The Provocative Thinning Page

So soon you will be in that part of the book where you are holding the bulk of the pages in your left hand, and only a thin wisp of the story in your right. You will know by the page count, not by the narrative, that the author is wrapping things up. You begin to mourn its ending, and want to pace yourself slowly toward its closure, knowing the last lines will speak of something beautiful, of the end of something long and earned, and you hope the thing closes out like last breaths, like whispers about how much and who the characters have come to love, and how authentic the sentiments feel when they have earned a hundred pages of qualification…. -Donald Miller

Photo: MO 2014

Photo: MO 2014

“And next month will be December!” I realized as the final minute of October 31st decrescendoed. I let the words hang in the air, a soft hug over the hundreds of still shot images of the beautiful and broken from the past 10 months flashing through my mind. Warm nostalgia crept over, soothing like a cup of chamomile tea easing me into slumber. It’s taken me a while to get to a place where I confidently say this, but for the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m finally living the life I always imagined, and yet there’s a constant tug in my heart to keep letting go and re-creating, giving into fear just a few times less. Beginning the second to last month of the year brings me in touch with reality: that this year’s impending end is ever closer, and I flop on my bed with a journal to begin the treasured process of evaluating my year, knowing there’s still time to tick off my 14 for ’14 goals.

What is it about a waning year that causes us to both reach out and within? To become introspective, reaching deep inside the storehouses in our hearts that house love, joy, and possibly even regret, while in the very same breath, reaching out to friends and family in a spirit of giving more than any other time of year? Why do some months naturally evoke reflection or goal setting?

Flipping through my calendar tonight, the place I scribble quotes and song lyrics that stand out to me on particular days, the bulk of pages lie crinkled on the left, just a few thinning pages on the right. It’s here I realize the answer to my question lies in the provocative thinning page. If these pages could talk, they’d ask incitingly, “Will will you do while there’s still sand to run through the 2014 hourglass? What will you do while there’s still leaves available to fall freefall down from fading branches onto cool ground? What do you want to say on these last few pages?” 

Because there’s something about this thinning page that dares us to go all out.

I’m sitting at the edge of my seat.

I feel like I’ve written that vulnerable message to someone near to me, cursor hovering over “send,” one click away from initiating that scary, deep, beautiful, unguarded conversation.

I feel like I’m back on the bridge I jumped off college graduation night in celebration, standing on the ledge, beginning to swing my hips forward into the direction of the dark nighttime water, half thinking, “Should I do this?” Half thinking, “Yessssssssssssss.”

I feel like I’m back on the airplane at 16,500 feet, the only thing moving me closer to the exit door being the instructor strapped tandem to my back.

I feel it.

I feel it.

And all that’s left to do is to to take that dreaded proverbial leap.

To follow through on the impetus to drive West until I reach some state sign I’ve never seen before.

To follow through on that impulse to message the people who cross my mind, without rationalizing how long it’s been since we last talked.

To sing aloud on my bike and around the house and out in public replacing fear of how I’ll sound with fear of missing out on joy.

To confidently call myself an author and move forward in creating my first book.

And so maybe you’re discovering the thinning page of your year, your decade (as I watch friends lament over turning 30, which I know we’ll look back on with laughter), or maybe even your life, as you reach ages you weren’t sure you’d ever see. But no matter what stage, your pages are thinning. All that’s left to do is to make the last few read a tale that’s got you hooked. And when we finish that last sentence to close the book on December 31st, I hope you’ll find yourself glancing upward at the fireworks with the friends and family you love, arms outstretched, blessed and strengthened by the richness of your last few pages, ready to write the next first sentence in your story that’s ever changing, ever evolving, forever living onward into a beautiful infinity.

Photo: MO 2010

Photo: MO 2010

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Ashes of Hope: My Love of Lent but Not of Murder on a Cross (PLUS 40 Days of Sustainability coming soon)

Even the winter won’t last forever. We’ll see the morning, we’ll feel the sun.
We’ll wake up in April, ready and able, Sowing the seeds in the soil.
Even the darkness cannot disarm us. We’ll see the morning, we’ll feel the sun.
-Audrey Assad

Easter is what many would argue to be the quintessential turning point of the Christian faith. The crux. The climax of the story. The thing that you must be able to articulate into carefully formed sentences depicting your belief, as though words and theology solely define your spirituality and very existence. Perhaps from all of this lies the basis for the trite messages that I, along with so many others, have heard about the Christian faith. “Jesus died for your sins.” “Jesus paid the debt.” “Jesus stood in your place and died for you so that you might have life.”

And if those words bear truth and meaning to you, I have not come to take them away, nor discredit them.

