The Year That Started With a Dream Wall: 2014 in Review

MO 2014

MO 2014

It started with friends coming over for a post-New Year’s party featuring a dream wall that everybody signed with goals, hopes, and dreams for 2014 and beyond. We each happily began our year, friends coming back throughout the months that ensued to check off items, scratching out a few that didn’t stir our hearts anymore, and adding new ones along the way, because we are ever changing, and true dreams recognize the wind and waves to move with you, not against you.
Right now, I can only tell you my journey of those winds and waves this year.
It went a little something like this:

I found my people.
Together we biked down city streets at night cheering at the top of our lungs so free. We climbed trees, played ukuleles in each other’s backyards, square danced, and laid under stars together. We told stories, shared struggles, asked bigger questions, stepping away from black and white into grey, yellow, neon green, and those hues Crayola has yet to codify. 

I celebrated firsts.
My first jellyfish sting.
My first skinnydipping on Playa Flamenco, a beach on the island of Culebra. And it was everything I thought it would be until a second jellyfish stung me and I ran out of the late night water screaming, forgetting to cover my parts.

MO 2014

MO 2014

I fell in love.
Not in the traditional romantic sense.
But with the Earth, animals, and humanity.
I fell in love with chickens, experiencing the joy of chicken farming and that tingly happy feeling you get when you cuddle a chicken.
I fell in love with the night sounds and the warm breeze that wafts into your tent as you fall asleep with the window unzipped.
I fell in love with a city that grew me up into maturity. 
Then I moved cities, far away enough to seize an irresistible new opportunity for growth, but close enough to come back and sit on its docks in total silence feeling like I just had the best conversation in the world.
I settled into a new house with roommates from India and Canada.
I left a job and began a new one.
I changed perspectives.

I judged certain people and realized the ways in which I am every bit as much of a contributor to the problem as part of the solution.

I defended myself silly until I learned to stop pining for my opinion to receive external validation.

I went pescatarian, and at the end of this year, watched a man reel in a fish that bled profusely as he removed the hook, making full-on vegetarian one of my 2015 goals.

I ditched make up. For good. And don’t feel guilty about the times I whip out tinted sunscreen under my eyes after late night writing binges.

There were tough calls, hard breaks
An ended relationship like a fissure with jagged edges
That ended more beautifully than I could have ever imagined.

There was music.
Music that got me through death.
Music that got me to and through my third half ironman.

I developed confidence. Developed it by forcing myself to tell others about my book idea-turned-into-action. And I kept telling others even after I received discouraging feedback in an encounter that left me so embarrassed, I ran out of a conference room and cried in the bathroom. Then I gave myself a pep talk, walked out the bathroom door, and the next day, told triple the amount of people I’ve ever told in a single day.

I developed it by openly disagreeing with others, stating my opinion, and making my voice heard. There was that work meeting where a man interrupted me and I said flatly, “I wasn’t done speaking yet,” without even a second thought about holding back.

I felt.
Felt afraid of riding my bike for the first time as I rode in an ambulance to the ER with a friend who got hit on a training ride. I felt afraid after getting hit by a car on my morning commute, grateful for how minor it was. I felt afraid of training rides with a new team after there were three weeks in a row of accidents. I felt resilience as I rode and trained anyway. I felt freed after I reached out to female cycling friends once I realized just how afraid I became, and was met with encouragement and understanding. I felt joy as I had more and more God-its-good-to-be-alive mornings on my bike, my freedom machine, my Big Blue. The kind of mornings that make you stand up on both pedals and say, “Weeeeeee,” biking fears replaced by biking bliss.

I gave myself the permission I never needed.
Permission to not have kids. Permission to reduce my triathlon training in exchange for pursuing creative endeavors. Permission to not have to feel productive all the time, instead spending an hour capturing the sunset through my camera lens from a third story window.

I wrestled. With seemingly everything.
Marriage. God. Myself. Gender. Anything with one too many question marks. Privilege. Food justice. Bike parts. The back door lock. Academia. The front door lock. The US political party system. Women- only spaces. Mouse traps. Death. The future. The past. And the length of this paragraph.

I learned.
Learned from friends who live in Rwanda what it was like to grow up during the genocide. And then, I learned about the peace and reconciliation process of Gacaca, moved as my friend told me, “People think Rwanda’s story is about genocide. But what they don’t know is ours is a story of forgiveness.”
I learned that perhaps if we aren’t experiencing joy in our lives, it’s because we’re not creating it. And with that, I stopped at a waterfall that I used to zoom past every day on my way to work. Stopped to take pictures. Stopped to close my eyes so that I could solely focus on my sense of hearing- hearing that thundering waterfall sound with a few birds chirping in the background. And I would make sure to do this again when it snowed and again when it thawed until the only thing that stopped this newly adopted morning routine was moving away.

