Joy discovered. (AKA living in Bend)

You know what the best cure for a grumbling, whining, complaining-about-the-cold-kind-of-attitude is?  Look for the good.  Start there.  And slowly, slowly, you’ll notice that things start to look better.  The sun shines a little brighter.  You discover beauty buried beneath.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu says it this way, “As we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard.  We have heartbreak without being broken.”

So, in the spirit of giving thanks, here are some of my favorite things about Bend.


1.  Fresh snow.  It’s like powdered sugar.  Or frosting.  I love the way the neighborhood transforms into a giant gingerbread village.


2.  Ocean rolls + coffee.  I never knew what cardamom was until I moved here.  And now, I’m kind of (cough) addicted.


3. Downtown Bend.  If I was film scouting for small town America, I would choose Downtown Bend.  It is equal parts charming and sophisticated.

 

4.  Crystal Peaks Ranch.  A non-profit that rescues horses AND mentors kids?  Yes, please.  This place makes my heart happy.

 

5.  Paulina Lake.  It’s hard to choose just one favorite summer spot, but Paulina Lake is at the top of my list.  Serenity found.  Sigh…

 

6.  The top of Pilot Butte.  With 360 degree views of the city, you can’t visit Bend without visiting this landmark.  Just remember to share the road… and a sense of humor.

 

7.  Artwork around town.  With art hanging in alleys and sculptures standing in roundabouts, Bend knows how to marry city with creativity.  Happily ever after.

 

8.  Drake Park.  Snuggling up to Mirror Pond, Drake Park is an oasis among, well, paradise.  It makes you want to whistle.  Or sing.  And when the leaves change in the fall, everyone stops to take notice.

 

9.  Old Mill.  The Cascade Mountains create a dramatic backdrop to the smokestacks that once belonged to rival lumber mills.  It’s a nod to the past and a reminder of our history.

 

10.  ________________________.  To be determined.  And because I always want to leave room for one more.

Real vs. Romanticized

On the surface, it was perfect.  The way the sunlight filtered through the willow trees.  The weathered wood barn with it’s matching John Deere tractor.  The robins chirping above the breeze and the sweeping views of the Ochoco Moutains.  It was exactly like I imagined.  No, more.  Because it was real.  Like stepping through the veil between reality and fantasy.  It was what I wanted a ranch to look like.

He (being the rancher) took us on a tour of the property.  We scaled the ladder in the hay barn and giggled at how insanely high up we were.  We learned the art of shit-kicking (an actual thing you do when you walk the land).  And we loaded into his old farm truck in search of the bison herd.

When we finally spotted a few of them among the juniper trees, we drove off-road, rolling slowly up to them.  Windows down, camera out.  The kids were just a tiny-bit nervous.  (Actually, they were about-to-poop-their-pants nervous.)  He warned us that when threatened, they’ll charge.  And reaching speeds of 30mph, you don’t want to be on the receiving end of their aggression.

Once the safari tour was over, we headed back to the farmhouse.  I sighed saying how peaceful and beautiful and idyllic it all was.  He laughed.  “Everyone says that.  They have this romanticized version of life on a ranch.  But, once you live it, you realize that it’s nothing like you imagined.  It’s hard work.  Extremely hard work.”  He paused.  “And it’s even harder to make a living from it.”

I can imagine that too.  Kind of.  This “simple life” means waking up at 4:30 AM.  Working in snow and sleet.  Manual labor and back-breaking work.  Isolation and loneliness.  It means little margins and lots of bills.  It’s not exactly the Hollywood-version of life on a ranch.

And what a good reminder.  You see, things are rarely what we imagine them to be.  Lately, I find myself thinking that married life would be SO much easier than single life.  I long for someone to share an inside joke with.  Or a road trip.  To share life and parenting and dessert with.  But, I’m glossing over the reality of marriage.  It’s hard work.  Extremely hard work.

