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.

IMG_1442

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?

Advertisements

The Winter it Didn’t [Really] Snow

It feels like just yesterday that it was late September and my roommate and I were praying for a mild winter. She’s from Louisiana and a total hippie (yet another one of the reasons why I love her so much) and I, well, I just like the feel of glowing sunshine on my face and hearing birds sing and feeling a warm evening breeze brush against my exposed arm. So when the local news station forecasted an inch of snow in October (before Halloween!!!), I braced myself for what could be a looong winter. I imagined myself learning how to dig my car out of snow in this new neighborhood I moved to back in July and envisioned checking my work’s website in hopeful anticipation of a snow day (it had to take nearly seven or eight inches of snow to get one-and only one- last winter).

As the last of the leaves dropped their leaves, and evening darkness pulled closer and closer, my roommate and I promised that we’d make the most of winter. In fact, some days I’d announce rather enthusiastically to my friends, “Yeah, but this year’s going to be different!!! I’m going to embrace winter and make the most out of it!” I’d say this through a smile and shivering teeth, secretly craving hot chocolate. My friends probably thought I was weird and that winter is inevitable and wondered why I was making such a big deal out of it.

Thanksgiving and Christmas went by surprisingly fast (although I’m beginning to feel as though everything is these days) and in came January. I smiled at the fireworks lighting up the Baltimore Harbor that New Year’s Eve and let my eyes linger to watch a firework “boom,” then dissipate its final ounce of color and energy, as it slowly disappeared into a cloud of smoke. I had some things of 2011 that I was ready to leave behind. As the final firework went off, I let out a small sigh and a deep breath, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. This is going to be a great year, I felt deep in my core. I made a list of “12 Mantras for 2012” (aka 12 New Year’s goals) and taped them to my mirror.
                                                                                               —
It always helps me to have something to look forward to. This winter, I had the pleasure of looking forward to 10 warm, inspiring days in sunny Cambodia with Women Who Stand*. Sure enough, after attending my final workout class of my January one month cheap membership to the gym (thanks, Groupon!), it was time to head off. It felt strange packing knee length skirts and short sleeve shirts in late January, but boy was I glad to be doing so! The trip was amazing (you can read about it here) and I remember one of the ladies (pretty much all of them) checked in with home (sorry Mom and Dad, and Brian too- I wanted to be completely “unplugged” and wanted to avoid technology for 10 days). Her family member reported that daffodils were starting to come up. In February!! I thought, and chuckled as I thought back to my hopes of a mild winter.

February came, leaping into March (cheesy pun intended). Each day, while waiting for the shuttle to take me home work from, I’d observe the buds of the Magnolia tree where the bus stop is. I wanted to freak out when I started to see shoots around the third week of February, but realized most people don’t analyze trees like I do. So I simply smiled and said a mental, “Thank you, God!” It’s now March 9th and the Magnolia tree is in full bloom. I literally cannot believe it. We would usually have to wait until at least late March to see a few blooms; April to get the whole thing in bloom, scenting the air with intoxicating thoughts of flowers and daylight and being able to hang out on a swingset in my fair trade dress.

And so the other day, my roommate and I laughed about our prayer. Though she was secretly hoping for at least one snow day off from work (I don’t blame her), we were both shocked by how that little half-joking prayer turned out. Don’t worry, I’m not advocating that you simply just need to say a prayer about the weather and it will turn out however you want it. But anyway, as I flipped my calendar to March, I said to her, “We made it! I mean, we made it through winter!” (Both of seriously do get that “seasonal affectiveness disorder” thing during wintertime). It felt like an achievement.

I’m not sure if I learned every lesson I was supposed to learn during this winter (hey, there’s still 3 weeks in which God can throw me a curveball) but I certainly learned quite a few. I learned that I can still go on evening runs, even though it’s dark and cold (thank you Charm City Thursday running group!). I laugh as I think about the time when 82 cop cars strolled through my street and I went from literally trembling in fear to thanking the heavens above when I heard Santa Claus shout, “MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!” I remember going to a Christmas party at this nice lady across the street’s house and feeling so grateful for people who are patient and kind and give you their phone number as soon as you move into the block, and invite you over for Christmas parties. I developed a heart for empowering women globally while in Cambodia and who knows where that will take me; if for now just a song that tugs on my heart and I feel as though I’m just brushing the surface of the lyrics.

But I guess the biggest thing I learned is that you can’t anticipate everything, for better or worse. You think you’re going to be calling your boss telling her that your car is stuck in ice and, whoops!, I forgot to buy salt and it’s going to take me an hour to dig my car out because I was too lazy to set my alarm to wake up those extra 30 minutes earlier. You think the next three months are going to draaaaag. You think, you think, you think. But what actually happened? I ran in shorts on January 7th, smiled at crocuses shooting up from my friend’s front yard in late February and here I am in March smiling about blossomed Magnolia trees and daffodils.

