Longing

The old-timers said it hadn’t been this bad since ’93.  The new-comers said they didn’t know what they were getting themselves into.  With nearly 60 inches of snow, quadruple the annual average,  and a record-breaking 10 school closure days, Father Winter has won this year.  No contest.

And while a lot of locals are starting to think of snow as a four letter word, others embrace the outdoor activities and bundle up.

So, with snowshoes and a picnic lunch, I joined my friend Lisa for a Wintery Adventure.  When we arrived at the Nordic Center log cabin, I half expected Oaken from Frozen to be standing behind the counter saying “Hoo-hoo!  Big summer blow-out!”  Instead, there were a handful of customers milling around.  A wood-burning fireplace blazing.  And an ancient gas stove holding giant pots of chili.

Once were got our trail passes and stern reminders to Stay. Off. The. Nordic paths, we were off.  We crossed over the Cascade Lakes Highway, noticeable only because of the sign, then trekked towards Todd Lake.

The last time I was there was in August.  Wildflowers blooming, frogs croaking.  Every color imaginable was within eyesight.  Now, it was blanketed thick with snow.  White upon white upon white.  I was struck with how different it looked in a different season.  The monochromatic landscape, the starkness, the stillness. This otherness held it’s own beauty.

We stood in awe.  The peace and mystery were overwhelming.

After all the driveway shoveling and round-about sliding, Winter starts to drag on.  It’s easy, in the cold, to become obsessed with the warmth.  To wish away the present and long for the future.

I know what it’s like to be filled with longing.  To want something you don’t have.  And to be reminded of it constantly.  It’s like when you’re longing for a baby, and you see pregnant women and baby announcements everywhere.  Or longing for love, and seeing anniversary pics and endearing, gushy posts all over social media.

You notice everyone else with  ____________, because you’re so hyper-alert to this longing.

And then someone with good intentions and terrible timing says, “Once you stop thinking about it, you’ll find it.”  Ah, thank you Life Coach.  That’s like saying, “Whatever you do, don’t think about an elephant.”  See, what I mean?  You couldn’t not think of an elephant.

Yet frozen underneath the ground of this trite truth, is something breathing.  It’s the idea of being present.  Of showing up to your situation.  Your life.

There are days when I feel like crawling into a hole and dreaming of warmer days.   When I miss the Texas heat and I long for this eternal winter to be over.  Or when I hate being divorced and wish I had someone to go home to.  A warm body to sleep with.

But, then what?  I would be missing out on this.  This season.  This beauty.  This otherness.  And the present is the only thing we have.

 

To create

I’m a fan of a lot of things.  Err… a little fan of a lot of things.  But, I’m a major fan of a few things – and one of those is words.

Perhaps it started in childhood.  With an older sister who did most all of the talking, I learned that if I wanted to add something to the dialogue, it better be valuable.  Humor usually gave me an audience.  Or, a witty comeback got me noticed.  And eventually, over time, I discovered the platform of written words.  What I couldn’t articulate in person, I could craft with the pen.

These letters, smashed into words, squeezed into paragraphs, could form a shape.  And the ideas could exhale emotions and paint a reality.  They could affect someone.  Raw and ready.

I think we all have this creativity inside of us.  If we were made in the image of God – the creator of all things – then we must have it down deep in our DNA.

It’s easy for it to get buried in the laundry and To Do lists.  In the bills and homework of life.   Yet, with a little nudging, I think you can coax Creativity from the ground.

For my friend, Megan, it’s gardening.  She literally squealed as she showed me her new heirloom seeds catalogue.  For my sister, Laurie, it’s building something sturdy:  bunk beds, tables, and tree houses.  For a woman I met at a conference, it’s painting intricate little flowers on river rocks.  For you, it may be sautéing .  Or crocheting.  Or singing.  Or spreadsheet perfecting.

The point is, that we do what we are good at and what makes us come alive.  It’s not for others.  Sure, others play a part in the process.  But, we do it for ourselves.

Because to create is to give life.  It’s to breathe color or capture light.  To craft a narrative or move a hardened heart.  And sometimes, or actually often, the person affected most by the creating is the creator herself.

Shauna Niequist said, “If you don’t create something, the universe will survive.  But, you may not.”

The question is, what will you create?

Space/Time

Space and time.  The two ingredients needed to diffuse feelings.

Recently, I was in California visiting this famous (or is it infamous?) spot called The Children’s Pool in La Jolla.  I had listened to an episode on This American Life detailing the controversy between the seal activists and the beachgoers.   It was like Westside Story – minus the snappy singing – as the shared use side clashed with the seal activist side.  And perhaps “clash” is too soft a word.  More like screamed, agitated, assaulted, and threatened. Apparently, the whole city fell in one of two camps, and suddenly neighbors became bitter enemies.