It’s just not the Jesus I’ve come to know, face-to-face in my human spiritual struggle. 

The Jesus I’ve come to know didn’t die at the hands of a blood-thirsty, vampire-like God who needs to see someone murdered in order to forgive people. The Jesus I’ve come to know, and the God to whom he points, is a rebel. A revolutionary who challenged the privileged and elevated the marginalized. Who spoke out of turn, unafraid to make people think harder about themselves and the world around them. Who taught us to slow down long enough from our exhausted minds to “look at the birds and flowers,” and to be a visionary in whatever issue your culture is facing.
Direct from the mouth of this revolutionary contains the most gripping parts of the Eastertide story, in my experience. The pieces that I rarely heard pastors and Bible study leaders quote. The part where Jesus, our supposed role model, screams up at God, “My God, My God, Why have you screwed me like this?”  Because that’s life, that’s reality. That’s the affirmation I look for when I’m stuck in the mud and mire and all around me are hope-depleted apertures crying out for just a flick of mercy from a kind and loving God, begging for auspices that come from this Divine Light. And to hear Jesus utter these same words gives me confidence that I am in good company when I am in the thick of the squall and my once blithe heart feels incapable of coming back to me. When I’m a low that low, that’s when I know I’m only a few steps out from mercy. Because we, like Jesus, get to experience the surge of joy that is the resurrection, ashes of hope that sing of redemption.

I think these ashes of hope are what the soul longs for. Beyond a good love story, a good hope story. To know that all of our troubles will not be squandered, but used for fodder to keep these tales of beauty-from-pain alive. To give us the fortitude to know, anchored in our core, that it doesn’t matter what comes our way, for it won’t last forever. But the feelings of hope and the aftermath of beauty will hit us so viscerally that we tear up at the thought, “I didn’t know life could be this good.”

This is why I haven’t given up on Lent or Easter, despite some of my theological wrestlings and frustrations with the traditional teachings of this spiritual season. Lent draws out the heart’s ability to draw nigh to your Creator. A 40 day season containing strong, beautiful symbolism. Death from life. Life from death. The two are inseparable. Hope is reborn, recycled out of crushed pain and heartache. The timing of this season enhances the meaning all the more to me, as we begin Lent in the waning winter, in which it is still snowing as I write this. But we end Lent well into spring. During those 40 days, shoots on trees develop, buds blossom to form magnolia flowers- my absolute favorite tree on this planet that reminds me there is no cold that cannot be endured to eventually give way to life. The sun graces us for 2.5 minutes longer each day, until we’ve accumulated some 177.5 minutes of additional daylight come Easter evening, thanks, largely in part, to Daylight Savings Time. (Can you tell yet that spring is my favorite season and consumes many of my thoughts?)

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Copyright MO 2013

And so I don’t know where your heart is this season. Maybe it’s hiding in guilt and shame, underneath a veil of many coverings, because you feel it has gone so far awry from any sort of “straight and narrow.” Maybe your heart is parched, longing for a bit of this hope story. Or maybe your heart abounds in a joy so full, that it might cry droplets of gratitude onto baby seedlings that will soon lean their faces toward the sun for the first time. But one thing I do know, as we forge into spring, is that all around you, life begs your soul to awaken, and if it cannot awaken on its own, let its colours take you to places unknown until hope uncovers and your soul sees vibrant hues ablaze in beauty.

But there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over the hill and see what you find there
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.
-Mumford and Sons

    

Coming tomorrow: My 40 Day Sustainability Plan- Come observe Lent through environmental social justice

A Semi-Charmed Kind of Snow

“I guess the winter makes you laugh a little slower,
Makes you talk a little lower.
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell my myself to
hold on to these moments as they pass…” -Counting Crows

       

Baltimore is a place I hold tight to my heart anytime of year, and this winter is no different. Popularized as “Charm City,” it lives up to this famed moniker if you stick around long enough. Long enough to understand what the “Smalltimore effect” is. Long enough to know the names of each neighborhood (or, that is, most of them; Baltimore has over 225!) and what makes each one unique. Long enough to know what all the cool people do the last Friday night of the month.

I haven’t had a winter with this much happiness in a long time, mostly because I’m usually SAD. (To all my relatives in Florida, it’s not made up; I swear.) I caught a quick reprieve in 2012, (The Winter It Didn’t (Really) Snow) but sure enough, it came back with a vengeance in 2013, though a bit more bearable than I could ever remember before. And fastforward to this year, I’m on my 5th snow day off from work, and perhaps counting. But there’s a neighborly aura this winter that’s intoxicating.

