“Yes” in Every Season: Thoughts & Longings on the Last Night of Summer

MO 2014

MO 2014

Outside the last night of summer
Sweeps through my open window
A warm breeze
A slow, steady chirp of crickets
Whose bold summer sonnets
now play early autumn decrescendos.

 I close my eyes and lay by candlelight.
All I can see is still shot goodness of the day–
Looking up into my sister’s smile
With deep blue sky all around
A warming sun on our skin
A far out whisper in the wind
Reminding us that shifting change is coming all too soon.

Familiar drives through open spaces and new places
That leave you looking out the corners of your eyes as much as possible
While still keeping your head straight toward the road.
The beloved old
The uncharted new
All of this feels like home.

MO 2012

MO 2012

I’m at the end of a day that’s left me reignited as to how big and beautiful the world is.

And how all I want to do is learn from the stars
by exploring underneath them
or through high powered lens
Gaping mouths gasping soft “woah”s.
Aware of everything
The slow in and our of our breaths
My desire to touch hands in fully alive love

MO 2014

MO 2014

All I want is to throw a few things in a backpack
Drive out somewhere
And wander these trails with no destination
Just grateful for the world outside
And friends like you.

I want songs with sweet, dripping lyrics
and ambient melodies telling us a story
that wouldn’t be heard the same way
if it were dulled with words.

Give me poetry.
And chocolate.
And all those things our hearts beat for,
each syncopation relishing, “yesssss.”

I don’t like when summer wanes
but the longings of my heart
are happy to start this fall
With a new feel in my heart

Filled with wonder
Craving the world
Loving this Earth
And the incredibleness of community
Reminding each other

there is “yes” in every season.

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WOOF Puerto Rico June 2014: Farming, Skinnydipping & An Invitation To Get Into Life

“Ok, so I”ll send you my flight information and see you on the 17th!” I replied as I hung up the phone, shocked and excited. I just confirmed a week long stay at Luquillo Sanctuary Farm in Puerto Rico through a program called WWOOF– Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. In exchange for a half a day’s work on a family’s farm, WWOOFers receive free room and board at one of thousands of farming sites across the world. This farm is a small, developing farm in Puerto Rico along the foothills of the El Yunque Rainforest. The opportunity sounded like Heaven, along with a whole lot of anxiety provoking unknowns. What if the people I stayed with weren’t who they said they were? Was this safe? But the predictable life depleted of risks leaves us believing that strangers are scary, that safety is quintessential as we choke on our own comforts.

So I flew into San Juan on June 17 not knowing why I had come on this journey, but positive that it would help me learn to embrace life in all of its fullness. The host farmer picked me up from the airport, luggageless as my bags had been loaded onto another flight, and brought me to the campground where I’d stay for the week. I was greeted by three other WWOOFers from Texas and Czech Republic. Nothing but the backpack on my back, they showed me a tent I could sleep in temporarily and gave me some sheets. Just go with it, I told myself, and fell asleep in a stranger’s tent, lying beneath cocqui frogs and insomniaic bulls that groaned all night long.

machetteIn conversations over digging farming beds and mowing the lawn with machette knives throughout the week, I learned much about Puerto Rico. The US provides an estimated $6.7 billion in aid to Puerto Rico, mostly in provision of food stamps and subsidized housing, while the US receives almost $58 from Puerto Rico through imports and manufacturing. “Instead of growing our own produce, much of the food is shipped into the island from other countries because it’s cheaper,” my host farmer shared. It was a startling wake up call to the reality of the pitfalls of capitalism and untapped resources. On our daily walks to the beach, we pass mango tree after mango tree and simply reach up to chomp on fresh fruit. Sure enough, when we went to the grocery store, our carrots were from Georgia and fruit from Central America. We could eat local. But there simply lacks farming infrastructure and political will.

That’s where farms like Luqillo are slowly changing this. Part of Luqillo’s mission is to be a non-profit organic educational farm for children, teaching them hands-on skills. On Saturdays, kids from the neighborhood come to work on the farm. That’s when I met Gabriel, a sweet 12 year old, who, when it was time to fill our buckets with the dug up grass from the rows we picked, turned it into a contest raced us up to the top of the hill, winning time afer time again. It’s awesome to think about how these kids might grow up differently from those around them. Grow up different because their hands have touched the grounds of where their food was birthed. They are closer to the Earth and will respect it.  They will be leaders after tasting a bit of what life can be when you live outside the status quo for your town.