MO 2014

MO 2014

I spent money.
On a new racing bike, a Specialized Alias, feeling only one twinge of guilt over the cost before smashing it to the grindstone, remembering that privilege guilt doesn’t actually create systemic change, and that part of my triathlon passion is not just the joy of the sport, but in challenging gender norms.
I spent it on airfare to Puerto Rico, where I timbered trees with a WOOFer from Czech Republic who’d sing the words of Ke$ha everytime the tree fell: “It’s going down, I’m yelling timber…”

I interviewed people. Interviewed women in their 80s, 90s (including my 93 year old grandmother) and even 100s, on their lives, asking hard questions, receiving even harder answers. I interviewed men regarding gender dynamics, and walked away with full reality of male privilege but completely excited about allyship and creating spaces for women and men to talk about the messages we face daily but often don’t bring up.

I let go.
Let go enough to be silly and join strangers-turned-friends in giving out free hugs at the Farmers Market.
Let go enough to dance on a street corner to “Jump on it” with a woman who was homeless.
Let go of the cradle-to-grave life itinerary I used to demand and took on a one year global health fellowship. I have no idea what I’ll do when it’s over in 7 months. But never the matter. I’ve let go. And choose to believe it will all work out.

I laughed.
Laughed as friends and I sledded, saucer-ed and snowtubed down a staircase-turned-snow ramp during the polar vortex, bombogenesis, snowmageddon that was winter 2014.
Laughed as my dad told me stories about his life “BC” (before children)
Laughed at myself as I mispronounced bike parts and for the first time, it didn’t sting; the need to prove myself as a competent women replaced by need for humor and grace.

I stopped.
Stopped going to Church.
At least the one that meets on Sunday mornings in pews, instead experiencing the kind of Church that happens when you’re about to go into your house but something catches you outside, urging you to sit on the porch ledge and ponder the Pleiades until yougaze becomes a wordless prayer as you experience the intimacy of God like one thousand choirs filled with sacred song.  
I stopped filling journals with worries and instead, created “memories I don’t want to forget” pages, trying to capture experiences that leave my mind all too quickly.

And as quickly as it started, so quickly it’s ending.
Benjamin Franklin, looking at a painting of a sun that artists found difficult to decipher as a rising or setting sun, once said, “But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is indeed a rising and not a setting sun.” The coda to this year may end with 11:59:59 on the clock, a few dim stars in the winter air, about to be blasted with fireworks. But in my heart is tomorrow’s sunrise, an invitation to not just a new day, but a new year. I can already peer into its apertures, knowing 2015 will bring another move, some wanderlust in Africa, my 10 year high school reunion, and lots of humble embraces with old and new friends. The dot-dot-dot ellipses of these 365 days ahead remain a mystery, but we’re about to fill pages with color, question marks and exclamation points.
Two thousand fifteen.
Let’s write the next first sentence in our stories that are ever changing, ever evolving,
forever living onward into a beautiful infinity.

MO 2014

MO 2014

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

A Long December (And There’s Reason to Believe.)

It’s been a shitty day, a shitty week… Hell, it’s been a shitty year,” a friend shared with me recently. “I’m just ready for a new year, a fresh start,” a patient solemnly disclosed to me. Isn’t it easy to … Continue reading

12 Mantras for 2012

12 Mantras for 2012

 1) Say the serenity prayer every day. And mean it.

2) Quality, not quantity…In all areas of life, be it relationships or workouts.

3) Learn about and participate in microfinance.

4) “Remove the muzzle.” Kick the voices out of my head that don’t belong- the voices that told me what to believe, who or what is “right” or “wrong,” how I should vote (ha!), what my “gender role” is, what my marriage, children, and career should all look like; all of the voices that told me the words, language, and syntax I should use to express my faith but never encouraged me to speak or think for myself, what God might actually be trying to teach me. Expunge all of the voices that declared things in life within the context of black and white and left no room for grey (or red, or yellow, or robin’s egg blue, for that matter); that demand we must have an answer for every question, rather than learning to love the questions themselves. To all of those voices, I bid you adieu. You’ve had occupancy in mind for far too long and now it’s time for redemptive freedom and restoration. May God bless you on your journey with peace and grace. To God’s voice, to whom I am a fallen, loved image bearer, to your sweet whispers or your fervent stand-up-to-action roar, I welcome you in with urgency and immediacy and gratitude.

5) Be present in every moment, no matter how exciting/dull/menial/uncommon/ordinary this moment is.

6) Go to at least one peaceful protest/rally.