Just when you think you know how a season, whether literal or spiritual will turn out, something else happens. Sometimes God truly does just have other plans and intentions for us. I don’t know what they are. I don’t know what they are for you; I don’t know what they are for me. But as our next season ushers in literally (and perhaps spiritually), it’s with a humble spirit of openness that I long to maintain. To be open to change. For God to dare me to see Him do something differently, and then shock me with something totally wild and unexpected. And so I don’t know what this winter was like for you. And maybe you’re reading this from Chicago or Boston or somewhere that saw tons of snow and you’re sick of it (sorry, I really do feel bad). But I do know this- with God, we can come to expect the unexpected and to learn, grow, and ultimately be satisfied in Him in the process.

Happy [almost] Spring,

Love,

Didn’t [really] Snow Winter.

*check out these amazing group of ladies: http://womenwhostandbaltimore.wordpress.com/

**https://melissaotterbein.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/cambodia-2012-learning-the-divine-connection-of-global-sisterhood/

The one time it did snow this winter, I went on a hike with Brittany Kaiser and got us lost on one of the trails for an hour. It was really cold. And wet.

On Unspoken Goodbyes and New Hellos

I often find myself thinking about this twenty something stage of life and how, from a billion different angles, people, places, and things are changing rapidly, like the wind, and I feel like a little wishie dandelion in a big field wondering why I’m no longer yellow, hoping I don’t get mistaken for a weed, and also hoping my seeds won’t blow away all at once. But I am not a dandelion; I am a human being, capable of eating, sleeping, and breathing and reflecting on what’s going on inside these skin and bones.

Ready to journal some of these feelings, I climbed into bed one night recently for a little quiet time. And, as I do like so many nights, I quickly checked facebook and noticed an old friend’s status change from “in a relationship” to “engaged.” I laughed, thinking back on pages in prayer journals from a few years ago, acutely aware now of the answer to that prayer. And that’s when a twinge of melancholy flooded in. I realized that now that this friend was getting married, reality was I would never see him and his family again, and we never got to say “goodbye.”

In that moment, I saw the faces of other friends, mostly from college, swirl around in my mind. Friends I no longer see or spend time with, pining to experience that amity all over again in the present. I’m sure you have those people in your life. Those people who are simply unforgettable, perhaps because of the way imago dei emanates from their soul, overflowing with rivulets of life, life, life, incandescent and uninhibited life.

I thought about the last time I spent with each of these life-giving people and what I would have said or done differently had I known we were going to lose touch and this would be the last time we would see each other face to face.

These changes of lost relationships stung, a hurt not easily pacified, and for the first time, I allowed myself in that moment to grieve their end.

I didn’t know that my twenties would have many times of unspoken goodbyes, unintentional “see ya laters,” only the “laters” never came.

I didn’t know just how absolutely painful it can be to let go of people who have influenced your life in some way, shape or form, knowing that they left an everlasting impression, having influenced your journey into who you are today.

I didn’t know just how often some people will just slowly fade out, like a setting sun sinking beneath the covers of the horizon. You can watch that sun retract behind the silhouette of the city, moving almost imperceptibly, and then sure enough that ruby red ball of fire is visible no more, leaving you with the beckoning of night, the closing of a day, the sunset just a memory stored away in the cells of your brain. And much like those sunsets, those memories with old friends slowly dissipate; your only connection left to such people being their status updates on Facebook or their phone number that you used to text, now dormant in your cell phone contacts list.

I’m not really looking for people to leave my life. Baz Luhrmann* once said, “Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few, you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.”

Feeling imbued to move beyond grief, I promised myself that from that night on forward, I would start treasuring and hugging those precious few. And to the rest, I would tell them how much I appreciate their influence in my life, or share with them something they taught me, or say thank you for something they did. Though you may end up being friends forever, you also can’t guarantee that you too won’t have an unspoken goodbye and the people around you now may one day in the future, however near or far away that may be, a page you click on Facebook and smile at from a distance.

Looking back on the past and ahead to the future, we’re left with a choice for today. May we speak words of gratitude with the people right around us. To lift someone up. To say thank you. To say something you’ve always wanted to tell someone, but were too shy or scared to do so. This is the time. This is it. There are no second chances. This is the present. This is all we ever have. So may you make the most of it. May you risk feeling awkward or that the other person may think you’re emotional, because you just might touch their life, like they touched yours. May you love well. May you let go of whatever it is that needs to be let go of with peace and courage, a departing coda to a particular journey of seasons and reasons. May we bind up past regret and celebrate brave, unfettered surrenders as we are tied 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. May we accept life’s fragility and the passing of time, treasuring past memories, and then, in turn, may we make many, many more, because life doesn’t stop when the picture is hung 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 the same jejune pages, scratching my head, wondering, “gee, where was I all of those years?”

Surely we can learn to make peace with change.
We can trade in rote conversation for beatific communion.
We can be grateful for every single person God has brought into our lives. Even if you no longer talk anymore, you can deep down appreciate how they have shaped some part of who are.
We can learn to say the words we’ve always wanted to say, ask the questions we’ve always wanted to ask, because we haven’t been offered unlimited chances and opportunities.

