awaken my soul

i walked into a coffee shop in Grand Rapids, MI, content to know no one.  to sip a delectable latte and study for a couple hours.  in town for work, i had nowhere to be and no one to demand my time until 3p.

within just a few minutes of finding a spot to settle in, i heard my name from a voice behind me.  i turned, not sure who could know me in this city, only to find an old friend from college days.  he was actually a friend i knew through an ex-boyfriend, and he had transferred to another school after our freshman year.  we saw each other off and on over the next few years, as our paths crossed in various ways, but that would have to have been nearly 8 years ago.

of course, the natural questions came forth and i quickly learned that he doesn’t live here either, but is fundraising to move his family to Spain for mission work.  i always find in these situations that i have so many questions and an eager desire to know what the other person is up to, that i don’t share much about myself.  even when asked.  so i briefly mentioned that i was in the city for work, but at the coffee shop to study.  then i went back to asking about him.

but he persisted, and i found my pulse quickening and my eyes brightening as i explained my desire to study naturopathy and natural healing options, as well as go through yoga teacher training, and my hope to combine the two.

and then i said something i wish i could recapture and put in a bottle, to carry around with me at all times.

i said, “it’s one of those things that just makes me feel alive and excited every time i think about it.  i think we need to pay attention to that, because that’s how we know what we’re supposed to offer to world.”  he nodded emphatically, and smiled, and got excited with me.

as a young person, i thought passion about life was a given, and i watched older people with quick judgment about the dutiful lives they seemed to live, committed and busy, but without much true passion.  i took that passion for granted, as i went to school and bought  cars and bounced from one idea to another.

but somewhere along the way, slowly but surely, my overabundance of passion began to dim.  and now here i sit, feeling slightly jaded about life, wondering if anything could ever feel “new” again, could make my blood race with excitement and passion.  dramatic perhaps, but these have been the honest workings of my mind lately.

then an old friend pops up in a coffee shop in a strange city, and asks what i’m up to.

the thing about “distance learning” is that i could legitimately go through my entire study without talking about it.  i could slink about with my textbook and highlighter, and do my thing in the corner where no one could see.  where no one could ask what it is i’m studying, or why.  they could never hear my heart for the subject, and worse, neither could i.

so, a friend walks into my world, and asks that simple question, and without thought i spew off a stream of thoughts about what i’d really like to be doing, how i’d really like my life to look, and feel that passion bubbling up under the surface just as in days of old.  and i feel a ray of sunshine peep through gray snow-filled clouds, as if to say that Spring is on it’s way, and keep going because all this is a sign that you’re on the right path.

afterall, we are all created to offer something beautiful to the world, to awaken others to live their lives wholly and fully.  but we can only know that by finding that thing that makes us feel awake and alive, and chasing it with all we have.

looking for a sign

i have to start this post with 2 disclosures.
1. i haven’t prayed in a loonngg time.  and 2. i’m not really a person for “signs.”

that being said, i experienced both yesterday and it pivotal.

let’s back up a bit.

i’ve been thinking for awhile time, but even moreso in the last 6 months, that i’ve wanted to pursue some further education in the natural health field.  i did an intense batch of research back in February/March timeframe and settled on the school and program i wanted to pursue.  what i didn’t settle on was the financial solution.  so i put everything on hold until i could remedy my finances a bit and carve out the money needed to begin.  i set my goal for August and moved on, carrying the packet of information on this program with me regularly, pulling it out every now and then to remind me of my real focus.  my true north.

then August came.  and went.  and the money wasn’t really there like i expected.

but September was different.  September saw a bonus that would comfortable cover the initial down payment.  September saw me really have to wrestle with, literally, putting my money where my mouth had been for so many months.  i would get incredibly close to enrolling in the program, only to find myself shirking back in fear.  i wrestled with my hesitation, and what i would tell someone else in my position.  coaching myself to take a risk and follow my heart and all that cliche’d nonsense that is actually really good advice.  i told anyone who would listen about my struggle but internally i would feel an overwhelming chorus of “YES” anytime i considered the program or read the course descriptions.