Just last week, I met with a friend who is in the valley of her marriage.  She lamented over the distance between her and her husband.  How she wants out.  How he doesn’t understand/appreciate/get her.  How unhappy it all is.  And what a good reminder – that this desire I have is not the answer.  That happiness is not found once a ring is.  That the ideal life is exactly that: an ideal, “a conception of something in its perfection.”

I think it’s okay to long for something.  To wish and hope.  That simply means you’re human.  But, I don’t think it’s okay to put all your hope into that something.  Or someone.  Because once the concept becomes real, the sparkle rubs off.  The work becomes real.   

And then you realize, life is still life.

And life is still hard.

Married or single.  City or ranch.  Young or old.

It’s beautifully, exhaustingly hard.

Mixed Emotions

I didn’t get the memo.  I must have missed that day in “Halloween for Adults” class, because as soon as I walked in, I realized I was the only girl who was dressed.  (And by dressed, I literally mean clothed.)  It was like the scene from Legally Blonde where Reese Witherspoon shows up in a skimpy playboy bunny costume and everyone stares.  Except this time, it was reversed.  I was the only one not wearing a skimpy costume.  And no one was looking.

What was my costume, you ask?  Oh, Amelia Earhart.  Because nothing says sexy quite like a liberated feminist who dresses like a man!  Not only was I wearing pants AND a jacket – but the little bit of skin that was showing was covered.  With a scarf.  Oh, and I had goggles.  Not exactly pilot goggles.  They were more of the steampunk, cheap variety.

On the dance floor, the tall Sriracha bottle asked me what I was.

“Amelia Earhart!” I emphatically said, while pointing to my lapel wings.  Never mind that they were Alaska Airlines.  And plastic.

“Oh… I thought maybe that’s who you were,” he smiled.

“Yeah,” I awkwardly paused trying to figure out how to continue the conversation.  “I’m dead.”

“I know,” he turned.

Sheesh.  I’m DEAD?!!  Obviously.  And, so is the conversation.  What was I doing??  I felt completely out of place.  I was surrounded by married couples and selfie-snapping minors.  Almost everyone was with someone.  Even Eeyore and Pooh were making out in the corner.  I tried to push down the middle-school-sized-insecurity and dance.  Just me and my scarf.  Getting down on the dance floor.

It’s a strange season of life that I’m in.  On the one hand, there is an incredible sense of freedom and fun.  I’m doing things I’ve never done before.  I’m collecting material and memories with friends.

But, there’s also a gnawing sense of loneliness.  Living in a world which puts love on a pedestal, I am very aware of my singleness.  Of being the odd one out.

My therapist explained that it’s like having two scoops of emotions.  You feel one thing, and another thing at the same time.  Together.  Some things, or actually most things, are not an “either/or”, but “and.”  I’m realizing that you can be fulfilled and lonely.  Busy and bored.  Free and fumbling.  Awkward and confident.

And maybe that’s what makes life so complex.  The grayness, the “andness,” is what makes it all so interesting.

The next day, my friend asked if I had a good time at the Halloween party.  I loved it!  And I hated it.  I had fun and I felt foolish.

But, I’m finally okay with both.

Traveling

We stood there.  Watching the conveyor belt go round and round.  The two pieces of luggage left were not ours.  They were the dejected bags no one had claimed.  And after five minutes, or maybe fifty, we shuffled over to the ticket counter and with a fake sense of hope and forced smile, I said, “Hi.  Ourluggagedidn’tmakeit.”

“Why not?” the airline rep joked.

It was not funny.  Surprises like this never are.  They throw you off balance.  Interrupt the rhythm.  Frustrate and annoy.

That’s the thing about traveling.  You are at the mercy of everything and everyone around you.  You trust the pilots.  The weather.  The safety features and mechanics.  But, inevitably something comes up.  Something changes.  Life happens.  Surprise!

