Month: June 2013

what i’ve learned

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whati'velearned

I’ve learned that travel is necessary.
I’ve learned some friends last only as long as your proximity to them.
I’ve learned others persist regardless of distance.
I’ve learned the concise equation of passive voice.
I’ve decided love is a choice. The kind that overwhelms without that decision is fleeting.
I’ve learned to bake chocolate chip cookies.
I am certain there is a God.
I’ve learned his most-often chosen tool for shaping us is time.
I’ve learned that time is flexible, sometimes speeding up, while others seeming to move like drips of water.
I’ve learned there are a few places that are always cold: movie theaters, air planes and ice cream parlors.
I’ve learned we are always waiting for something.
I am convinced a smile is more powerful than a slap.
I have seen that love does not conquer all, at least not the kind humans are capable of.
I’ve learned that men don’t understand women, women don’t understand men, and they both don’t understand God.
I’ve learned to shower in under three minutes.
I’ve learned we are all capable of hurting each other deeply if we are not careful.
I’ve seen what happens when we forget that.
I am trying to learn to listen.
I’ve learned real listening takes effort.
I’ve learned there is power in both brevity and vulnerability.
I’ve learned that until I die, I will never stop learning.

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contentment

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“You have an amazing life,” she marvels.

She is right, I acknowledge. I wonder why it takes her telling me to grasp it. The realization seeps into my fingers and toes like the warmth of a fire after tromping through snow on a below-zero day. It’s like waking up to a sunny day. But it also makes me feel selfish and ungrateful for having to hear it to believe it.

At 33, I have been to more than 20 countries. I have lived abroad three times. I have spent weekends at music festivals and weeks traveling to exotic places for work. I have seen the world from a hot air balloon and a helicopter and dozens of airplanes. I have stood on peaks flanked in granite. I have wiggled into underground caves. I played in a band with musicians whose talent was humbling. I have learned another language. I have swam in two oceans and sailed on ships.

I have a unique kind of freedom that gives me almost total control over what I do each day, each month, each year. Somehow, whether it is from my parents or God or my bosses, I have been supported in each step of my wild endeavors. None of it is anything to complain about. Not even a little.

Yet this year, I have found myself restless, peering from my own wild freedom to the lives of others with twinges of envy. Lives with diamond rings and center pieces and cake tastings. Ones with houses and back yard gardens and date nights. Ones with strollers and onezies and headbands decked with little bows. From the outside, those lives seem so romantic and cozy and rich.

But they each have their own challenges, I’m realizing. I know as soon as I have what they have, I will want something else. The thing about a pasture is it has fences. Contentment is a fleeting state, one that passes through your fingers like water unless you choose to be still. It is easy to talk about and hard to possess.

I have decided to love my life, right where it is.

margins

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??????????????

I had set each obligation up like a domino, tucked in side by side, nearly touching. I had put together the puzzle perfectly, each item snugly placed next to another.

The problem with that is when one domino falls, so do the others. The problem is, when you move one puzzle piece, the others move too.

It’s 5 p.m. on a Wednesday evening, just before I leave work for the day. I look down at my lap top bag. It looks heavy. And cumbersome. All day I’ve held the heavy weight of 1,000 details. I’m too exhausted to pick it up. I could just leave it for tonight, I think. I won’t need it. It seems like a great idea at the time.

Later at home, my coworker texts me, asking for information tucked away within the files of that computer. One simple little number that any other night would be at my fingertips. But instead, it’s across town, leaning on my file cabinet at work.

I sigh and work up a plan, setting up the first of a string of dominoes. I tell her I’ll come in early the next morning and text her the information she needs. Problem solved.

I’ve got this, I think.

That night I lay away late, blazing through the chapters of a book we are supposed to discuss early the next morning. It’s 11:30 p.m. by the time I turn off my light. It’s not an ideal bedtime, but oh well.

It’s OK. I’ve got this.

I run through the plan once before I doze off. Step one: Duck into my office and dig up that number my co-worker needs. Step two: Grab a chair with the rest of the staff, participating fully in the discussion, because, of course, I have read the chapters. Step three: Scramble to send emails and answer calls and finalize details on my five trips headed out in the next month. Step four: Conduct an interview during my lunch for a freelance newspaper assignment. Step five: More scrambling. Step six: Band practice after work. Step seven: Run home to write the freelance story.

I’ve got this.

The next morning, I am ready early. I’ve got my coffee. I’ve got my phone. I’ve got my book. I’ve got it together. I get in my car and turn the key.

Silence.

Well, this is inconvenient, I think.

I sigh and send out a batch of mini SOS’s. I text my coworker the news. My car is dead. I can’t come in early. I call and walk her through the process to extract the information she needs herself, while stopping mid-directions to field replies and text my boss that I’m stranded. “You need help?” he asks. “Yes please!” I respond.

The minutes tick by with no confirmation. He’s probably driving, I think. He’s probably on the way. I look at my phone. “TEXT NOT SENT” my phone reads in red. I sigh.

A half hour later, I’m on my way. My car jumped, humming contently. I’ve got my coffee. I’ve got my book. I’m over a half hour late, but it’s OK. The plan is still salvageable.

I’ve got this, I think.