After a wonderful week of farming and climbing through the El Yunque Rainforest, we capped off the week of farming with a trip to Culebra, a small island East of mainland Puerto Rico, my eyes meeting vast aqua waters for the first time. Mountainous cliffs lining the countours beckon you to dive in. My friends shared their snorkling masks, which opened up a whole new world of wonder, discovery. A rich reminder that there is EVEN so much more out there than we can fathom.

Traveling opens your eyes to new people, new cultures, new landscapes. And now, it opened me to life beneath the water. The coral reefs right there below. Fish of many hues and sizes darting in and out of caverns. I’ve always known there’s a huge whole world above us- being the night sky filled with billions of stars, most of which are imperceptible to human eyes. And now, to be reminded of entire ecosystems below the surface of the water, I am blown away into wonder and grandeur and mystery. As the sun sank below palm trees, we built a fire on the beach and ran streaking into the water skinny dipping. It was everything I thought it would be, minus my second jellyfish sting of the night.

As we took the ferry back to mainland Puerto Rico, I chatted with Lena, a student in microbiology at the University of Puerto Rico. “It’s amazing because here I am on this one part of the island, in one school, and there’s all this out there,” she shared in awe. I told her that’s how I feel when I look up at the stars.  Together, the stars and waters below sing of a world that feels even bigger.
IMG_1042We are invited into a life that tells us to look up, look around, look below. A life that takes the attention away from worries or our own selfishness because so many beautiful places exist without the contribution of human hands. Rainforests. Coral reefs. They will continue making beautiful and we will be here to awe, wonder, and appreciate hopefully with hearts that treat the Earth with the kindness its placid ways deserve.

I can’t believe I’d ever think to miss out on trips like this because I was afraid. Afraid to stay with people I never met before. Afraid to try something so unknown. But never again.

All of this has left me in love with the world, lusting after all the places that I will never get to taste, see, or touch simply because the world is huge- reminded like they sang in the Lion King that there is “more to be seen than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done.”

It pains me because I will always want more. I will always want to see more, to keep needing to press the zoom-out button on my worldview lens because it keeps expanding. But instead of loathing that it’s all too much, I celebrate that tonight. I celebrate the opportunity we have to do some of that seeing and doing while we still have breath in our lungs. Because we have been invited to get into life.

Get into the kind of life that loves this world, all of it, the things you cannot see under ocean waters when you fly over them.
Get into a life that looks up regularly. For inspiration. For perspective. For no other reason than to use the eyes you’ve been given.
Get into a kind of life that loves people– loves to get mouths and hearts talking about the things that really matter to each one.
Get into loving God, your creator, whatever that name is to what/whom you attribute the great celestial connection of earth and land and people and connection. I am finding God is out here everywhere, especially in laughter, showing me the light at the end of the tunnel to all of my unfounded fears. I watch this God and this world take away my fears like carbon dioxide as I release the poisons that trap and breathe in the invitation to this new kind of life.

Because the adventure is calling in whispers and shouts across the sky, “Will you get into life?” 

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Audacious Freedom: Screaming YES ‘Til We’re Breathless

Susan B. Anthony once said about the bicycle, “I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.” I get that feeling every morning and afternoon as my feet touch pedals, epitomizing that freedom she talked so wisely about in 1896. And tonight, two days in from the dawning of Daylight Saving Time, I’m delighting in this audacious freedom again and again as fresh air fuses with endorphins. A smile creeps up inside of me that simply cannot be held back.
And so tonight, as I’m about to go into my house and say goodnight to another beautiful day of freedom and bikes, something catches me outside for the umpteeth time. Maybe it’s the clear sky above me. Or the fact that I am out here in a t-shirt for the first night after a long winter that developed its own vocabulary (“polar vortex:” who can forget that, and what it feels like).
But I lay here.
I should be preparing for an interview tomorrow.

But I lay here.
I should probably go inside and get proper rest.

But I lay here.

All I can see above me is the moon, this ever present wonder in the sky that shows up night after night to remind us that life moves on, moves forward. 
Stars scatter the sky daring us to notice them, not to show off, but so that we will show up. To be here now. To stop missing the beauty that’s above you, watching over you day after day, night after night.

So I will lay here.

Freedom and life surge through my veins, a restlessness that can only be quelled by uncharted territories and taking chances and by the story that comes from when you start doing the things you’re scared of. When you stop waiting for feelings of confidence and reassurance and do it anyway, unarmed and unfettered. 

There’s no time to waste when all around you, the stars, the birds, the infantile crocus pecking its way through once snow-covered ground each beg your soul to awaken.

And so just for tonight, I won’t care about what time I go to bed.