We can greet the cashier behind the counter by name, converse with the couple who just moved in, new to town, and we can actually listen to someone’s response when we ask, “how are you?” Much like Jesus with the woman at the well, we can take these seemingly ordinary tasks and interactions and recycle them for something better, something beautiful, something more compelling then the status quo.
And together, we can celebrate, that the God who brought such treasured people into our lives in the past can surely bring new community and deep relationships into our lives today.

So with unspoken goodbyes must also come new hellos. Today may you say, “hello” to the stranger who sits next to you on your morning commute and try to learn just one thing about them. May you say “hello” to new opportunities, to new friends, faces, fellow wanderers and travelers, to new risks, to new dreams, to something undiscovered, to something on your bucket list, to the deep end, to dares, to rolling down hills barefoot and unafraid…

Yes, get those hands waving hello, palms wide open, prepare those handshakes, click “register” for that race you’ve always wanted to do, get your camera out and take insanely beautiful pictures and as you do, may you smile with the morning dawn, grateful to be alive in no matter what season of life in which you find yourself.

*If you’ve never heard Baz Luhrmann’s “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen,” I highly recommend it. I listen to it every couple months for wisdom and inspiration.

Learning to Love the Questions Themselves

3.21.11

It’s my most favorite time of the year, where just walking by a flower causes me to smile. My favorite tree is in bloom and each day, I stop my running mind to observe new budding and flowering of each magnolia blossom. And it’s a reminder to me that God is not finished; that He is on the move, and what I once saw in January was not the final picture nor final fate for these beloved trees, beloved blades of grass, beloved chirping birds… And so it is with people; so it is with me… That I am ever-growing, ever being molded and shaped, ever-taught. And yet still my soul thirsts and hungers deeply, a seeking and asking that never seems to stop. When I think I’ve figured out one thing, there’s always something new to ponder, some new question to ask…

And in this season of life, I am asking more questions than ever before with some kind of shameless audacity and curiousity about the world around me; not a demanding, indignant, deserving sense of question-asking, but rather one of an explorer, a participator. What does it mean to be fully alive each day? What does it mean to be a human, bound to Earth by gravity, seeing all this messiness around me, but receiving my guidance, direction, purpose, and hope from above, beyond this world? What good does it do to be critical of other people; afterall, we’re all brothers and sisters anyway? If Jesus prayed for ‘Your will be done on Earth as in Heaven’, shouldn’t we be actively trying to shape the world around us into something more beautiful, more complete, more whole?

And so I’m learning to not be afraid of questions as they come, but rather, I’m learning to love the questions themselves. That they point to something bigger than me, something beyond me. That my little brain cannot fathom, nor know, nor fully comprehend the majesty of life and Creation… That yes, there are absolute truths in life. But that God is not limited… that his/her Kingdom is more diverse, more whole, more all-encompassing that I can ever, ever imagine. And I feel convicted that my arms want to refuse to unembrace anyone.

So may we  s e e k . And may these questions that cross our minds draw us into holy wonder and awe, straight into the arms of our Creator.

Like Birds On Trees

4/5/10
At my favorite park, reflecting:

I look out there into that creek, water gracefully sliding its way down stream around rocks, and I look up into that g i a n t blue sky, the sweet fragrance of magnolia captured in the warm breeze brushing up against my face. All I can think about is how what I see in the world doesn’t seem to equate to what I feel like Jesus offers us. I think about what my faith community taught me during college about my gender and feel hurt, small, and my heart aches because I don’t think this is what Jesus meant when he said that he came to give us life to the full. I think about what they and so many others have said about homosexuality and how most of them have never bothered to sit beside still waters with someone of a differing sexual orientation.

I skip some rocks and ponder the sacrificial love of Jesus who touched those who were rejected by society (Matt. 8) and never condemned anyone (John 8).

And I think about all the beauty in the world and how much peace we could share if we could stop and slow down more and marvel and learn from the beauty around us. Trees offering birds a place to rest and make a home. Ducks in the pond just coasting along the small water ripples, no hurry, no worry, just your best duck friends and you cruising along the cool early spring water. Birds exhaling beautiful harmonious songs of gratitude and joy, as if to delight the tree, to bring out the green on its leaves or to encourage the growth of blooming buds daring to come out and experience the world, knowing there would be winds that might shake off its petals and that winter is inevitable and one day in the future it will die, signaling the finality of life and death, but d a r i n g  u s  t o LIVE BRIGHTLY AND BEAUTIFULLY WHILE WE ARE STILL YET ALIVE.

And look at the flowers. You don’t see them arguing over who’s pink and who’s purple and why it’s wrong to be a perennial instead of an annual. Just harmony and brightness and joy. Maybe the flowers know more than we humans do when it comes to Jesus’ goals of being of “one heart and one mind, so that we’ll be unified and together” (John 17).

So I’m sitting here, stretching at the entrance of my favorite park, post-run sweat slowly drying to my forehead and cheekbones. And God is bringing me back to s i m p l i c i t y . That really, S/He doesn’t want our arguing. That S/He is so simple, yet its the simplicity of God that makes Him/Her/the Spirit seem mysterious. That one day, we will all hold hands and D A N C E in heaven, like birds on trees, being moved by the warm magnolia breeze, like purple annuals and pink perennials growing in the same garden of love.

Copyright MO 2012