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.

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.

Seeing Thestrals

candle

Seeing something there that wasn’t there before.

As I’ve watched my friends grieve the death of those closest to them over the last several years, and more recently just this week, the idea of seeing Thestrals (Harry Potter-inspired magical creatures) suddenly became a lot more “real” to me.  According to the “wizarding world,” Thestrals (scary-looking flying horses) can only be seen by those who have been touched by death.

So is that a good thing or a bad thing? An honor, a blessing, a badge, or a curse?

Definition of a Thestral, according to J.K. Rowling: Manifesting as black, skeletal, bat-winged horses, but invisible to all who have never been truly touched by death, Thestrals have a somewhat macabre reputation. In centuries past the sight of them was regarded as unlucky; they have been hunted and ill-treated for many years, their true nature (which is kindly and gentle) being widely misunderstood. Thestrals are not marks of ill omen, nor (their spooky appearance notwithstanding) are they in any way threatening to humans, always allowing for the fright that the first sight of them tends to give the observer.

Today, a friend of mine preached a sermon on love where he told about the seasons of loss in his life (past, immediate, and future). Those losses were, are, and will be painful, yes, but they can also be an opportunity…an opportunity to give, recognize, and receive love in a deeper way than ever before. The more pain we experience, just maybe, translates to the more love we have the opportunity to experience as well. Strangely true.

Isn’t that just like a Thestral? The fear we have of pain and loss tends to give the pain a bad reputation–a reputation that it has nothing to offer but something evil or scary. Yet something kind and gentle is hidden beneath that scary exterior. And it isn’t until we experience great pain or loss that we are able to see something we’ve never seen before. When we open our eyes and hearts to it, we just might get the opportunity to deeply understand some of the greatest love of all and, in turn, be that kind of love to the world.

Solomon’s Moon

moon

Solomon: Forevermore this is your moon. Thank you for your story.

As I hailed a taxi at the Indianapolis airport on my way to a conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Solomon, my taxi driver. Though he moved to the United States from war torn Eritrea in 1991, his English was still rather broken.

Looking out of my window I spied a gorgeous orange full moon setting just below the horizon. I squealed with excitement, trying to remember the name of this month’s full moon. I finally remembered it was the Worm Moon and I told Solomon about the Algonquin Indians and why they named it so. He told me that in Tigrinya, the name of this kind of full moon was something that sounded like fortuna…which I translated as fortune (in Greek).

My short, mustached driver spent the better part of fifteen minutes explaining how the moon phases worked, using hand movements where his words failed him. He told me that a full moon, like this one, meant rain is coming. I imagined him growing up in Eritrea with his family and the stories of the moon and its weather patterns passed from generation to generation. (Of course, I looked it up when I got to my hotel and found out that scientists have studied the stories and found that there is actually a shred of truth to this lunar weather predictor.)

After the weather report, I told Solomon about our friends the Bahta family who were refugees from Eritrea back when I was in high school and college. Eritrea, a postage stamp of a country in East Africa, endured a horrible civil war.  I told him about Tigisti Bahta, their daughter whom I tutored in English. Tigisti means patience. And she needed a lot of it having me as an English teacher.Solomon said he had also fled to the United States for the same reason. He told me he started out in Washington D.C. and it was difficult because of the crime there. He said to me, “Black, white…it doesn’t matter. Color doesn’t matter. Crime is crime. Wrong is wrong. And I didn’t like it.” He was extremely grateful to meet his sister in Indianapolis and for the peace he has found here. Solomon means peace.

I’ve learned that Eritreans have a different system of naming from most Western countries. Among Christian Eritreans, children are given two names: a secular name at birth and a Christian name when the child is baptized.

I never learned Solomon’s Eritrean name, but I have decided to give him an honorable one —Werḧi, meaning moon. So together his name would mean peace of the moon.

I woke up the next morning to a precipitating sky. Solomon’s moon was right. And I am better for knowing him…. even if it was only for a 30-minute taxi ride.

Prenumbral Eclipse of the Snow Moon

moon

Tonight’s Snow Moon after the prenumbral eclipse.

February 10 in Colorado on the night of the full Snow Moon….and I spent the day running in shorts and a t-shirt in the foothills. Tomorrow I’ll be skiing. I love Colorado. Tonight was also special because it was a prenumbral eclipse of the Snow Moon. Because the name sounded like a bad teenage romance novel, I was intrigued by this lunar event and had to find out where this name came from. Prenumbra means almost shadow  and is a less intense part of Earth’s shadow being cast on the moon–a shadow that is not as dark as the typical umbra eclipse.

