Busy People, Thank You

Be careful! Watching this video may give you an ear worm you may never ever forgive me for. I’ve had it stuck in my head for 23 years — ever since my kids were toddlers and watched Richard Scarry’s Best Busiest People Video over and over. Every now and then the theme song resurfaces and I can’t stop singing it.  Today was one of those days.

When people normally say they are “busy” it has a negative connotation. It is often another word for stressed or unavailable. But not to author Richard Scarry.  No. Busy Town is filled with lots of busy people. And they are all soooooo happy to be working. They all play their part in making life work for each other….and they do it with a smile. Today, I was in Busy Town, thanks a lot to my scooter (a.k.a. the Blackberry Blast).  There is something special about riding a scooter…something different from riding a bicycle. You notice different things. Busy things.  You really sit up and take notice of the rest of the working world.

Normally, commuting in the Cranberry Crush I am in my own zone, listening to my self-constructed playlist for my self-constructed life.  But on my scooter I become part of the working landscape. I talked to the construction workers and thanked them for paving the road. It was so smooth to ride on. Thanks, busy people.  I chatted with the gas station lady, who gave me a free cup of ice. Thanks, busy people. I talked to the security guard at the gate for my office as he stuck his head out to say hello. Thanks, busy people. I conversed with another motorcyclist at a stoplight on his way to work. And a person in a car smiled and gave me a big wave to let me go first at an intersection. I felt like I was in Busy Town. Suddenly, people weren’t just shadows of themselves behind a piece of glass, they were Richard Scarry’s busy people.

When I arrived at the camp I’m volunteering at this week, there were hoards of more smiling busy people. Busy snack people. Busy game people. Busy music people. Busy, busy people. And not in the Stepford Wives kind of way….in the Richard Scarry way. Sweet. Kind. Patient. Real.

Today, I’m glad to work in Busy Town. Not a bad place to be.

Lemonade with Friends

I had the pleasure of having lunch with an old friend.  What to do with all our lemons?  Cheers! Just feeling glad I can share lemons with you.

Lemonade

by Trish Cozart

When life gives you lemons
They say
Make lemonade
Lemonade?
I don’t even like lemonade
There isn’t an aid
That can turn lemons into something
Not lemony
Watered down
Sugared-up
Sourness

Life gave him lemons
He threw them
Hard
Hard lemonade

Life gave her lemons
She pretended
Lemons were good
They weren’t

Life gave sugar water
To some
Or so it seems

Be glad you have lemons
Lemons are a gift
Lemons are your fault
Lemons are not that bad
Just add sugar and water
 

But…I don’t even like lemonade.

 

 

 

Bottles and Hugs — Onward Toward the Midline

It is my 49th birthday and the beginning of my 50th year on this Earth. Twelve months. 365 days. 52 weeks. 8760 hours until I cross the midline. The big countdown has begun.

I was sitting on my back porch with fireworks going off all around me last night. America was celebrating independence. I was wondering what exactly I was celebrating.  Life, I suppose. Another year of it.

I started wondering if I could recall every year of my life and summarize in one thought what was meaningful or significant to me that year. It was harder to do than it seemed. Try it. Some years are just so life-changing they overshadow all the others. For me those years were 1979, 1988, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2005, 2010, and 2013. The years in between were really just surviving or enjoying the repercussions of the events from the “significant” years. I’m hoping 2017 makes the list. I don’t really want another survival year. When next year comes and I actually do cross the symbolic midline, I want to be able to say, “Wow! 2017 changed my life.”

A portion of that change is in my control, but still, being master of your own destiny is a lie.  The very laws of nature are always against us as we try desperately to organize a disorganized system. Think about it. The very first thing we do when we enter this world is cry. The rest of the time we try to pacify ourselves with a bottle or a hug —stuff that makes us happy or love from others.  And because we live in community with others, we also have the responsibility of being a provider of bottles and hugs.

So, what to do with the next 365 days?

Love more. Live more. Give more.

More bottles and hugs FOR me, and most importantly, FROM me. That just may be how this year will make the list.

Stubborn Beauty

Beautiful even in death, this gnarly tree reached out its arms as a greeting, or possibly a warning, on my way to Lincoln Lake near Mt. Evans.

I’m always delighted and often surprised by the surroundings on hikes in my native Rocky Mountains. It is a rare day when a rushing rill or a sneaky squirrel doesn’t touch my heart and lighten my spirit. Today, it was death that amazed me. The death of trees burned in a fire. A burn area with remarkable trees—trees that refused to lay down their lives. Rather than pathetic scorched snags or trunks littering the ground, what remained were beautiful brown cores with scraggly branches forever reaching out —like the arms of lovers on John Keats’ Grecian urn.