And the longer you live, and the more you travel, the more stories you collect.  The more missed flights, the crazier where-did-this-person-come-from? passengers, the more bumps, more turbulence, more everything.

This past weekend, my entire family trekked to Orlando for my granddad’s 90th birthday.  What started as two (my nana and granddad), has now turned into forty plus.  The branches of the family tree getting bigger, more twisted.   Some grafted.  Some broken.  But all connected.

And I was talking to my uncle about life now, with a severed branch.  I told him how hard relationships are at this age – since we all, me included, have more baggage.  More hurts.  More life experiences.  He soberly responded, “Imagine what it’s like at 60!  It’s even harder at my age.”

The thing is, I can imagine.  A few weeks into this dating game, and I feel the overwhelming urge to go back inside the terminal.  To sit and watch the planes take off from the safety of the airport.  It’s nothing like I expected, perhaps because I didn’t know what to expect.

I knew that I was broken, with a long maintenance record and refurbished parts/heart, but I hadn’t counted on everyone else to have the same.  Every. single. one.  We’re all rusty and worn.  Anyone at this age has seen a lot of places, met a lot of people, and had a lot of heartache.  It’s expected.  Traveling will do that to a person.

But, traveling also provides some great stories.  Some unexpected surprises.  Like the time I found myself walking into a proposal tunnel at Redmond airport.  Half of the strangers looked at me with bated breath wondering if I was “the one.”  (Spoiler alert:  I wasn’t.  Instead, I grabbed an extra sign, joined the tunnel, and watched the sweetest marriage proposal between two people I didn’t know.)

Which means, at the end of the day, I can’t let a few unfortunate experiences keep me from traveling.  Yes, losing your luggage is frustrating.  Extremely so.  But, now I know to reframe my expectations.  Hope for the best.  Prepare for the worst.  Collect some great material along the way.

And leave time, plenty of time, for the journey.

Cooking

I am not a cook.  Or chef.  I don’t like the whole reckless/mess about it.  It feels like a science fair project where you don’t know the outcome.  You have a hypothesis.  Test it.  Analyze the results.  But, my results usually end in Meh.  Or better yet, comments from my kids like, “Well, it’s interesting.”  (Insert sympathetic look here.)

So, I decided to take a class.  I figured it couldn’t hurt.  And if I left with one solid dish that I could make for friends/company, it would be worth it.

The class?  The Perfect Ramen Bowl.  It was my initiation into a world both intense and foreign.  Exhausting and time-consuming.  We rolled the dough.  Braised the pork belly.  Pressed the noodles.  Pickled the daikon.  Soft-boiled the eggs.  Simmered the broth.  Chopped.  Cleaned.  Stood.  Watched.  Then, finally FINALLY ate.

The cooking world is a lot like the dating world.  It is time-consuming and foreign.  A world I don’t feel comfortable in.

I went into it thinking I could control it.  Thinking I could keep things clean and organized.  Follow the recipe.  If this, then that.

But, like cooking, it’s messy.  There are emotions involved.  Expectations.  I’m having a hard time trusting it.

I wonder if it’s worth it.  The time.  The effort.  Maybe because I know too much.  When you’re young, you’re not aware of the costs.  The hidden dangers.  But, once you’ve been burned, you’re rigid around the oven.  You’re cautious with the knife.  You don’t want to get hurt again.  And sometimes you wonder if it’s safer to stay out of the kitchen altogether.

Eloise off-handedly said, “Maybe you’ll be single the rest of your life.  And have nine cats!”  Who knows?  Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Then again, there was nothing compared to the ramen bowl.  It was pretty perfect.  Sure, it took time.  A lot of time.  Attention.  Work.

But it was worth it.  (I think.)

Shopping

I remember standing in front of the eggs.  A year ago.  Helpless.  I stood there staring at the options on aisle three, completely overwhelmed.  It was my first time grocery shopping for me.  Just me – and I had no idea what kind of eggs to buy.  EGGS.  I didn’t know whether to buy organic or cage-free.  Brown or white.  Jumbo or generic.