I had not heard of a Snow Moon (or a prenumbra) until tonight. I’ve watched many lunar eclipses and heard of the Harvest Moon before, but after all these years I guess I didn’t realize EVERY full moon had a name or that we could sometimes see the very faint prenumbra shadow. It’s easy to miss. The Moon names were actually names given to the whole month and thus the corresponding full moon received its name. Most of the names were bestowed  by the Algonquin tribes on the East Coast. Thanks to Farmer’s Almanac, I learned all their names tonight. Historically, the names are really interesting, even if they don’t apply to life today.

Wolf Moon – January

Amid the cold and deep snows of midwinter, the wolf packs howled hungrily outside Indian villages.

Snow Moon – February

Because the heaviest snow usually falls during this month,this was most often called the Snow Moon. Some tribes also referred to this moon as the Hunger Moon, because harsh weather made hunting difficult.

Worm Moon – March

As the temperature begins to warm and the ground begins to thaw, earthworm casts appear, heralding the return of the robins. The more northern tribes knew this moon as the Crow Moon, when the cawing of crows signaled the end of winter; or the  Crust Moon, because the snow cover becomes crusted from thawing by day and freezing at night. The Sap Moon, marking the time of tapping maple trees, is another variation.

Pink Moon – April

This name came from the herb moss pink, or wild ground phlox, which is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring. Other names for this month’s celestial body include the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and among coastal tribes the Fish Moon, because this was the time that the shad swam upstream to spawn.

Flower Moon – May

In most areas, flowers are abundant everywhere during this time. Thus, the name of this moon. Other names include the Corn Planting Moon, or the Milk Moon.

Strawberry Moon – June

This name was universal to every Algonquin tribe because the relatively short season for harvesting strawberries comes each year during the month of June. However, in Europe they called it the Rose Moon.

Buck Moon – July

July is normally the month when the new antlers of buck deer push out of their foreheads in coatings of velvety fur. It was also often called the Thunder Moon, for the reason that thunderstorms are most frequent during this time. Another name for this month’s moon was the Hay Moon.

Sturgeon Moon – August

The fishing tribes are given credit for the naming of this moon, since sturgeon, a large fish of the Great Lakes and other major bodies of water, were most readily caught during this month. A few tribes knew it as the Red Moon because, as the Moon rises, it appears reddish through any sultry haze. It was also called the Green Corn Moon or Grain Moon.

Corn Moon or Harvest Moon – September

This full moon’s name is attributed to Native Americans because it marked when corn was supposed to be harvested. Most often, the September full moon is actually the Harvest Moon, which is the full Moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox.

 Hunter’s Moon or Harvest Moon – October

This full Moon is often referred to as the Hunter’s Moon, Blood Moon, or Sanguine Moon. Many moons ago, Native Americans named this bright moon for obvious reasons. The leaves are falling from trees, the deer are fattened, and it’s time to begin storing up meat for the long winter ahead. Because the fields were traditionally reaped in late September or early October, hunters could easily see fox and other animals that come out to glean from the fallen grains.

Beaver Moon – November

This was the time to set beaver traps before the swamps froze, to ensure a supply of warm winter furs. Another interpretation suggests that the name Beaver Moon comes from the fact that the beavers are now actively preparing for winter. It is sometimes also referred to as the Frosty Moon.

The Long Nights Moon – December

During this month the winter cold fastens its grip, and nights are at their longest and darkest. The term Long Night Moon is a doubly appropriate name because the midwinter night is indeed long. It has also been called the Cold Moon.

Source: Farmer’s Almanac

These are great names, but I decided I would give the moon names an upgrade to fit life today…or at least my life. Here’s my version.

  • Resolution  Moon – January
  • Crocus Moon – February
  • Bike Tuning Moon – March
  • Slush and Mud Moon – April
  • Mother’s Moon – May
  • Yippee Moon – June
  • Splash Moon – July
  • Mountain Climber’s Moon – August
  • New Pencil Moon – September
  • Creepy Pumpkin Moon – October
  • Thanksgiving Moon -November
  • Chaos Moon – December

I doubt the astronomy world will rename the full moon names on my account, but I’m going to think of each full moon differently now. They are now fun time markers shining on the treasures that each month brings.

People with Rabies

rabies

This guy has Rabies.

A homeless guy called me “cool” today. He said and I quote, “Only cool people appreciate the name of my dog.” His dog’s name is Rabies. He knew how much I appreciated the name by my reaction. I LOVE creativity and a bit of dark humor. And this pup is aptly  named.

Just one day after watching A Dog’s Purpose at the movie theater (spoiler alert: bring Kleenex), today I saw another dog with a purpose. A dog named Rabies loving his master. A master who many people treat like he has rabies, though neither of them do.

I love his sign, too. I think it is a sign we all should carry. Everyday.