“With forest branches and the trodden weed;
         Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
         When old age shall this generation waste,
                Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
         “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
–from John Keats, Ode to a Grecian Urn

Living trees give mankind shelter, food, and medicine, and thus, have long provided us with symbolic and metaphorical fodder for life. Yet not in life, but in death, did these trees leave me a poetic freeze-frame.  The stubborn branches whispered as I walked by: Beauty is truth, truth beauty, –that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Cast in the shadow of a cloud, you can see how trees like these could conjure up the likeness of monsters or mystical beings. It is easy to see where Tolkien came up with Ents–tree creatures in Lord of the Rings.

48-Hour South Dakota Soul Safari

The sunrise greets the guardians of our campground, the American Bison.

It never ceases to amaze me what is possible to see and feel in less than 48 hours. Leaving Denver at 6:45 AM and returning the next evening at  6:00 PM, I managed to feel like I’d been far, far away on a soul safari. Wide open spaces and crepuscular moments will do that for you.

In an attempt to not let this summer slip away like last summer, I packed up the Cranberry Crush with her new tent and headed to South Dakota, a place I visited countless times as a child, but had never truly appreciated as an adult.

My experience blew me away. Not only did I see more than 100 pronghorn antelope (one with its two babies dancing merrily around it), I also saw wild turkeys, prairie dogs, bison, bighorn sheep, and  mountain goats. And I was sung to sleep by the howls of coyotes and the yips of their pups trying to imitate mom and dad. I’ve seen all of these animals before, but not quite like this — and not together. The wide open prairies in a National Park are magical. No fences. No houses. Just animals (and lots of them) roaming about as they wish.

Probably the most moving of all was the peaceful coexistence of camper and bison. The bison seemed to guard the campground. They owned it. And we all kept our respectable distance when they wandered through. Twice on my early morning mountain bike ride, I had to stop and wait for a bison to move before I could continue or wait for a car to come by so I could ride next to it for protection. When 2,000 pounds of bison are between you and your destination, you find another way.

Another spectacular crepuscular moment–sunset at the Sage Creek campground.

I was the first to leave the campground (on my mountain bike) and after carefully dodging bison and a swirling tornado of swallows, I was greeted by wild turkeys at this overlook in the Badlands.

I was moved by the beauty of the land and its creatures. But as I  hiked the popular Notch Trail in Badlands National Park, I was surprised at my emotional reaction as I saw a group of people coming toward us on the trail. They had just come up the steep ladder section and were traversing the narrow trail with a drop off to one side.

Boy Scouts. I knew it immediately.

My husband and I didn’t even need to discuss it. We’d both been around Boy Scouts for so long we can spot a troop a mile away. The boys at the front of the group were skipping over the rocks with ease and getting their buddies to take funny pictures. But as I kept going I witnessed something even more wonderful. The leaders, all three, were at the back of the group helping out one boy who was clearly scared of heights. With gentle encouragement they gave him pointers and blocked his “look down.” I was surprised by my reaction. As soon as I passed the four of them, I couldn’t breath. My heart was in my throat and I felt tears start to well up. My desire to work with youth has always been about this very moment. When I see, in action, adults walking alongside youth during their trials, failures, and successes— it hits me hard and it fires my passion for doing what I do. I was so glad to witness a bit of human nature as beautiful as the spires of rock around us.

My husband looks back at the ladder we climbed to get to the Notch Trail overlook.

An overlook of millions of years of geologic history is always a good way to end the day.

And my trip would not have been complete without a visit to Mt. Rushmore and to Rapid City, birthplace of my mom, and home to my great grandparents.  In a town full of summer tourists, I found my way out to sacred places that mattered most to me and brought them all home, tucked inside as precious memories.

Chapel of the Hills, an exact reproduction of the famous Borgund Stavkirke of Laerdal, Norway, is just a bike ride away down Rapid City, South Dakota’s main city pedestrian path. The meditation trail hidden behind the chapel offers a quite respite.

The last of the original historic terraces, looking out to Mt. Rushmore. Most of the original visitor infrastructure, including the visitor’s center and platform designed by my great grandfather, have been torn out and replaced. You can still see it, though if you watch Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.

My great grandparents lived in this little house in Rapid City well into their 90s. I can still picture my great grandma sitting in a metal chair on the front porch in her lightweight, summer flower-print dress reciting funny poems and rhymes to me.

Everything Changes

“Mud season” in the mountains — fewer people and an evolving glacial landscape marks time for me.

Some things never change. Not true. Everything changes. Some things just change at a glacial pace. No where helps me grasp this more than my frequent stays in  Breckenridge, Colorado—a town and environment I’ve watched change slowly over my entire life. I’ve watched Uncle Frank’s house turn into the Starbucks on Main Street. I’ve watched ski tickets go from $12 to $120.  I’ve watched restaurants make it and break it. I’ve watched my children turn from toddlers to men.