I walk in the door, breathless, only to hear music, not banter and laughter and the sound of discussion. We didn’t need to read the chapters, it dawns on me. I never looked at the schedule. We’re having a prayer and worship morning instead. I look at my calendar and notice another meeting I had failed to account for. And I remember that I haven’t even listened to the songs I need to play at band practice, much less practiced on my own. I haven’t practiced for a set I’m playing tomorrow night either. I haven’t cleaned for my mom’s visit this weekend. I haven’t told my roommate my mom is coming. I never wrote a friend that card for his birthday. Wait, isn’t it Father’s Day on Sunday?… The list of “I haven’ts” spills out in a rush of broken and failed intentions. The dominoes buzz by as they fall.

It’s then I realize: I don’t have this. A plan in shambles is what I have.

It turns out a little time with God in prayer is exactly what I need.

This is what happens when you tuck in those dominoes too close together. This is what happens when you piece together a puzzle on a card table with broken legs. This is a taste of a life with no space allowed for the unexpected. No back up plans. No buffers.

This is a life without margins.

boomerang

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girls jumping

When I think about that era, I feel as though I’m watching a movie of someone else’s life. Not a typical linear drama or action-adventure, but one with a surreal aspect and filters and wild colors.

That season was the perfect storm of two young women, both wrestling with their own unique inner turmoil, unwittingly addressing deeper issues by way of non sequiturs. Our friendship was like two tornados coming together. It made for more drama, more havoc, more damage, more colorful stories.

We were each other’s alter-ego. Externally, she was everything opposite of me. Tall where I was short. Thin where I was curvy. Brunette where I was blond. But really, we were a lot of like, both in background and personality and and interests and passion for our shared career. Our combination tended to draw attention. We liked that.

We sat across from each other at work. We were neighbors. But the earliest memory I have of her was right after I moved to that sweet backwards little town in the Sierra foothills. I was in my new apartment, sitting Indian style on the carpet because I had no furniture. I had fit everything I owned into my little red Chevy coup (a TV seat belted into my front seat, my snowboard slid down the side against the door) and drove into that town having never seen it. It seemed natural at the time. All of my belongings were only enough to fill a corner of my new living room, still in boxes covered in misshaped letters scrawled with a Sharpie.

When the doorbell rang, I opened it to her standing in her pajamas, two wine glasses in one hand, a bottle of wine in the other. We became friends in that instant.

That summer was a mash up of crazy parties and late-night adventures and music and men. The kaleidoscope of memories are all somehow connected yet disjointed. That we each had a partner-in-crime to live it with helped normalize and justify it. The harbor that small town provided kept us protected in some ways from the fullness of the consequences. But we also came to each other’s rescue when needed. She is one in a handful of people who has seen me at my worst. I am one who was there at the discovery of her body turning against her.

We both look back on it with a little bit of unease and disbelief, but an understanding that in our confusion, we didn’t know how to do it any different. We were searching for answers to our individual questions through similar means. At the time we didn’t realize that.

It is nine years later, and we have reconnected. Our lives spun in different directions and then came back together like boomerangs. We are older now, a little more mature, and more settled with who we are. We have both sought answers at church and by writing, through different paths and at different paces. We’re both reeling from what life has dealt but better adept at processing it through by healthy means.

That has brought us to a haunt in another town, also small but more refined. As it once was, our entry earns some glances. But we are less-phased and more focused. We lounge at a table with an umbrella on a deck in summer heat that permits dresses and flip flops after dark. In less than 24 hours, we sort through the memories of that time, as if we have taken out the dusty box we stored that summer in and are examining the faded and curled photos of each event. We talk about God and religion and family and health and relationships, and how each connects. We talk about our frustrations with life’s tendency to not go by our plans, and our coming to terms with it. “I’ve given up on any sort of timeline,” she says. And the wisdom of that resonates with me.

This summer we’ve once again made plans. But it won’t be a summer of unbridled and raw revelry we once experienced together.

The mystery of a boomerang is that it doesn’t always come back to you how it started.

ribbons and bows

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ribbons

I wish that mistakes were like bows, whose ends I could pull to undo. They would fall simply into the straight, unblemished and shiny beauty of a ribbon.

But even then, mine would be a tangled mass whose bows were looped and overlapped and tucked into others. I would sit, trying to untangle the mess, only to create new knots.

But mistakes are not ribbons and bows. They are more like rocks dropped in a lake. The ripples of waves fan out, rocking boats I didn’t know where nestled in nearby and unseen coves. They are determined, those waves. There is no blocking them. To do so often creates other sets of ripples.

It is a disheartening kind of futility. The only thing you can do is stop dropping rocks and let the lake’s surface rest. But for some reason, I just choose smaller rocks instead. Maybe, I think, the ripples will be smaller.

Mistakes are not something you can dabble in, just tasting. They are something to learn from. If only I was a faster learner. I am like a child who never learns to tie his shoes despite dozens of tries and runs around tripping on the flapping laces.

I marvel sometimes at God’s patience with me. When it comes to the rocks I toss in, sometimes he calmly chooses to settle the waves with his palm, while others he lets them roll. I must be a endlessly frustrating and heartbreaking daughter. I’m the child with the rebellious streak whose stubborn traces resist fading.

I wish I could finally hand over the rocks instead of clinging to my fistfuls. For now, the smooth and heavy feel of them in my hands is strangely comforting and familiar.