those first steps. There are weeks when I pick up the combination (somewhat) and I seem to make progress. Other weeks I fight frustration, believing that I just can’t do it.

Tonight I had a difficult time on the floor. I felt a step behind everyone else and dizzy as I attempted soutenu turns. I was confused about where my feet were supposed to be and unable to move with the ease I desired. As much as I tried to figure it out and execute each step perfectly, it wasn’t happening. After class, I approached the teacher. “Why can’t I do it?” I moaned. “Am I that uncoordinated? What’s wrong with me?” With a good-natured laugh she answered, “You’ve just got to get out of your head — that’s what’s messing you up. You were doing it, though. Couldn’t you see that!?”

No, I couldn’t see it. First of all, I was too busy staring at my feet in the mirror. Furthermore, it didn’t feel graceful or elegant or balletish so it must have been wrong, right? It felt awkward and clumsy and everyone else seemed to have it down better than I did. (May I remind us, though, that I was staring at my feet in the mirror and certainly didn’t have time to look at anyone else.) Maybe she was right. MAYBE I was doing it. But I know I wasn’t doing it perfectly and I know that I felt uneasy in the midst of it.

This getting-out-of-my-head, the not being perfect on the first (or fifth) time – this is going to be my biggest challenge. Here’s the thing: I’m not going to stop overthinking soutenu turns by thinking more. I’m going to master them by going back to class and turning. And turning again. And again. And again. It will be awkward, clumsy, and nothing that you would ever see on a stage in New York City. And I may not get that ballerina feel that I get with barre exercises, at least not yet. I’ll keep going back, though, because I really like ballet. I’ve wanted to learn it for a long time and it’s worth the Bambi-on-ice-skates moments to do that.

I’m in and I’m staying in. Perhaps one day I’ll glide across the floor with the ease of a seasoned dancer. If that days comes (and if it does I’ll invite you to my big debut) I think it will mean all the more, knowing what it took to get there. I don’t know that that day will come, though, but I’m still becoming more and more of who I want to be every time I trip and spin across that floor. I’m the 33 year old in the leotard and pink tights. I’m the one who didn’t give up.

 

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On Making Waves and Making Sense and Just Making It

As I was writing about risk last month, I was also taking one. For me, it was a big one. I was venturing into unknown territory and it was more than a bit scary. I’m a gal who likes control and guarantees and I didn’t have either, at least completely. That’s frightening terrain for me. It’s frightening because it might blow up in my face. It might not go the way I want. It might fail.

And it did.

In the grand scheme of things, this was a single drop in the ocean. Millions of people have similar experiences every day and they barely bat an eye. I’m learning that this is not me, though, and I’m learning that that might be okay. This particular risk is formidable for me; a daunting and most frightening phenomenon.

There are parts of me that are hidden away, like a still pond surrounded by dense trees. Few happen upon that place and when they do, even the smallest pebble sets off a chain of ripples and dips and minuscule waves. This movement is not necessarily bad, but it is certainly worth noting since the waters are not often stirred. Recently they were.

I find myself pondering now this recent movement. I ponder its strange effects and I ponder why it’s gone now. l wasn’t fully accustomed to it, but I was learning to be open. I began to enjoy it. I wondered what else it might bring out in me, how I might be able to respond to it.

Although I’m back to where I started, I actually am not. The thing about moving waters is that they don’t calm immediately. They churn a while before they rest. I’m still not sure what I think about it all and I suppose I don’t have to know just now. I sit quietly and wait. I boldly bare my soul to God, maker of heaven and earth and lakes and ponds and mighty oceans. He knows what each ripple, each movement and drop and breath mean.

I want to be brave and not scared. Control and guarantees are nice ideas but I’m not sure they truly exist. The less I cling to them the more free I might be. And when I take a risk, a big one, and when it doesn’t work out, when it stings, when it leaves me wishing I had never ventured out… I can only ask for the trust to believe what I know to be true.

If this was a fable, I might  play the part of the poky tortoise. I think I’m comfortable with that, though, because she’s moving and not giving  up. I am me, after all, and this risk thing will take on a rhythm and dance that fit me: The pearl girl. The dense, layered forest. The one with the skinned up knees.