I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, so with my dad driving and my mom navigating, we headed towards the action.

And would you believe what we saw??  Nothing.  Nada.  A sign swinging from a rope informing us that the beach was closed during pupping season. Tourists taking photos.  A lonely tie-dye vendor looking bored.  And a few dozen seals nursing.

There was no conflict.  No hurt feelings.  No reactions to regret.

We ventured around to the back of the cove and discovered an open beach.  There, too, were tourists taking photos and a handful of seals.  But no rope.  No sign.  No drama.  We stood a respectful distance away in awe of the new life.  The sun bouncing off the waves, and seals bouncing up the beach.  It reminded me of how grateful I am that seasons don’t last forever.

When you’re in It – whatever It is, you can only see It.  I’ve told many friends that in this season of divorce and rebuilding, I can’t imagine what my life will look like in a year because I can’t imagine what my life will look like tomorrow.  The hurt, the grief, the brokenness is too big.  It’s all-consuming.

At the beginning, like morning sickness, every little thing would trigger a reaction.  I cried a lot.  I cussed a lot.  I wrote and wrote and wrote some more.

And then one day while driving to my therapist’s, on a slushy-street day, I realized that I didn’t have anything to talk about.  My agenda sat blank.  I apologized to her for arriving empty-headed and unheavy-hearted and she said all therapisty, “That’s good.  That means you’re healing.”

Ahhh.  Healing.  I like the sound of that.

The thing is, you can’t force it.  We all heal at different paces, and in different ways.  Give it time.  And some space.

Preservation

Madras, Oregon is not the first place you would pick for a destination.  It’s deserty and dry.  A barren ranch-land that shoulders a reservation.  But it’s also home to one of the world’s top collections of antique airplanes.

Friends and neighbors had talked about the exhibit, and with a growing itch to go on an adventure – we chose the Erikson Aircraft Collection in Madras to be our salve.

Inside the newly constructed space are nearly two dozen vintage airplanes and bombers.  We walked around and underneath and peaked through these giant beasts of the air.  As soon as we were impressed by one, the kids would race off to another.  Each aircraft as dazzling as the one before.

We felt like ants next to the gigantic wings and weighty underbellies.  And like ants living in a world of humans, we were both dwarfed and reverent.

As we left, Eloise exclaimed, “This is the best day of my life!”  I smiled.  Forget Disney.  Or cruise ships.  This is where it’s at.  Exploring.  Together.

On our drive home, we passed a decrepit and disfigured house.  Left to the ravages of time and weather, I imagined that if the walls could talk, the stories they would spin.  And yet there it was.  Left alone and forgotten.

I wonder what makes certain objects worth preserving?  Is it their significance?  Their value?  Why do we fill our junkyards with old machines while maintaining/protecting/polishing others?  Perhaps it’s as simple as the fact that some things aren’t worth preserving.  Maybe they’re better left forgotten.

The past holds us up.  It provides the context and background to Our Story.  The good, the bad, all it.  But sometimes we have to let go.  Is there a dream, a career, or a relationship that you’ve been preserving that isn’t worth the work?  At one point it served a purpose, but now, it no longer does?  It’s okay to let it go.

And let history be the judge.

Marching on

I thought #15 would never get crossed off the list.

Be in a march?  Protest?? Please.  Maybe in Austin – a leftwing city suffocated in the middle of a rightwing state.  But Bend?  A town of 80,000?  Doubtful.

Not to mention the fact that I didn’t want to march in just any march.  It had to be meaningful.  Personal.  And important.

Then Trump got elected and women’s marches started popping up like champagne bubbles.  Big cities.  Tiny towns.  And Bend, Oregon.

It had the energy of a race.  Or a concert.  Bright clothes, bright signs, big smiles.  I saw moms pushing strollers, teenagers shuffling, and grandparents hobbling.

Families, friends and complete strangers converging in a park to show unity, before marching through downtown.  It was overwhelming and empowering.

Today, I marched for women.  We live in a man’s world without equal pay or equal treatment.  Double standards are not okay.

I marched for my kids.  I want them to know they can stand up to bullies.  Being a passive bystander is not okay.

I marched for my students, especially those who do not fall in the majority.  Whether its their race, religion, or sexuality, they deserve to be heard.  Oppression is not okay.

And I marched for me.  I will not sit quietly and condone disrespect, undervaluing, or passivity.