Because isn’t that what we are…really? Ugly and broke. We are all imperfect. Yes, we may wash our hair and put on clean clothes in the morning, but let’s face it. His sign is our sign, too.

And aren’t we ALL traveling folks? We journey through this world looking for our next opportunity–whether it be a better job, a happiness fix, a loyal friend, or our next meal. We travel. We journey. We wander. And every now and then, if we are wise, we slow down enough to share in the joy of the struggle and break bread with other ugly, broken people along the way. Cool.

Entropy, Feelings, and the Next Chapter In My Quest for Peace

grave

Is this a picture of peace or unrest? I think it is both–the nature of our life on Earth.

I’ve been thinking about peace all week. And as with other synchronicities of life, I happened to also take a personality test on 16personalities.com . It is a Myers-Briggs style test. I scored as an INTJ (introverted, intuitive, thinking, and judging) type when I first took the test in the early 90s and in all the years I’ve taken it since. This particular test labeled me again as an INTJ-A, and categorized it as a rare analyst personality type called “The Architect.” If you haven’t taken this particular test, I highly recommend it. Don’t forget to read all the methodology (but of course I would say that, I’m the Architect).

Naturally, it makes sense I continue my quest for peace by none other than good old reliable analysis. It’s what I do.

First, I discovered people often misunderstand what I mean when I say I am not peaceful at Christmastime. It is not spiritual peace I am lacking. I have plenty of that. In fact it is because of my spiritual peace that I am all the more in a state of unrest. I want and desire more than anything the promised peace I believe is to come. This peace does not exist naturally on Earth. Don’t get me wrong, there are peaceful moments, but let’s face it…the second law of thermodynamics proves that disorder is the order of the day. That’s right! Entropy! And the holiday season brings with it both  great joy as well as great disorder. Hence, less peace in my life.

Secondly, while doing my morning swimming/thinking, I contemplated how we all use the same words to mean different things. Peace, joy, happiness, contentment …what do they really mean?

I hear all the time that joy and happiness are different; that is, happiness is circumstantial and joy is not. That’s how I’ve always thought of these two words. Webster only partially agrees with this concept. I hear people use peace, joy, and happiness interchangeably when describing their state of being. I see both circumstantial and spiritual meanings in all of these definitions. It is confusing because you never know on which plane people are speaking when they say they are happy, content, joyful, or peaceful.

Joy: 1) the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires; 2) a state of happiness or felicity 3) a source or cause of delight

Happiness: 1) a state of well-being and contentment;  2) a pleasurable or satisfying experience

Peace: 1)  a state of tranquility or quiet; 2)  freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions

Contentment: 1) in a state of peaceful happiness.

My contemplation of peace has been centered on something I’ve started to really embrace and let out.

Are you ready for it? They are called feelings. Amazing, right?

Did you know we are allowed to feel bad, or sad, or mad, or glad? And we don’t have to repress, hide or deny those feelings? In other words, I don’t have to cry in my closet or the car wash anymore. I can, but I don’t have to.

I’ve actually been working on understanding feelings for the past six or so years (thanks to my feeling friends—most of whom score high on the Ffeeling scale on personality tests).

When I took the personality test this week one of the things I discovered about myself was a change on the thinking/feeling scale. I was no longer heavily weighted on the thinking side, as I have been in years past. There was almost an equal balance on the thinking/feeling scale. And, if I switched the T (thinking) for the F (feeling), my personality profile changes to that of an Advocate (INFJ) not an Architect (INTJ) —both of which are rare personality types. Eureka! This explains a lot!

INTJ – Architects form just two percent of the population, and women of this personality type are especially rare, forming just 0.8% of the population – it is often a challenge for them to find like-minded individuals who are able to keep up with their relentless intellectualism and chess-like maneuvering. Few personality types are as mysterious and controversial as Architects. Possessing intellect and strategic thinking that allow them to overcome many challenging obstacles, Architects have the ability to both develop and implement a plan for everything, including their own personal growth.

INFJ –Advocates tend to see helping others as their purpose in life, but while people with this personality type can be found engaging rescue efforts and doing charity work, their real passion is to get to the heart of the issue so that people need not be rescued at all.

In short, what I’m discovering is that my own repression of feelings for many years may, or may not be, my natural personality. Most likely I am some hybrid of the two.

So what does this long personality explanation have to do with peace, you ask? Everything for me. I’ve been interpreting my newly embraced entropic feelings as the lack of peace – physical peace. And, I believe, rightly so. And guess what? That’s alright. Because when I let myself feel them and I share them with others (outside of my closet) it allows me to be an advocate for others–something I’ve been doing more and more and more as the years advance.

A good friend of mine told me to imagine feelings as if they are kept in a vise. If you tighten the vise and suppress one side you suppress the other as well. So if you squash the unrest, you squash the joy, too.