7) Accept that living with your heart on your sleeve will get you hurt, but it’s the only way to truly live.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable.
Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken.
            If you want to make sure of keeping it intact,
you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.
     Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries;
avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.
           But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless- it will change.
 It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” –C.S. Lewis

8) Play with my hair less. Maybe then I can stop having a need to run out to Target for dry shampoo.

9) Sing. Often. Don’t worry about what other people think of your voice. We all have one, even the “voiceless;” it’s just that some voices aren’t heard. Make your life sing to change that. Give way to songs of freedom completely incapable of being taken away from you. Sing it out. Sing loud. Sing to the tapestry of life and energy God has blessed you with.

10) Blow on wishies every chance I get.

 11) See myself as an equal in all relationships.

12) Embrace turning 25. Do not fear the full spectrum of human life that lie ahead of you, with all of its unknowns. I haven’t been promised a cradle-to-the-grave itinerary, so I will stop asking for one. Instead I’ll remember what I have been promised: a future and a hope. Unclench your fists. Unlock your knees. Open wide your heart, your ears, your eyes, your jaw, and your hands…Because the rest is all uncharted…

I’m done here.

Let’s live.

Auld Lang Syne

New Years Day.

                        Should old acquaintance be forgot,
                        and never brought to mind?
                   Should old acquaintance be forgot,
                              and old lang syne?

 I found myself humming along to the familiar New Year’s tune of Auld Lang Syne. It dawned on me that I had absolutely no idea what I was singing, but I did know that when singing this tune, hope and pace warm my heart and I like it. It turns out to be an old Scottish poem written by Robert Burns in 1788. “Auld Lang Syne” translates to something along the lines of “days gone by,” or “for auld lang syne” = “for the sake of old times.”

The song became popularized at New Years in the late 1920s and is sung in variations throughout the world for many beginning and ending occasions, such as graduations, weddings and funerals.

Burns begins by asking, is it right, is it ok, that old times be forgotten?

Quite honestly, I don’t think it’s possible to forget certain old times. I’ll never forget my first day of kindergarten (and playing with a snoopy puzzle on the rug), graduating high school (and feeling like the world was suddenly about to get a whole lot bigger); most people don’t forget their first kiss (I won’t tell you about mine). I’ll never forget jumping off a Baltimore County bridge on graduation night in my cap and gown with college friends as our bodies splashed into the cold early summer water. I’ll never forget my Dad’s loving embrace after my first car wreck, where my fear of disappointing him was washed away completely as he hugged me in close and wiped my tears. I will never forget the moments where I can’t quite capture in words, but undoubtedly know in my core that I have tasted heaven on Earth, in the form of children singing “Jesus Loves Me” in an orphanage in Africa. I won’t forget the time my grandmother turned 90 and being surrounded by cousins, aunts and uncles from all over the U.S. and her contagious joy, saying, “you don’t even get credit around [our retirement community] until you turn 90.” And I’m quite sure I won’t forget New Years Day 2012, when I walked out of my front door to be greeted by a double rainbow, end to end, after an afternoon rain shower passed. A rainbow is beautiful anywhere, but it was even more beautiful to me in that moment, in the inner city, on the first day of a New Year, each section of rainbow shouting, “ROY-G-BIV.”

Sometimes, in my looking back on old memories on New Year’s day, with its perfect mix of looking back and looking ahead, I’m reminded of Ferris Beuller’s wise words, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Sounds so cliché, but when we realize life’s fragility and how years and years go by, we must treasure the memories, and then make many, many more, because life doesn’t stop when the picture goes in the frame, but rather, needs to constantly be explored, trampled upon, danced upon, cart-wheeled upon, and “whooped up!” because the story is being written and I don’t want to read dull pages, scratching my head, wondering, “gee, where was I?”

∙∙∙∙∙∙∙

There is something persistently optimistic, daring, to me about beginning a new year. It truly feels like a gift, a gift to be alive another year, a gift to have had a whole year of life with which to learn, to grow, to stretch, to love, to be loved, to cry, to comfort another, to be comforted, to boldly and collectively face the wide spectrum of the human experience and to embrace it, rather than run from it.

 So today, may you drink a cup of kindness, and pour several teacups more, until they overflow, and share them with everyone you meet. May you hold someone closely and refer to them as “my dear,” and feel the softness of skin in your embrace or breathe in the scent of their body. May you know the hand of a friend is never far away. May your toasts and cheers and clinks of glasses bind up past regret or bittersweet let goings, and tie you closer to new unforgettables: of friends, of love, of laughter, of glimpses of Heaven on Earth and the face of your Maker in the most unexpected of places.
 Happy New Year.

Here’s to life.