My sons named this magical place Rock Island more than 15 years ago. It is still the place they run to first when we visit Breckenridge.

Time changes everything. Sometimes we mourn the loss. Other times we rejoice in the new.  As I spent a crepuscular moment this Mother’s Day dawn sitting by a new beaver dam, I was giddy with excitement. I’ve never been able to examine a beaver dam so close before. It was remarkable. Those industrious rodents completely changed the landscape. They made  a whole new environment for a host of other creatures to inhabit. As much as I wanted to see a beaver, I knew my chances were slim, but I was able to watch a muskrat dart happily in and out of his home along the bank.

A stellar crepuscular moment and an amazing change to the stream on the way to Rock Island.

Changes sometimes happen so slowly they are hard to recognize, like the snow eroding away the mountains. Other times they are shockingly quick and life-altering, like this dam. I felt both today, as my feet post-holed into melting snow near Crystal Lake and as I listened to my grown sons now navigate their lives in their own way—a way that will change mine forever. I’m swimming in a new pond. It’s a pond they built for me. It’s different here. Everything changes.

This muskrat (crepuscular) takes advantage of the new pond created by his friend the beaver (nocturnal).

starbucks

It’s still a house, but it’s no longer a home.

 

Crepuscular Moments

Sunrise over the Salt Valley in Arches National Park.

One of my very favorite science words is crepuscular. Being a “word person,” I tend to remember when and where I was when I learned a word. While sitting in Mammology class, my college professor described nocturnal animals (yawn), diurnal animals, and then POW…there it was…crepuscular. The word for animals active at dawn and dusk.

Some crepuscular species:

  • Rabbits
  • Guinea pigs
  • Rats
  • Jaguars
  • Ocelots
  • Lemurs
  • Wombats
  • Hyenas
  • Bobcats
  • Quolls
  • Chinchillas
  • Moose
  • Me!

Bonus words: matutinal (only active at dawn) and vespertine (only active at dusk).

Since then I’ve used the word as often as possible. It is fun and surprising to say.  And over the years I’ve found it is even more fun and surprising to be crepuscular.

My soul is filled in crepuscular moments. Those quiet moments when you are joined by only a few other crepuscular living things. You need not speak to them. You silently give them a nod as you pass by. Crepuscular moments cast dynamic shadows and fleeting colors making everyday objects exude magic and majesty.

Only a few people saw the sun hit these rocks on Saturday morning. Glad I was one of them.

Our lives are pretty full.  Yet we still have two chances everyday to be crepuscular.  Most of us can’t recall our dawn and dusk moments each day, even though we are often “active” during these times—actively helping kids with homework, actively making dinner, or “actively” sleeping. When we actively seek crepuscular moments it is a rare and beautiful choice. It goes against the norm. It makes life feel less crowded. It gives your soul space. It slows down and extends time. Sharing the sunset with your spouse. Watching the light turn mountains into golden monoliths. Sharing a glance with a white-tailed deer. Seeing the open petals of a Morning Glory. We get two crepuscular opportunities every single day. That’s 730 possible incredible soul moments a year.  Awesome.

Sand Dune Arch is crowded with visitors all day. But at dusk, when people pack themselves into restaurants, you can find yourself sitting alone in the soft sand enjoying the moon glow.

Getting Out of the Box and Playing Your Life

This landscape design was part of somebody’s opus. Thank you.

The way we each individually see the world is fascinating to me. And more and more I am seeing the tiny connections our brains make between everything we see and taste and touch. It is the reason I write this blog—to capture one small view of relationships, things, and events that seem related or relevant in my own mind. And with 7 billion brains on this planet, I can only imagine the strange and beautiful connections others make on a daily basis.

Today as my husband and I strolled around a meticulously designed resort in Florida, our breath was taken away by the landscape architecture and man-made waterfalls. What we were looking at was art. The art of placing three palm trees just so as to capture the rays of spotlights at night. The art of being able to see in your mind’s eye what a finished water feature will look like and then architecting it to become your vision. Art. It is all around us. Inspired by natural wonders and then using natural wonders to do something unnaturally new, yet wonderful.

I’ve been pondering art intensely for the past few weeks and making connections between unconnected things. Recently, I watched the movie August Rush and have been haunted by the notion of “feeling the music” everywhere. August was a musical genius who could hear music in everything.  Without any musical instruments in the first decade of his life, he had to figure out what he was feeling. He had to follow his call. And once he discovered how to use his gift, he just wanted to share it, to play it, to let it fill the world. Not be on stage. Not be famous. Not perform. Just play it.

I also read Station Eleven this week. It is a book about people trying to survive after a worldwide pandemic. A group of musicians and actors traveled the crumbling world, not for the glory or applause, but because there was something magnificent they had to share. Something they needed to share.