and then i decided to try something different.  i decided to try prayer.

ever since leaving the church earlier last year, i’ve avoided any of the old practices i used to observe, needing a deep separation from anything that reminded me of that world.  it’s not that i’ve felt prayer to be bad; i’ve just not felt overwhelmingly convinced of who or what i was praying to, of what exactly was out there to receive my prayers, and even to the extent of what would want to even interact with us enough to want to answer our prayers.

i wouldn’t have even considered the option had i not been to visit with a spiritual guide of sorts, who’s first piece of advice was the practice of meditation.  his suggestion was simple: use meditation to pray, be specific and come with questions you want answered, and, if necessary, ask for a sign.  he mentioned feathers and butterflies or anything else that might serve as validation.

so yesterday morning i sat down, crossed my legs and closed my eyes.  i began to slow my breathing and focus my thoughts.

“ok,” i said with some skepticism.  “ok, whoever you are out there, tell me…should i start this program?  that’s what i want to know.  and send me a sign…a sign of….” my brain immediately thought “turtle,” my rational self thought that was silly.  still, “turtle” kept coming back to mind, over and over.  “ok,” i said, “show me a turtle.  if you think i should do this program.  show me a turtle.”

it was all i could do to remember to find a turtle.  i was on a business trip and busy with different activities and had to keep reminding myself to find a turtle in a place that was not really known to have turtle inhabitants.

towards the afternoon, on a walk across the island we were on, a sign caught my eye.  it looked exactly like one we had seen in the Florida Keys so i walked over to it, only to find this:

tortugas

that’s right, the bar was called “Tortugas,” the spanish word for “Turtles.”  it was not altogether obvious, lost in so many other messages.  but it was there nonetheless.

it was my sign.

but truth be told, it was really just an affirmation of what i already knew to be true.  that’s the thing about signs.  they really just help you to have the courage to choose the path you’re already on, to give you the confidence you need to put your foot out and take that risk.  it minimizes the hives and hyperventilation you feel when thinking about jumping off that cliff.

i registered for that program this evening, and will be starting a Doctor of Naturopathy as soon as they accept my application. happy to finally replace the debilitation of fear with the exhilaration of excitement; thankful for whoever or whatever is out there that sent “tortugas” to nudge me forward.

the eve of the eve.

IMG_3897

“to a better year.”

this was me a year ago, at a New Year’s Eve party my friend and i hosted.  in front of the lens of the photobooth, we danced, and wrote posters and celebrated the end.  and the beginning.

my biggest desire: a better year.

so here i sit on the eve of the eve of the end of this year i hoped would be “better,” and have to admit that it was in so many ways.  hard but good.  stinking of death but robust with life.  i entered this year a broken (and broke!) wreck, and am walking out of it at peace with my ever-healing mess.

this year saw a few different guys who laid claim to my heart, a devastating separation from a good friend, a bike accident, the long-anticipated Superbowl come and gone, goodbye to an old dream and hello to a new job, a sickness that made me afraid i might ultimately lose my father, yoga and 12-step groups, dating and falling in love, reconciliation and renewed friendship.

whew.  that’s a mouthful.

still, with all this (and so much more), i sit in a state of slight disbelief that this year is nearly over. as remarkable as this year has been, it’s end is approaching with very little fanfare.  i will rise tomorrow, and go to work, and check emails and eat lunch.  and apart from spending the evening party hopping from one hopping party to another, it will look just like any other day.

i think this is why it’s been hard for me to reflect on the year.  i’ve been trying, though without much effort, to think of what my new year should focus on, what is the burning desire i want to see fulfilled?  what is my “to a better year” for 2013?

i still do not have a clear answer, but the word “contentment” floats lazily and peacefully to the surface.  i cannot yet tell if this is my desire or where i find myself or if its something i should try to center on.  but still, it sits on the edge of my mind and lingers, like the smell of lotion after a bath.

here are some other words that i’d like to focus on during this coming year:

cook.
whole and wholesome meals.  for fun and for serious.  even when i don’t want to.  especially when i don’t want to.