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Of Skinning Our Knees and Hobbling Home

Last weekend I moved half a mile away. Although it seems like next to nothing, I’ve found that it’s actually something. I’m having to learn new routes to all the same places – going to work is just a bit different, church, and even my jogs have had to change. As I’ve set out out down the pavement this week, instead of familiar paths with their same landmarks I find myself winding  my way through unknown streets. I’ve never explored this part of my neighborhood and I’m encountering some unexpected twists and turns.

Tuesday evening, the new twists and turns got the best of me. One of the more challenging aspects of jogging in the Heights is that the sidewalks are inconsistent and often uneven. As I was sailing along, listening to whatever inspiring tunes I had playing at the time, I suddenly found myself face to face with cement. My foot had caught on an uneven section of sidewalk and I went flying. In the moments after, I slowly rolled over onto my back to a soft patch of grass. I assessed the damage: two skinned knees, a few cuts on my hands, a shattered phone screen and a sore shoulder. I was in shock for a moment. This was the first fall in three consistent years of jogging.

You never set out intending to fall. You expect to be winded and certainly sweaty (this is Houston, after all) but you don’t expect to limp home with bloody knees and a bruised ego. I suppose it’s part of the risk of jogging at all, especially on new routes. It was almost enough to keep me home on the couch for the next few evenings instead of venturing out again.

If I’m perfectly honest, I think this is true for me in many aspects of life. New things can be risky. If we’ve been around more than a few years, we’ve had our share of skinned knees. It can be enough at times to make us think, even if only for a moment, well I’m not going that way again. Sometimes we indeed shouldn’t go the same route again, but sometimes we just have to trust that the story is going to turn out differently this time around. Something new – and possibly even wonderful – could be around the bend. May we not let fear, may I not let fear, rule the day.

I’ll take us back now to Tuesday night. I hobbled along for a time. I happened to be near the high school, which opens its track to the public in the evenings, so I made a few laps around just to get my bearings. The track is safe and I knew exactly what I was getting. From there I went back into the neighborhood. I was back on those unpredictable streets. It wasn’t my fastest night and I think I walked half of the way home, but I’m okay with that. I made it. And the next evening I went out and did it again with no falls.

I was proud of myself this week. It may have seemed like a small risk – the going back out – but risky it was. And I’m glad I did it. Oh, that there would be many more adventures along new paths and may there be courage and steadiness along the way, skinned knees and all.

 

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Of Outlet Malls and Angry Dogs

I think I found God in the suburbs.

*gasp*

For most who know me, it doesn’t come as a surprise that I dislike the suburbs. I moved to the (big) city within a week of graduating college and I haven’t looked back. I quickly became about as urban as I could become, not actually having grown up in a large metropolis. I came to crave the diversity and grit of city life, being drawn to the authenticity and beauty of it all. It was so different from the place from which I’d come, which both fascinated and beckoned me.

For nearly five years I worked for an urban missions agency that hosted mission teams year round, based out of Houston’s Third Ward (later we moved our base a bit more southeast). Youth groups from mostly suburban churches would work with us and in this time, I continued to build my case against the burbs. They were all so perfect, so homogeneous, so clueless when it came to real issues that real people were facing. It was a harsh judgement, but it was my judgement. After all, I was once one of them.

My sister and I made the trip to see our mother a couple of weekends ago. We drove through Dallas and kept heading north. Soon we could only see strip malls and box houses. “We must be close,” we said. In our time there, we admittedly enjoyed all the amenities of the suburbs – outlet malls, big roomy houses, and massive televisions with thousands of channels. I felt like I was on vacation.

One evening I went for a jog as the sun finally started to dip below the horizon. It’s the only time I can bear to run outdoors in the summer and I almost didn’t go. I’m glad I did, though. As I started along the perfectly manicured street, a sense of peace flooded over me that was palpable. As I listened to one of my favorite podcasts – Pray as you Go – I found myself in one of those quiet, sacred spaces that I love. The purple, blue, and pink sky was picture perfect and I knew that God was so very near. Peace, peace, peace as my rhythmic footsteps hit the perfect, straight sidewalk. I didn’t find myself despising the place, but rather loving it.

I think too often I’ve only allowed myself to encounter God in gritty, messy, harsh places. I’ve found him in personal crisis, in the face of an undocumented family, in the slums, the tears, and the pain. And he is most certainly there. I wonder, though, if I can’t also see his face in peaceful, quiet, “perfect” places. Perhaps it’s easy to grow accustomed to one season, one place, one rhythm, and forget that there are actually many. The world is so much bigger than what I see now, or even what I’ve seen in the past few years.