It was an existential crisis.

What do I like?  What can I afford?  What tastes the best?  What feels the healthiest?  Heck, WHO AM I??

I’m pretty sure the constipated retiree next to me had a passing, worried thought – seeing me frozen in front of the egg cartons.  As he should have.  Because making decisions is what life is all about.  Our choices profoundly shape us.  For the good, bad, and ugly.

Lately, I’ve been getting some practice in making decisions.  On a whim, er, in a moment of pity/impulsiveness, I decided to sign up for online dating.  And let me fill you in on a little secret… online dating is like Narnia.  It is this secret world hidden from reality that is both magical and strange.  Heavier on the strange side, ahem.

Suddenly, I started receiving messages from total strangers asking personal questions about my thoughts on love and intimacy and relocation.  It is equal parts flattering and creepy.  But the thing is, I’m learning how to choose.

I’ve having to back away from the needy ones.  Not answer the old/odd ones.  Slow down communication between the unrealistic and this-doesn’t-feel-good ones.  (And a side note: false advertising.  A profile pic from ten years and fifty pounds ago is not being real.  Please.)  And for someone who is a pleaser and an accommodator, it feels very unnatural to say no.  And yet… so good!

In all this, I’m getting to practice saying a lot of no’s, because I have a stronger yes.   And that yes is me.

Which brings us back to the eggs.  After a while of trying all the options out there, I finally settled on the ones I like.  I chose.  It took some time and experimenting.  In the process, I had to say no to the familiar brands.  The expensive/unrealistic ones.  But, had I not tried, I wouldn’t have known.

Which is pretty close to dating.

Or maybe, exactly the same.

Digging

Earlier this year, when summer was still on the horizon and the leaves were still on the trees, we went rock hounding.  This was not just your casual-picking-up-stones stroll.  This was an intentional day trip to Richardson’s Rock Ranch –  a place as intriguing as it is remote.  Peacocks roam the parking lot and piles of exotic rocks surround the shop.

Once inside, you’re given specific instructions on where to find the famous thunder eggs.  And with pickaxe, bucket, and high hopes, you set out to the dig site.

It was like a grown-up sized sandbox.  Sitting in the gravel, digging away, searching for the eggs/rocks.  The kids talked smack about the size of their eggs as the sun scorched down.  Like a treasure hunt, the discovery of each thunder egg was thrilling and new.

Eventually, though, we had to choose.  Knowing that we had to pay by the pound, we sifted through the bucket and only kept the biggest rocks.  The best ones.  Then, for a little extra, we had our thunder eggs sliced open.  The lure of the unknown, convincing us to commit.  No turning back.

 

And it was the strangest thing, because there was no pattern, no reason, for the beauty of the inside compared to the outside.  Some of the biggest, roundest rocks were dull and lifeless inside.  Others, small and forgettable on the exterior, were simply stunning on the interior.

But you don’t know the value, the beauty, until you break it.  Moreover, you’re stuck with the decision.  In choosing one, you inevitably leave behind the others.

It’s like that with love.  You set out to the dig site with hopes of finding the right one.  And you choose – based on the the time and the place.  You hope for the best.  And sometimes you luck out.  You choose well.  And sometimes what seemed like a good one turns out to be not-so-good.

My married friends have been talking a lot about love and marriage and how hard it all is.  And my single friends have been talking a lot about love and relationships and how hard it all is.  Which means, it’s all hard.  Love/life is hard.  It’s not a scripted RomCom that ends happily ever after. It’s complicated and messy.  A dangerous cocktail of pleasure and pain.

I’m still trying to figure it all out.  Whether there is actually one perfect one out there, or lots of this-will-do-just-fine ones.  Whether God or fate or whatever plays a part.  Or if it’s just the luck of the draw.  And what happens when the prized one, the right one, is buried beneath layers of time and experience?  Or what if it’s right under your nose and you step over it, completely unaware?