Together, I believe we will be okay.

 

Dogsledding

I had imagined bluebird skies, crisp air, and a blanket of snow.  And indeed, I got the snow part right.  Plus or minus a blizzard – with heavy wind gusts and heaping snow drifts.  But, here we were: our Oregon Trail of Dreams Sled Dog Ride Adventure.

We layered up and shuffled over to the tiny wood hutch only to hear that our trip would be delayed because of bad weather and an under-the-weather musher.  No worries, though.  We were a parking lot away from the Sunrise Lodge at Mt. Bachelor.  And a coffee bar, hallelujah.

Hot drinks in hand, we tromped back to await our sleds.  We met Rachael Scdoris, the owner/operator of the business.  Scdoris grew up helping her dad, a professional musher, when she was barely bigger than the dogs.  She laughed at how her “help” wasn’t very efficient.  The other mushers could harness ten dogs in the time it took her to harness one.  But with nature and nurture on her side, she finished her first Iditarod a decade ago.  Now, she and her husband run the huge operation.

Scdoris encouraged us to walk around and meet the dogs.  They sat still and quiet until the first sled was within eyesight.  Then, a cacophony of barks and yelps and yips filled the air as each dog begged to start running.

My dad and the kids went first, bundled up like three peas in a pod.  Then, my mom and I loaded into the sled right after.  It was surreal and surprising.  The lunge from the start.  The whoosh down the hill.  The muffled stillness of the forest.

Our musher’s race stories and encouraging “Good dogs!  Good DOGS!” covered the sound of our sled above the snow.  She chatted on and on as if we were best friends meeting for drinks – while my mom and I sat huddled in the sled, teeth chattering and noses freezing.  It was cold.  Bitter cold.  And yet, I couldn’t get over the enthusiasm of these mushers.  These professional dog lovers.

Their passion wasn’t just evident in their words and their stories.  It was obvious by their actions.  They work tirelessly.  In crazy climates.  With dozens of dogs to care for.  Why? Because they love what the do.

I think the world would be a better place if we lived more like these mushers.  Doing what we love in spite of the sacrifice it takes.  Nothing is more heartwarming.  Even in the freezing cold.

#27

#27 on the list. Done.

I had resigned myself to going alone after my kids kept finding excuses to put it off another day.  And another.

But then I was talking to a new friend and the topic came up.  One thing led to another.  Or more precisely, one idea led to a commitment.  We would go together at 5:45 AM on a Saturday.

When my alarm shook me, I sat up thinking I had dreamed the whole thing.  In the darkness, the idea didn’t seem so great.  And by the time I pulled up to my friend Meg’s house, 30-something-degrees and raining, I knew the idea wasn’t so great.

“Should we do this another morning?  One where there might actually be a sunrise that we can see?” I suggested.

“NO!  Let’s do it! It’s gonna be fun.” Meg rallied.

And with that, we were off.

We must have looked a strange sight.  Me, all touristy with ski gloves and a camera bag.  Meg, all fitnessey with her running gear and head lamp.  But, step by step as we trudged up the butte, our stories swirled about.

I used to think that road trips were the petri dish for great conversation.  Now, I’m convinced it’s hiking up tiny mountains at dawn.

By the time we reached the top, we could see the city start to stir.  Clouds were rolling in from the mountains – covering the peacock blue sky.  A grandmotherly type came after us and commented, “Well, I guess there’s no sunrise today.”  I felt my heart sink.

Meg must have seen my disappointment because as soon as the woman left, she said, “What do you call this?  The Sun Rose!  This is a sunrise.”

And she was right.  It may not have been a vibrant pink and splashy orange.  There was no Jesus-ascending-lightbeams behind big clouds.  It was subtle and simple.  Exactly like life.

We live in a culture that values the amazing, exotic, bright and beautiful.  But the majority of our time and experience is not.  I really wanted the sunrise from the top of Pilot Butte to be spectacular.  Dramatic.  And after we scrambled/slid down the trail, the wind whipping and our fingers numb, I realized the memory itself was spectacular.  Not the experience itself.  But experiencing it with someone.

Life is meant to be shared.  Bucket lists alone are, well, lonely.

Without Meg, I would have definitely hit snooze, rolled over and gone back to sleep.

Still dreaming of hiking to the top to watch the sunrise.

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Not Alone

Recently, I was having a conversation with a colleague about reading in the real world.  She asked something to the effect of “how do adults use Literature?”  As an English major and Humanities teacher, I felt myself squirm.  I tried to explain the beauty of books.  And the truth found in fiction.  And experiencing/learning through characters.  Blah, blah, blah.