I won’t frantic over tomorrow.

All I will care about is filling my heart with this Earth, overjoyed by the ability to walk, skip, and jump on it, along with all these beautiful people that inhabit it.

Copyright MO 2012

Copyright MO 2012

I look up at the moon once more. It’s traversed a part of the sky and moved what looks like just a few feet to the left, but indeed it has moved so many more. I try to picture it in the exact spot where it was an hour ago when I first came out here, but it begs me to let it go and stop trying to rearrange life and all of its pieces the way that I want them all to turn out.

   
I’ll let go.
And stay up too late.

And binge on open sky that opens hearts which open mouths and together, we’ll speak from bodies standing tall, hands outstretched screaming “YESSSS!” until we’re breathless.

Copyright MO 2009

Copyright MO 2009

60 Seconds of Beauty Before Smashing Your Head Into The Keyboard

smash headToday is one of those “smash face into keyboard to continue” days. Smartphoneless, I discovered I missed several important emails, including a few deadlines. I began a grad class this week. Work, often feast-or-famine with the patient population I work with, who experience several barriers to medical care, was definitely a feast this week. A large one. Thanksgiving with all your extended relatives, kind of feast. Add triathlon training, a conviction to be a better friend/family member, and a few other commitments, I noticed the all-too-familiar trap of spreading myself thin in a flurry of perfectionism.

But before I could drag myself into work for one final day this week, I marveled at an urban creek that I pass on my commute to work each day. Sun kissing ice blocks in emerald green water, a gem amongst graffiti and the click-clack of trains off in the distance. “Lord of Lords,” an old hymn, comes to my mind, and I suddenly find my soul in a pining connection to the lyrics, “Keep my eyes fixed upon Jesus’ face. Let not the things of this world ever sway me.” As much as I refuse to go back to my former version of Christianity, there is so much that I want to make sure I don’t let go of. And one of those things is to keep steady resolve on Jesus’ ways, because that way of living feels more fulfilling, more rich. A teacher who catches us in the midst of snowballing worry, and looks us in the eye to say, “Hey! Snap out of it. Can worry add a single minute to your life?” (aka what I hear from Matthew 6:7).

Copyright: MO Baltimore, MD

Copyright: MO
Baltimore, MD

This winter, I’ve been blown away by the beauty of the Falls. Each morning, I give myself permission to temporarily fix my gaze from the road to this scene of peace. Usually frantically running late to work, I often glance only long enough to smile at it. But today I decided to stop long enough to hop off my bike, take a picture, and remember the words of Anna Quindlen: “And realize that life is glorious, and you have no business taking it for granted…” (From “Life’s Little Instruction Book.”)

Biking along the Falls, I feel as though I’m being taken away to Canada. One to share my voice only to the shower vapors, I softly sing aloud, “on the lakes of Canada…” Instead of aimlessly passing up the opportunity to be transported, I intentionally decide to stop whooshing by it and stop for just 60 seconds to soak it all in. 60 seconds to let my eyes dilate, absorb light and movement, to not think about anything in particular, to just be. 60 seconds to create experiences of beauty.

It was the best 60 seconds I’ve spent today. I’m so tired of rushing through life, not pausing to create moments of peace, order, beauty, serenity. Because unless we stop, unless we do something to forge scenes of beauty, unless we sew them together with beautiful seams of peaceful patchwork, we can easily forget. At least, I do. We forget the peace that can be found in this world. Forget how beautiful it is, because in the celerity, in the achievement-oriented rat race, it can seem like peace, beauty and order have left the building.

It’s no coincidence to me that as I hop back on my bike, the next piece of graffiti I find is the wall that over the summer read in big letters,

Go placidly amongst the noise and haste…
                             and know the peace there is in the silence.

go placidly amongst the noise and haste

I’m going to stop more. Because it’s up to us to create scenes of beauty in our lives. It’s up to us; it’s our responsibility because if we can’t find peace and order and beauty, then maybe we aren’t stopping long enough to actually exhale and find it.

Yes, I will take ownership for having peaceful moments in my life. And be gracious to myself when I forget to stop—When I’m at my desk, smashing my head into the keyboard for one more day, kicking myself for not stopping.

Tomorrow, I’ll begin again. The Falls will be there. Birds on Trees will be there.

“Flowers in the garden.
Laughter in the hall.
Children in the park.
I will not take these things for granted…
…Anymore.”

-Toad the Wet Sprocket 

A few telescopes, some friends, and plenty of stars.