I wish I knew.  I wish I had an answer.  But until then, I’ll just keep searching.  Sitting in the dirt.

Digging.

Stomping

The first time someone told me I was lucky, I froze.  It was the last word I would use to describe my situation.  How was being a single parent lucky?  How was divorce something to be grateful for??

But I’ve heard it several times over the past year.  Women who are older, wiser, tell me that I’m lucky that I’m still young.  That I still have time.

It’s funny, isn’t it?  How our experiences frame reality?  How our attitudes change depending on our age?

Recently, I was at a grape stomp with a friend who is in the middle of the storm.  She can’t see past the pain, past the rejection.  We talk a lot about our stories.  Where they overlap and where they diverge.  And how we didn’t sign up for this life.  We didn’t want to be thirty-something and single with kids.

But here we are regardless.

I jokingly asked her what the winery experience might symbolize.  “Something about stomping?” She said coyly.

I laughed knowing that she was serious.  Stomping does seem appropriate when you’ve been blindsided by life.  But, as I thought more about it, I realized that she was right.  Transformation starts with stomping.

Grapes are just grapes.  But wine… well, wine is something altogether different.  Something, in fact, better.  And the first step in making wine is crushing the grapes.  Of course, stomping has been replaced by machinery – but both involve the smashing of the grapes.  It’s the only way to get the juice.  Then it’s fermented.  Aged.  Bottled.  And enjoyed.

So this is what I’m thinking.  What if the pain, the struggle, the unexpected hardship actually is the process of changing us into something different?  Someone better?

At least that’s what I tell myself when pity peers in.  And I play the melancholy music.  Again.  I have to remind myself that change starts with destruction.  But, it doesn’t end there.  With time and the right conditions, something nuanced and complex and beautiful is created.

Maybe we are lucky.  Because time is something we do have on our side.

We just have to wait.

We have to trust the process.

Accepting the No

We had been talking about it for a year.  At least.  And I promised her that we would go.  By god, would we go.

Come Mid-August, we would be at the County Fair and Rodeo.  We would see the livestock.  Ride the rides.  Eat the cotton candy.  Spend too much money and stare to long while people watching.  It would be classic Americana.  Colors/lights.  Fried foods and nauseating sweets.

The fair began on the tail end of our family vacation, and needing one day to recover, we decided to go on the last day.  Sunday.  I checked and double-checked the website to make sure the fairgrounds would be open.  Then, we picked up dinner to eat on the drive, and extra cash for all the rides.

You could feel the excitement as we drove.  The kids chattering/giggling while I sang along to the car radio.  I couldn’t wait.  They couldn’t wait.

As we pulled into the fairgrounds we laughed at our luck.  Gosh, this was the time to go!  Hardly anyone was there.  We would have the entire fairgrounds to ourselves!  No lines.  No crowds.  No waiting.

But then we noticed that no one was at the ticket counter.  And the gate was wide open.   I led the way in, while the kids suspiciously followed behind me.

I tried to cover my doubt, but I knew deep down that it wasn’t good.  We shuffled towards the rides and noticed they were empty.  The only other people were employees.

And of course you know where this is going.

Devastation.  The realization sunk in, as the tears slid out.  We had missed it.  The county fair was over.  Closed.  And we would have to wait an entire YEAR before we could go again.  I didn’t think Eloise would ever forgive me.

We wandered around the livestock barns only to see a handful of sheep and a lonely cage of rabbits.  The drive home, a drastic change to the drive there.  Eloise sobbing.  Duke silent.

And I thought about all the times things didn’t go the way I wanted them.  When I had expectations for ______________, only to be disappointed.

I’m trying to teach my kids to Accept the No.   It’s hard, because our culture preaches to “never give up!,” and “keep trying” and all that positive-speak-diligence-crap.  And while I’m a firm believer in NOT giving up, I also understand the difference between what I can control and what I can’t.