One of the things I love about writing, and most recently preaching, is not the act of writing or speaking, but the takeaway people receive. The most incredible part to me is when people tell you what they heard through your message and it isn’t what you thought you were saying at all.  They digest it through their own experience, their own gifts, their own story…and it becomes something even more beautiful. Something you couldn’t even imagine.

As I think about what I desire most in this world, it isn’t much different than August. I hunger to bring joy and life to the world through the gifts I’ve been given and share my version of art. I can hardly stop thinking about it every single day. What am I doing every day? How am I using my gifts?

Occasionally I look around and realize I am in a box again. The world puts me there. I put myself there. You can’t climb a mountain in a box. Mountains are dangerous and awesome and moving. Boxes are not. Sometimes I catch myself decorating my box with other people’s art—pictures of mountains—and forgetting that if I just knock down that flimsy cardboard wall, a mountain is standing right in front of me…waiting for me. Waiting for me to embrace my music on my own climb.

I love all the “mountains” I’ve scaled. I have no regrets. Even the ones I never peaked. Maybe especially the ones I’ve never peaked. It has never been about the performance.

What is this music I’m hearing all the time? I know I need to create something. I’ve been chasing it all my life. There is something always calling me.

Six Weeks of Everything

My mom often jokingly tells people I’ve taken “six weeks of everything.” For years I’ve wondered if that was a bad or good thing, like maybe it indicates I can never really work long enough to get good at anything. I’m pretty sure my mom never meant it that way. She likely just thinks it is a funny quirk of my personality that I have an insatiable desire to try things I find intriguing—not necessarily learn them to the point of mastery.

Just a few of the things I can or could get by doing:

  • Sign language
  • Writing children’s books
  • Twirling a baton
  • Speaking German
  • Swing/Salsa/Ballroom dancing
  • Taekwondo
  • Speaking Greek
  • Administering first aid to dogs/cats
  • Archery
  • Juggling
  • Film editing
  • Playing guitar
  • Doing CPR
  • Speaking Spanish
  • Sewing
  • Rock climbing
  • Directing live TV
  • Trapping and stuffing small mammals
  • Playing piano

….and I won’t even bother listing the long list of sports I’ve played or software programs I’ve learned. You get the picture.

Tonight I finished yet another six weeks of something. I can now write code in Ruby, a programming language. Before class, I watched a graduation of students from the coding academy who have spent the last seven grueling months building a marketable skill set. It was inspiring.

I, on the other hand, drove home quietly to no fanfare and without a marketable skill set…just six more weeks of something else behind my yellow Taekwondo belt.

But I’m thrilled.

I love tasting the world and broadening my lens. In fact, I’ve already signed up for my next six weeks…. JavaScript here I come! Then possibly oil painting or scuba diving….hmmmm….there are just so many things to try. I’ve decided that my life anthem must be “Try Everything” by Shikira from the movie Zootopia. It just fits. And it makes me happy when I hear it. It celebrates the trying, not the failing. It celebrates life the way I love to live it.

Be Still My Heart

It’s a beautiful morning to be free.

Eastertime has a special place in my heart, but not for the actual holiday of Easter Sunday. Don’t get me wrong, I like ham and chocolate eggs as much as the next person, but I find this time an opportunity to carve out moments for quiet reflection in the days and sometimes hours leading to that Easter sunrise.

There’s something big in something small and quiet.

Just a couple of weeks ago we played a game with our youth group at church. Adult leaders dressed as a Roman soldiers and the youth pretended to be Christians and ran around the church trying to escape our capture while they looked for the “secret place of worship.”  It was all in good fun, but when we finally all gathered in the small candlelit back room, we discussed the reality of the need for this type of “secret” worship space for early Christians in Rome. Sadly, it still remains a reality in many places all over the world for Christians as well as for people of other faiths.

Just this week my cousin in Africa sent me a picture via email of a small group of people  sitting on her floor in a circle worshiping and studying together. I’d love to share the picture, but for security reasons I cannot. I’m grateful to live in a country where we are ensured the freedom of religion, but even so, like many others, I have still felt the sting of persecution right here.

When we were playing the game, we asked the youth (in our best authoritative Roman soldier voices), “Are you one of those Christians?” They all denied it to escape…for them…all part of the game.  But their “game day” reaction isn’t all that far from reality. It is difficult to share your faith when it could cost you your life, your job, your working relationships, or your friends.

This Easter I quietly climbed a mesa top in the dark and waited for a small group of people to join me —  strangely reminiscent of another gathering long ago in Galilee– and together we watched the world awaken, welcomed the sun, and declared what I believe to be the only true hope there is for this world.

There is something big in something small and quiet.

May we humbly be the love of God in a world that desperately needs love.