Saturday, June 8th, Solider’s Delight Natural Environment Area:

“That doesn’t look like a swan,” someone in the group mutters aloud.

“Well, you have to have an imagination. Remember, when the Native Americans, Greeks, and Arabs named the stars, they could see them billions at a time; there was no light pollution to inhibit their view,” an astronomer whiz shares with us.

It’s late Saturday night, and some friends and I are at Soldier’s Delight for a stargazing night put on by the Westminster Astronomy Club. Volunteers set up their elaborate telescopes for the community to use the second Saturday evening of each month. And this month, some friends and I decide to not miss out on the opportunity to look up in wide-eyed wonder.

“That’s M21 out there, you see it, to the right?” our instructor, Skip, motions.

“No, but what’s M83?” I ask.

“One of the galaxies.”

“Oh.. it’s also the name of a great band,” I share, feeling some celestial connection of music and stars.

The stars elicit questions a mile long.

What was the transit of Venus all about? What was the most memorable stargazing experience you’ve ever had? What’s the difference between a red dwarf and a brown dwarf?

“How many satellites are in the sky on any given night?” I ask.

“Well, it depends, you might be seeing an in-tact satellite, or a glove falling from a satellite, or just general space junk…” Skip muses.

“Space junk, is that anything like Space Jam?” my friend Rajni asks. We all laugh from the ground, bodies sprawled out on grass and cement in wonder and gratitude.

It’s 10 PM, which segues into 11 PM, but time is put on hold for now, and I try to stay here in this moment, in this solitude, underneath this sky, with these friends that I yearned for when I moved to inner city Baltimore a couple of years ago, lonely, and wondering what the hell I was doing was with my life.

A warm gratitude relaxes my body, like a soothing cup of hot tea, and I lay my head onto the grass. It’s amazing how many satellites you can trace with your finger across the night sky if you sit down long enough to look up.

We take turns looking through high-tech telescopes, pointed at double stars, galaxies, and Saturn. I peer into the lens. Inside, a round, pale yellow circle enclosed by a thick ring stares back, a distant object the size of my pinky fingernail.

“Woah!”

“Wow.”

“Awesome.”

Each phrase becomes a prayer, connecting us to the universe around us, back to a Maker, a Creator, that larger presence that some of us don’t mind calling God.

I find hope, awe, wonder, humility, and faith looking into each telescope lens, scientific tools enabling us to learn and unlearn of a world we cannot understand, of a largeness and vastness that just keeps going and going and going to… where? I don’t know.

But up above our heads gracefully dangle bands of gas that have swirled together to sustain a planet light years away, light from something so far away that we’re merely looking back in time to what it was lightyears ago, a time-space continuum that baffles my mind, like Back to the Future, or traveling back in time, a perpetuity I’m half-scared and half-ecstatic to enter to into, wondering if you were catapult yourself into this space, what time would it actually be?

A few telescopes, some friends, and plenty of stars bring my mind into the past and the present and future all at once. My memories drift back to the night sky of Botswana, Africa in August 2007. My 20 year old self is sleeping under the African sky with a tent full of snoring “macoas” (white people) and crickets. Just on the edge of the horizon, The Southern Cross peers out, playing a peek-a-boo game with sky and Earth. Alas, in winter solstice, that’s all we see of it this night, though hardly a disappointment. There’s stars everywhere, and they shine like the smiles of each child I met over the past two weeks here, some in orphanages, some in villages, some walking back home from school, waving jovially.

I enter back into the stars of the present, my night at Soldier’s Delight with friends, my heart drenched in melancholy for Africa, a pining so emotive, I remind myself of the promise I made to myself: to return to Africa by the time I’m 30, and I re-commit to it with alacrity.

I guess that’s what the stars do to us: awaken our sense of curiosity and wonder, our desire to learn more ponderings of how we got here, and what does it all mean, and this can’t be it, right? A pep talk sans spoken word, just twinkling of molecules daring each of us to dream bigger and surround ourselves with people who will believe in you, who will nurture the restless adventurer inside who never ceases to explore, ready for another question, a brand new musing.

And so tonight it seems there is much to be thankful for. Friends, genuinely good people, the ones I’d been trying to find in this city for the previously lonely past couple years. My life feels rich and full and like it’s about to exciting, because these dreams in my mind refuse to stay quelled as a mere idea, no— they’re ready to leap out into daylight, into air, into existence in movement and dance. I want to see it all unfold. New visas. Plane tickets. A life of making merry and mess and saying what I want to say even if  my voice trembles. I want to experience a love sopping wet with life and adventure, disheveled wet drops pouring over two lovers who view everyday by asking, “How much fun can we create today?” One dream lending itself to another, another one birthing out of the completion of the former.