practice.
patience.  hospitality.  yoga.  learning to let go.  grace for myself.  sitting still. observance of the gifts of the seasons (rest and reflection in the winter, preparation and planting in the spring, growth and giant living in the summer, harvest and ending in the fall).

find.
that place where my strengths and passions intersect.  endurance.  healing.

tend.
myself.  my home.  a garden.  the yard.  a peaceful space. those pesky finances.

celebrate.
victories, big and small.  my 30th birthday!

love.
myself.  my sweet B.  those around me.  wildly.  fully.  in risky ways.  all those quiet and subtle places only i am privy to.  even when it’s hard.

so, here’s to 2013, and all the unknown wonders and experiences it has to offer!

bleeding-heart liberal, clear-minded conservative.

“Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains.”

in my early 20’s, i worked for a man who shared this quote with me.  i was, of course, infuriated and felt he could never understand my ardent claims that i could never and would never call myself a conservative.

that was in my early 20’s.  things are much different now.

all through my 20’s, i’ve wrestled with one ideology after another.  i’ve idolized the words of Shane Claiborne, have sought “intentional community,” have gone vegetarian for the sake of the food industry, have only purchased farm fresh eggs and milk for the last 4 years as a protest to commercial farming, have joined the recycle-train, explored naturapathic alternatives to the increasingly defunct healthcare system.  i’ve cried over the plight of the poor, strapping the burden of the world onto my own back, convinced the only way to change the world was embrace a life of martyrdom and poverty.  i’ve constantly pushed back on how our society tells us to live.

i’ve been a really good liberal.

don’t get me wrong, many of these things are good and have been good for me.  but they’ve reflected the inner fears of a little girl, scared that her life might become something she desperately despised.  that she might become like her parents, unhappy and bitter and hopelessly swept up in the web of this world.

all that clinging to ideologies didn’t land me anywhere different, however.  there have been a lot of incredible memories of course, but a lot of other memories that leave me shaking my head, muttering “what was i thinking.”

things started to change months ago when, upon doing my taxes, i realized that i was dangerously close to the poverty line.  me…an educated young person with no physical disabilities was often unable to pay even the most basic of life necessities.  not to mention my debt load.  i knew, then, something was changing within me…the liberal was developing a conservative side.

just how much i’ve changed hit me full-force yesterday.

i was driving thru my “hood” of a neighborhood and saw a group of junior-high aged kids gathered on the sidewalk. in my quick glancing i saw what i thought to be a gun in the hands of one of the boys.  he was swinging it around, pointing it unflinchingly at one of the girls.

“holy shit,” i said to my best friend on the phone, as i pulled to the side of the road.  i relayed what i had just seen to her.  “what’s my ethical responsibility here?” i asked.

“maybe you should ask them if it’s a real gun?” she suggested, tho not with much confidence.  i considered her suggestion, and immediately had an image of the gun being pointed at me.

“no way,” i said immediately.  “i’m not gonna die because they want to be stupid.  they’re old enough to know what they’re doing,” and i put the car back in gear, not looking back as i drove away.

the old me would have considered it my greatest responsibility to stop that activity, to risk my own death for the sake of one of those kids.  but the new me…the new me realizes and appreciates just how much i have to lose, how much i want to live, and acknowledges that each of us has choices to make.  if those kids choose to play with guns in the street, it is they who must live with those consequences.  i can’t be responsible for everyone.   i can, however, be responsible for, and care for, myself.

there is a certain clarity of mind that comes with my conservative self.  i feel much more myself than i ever have before, feel i know my priorities, know who i am and who i’m not.  know, especially, what i’m willing, and not willing to give.  as my friend recently put it, “you can stop playing the martyr and do something good for yourself.”

i’m still not convinced that Churchill’s words are the only truth, simply because he polarizes the two, makes you believe they are the opposite of one another.  my teacher during the training school once described a liberal as someone who desires to set the captives free, and a conservative as one who desires to preserve what is precious.  i think this more accurately reflects my current stage of the journey.  loving and giving, desiring freedom for the oppressed, realizing that there are precious things in this world and in my life that need my protection.