And instead of arguing and whining when things don’t go their way, I want my kids to accept the no.  To change their attitude when they can’t change their circumstance.   Because we won’t be able to do ______________.  Or we’ll miss ______________.  Or the timing will be wrong.  Or whatever.

Some things are out of our control.  And that awareness is the best place to start.   There’s a freedom in letting go.  Accepting the no.  And moving on.

Desire

A friend of mine told me about this podcast.  He compared it to therapy.  But cheaper.  And it was like giving language to an experience.  Like when you learn the word déjà vu and you sigh with satisfaction because it all makes sense now.

In the podcast, Rob Bell interviews Peter Rollins – two intellectual lightening bolts who start wildfires with their words.  In it, Rollins talks about love and its theological, political, and personal implications.

It’s a subject I’ve been thinking a lot about.  A subject that I can process because I’m finally able to swim.  While before I was frantically trying to keep my head above water, now I can tread.  And float.  And look around at the landscape.  And I see everyone swimming with a partner.  Some are affectionate and teenagery close.  Others are distracted and distant.  But almost everyone is with someone.

And the more I think about my singularity, the more I want a swimming partner.  Someone to share in the experience.  To splash around with.

Rollins talks about the idea of desire.  He says the object of our desire isn’t what we we desire.  It’s the desiring, the pursuit, the struggle.  Because once we get what we desire, we no longer desire it.  (Mind.  Blown).

Timothy Keller says it another way.  In a sermon entitled “The Two Great Tests” he quotes Cynthia Heimel as saying, “I pity celebrities, no I really do – Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Barbara Streisand, were once perfectly pleasant human beings. But now their wrath is awful.  I think when God wants to play a really rotten practical joke on you he grants you your deepest wish and then laughs merrily when you realize you want to kill yourself. You see Sly, Bruce, and Barbara wanted fame. They worked, they pushed and the morning after each of them became famous they wanted to take an overdose. Because that giant thing they were striving for, that fame thing that was going to make everything OK, that was going to make their lives bearable, that was going to provide them with personal fulfillment and happiness had happened and they were still them. The disillusionment turned them howling and insufferable.”

Keller, Bell, and Rollins would agree that only God can satisfy the desire.  Rollins says that Christianity is the only place where we find an intersection between getting the object of our desire and the impossibility of getting it.  “In the very struggle of life, you touch the absolute.  The object of your desire and the object cause of your desire.  Satisfaction is found in the dissatisfaction.” In other words, only God, or love, gives you the object you desire, and a lifetime to explore the complexity of it.

Maybe, God created a world and an existence in which we not only need struggle, but in fact thrive under it.  Because we are most fully alive in the struggle, the stress, the desire.  The struggle for what we want is what we want.  We want the easy button, but that’s not what we need.

Which brings me back to love.  I’ve heard a handful of women blithely say in their singleness, “At least I have Jesus.”  And while the sentiment is sweet and honorable, I kind of roll my eyes.  Because the last time I checked, Jesus doesn’t spoon.  Or watch the kids while you sleep off a migraine.  Or excuse himself from the table when you tell that tired joke at the dinner party.  Again.

But maybe what they mean is that they’re trying to be content in their situation.  That their life isn’t empty just because their bed is.  Maybe love is bigger than that.

Honestly, it’s confusing.  I was so set on being strong.  Independent.  Bold/badass.  (I mean, who needs a man when you have YouTube to help you fix everything?)  I put walls around my heart.

Then desire tiptoed through the back door.  Sure, I can swim by myself, but now I don’t want to.

And maybe what feels like weakness is actually humanness.  Because God created us for connection.  For love.  For desire.  So, I’m left in the tension.  I’m learning to embrace the struggle, the stress, the dynamic.  To be content in the midst of the journey.  To live in the singular and the plural.