Alas, we drive home, but my mind is still creating new possibilities. I pay attention to car headlights meeting cement, occasionally glancing to the side to check for deer along the tree-filled roads. My friends and I talk quietly in the car, softly, sleepily, but my mind is somewhere else— Still grappling with the fact that the planet I learned about in middle school science class, drawn in a text book, not only hangs above us in the night sky, but is able to be viewed by our little eyes if only we stop to look. It’s in the sky, right now, as I type, as you read this; it’s so so far way away, appearing like a mere sticker through a 150 power telescope. But it’s out there.

Hope.

It’s out there.

Peace.

It’s out there, again and again, night after night after night after night; these sunsets, these stars, these planets, all hovering above us, never shouting, nor demanding our attention, but exuding a captivating pull, begging us into a story of wonder and awe.

I’m back at the house, eyes closed, trying to fall asleep. All I can see is the ingrained image of Saturn, an image I know will come back to me time and time again as I live out this next week. A soothing image massaging my shoulders, whispering a loving, “Don’t you worry, Child,” to all who ponder its mystery. “I won’t,” I promise back. Tomorrow, maybe, but for right now, I won’t worry. And if I’m lucky, Saturn’s image might come back in and speak that love song of serenity into my soul, into my toes, into my finger, oh I’ll live blown away…

Photo Credit: Wellington Astronomical Society

The Art of Slowing Down (And The Wisdom of Louis Armstrong)

I’ve often heard that Lent is a season of slowing down. Of drawing closer to God, to others, to the wide open world around us. A time for spiritual reflection and inner examination. An opportunity to go a little deeper in trying to figure out Jesus. A time to pause. A time for simplicity.

This Lent, I decided to get back into biking to and from work (in addition to cold showers and placing a penny in the “Suck it Up or Shut Up” jar each time I catch myself complaining). IMG_1458
When I moved across town in June, I said I’d bike once I found a good route, but I weasled my way out of it for reasons such as having to bike through some sketchy areas by myself, something I was a bit fearful of.

Now a few days into it, I’ve found a route and a rhythm. I got off to a rough start the first day of Lent biking home drenched by the down-pouring rain. Two cars didn’t see me, causing me slam on the brakes, skidding in the middle of an intersection. Cars passing by splashed water up against me like a small ocean wave. It was cold. It was dark. And I kept making wrong turns, making my time in the rain even longer. I had a “shake your fist at God” moment, muttering things that warranted pennies in the jar, and then managed to put my sopping wet hand back on the handlebar. I thought about the journey that women in Africa make to and from water wells and firewood piles on a daily basis, often risking the possibility of getting raped just to gather these essentials for their families. Surely, I didn’t have it so bad.

And most of us don’t.

As I biked home today and pulled up to my house, exhilaration flooded my body with the sounds and sights of life around me. Daylight was still visible at ten of six. Birds chirped goodnight lullabies to their young. Soon, it will be March, which will usher in spring.

Despite all of this beauty, I was about to walk in the house to begin my usual routine: put away my dirty work clothes from the day, wash today’s lunch containers, pick out clothes for tomorrow, eat something better than cereal for dinner…

But I stopped myself. Why did all of those things seem so pressing? Why do I do each of those things the second I come home? Outside, the sky is changing hues from deep cobalt blue, to indigo purple, to peachy pink, without the help of any human hand. How can I settle for doing dishes when the world around me is putting on a symphony of light and color in the sky?

I sat on the ledge of my front porch, dangling my feet over the edge, bouncing them up and down. I looked up the block and felt gratitude to have the opportunity to live in a neighborhood I enjoy coming home to. I looked up at the two airplanes in view, traversing the sky, filled with passengers, dreamers, grace-givers, homesick spouses, screaming infants annoying the people in front of them, questioners, seekers, searchers, adventurers, and people wondering how quickly they can get off this airplane. Fellow human beings, like you, like me, in a slate colored vehicle with aluminum wings and flashing lights that can get you from Atlantic to Pacific in five and a half hours.

All of this is so amazing.

This world. It’s so beautiful. And everyday, we have the opportunity to relish it. How many days are spent checking off to-do-list items on the backs of receipts? Why do we think we’re so busy all the time? Why do I always feel like I have things to do, when really, all that I might need to do in that moment is…. slow down and look up.

Look up.