It felt strange trying to defend myself.  I know why I read.  But why should others?

Then it hit me.  I was poised with my answer.  It’s a quote by C.S. Lewis and one of my all-time favorite lines:  “We read to know we are not alone.”

Why read?  Because reading is connecting.

When I first moved to Bend, my neighbor, Diane, saw me front-porch-reading and invited me to her Book Club.  Not knowing a soul, I jumped at the chance to meet others, and quickly said yes.

At first I felt intimidated by the age differences.  Most of the women were closer in age to my mom than myself.  I felt out of place and out of context.  But I was also intrigued.  I loved hearing the stories from women further down the journey.  Of broken hearts and broken-in bodies.  Of lessons learned and life’s disappointments.

Each month, we gather around the table to share Literature.  But, we also get to share Life.  These women are part of my story.  They encourage me and inspire me and make me feel like I’ve found my tribe.

Maybe for you it’s yoga.  Or bible study.  Perhaps it’s antique cars or spoon collecting.  But, we all need to belong to something.  We need others we can identify to – and resonate with.  We were made for connection.  

For me, reading isn’t just in the real world.  It is a reflection of the real world.  It’s messy, flawed and incredible.  A reminder that we are not alone.

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Contrast

Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

I’m not totally sure what he meant by this – but I love the contradiction.  So often, I’ve thought conflict was bad.  The struggle was to be avoided.  But here’s the thing: without conflict, there is no resolution.  Without pain, there is no healing.  Without brokenness, there is no repair.

We need the bad, so we can recognize the good.  And not just recognize the good, but be grateful for it.

You know when you’ve been icky/groggy/head-detached-from-your-body sick? When everything suddenly looks dreary.  Your lens on life is clouded.  Then, one morning, you wake up feeling different!  Food has flavor again.  Your legs feel lighter.  The world looks brighter.  And you are so appreciative to feel like yourself.  Something so mundane and normal is now amazingly delightful.  Without the comparison, you would never feel so grateful.  So aware.

Life is full of contrast.  We need the contrast.

Recently, we spent some time at a charmingly rustic ranch.  There, I was captivated by the fence line.  If ever there was an image to show the cliche “The grass is always greener on the other side,” this was it.  There was such stark opposition in the desert brush and the manicured lawn.  But it wasn’t the images themselves that were compelling.  It was the disparity between them.  Beauty takes wing in the contrast.

These days, I have to remind myself of the purpose of contrast.  That peace arrives out of conflict.  And rainbows appear after storms.

I’m convinced that Rumi had it right; the wound is the place where Light enters.  And, I for one, am grateful for the Light.

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The Path

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I think Hiking is Walking’s more attractive twin.  Maybe it’s just me, but the word hike sounds so much more sturdy.  And substantial.  Like you’re actually accomplishing something.  Walk reminds me of the vacant-eyed mall-walkers with their jogging pants swishing.  Sneakers squeaking.

Regardless of the name, they both involve a path. And the path itself is something I’ve been gnawing on.  There’s a reason The Path is a major symbol and motif in literature.  It’s something relatable.  Simple.  Linear.  (Thank you, Robert Frost.)

We all begin on the path with high hopes, and even higher expectations.  We swallow the belief that if we do __________, we will be ______________.  We pack our tools.  We look at our map.  And we go.

On this path, we pass lots of people.  Some are literally stopping to smell the flowers.  Others running/heaving to get ahead.  Many are alone.  Others travel in packs.  But the thing about the path, is that we each get to choose.  We choose our pace.  We choose our direction.  We choose our traveling companions.  We choose our shortcuts and scenic routes.  And when we can’t choose the weather/terrain/altitude, we at least get to choose our attitude.

There are some things I’ve learned about hiking on The Path.

1. Allow plenty of time.  You have to give yourself grace if you’re not where you hoped to be a certain time.  It’s okay.

2. Expect to get dirty.  Your shoes will get dusty.  Your hair matted.  Your shirt and socks sweaty.  Also okay.

3. You don’t have to follow the crowd.  In fact, I wouldn’t.  Peace comes quietly.  Unexpected.  It shows up in the slants of sunlight shooting through the leaves and the birds calling above the breeze.  Crowds drown it out.

4. Know when to quit.  Be aware of your limits.  There is no shame in stopping.  Or resting.  In turning around or asking for help.  Again, it’s okay.

Maybe your path, like mine, has taken you in a direction you weren’t expecting.  Or maybe, we’ll look back one day and realize that the brokenness led to a place of absolute beauty.

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