still a bleeding-heart liberal, living as a more clear-minded conservative.

new horizons.

one of the facets of Lent is cleansing. doing an interior and exterior life scan, finding those things that no longer serve you, and getting rid of them.

i’ve found a lot of freedom in that activity…cleaning out my closet and tossing that sweater i never wear, those shoes that no longer fit my style. clearing my dresser and giving back borrowed books. my space feels less cluttered.

i’ve also begun to reevaluate my situation re: work, living in the city, etc. i’ve found that i am in a sweet spot–great projects, fantastic boss, beautiful community, family close by.

but i’m unchallenged. bored, even, as i’ve mentioned before.

as if the two were on a scale–great people, place, etc. vs. being unchallenged–i’ve begun to wonder which would weigh out. which would become more important to me.

slowly, but surely, being unchallenged outweighed the rest, and i began to search for jobs. full-time jobs. in other cities. we’re talking full-out changing it up here.

don’t get me wrong…i LOVE my community and my city. this is not something i’m taking lightly. but there is much about my life that is no longer serving me, and i must rid myself of the deadweight. allow myself to be free and light, and try something new, gain new experiences.

i told my boss this afternoon, with trembling hands, that this meant i would need to leave the gallery eventually. he was gracious, as usual, encouraging and thankful for my service; i will ever be grateful to know him. the conversation was incredibly relieving. i’ve been considering and talking about this process for a couple weeks, but now i feel free to do it in the open.

this Lent season has been weird, that’s for sure. granted, this is only the second year i’ve observed it, but still. it doesn’t feel like what i usually think of for Lent…fasting, humility, repentance. empty. still. it feels full and rich and moving like a rushing river. i went from being content in my city just months ago, to now being “excitedly anxious” as my boss said this eve, looking forward to the possibility of new horizons. i feel hopeful in a way i haven’t in awhile.

Christ came that we would have a full, abundant life, and i’ve never been reminded more of that than during this Lent season. a full life is risky. sometimes means cleaning out everything in the closet, on only the hope that you’ll be able to fill it again. sometimes it means moving forward on a hunch and seeing where the path leads. in my case, it may just mean following a job lead to Madison, Wisconsin or Seattle, Washington.

new horizons await.

 

new perspective/the pursuit of truth

the last thing you could really call me lately is contemplative.  i’ve been obsessed with winning a skydiving package (go here to vote! . . .sorry, had to plug it), dealing with high drama in the man department, exploring options for my next life adventure, and running like mad trying to get the next art exhibit set up.

all the while, Lent is passing me by.

Lent comes out of the Catholic tradition and so is, in very nature, meant to be a contemplative time, a cleansing and preparation for the death and subsequent resurrection of Christ.  it is a time to reflect on our own death and rebirth.  it is a season of deep introspection.

i’ve been attending a Lent-focused yoga series and our focus today was “new perspective.”  as our instructor intimated, Lent is a time for taking inventory of life, identifying those things that no longer serve us, and letting them go.  this is definitely a season of that for me, to the point where every direction i turn, there seems to be a new perspective on myself, a new confidence in how I was wired, a new way of believing in myself to make decisions i need to make.

one of these great revelations is that i’m bored.

i learned a little one never to utter these words in the presence of my parents.  “if you can’t find something to do, I’ll give you something,” my parents would warn.  and it was never good.  like one of the recent episodes of my favorite show, Modern Family, i could easily find myself cleaning the cupboards or doing some other undesirable activity.  so, i’ve learned to restrain my honesty in that area.

but i am.  i am unchallenged in many areas of my life, especially vocationally and environmentally.  i enjoy what i’m doing and LOVE my city, but still…i yearn for something bigger, for new experiences.

new perspectives.

in my Lent reading for today, i came across this beautiful passage:

it’s who you are and the way you live that count before God.  your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth.  that’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship.
-john 4:23, the message

the pursuit of truth.

what does this mean?

for me, it means not accepting the black & white, this is right/that is wrong response.  it means testing the boundaries, trying something new, making mistakes.  looking in unexpected places.  putting my foot over the edge to see if there’s a path (catch the Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade reference??).  being willing to get my hands dirty.

because the pursuit of truth is messy.  and risky.  and may involve some pain.

but it is so beautiful.

one of my favorite Jewish parables is told in the movie, Then She Found Me (fantastic movie).  in fact, that’s where i heard.  it goes as such:

There is a Jewish story, an ordinary Jewish joke.  A father was teaching his little son to be less afraid, to have more courage by having him jump down the stairs.