The dishes can wait. Your lunch will get packed. Come. Sit. Out here on the stone porch. Come sit and settle in with your maker, like a child and a parent snuggled up on the couch. Breathe in the world around you. Observe the movement of cars filled with people; some going home, some going to meetings, some going to fill their refrigerator with more food than we can ask for, some going to see a dear friend, some going crazy. Feel the stillness of tall trees; though brown and bare now, a metamorphosis is coming. Stop rushing. Enjoy your life. Enjoy the Earth. Enjoy every good and beautiful thing around you.

I sit outside until my fingers feel numb.

Spring’s a’comin, but it sure ain’t here yet.

I sink deep inside myself, shoulders unslumped, before heading in.

Louis Armstrong was right, I think to myself.

What a wonderful world.

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Thoughts on Solitude.

There was a bird outside my window this morning
Happily chirping its song; its story.
Another one joined in.

I’m not sure what they were saying
But I felt like their language spoke to my soul
Reminding me to go outside today
And spend some time in solitude.

So that’s what I did.
I zipped up my snow boots
And hit the trails
Climbing up powdered white paths
Sparkling like sugar cookies
In the mid-afternoon sun.

I glanced down at footprints of deer
And footprints of other hikers
Wondering what their journeys are like
And how they experience the world around them.

Sometimes I feel guilty going places alone.
Life is short
And people are beautiful, after all.

A couple years ago
I moved back to Baltimore
And within a few months, realized most of my friends had moved home or moved away
And I had a night
Where the few friends I had left
Were all busy
And I felt an immense loneliness come over me.

It was a cold, dark January evening and Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder
can be more than SAD; it can be depressing.
I was so lonely inside; I scared myself.

Have you ever had a moment like that?
Where you’re so caught off guard by what’s going on inside?

I did the one thing that I thought might help.
I called an old friend in New York just to make sure I was alive and breathing.
Luckily she answered.
She was out with friends
And I think she thought I was acting a little melodramatic

But never the less
A few words
From an old friend
On a lonely night
Melted away tears of despondency
And I vowed to never get that lonely ever again.

That was two years ago.
I’m thankful for new friends who’ve touched my heart
and for old ones who’ve stuck it out.

Although as a recovering people-pleaser and conflict avoider,
There are times when it would be much easier to keep inside my shell;
I’ve come to realize that people, community, are absolutely essential to personal growth,
apart from which my soul would deaden bit by bit.

But sometimes I don’t want to talk
And sometimes I need to be alone in my thoughts,
With God
Staring at vast skies like open pages.

I need to lie on my back
Let the grass be my pillow
And take pictures of the sun sinking behind open fields.

And sometimes,
In my calmest of moments,
I need only to be outside and sit there;
Doing nothing particular at all.

So I’ll sit on my front porch
While crickets sing to evening stars
And I’ll stare at the moon
Wondering what the moon sees when it stares at us.

All of this connects me back to the world around me
To God, to people, to the shifting Earth upon which we stand.
And all of this makes me realize
That solitude is an indispensable part of life
For wallflowers and social butterflies alike.

That solitude isn’t selfish
But creates room enough to embrace resonate beauty.
It disrupts the rush, the driving back and forth, the cacophony of sirens blaring through city streets.
It forces me to address the thoughts that keep resurfacing my mind
When it would be easier to keep ignoring them.

It lets me find myself under willow trees
Beside gurgling streams
That sound like the warm water
That will fill up my bathtub tonight.

It helps me find my center
Whether basking in sunshine
Or crunching in leaves,
Whistling along with the birds.

So may it be.

May we find solitude
That fills our souls
So that we are alone, but never really alone.

May we be filled with wonder
That prevents us from ever daring to think we can fully understand
This world, this beauty, the footprints and fingerprints of another.

May the birds’ song serenade you
Open paths guide you
God’s smile shine upon you
And give you peace.

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How do you find solitude? What do you, not do? Where do you go? Where don’t you go? How often do you experience solitude in your life?

Look at the Birds.

I went to bed Sunday night knowing I made a memory I won’t forget for a long time.

It was an unseasonably warm November day- the kind of day that begs you to stop everything and make enjoying the moments before you your most important priority. To stop tinkering around with to-do lists and errands, leaving this beauty unnoticed; but rather, to let your eyes become sponges, absorbing beauty, light and Sabbath.

So I drove up Route 1 to meet a dear friend at a Northern Baltimore State Park to study for the GREs in the late autumn fields. I parked my car as the afternoon sun began to cascade into its hues of dusk; its finest colors coming alive. I walked around the parking lot, noticing families in matching outfits huddled together on the hilly field, trying to get the dog and the baby and each of the kids to smile at precisely the same moment, posing for holiday picture greeting cards that will adorn fireplaces in cozy homes all winter long.