So when I walked in the door to my house Wednesday evening, lighthearted in anticipation of another snow day, I declared to my roommate, “I’m treating tonight like it’s Friday.”

“Me too!” She called out, as we whooped and hollered jovially over the snowy forecast. Weather.com was a hoot this week, claiming everything from “BEWARE: CRIPPLING ICE STORM LIKELY THIS WEEK” —– an alarming adjective that wasn’t even PC twenty years ago—– to “Winter Storm Quintus to Undergo ‘Bombogenesis.'” [Bombogenesis: a mid-latitude cyclone that drops in surface barometric pressure by 24 or more millibars in a 24-hour period. Source: Nerdy meteorological websites]

Eagerly awaiting the snow, I leisurely biked to the gym, greeted by small pecks of icy snow falling from the sky. I stretched out in yoga class undistracted, child’s pose-ing and downward dog-ing to my heart’s content. Then I lifted weights wondering how many of my friends were in walking distance to Wyman Park to be able to go sledding tomorrow night. And finally, when I’d had enough exercise, I sank into the hot tub inside of the women’s locker room with no intent on hurrying home to make my lunch or lay out work clothes. As I biked home, I knew that even if we didn’t have a snow day tomorrow, there was one thing the snow already taught me: to be happy and present, no matter what day of the week it is. Because even if I had to slave away at my desk for a long work day tomorrow, my night was better because of my lack of fixation over it.

And sure enough, before I hit the sack Wednesday night, I celebrated the text message I received stating that work would be closed tomorrow. The 12+ inches that ensued afforded many beautiful moments that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible.

chicken eyes closedI was able to spend a leisurely hour and a half up the street at Baltimore Free Farm feeding and snuggling with chickens.

I packed inside of friends’ living rooms watching the Olympics, then, re-created them at a local park where friends and I sledded, saucer-ed and snowtubed down a staircase-turned-snow ramp. The antics continued as we set out for steeper and steeper slopes, until a few of our crew decided to brave the steepest hill of them all. We chanted friends’ names as they braved a steep incline, a very bumpy bump halfway down the hill, and then finally, a three foot high wall before hitting the snow below with a loud “thud.” And sure enough, a couple not only were courageous enough to go down, but managed to stay affixed to their sled, and we fans gave them an enthusiastic perfect “10”.

I listened to the ambiance of light falling snow from inside an abandoned igloo our group stumbled upon, able to understand why Inuit populations would be satisfied with calling this a home.

I watched people come together when two MTA buses got stuck going uphill. Armed with shovels in hand, the spirited citizens took a pause from their rescue effort long enough to fill in my boyfriend and me, who were passers-by, on the scope. “You see the first bus over there?” one of the women pointed. “It’s inches away from that parked car to the right. But we called a tow truck; I’m hopeful they’ll be able to make it out here.” Snow. Bringing together bus drivers and neighbors, one fishtail collision at a time.

Time away from my usual 9-5 routine gave me time to listen to a podcast in which a friend was interviewed on a local radio station discussing social activism and racism after a flurry of Baltimore blog posts depicting frustrations about the city’s crime were published. The clip was invigorating, reminding me that we are a city of activists, and there’s beautiful people all around who are eagerly moving in their spheres of influence to spread love and kindness all over this diverse city.

The snowstorm allowed me to meet neighbors I wouldn’t have otherwise met, since I never seem to be home anymore. Two of them offered to help push Brian’s car up the hill when his tires were spinning over ice and snow. They cheered along with us when he finally got out of his parking spot. The other neighbor I just met this morning, as she was shoveling out her car. After some brief cordials, I found out she moved here from Illinois.

“So when did you move here to the block?” I asked.
“Oh just a few weeks ago,” she shared.
You’ll love it,” I shared, remembering my move-in day a year and a half ago.

I’ve had a year and a half of beautiful Baltimore memories, and an additional year prior of not-so-good B-more memories, mostly consisting of moving and growing pains before I found friends and freedom, two components, I’d soon learn, that are entirely quintessential to the journey. We learn from the past as pain recycles itself into unspeakable beauty, sewing together memories like powerlines and clothing lines, connecting neighbor to neighbor, neighborhood to neighborhood.

To let you in on a little secret, (since I feel like I’m cheating on my Baltimore love for doing this), I recently applied for a dream job in DC that includes free housing. If I were to get it, I’ll be moving to DC in July. And much like Counting Crows, I’m finding myself in awe of the myriad of treasured memories that I, too, long fervently to hold on to as they pass…

And if I’m lucky, this winter just might churn out one more snowstorm, and I’ll see you at the park, together laughing all the way into the night…

Photo credit: Dave Reichley

Photo credit: Dave Reichley