I’m back in the city now and my jogs are back to my normal route. I pass by angry dogs, overgrown lawns, and at-risk schools. I am comfortable here. As I look up at the same watercolor sky, though, I recall that night just a few weeks ago; I’m humbled and inspired, curious and glad. May I not only be comfortable here, but may I embrace the vastness of God’s heart and the richness of his presence at all times and in all places. May I search for him and expect to find him, even in the suburbs.

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Prayer of St. Teresa of Avila

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

— St. Teresa of Avila

Those last two lines have circled around and around and around in my head and heart these days.

Nothing is lacking. God is enough. Amen.

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On Silence, Solitude, and Crashing Waves

Sometimes it feels as if the world around me has come to a fevered pitch of voices. They shout loudly, over the din, hear me! hear me!  I find myself tiring of social media perhaps for this very reason. There are so many voices calling out all at once that I don’t feel like I can hear anything.

(It might, then, seem silly that I’m posting something on the internet in the midst of the din. This little corner of web space feels more quiet, though.)

Do you see the photo at the top of this page? I loved that place. Surrounded by the noise of the sea crashing beneath my feet, I could hear my own heart beat wildly as God whispered in my ear. That was a holy place; a sacred moment. I find that more and more I’m looking for those places. I’m looking for holy moments, quiet spaces right smack in the middle of the noise.

The past couple of years I’ve been drawn to silence and solitude like never before. In the midst of an incredibly difficult season, a wise mentor told me that I would find what I was looking for there. She was right. She was absolutely right. Instead of finding a strange and lonely place, I found a place of healing and rest and new life. The fruit of my time there has been trust and intimacy. I run there now, ready to be alone (yet very much not alone), ready to hear the whispers, responding in joy, sometimes in tears, but knowing I’m right where I need to be: in the silence of the crashing waves.

Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure. -Henri Nouwen

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Building

(I’m back. I’m not sure for how long, but I’m back. No promises.)

This morning as I was scrolling the BBC headlines as I do every morning, I found the most fascinating article. It was all about larger-than-life dream buildings that were never actually built. Architects throughout the ages have had big visions and less-than-big budgets, I suppose. Some of the buildings would have never probably been feasible and others were tossed to the wayside along with the political or cultural regime with which they were affiliated (ie: The Third Reich. We’re thankful on a number of levels that the monstrosity was never built).

Someone’s dream ended up in the trash heap.

Do you relate?

I’ve tossed a couple in that direction recently. Well, I would be lying if I said “tossed.” I’ve placed them there, intentionally, with a limping, bruised heart and a soul swirling about with dark clouds. I’ve placed them there because that’s the only place they fit now. Every step to the bin and every step away from it has been on purpose. Interesting how that works, isn’t it? We don’t typically throw something away and then stand there looking at it; we walk away from yesterday’s junk mail or the slimy banana peel. Dreams are tough, though. We want to look. We’re drawn to linger.

Walking away is good, though. It’s healthy. The air is more clear and there’s much to see. I continue to remember because I’m human, but I also find that other things begin to fill my mind and heart. The dark clouds that seemed to have taken up residence begin to shift and even if they’re not completely gone, they let beams of sunlight through that change my view. New vision, new colors, new day.

The old dreams were beautiful, but there are new dreams to be had. I can’t force them and I will wait patiently for them. I will look, especially when those sunbeams are bright, for shapes and ideas that I hadn’t previously known. I’ll let the sun warm me and prepare me for something new. Sometimes I might sing a little song while I look and sometimes I’ll be quiet.

The trash can is full if we’ve lived more than a few years on this earth. Big dreams, small dreams, they don’t all get framed and put on the wall. We keep making them, though. We remain open to inspiration and all the things that first taught us to dream. And the putting them away… it may never become easier, but we do begin to see a pattern of goodness and restoration when we’ve been brave enough to do it. We begin trusting and knowing that a dream gone away doesn’t mark the end of the story.

One day I’ll build a building and it will be grand. It might not look that way to any of you, but it will be built of hope and love and songs and all these things I’ve collected on my way. Those things will never go away and I believe that they just might make something beautiful after all.

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