Shortly after, my friend pulled into the parking lot. She’s a real gem, an old soul, one of those people with such a sincere, special spirit who seemed to have entered my life right when I needed a friend like that the most. Time spent with these kinds of people is treasured. You know before you even arrive that their soul will touch yours and that no matter where life takes you, this person painted a stroke of love over a piece of your heart to help you enjoy the journey.

One of her favorite places, she ushered me by the park’s wooded trails off to the left, then up a winding uphill path hugged by tall trees in the distance as grasses blew gently in the evening zephyrs. We walked, leisurely, musing on life and love and choices. We soon found our way beside some hay bales, inviting us up for a climb like a small child to a grandmother’s lap. I hopped on top of one, struck with halcyon breaths of serenity replacing the tension I bury in my eyebrows and chest with something heavenly, refreshing, whisking away the toxins of this world with the infusion of something higher, more lovely.

My friend pointed upward, toward the resplendent pink and orange sky. A band of birds migrating southbound flip-flapped their wings in unison. We stopped talking. I stopped thinking. Stopped worrying. Completely transfixed by these birds, I imagined how hard they must be working. Are they tired yet? Where will they stop to sleep tonight? How do they even know when to call it a night? Do they sing when they got bored, like the Seven Dwarfs, whistling while they worked (or flew)? Does one of them start humming as they play “name that tune” until a whole choir of them compose an acapella rendition of “Rockin’ Robin?” When do they stop for water breaks? With this many of them, where do they all go when it rains? I sat there below, watching these birds in awe of the journey they make each waning fall. No Googlemaps. No GPS. Just them, together, collectively united for their annual pilgrimage to some place warm. I wondered where they’d drop off. “So, Bob,” I imagine one saying to the other, “will it be Tampa this year, or Pensacola?” Will they gather again for New Year’s Eve in Northern Florida, or perhaps Miami, where ‘the heat is on, all night on the beach ’til the break of dawn?’ I don’t know. It’s amazing to watch something go so far, do something so significant without a stroke of human aid or handling. They were created to be able to fly miles and miles, above homes and seaports and land.

What else can I do but marvel? I’m at peace with the world, with my uncertainties about where I’m going and how I’ll get there. I’m still. I can’t stop watching. They keep coming, like scenes stitched together in a movie, entering from the right of the screen to the left side, over and over again, thousands of them, not one left behind, not one left to fly alone. Perhaps this is why Jesus encourages us to “look at the birds” (Matthew 6:26). Because whatever it is we’re trying to fix or change or figure out will all be just fine. That you’ll actually get more studying done if you stop once in a while and gain perspective on how big this world is and how much goes on, day in day out, without the touch of a human hand. And so maybe Saturday, I’ll go back to this field and we can marvel all over again at those birds. Just hope they won’t poop on my textbooks.

Photo: MO 2012

Love letters with God

Dear God,

I lay here tonight, alone, in the quiet of my room, the only light shining being that of glowing candle casting flickering shadows against my mostly undecorated walls, a peaceful ambiance bringing closure to a busy day.

I’m breathing peaceful, sleepy breaths here in this moment, and all I can think about is you, God.

How I so long to know you.

How I so long to be close to you.

This innate desire to near you.

I hear so many things of you, God, from Churches and books and radio stations, that seem so unlike what I’ve experienced of you, God, experienced with you, God, together.

It’s enough to drive me crazy. Or at least frustrate me.

But you, God, your Spirit has captured my soul.
So I offer you this. My love letter to you.

It’s not a prayer per se, although it is the cry of my heart.

I’m not going to quote any verses.

Or mention hell. Or re-pray the sinner’s prayer, although I wonder if that’s what you even had in mind when you said that you wanted us to have faith like a child.

I just want to express a raw gratitude for every single thing you’ve spoken to me, given me, helped me to enjoy, everything you’ve used to help me grow, God. It all comes from you; all of this leads me back to you. Even if I were to purposely try to not look for you in it, God, I would still find you.

Oh how I love you, God, and Jesus, who marvels me into simplicity when he urges us to learn from the wildflowers and the birds of the air. Did you do all this to dazzle us, to beckon us closer to you, our Creator, through the beauty that drips from the works of your hands? Some artists use watercolor, others use charcoal, paint, or yarn, but you, God. You swirl sunsets with your hands. You design waterfalls miles wide. You hang gaseous luminaries in the endless twilight, composing Pleiades and Orion, while we forage around with plastic ornaments on fake trees or rearrange stiff, staged portraits on crème colored walls.