He put his son on the second stair and said ‘jump and I will catch you’ then the third stair and said ‘jump and I will catch you’.  The little boy was afraid but he trusted his father and did what he was told and jumped into his arms.  The father put him on the next step and then the next each time telling him ‘jump and I will catch you’.

Then the boy jumped from a very high step but this time the father stepped back and the boy fell flat on his face.  He picked himself up bleeding and crying and the father said to him ‘that’ll teach you’.

When his father caught him he felt filled with love and when he didn’t he was filled with something else, something more – Life.

during this Lent season, may you feel less afraid and more filled with courage to have new perspective.  the pursue truth, in all its varied and complex forms. to climb to the tops of mountains and jump off.  to allow yourself the space to be filled with Life.

as it’s meant to be.

‘cuz i need freedom now 
and i need to know how
to live my life as it’s meant to be.
the cave by mumford & sons

eight years ago i sat across from a young man, Matt Conner, with my good friend Lindsay.  this young pastor was full of excitement to  be planting a church in Anderson, and together the three of us dreamed, giddy with the possibilities God had in store.  we were young, naive, eager for the future.  before the idealism ran out, and the reality of ministry set in.  before the struggle of birthing something brand new and the mistakes to be made in that.  before the desert, and the wilderness, and the sometimes surprising waterfalls one stumbles on in those lands.

we launched the church and, for my part, it was an increasing struggle to stay committed.  i learned so much about myself, what i’m gifted in, and even more so what i’m not (eh hem…children’s ministry…eh hem).  i eventually left the community to strike out for Arizona, came back for a brief period, and then officially left when i moved to Indy.  i’ve kept up with them, though, this beautiful little community in Anderson, as they’ve strived to serve an underserved population with little to no resources.  they’ve established a thrift store, a bike hub, an after-school program for the neighborhood kids.  they’ve seen young people come, and young people go.  they’ve prepared people for ministry, and sent them around the world.  they’ve struggled financially, but been blessed with so much life.

now, after 8 years of steering this ship, my dear friend is aiming to do what he has encouraged so many of us to do over the years: “Set your heart on God.  Follow accordingly.”  he is stepping down as pastor, opening himself to a new direction.  he is living out what he’s taught.  he is beautifully, and crazily, and recklessly living into the Kingdom.  he is, as usual, setting an example and blazing a trail for the rest of us.

i have been wrestling, myself, with what it looks like to live the life i’m meant to live.  the cave by mumford & sons (lyrics above) has been my anthem for the last year or so, as i scream the words and shake my head whenever it comes on (in private only…that may scare people).  here is an excerpt from some journaling i did early this am:

“i think my greatest struggle lately has been having the confidence to live my life as i think it should be lived.  to the outsider this won’t make sense, as i’ve taken incredible leaps and made tremendous changes (to my life).  but inwardly, i battle constantly, allowing myself to be bullied by the thoughts  and opinions of others.

still, something is scratching at the surface, pushing me to own my life, to choose what will be in it.  Beth (Booram, a wonderful woman!) sat that to me a couple weeks ago, that i should choose the life i’m leading, instead of living the life others would choose for me.  this is in line with the call of Christ, for He has a life for me, has created me for a certain kind of path.  if i do not choose to walk it, i miss out on being fully myself.

so, here’s to my dear friend, Matt Conner.  here’s to our naive selves, and to those selves who’ve learned the hard, and the selves God has created us to be.  you are such an encouragement, friend, and i am excited for this next phase of your journey.