We are far too easily entertained by the baubles of manufacturing while the whole outside world screams your name in iridescent hues and highlights of every magnitude and height.

I wonder, God, if the next time someone tells me I’m wrong about my view of salvation or homosexuality or any of the stuff that some Christians seem to get so vehement about… I wonder God, if I can go back to your artistry and sunburst and pluck one of your Black Eyed Susans from a field, and talk with that person in a lush meadow of cattails and clover, birds in flight. And I wonder if in that moment, all of that chatter and shaming and “righting” and “wronging” can dissipate, God, as you meet us there and offer us this cup and this bread and we delight in it, so we pass it around for all to taste this… this love, this light, this indelible connection to the one we come from.

Oh, Lord. I’ve been taught to take my faith so seriously, take the Bible so seriously, as if my entire life hangs on the thread of “correct” interpretation and pedantry. Truth is, I don’t think you’re as serious as they’ve made you out to be. I think you’re a lot more fun than that. You have a sense of humor, and that wasn’t discussed in our bible study lessons. Instead we memorized words on pages, not once being encouraged to explore the endless ways in which we can experience you outside of the pages, the text, the words.

Please keep showing me how to “unlearn” some of the things that I’ve been taught about you, the aspects that are hampering my freedom in you. Tonight, that might look like the juxtaposition of how to let go and how to hold on, and the wisdom for when to do which, as you show me what my hands should pick up and what they should put down as to have room enough to embrace such experiences when they come.

Please keep being patient with me, and thanks for letting me muse questions and for allowing me to show up to Church wet and dirty from stomping in mud puddles on those rainy days in which I’m stir crazy indoors and want nothing but to taste your rain on my tongue and feel music in my feet.

I can’t wait to see you when I wake up. Only you know the ins and outs of what’s to come, but I just thank you that I get to experience it all with my mouth and my toes and my ears and my nose and my eyes to let in more light, love, beauty, wonder…

I love you.

       •••••••••••

Dear Child of God,

When you feel a closeness trickling from your heart, up to your chinny chin chin, going up to your ears, that will be me tucking you in tonight.

I’ll see you when you wake up to the fresh dawn of a new day, a blank page that you so love to embrace in  possibility, unsullied and smooth, that is, until you’re ready to create words and lines and stories with each person you’ll meet today, footprints running all over the page in new directions. I’ll see you, and you’ll see me through the wind kissing the tree tops of the forests, a soft breeze brushing through early autumn leaves of faded green, yellow, crimson, and orange. You’ll see me through the smile of your sister, the open road before you, and oh yes, those wildflowers and birds you seem so blithely fond of.

I know you don’t understand me all the time, or other people either. And that’s ok. I don’t expect you to. I only ask that you love that much harder when you encounter voices that drive you crazy. Whatever you say about them, even if no one is listening, remember, I hear. And they are my children too. You don’t have to listen to the hyper critical voices. But do take a look inside and examine your words too. Will you bring love and hope with your words, or cynicism and criticism? Together, I hope you’ll make the time to take some bread and dip it in the cup, together, and feel free to dance, too- play the hokey pokey or the macarena and come together on the dance floor, unencumbered arms moving in and out and over to compose the letters “YMCA” above your heads. After all, you can’t argue and dance at the same time… Pretty soon the two of you, or this group and you, will be out there, on the dance floor, laughing, like old friends at a wedding reception, and all the bickering and “righting” and “wronging” will fall to the wayside as you let yourselves go fly free into the night, souls so alive and abandoned. Remember, I meant it when I said there will be dancing and merriment when you make it to the other side…

I am so proud of you when you hang on to me through faith when your world is shaking. Remember, though, that your world will shake time and time again. But I am right here where I’ve always been, as much as I’ve ever been, beside you, inside you, inside each person you meet and in all that your eyes encounter each day. I created all of it, and long to walk together through it with you, Child, even in the midst of confusion and struggles that you cannot make sense of. But I hope you trust long enough to experience the ways I grow you in these times, so that you can smile and know I’ll use even your saltiest tears as the gateway for goodness, sweet, genuine goodness. And I will watch you, I mean, take a step back as to really take you in, all of you, both your body and your soul, as you soar, as you dance, as you hop, skip, jump, and as you sprint ahead, never once looking back over your shoulder, into the life I have for you.

I love you; I love all of you- your questions, reflections, and even your muddy feet.