So, today I say this. I’m going to be glad I’m not “peaceful” all the time. I’m better for it. Ironically, I’ve found that there is peace in not being peaceful Wow! Who knew?

But no time for more writing today…. I have whips to crack, puzzles to solve, people to love, and a world to help rescue.

Choosing to Give. Choosing to Receive.

kickball

Kickin’ it with kids. What choice do I have?

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”– Albus Dumbledore

Dumbledore is a man of few, but profound words. October means it is time for my Harry Potter marathon—a Potter movie (or two) every weekend until Halloween. I just finished watching The Chamber of Secrets and the headmaster’s words quoted above have been sticking with me.

His words echoed in my head this weekend as I spent some time playing kickball with homeless kids. As I started my work week, I carried with me the smiles on their faces, the high fives, the laughter, and the excitement from the game. A simple game played in a parking lot with hula hoops for bases.

The kids and their families chose to embrace the moment. To enjoy the company of strangers. To pray for their blessings. To play and have fun regardless of their abilities or their situations. I have nothing but admiration for those kids. They are making the best of their situation—living in cubical bedrooms with tarps for walls. Sleeping on cots. Yet choosing to enjoy life whenever life gives them enjoyable things—not dwelling on what they don’t have, but what they do.

Spending my free time serving others may have some labeling me a “do gooder” trying to earn some Earthly praise or cosmic medal or maybe even work my way to heaven. Not at all.  I do hope I’m helping, but the reality is what I receive often outweighs what I give. The giving and receiving are practically indistinguishable.  The two together make something beautiful, healing, and the closest thing to heaven I have ever experienced—whether I’m giving or receiving. I can hardly ever tell which is which.

This world is a broken mess. We can’t make it whole again. But we can fill the cracks with mortar. Still broken, but patched together–the giver and the receiver—one in the same. We can choose to be together and find joy despite the flaws.

Thanks for the game kids!

It’s our choices that show us who we really are. Indeed.

Crossing the Cross Country Midline

5k

You can take the girl out of the running, but you can’t take the running out of the girl.

I am a runner—at least in my soul. My mind still thinks I’m a runner. My body doesn’t always agree. I spent this crisp fall morning not out bounding over crunchy leaves, but in a gym doing interval training. Seems ridiculous to me.

My time felt ridiculous as well. I slowed the machine down to snap this picture when I hit 3.1 miles.  The time is a bit deceiving. I sprinted a lot of this 5K on an incline.

But the time also doesn’t lie. I jogged in between the sprints.

I decided to do some math to ease my pain. If I ran an 18 minute 5K when I was 20, then when I double my age I should be able to double my time, right? So that means anything under 43 minutes would be incredible.

Too bad it doesn’t work that way.

After knee surgery in college and back surgery in my late twenties, running has been the itch I just can’t scratch. I tiptoe back into it whenever I can and often end up discouraged or injured. But not this month. I’ve actually been running (carefully) three times a week. I don’t want to jinx it. And I can feel the cross country returning to my soul and filling me with joy again.

I think I’m almost ready to take it outside—where I want to be. But there are potential hazards out there. Birds for one. Rocks for another. And my own self…who tends to think I’m still 20 when I hit the trail.

I’m pretty sure I’ll never stop trying to run. My old shoes in my keepsake box remind me of that. Why did I keep them? Did I think they were magic? That if I put them on some year in the future I would be able to run—really run—again. No. I think they just serve as a constant reminder that you can’t stop being who you are.

old-shoes

My cross country spikes and flats from high school and college remind me that I’ll always be a runner.

Thanks WordPress #wwwp5K.

Controlling Time

young-family-pic

When I was little time moved at a snail’s pace, but it must have been racing by for my parents.

Tonight at dinner my 21-year-old son started to say words adult’s say. “How did it get this late? How did time suddenly change speeds? How is my cousin now married? How is time moving faster now?”

It made me both giggle and sigh. I felt bad for him. He is hitting the part of life where life is fast. And it made me wonder why. Why is life slow as a child, fast as an adult, and slow again when you are old?  First, I thought, that’s easy…it’s because we are ridiculously busy when we are adults. But then I thought, no, busyness has nothing to do with it. It is all about control.

When we are kids, our parents, teachers and pretty much everyone else control our lives. We don’t get to decide, not really. It’s why it takes so long for Christmas or our birthdays to come. We have to wait a long time to actually get something we want…something we hope for…and even then it doesn’t always work out the way we expected. We wait. We wait for a small piece of control—asking for something and then, if we are lucky, getting it—finally.

When we hit the adult world it is a sudden jolt. Suddenly we make all the decisions. We are in control of everything and we make a thousand decisions a day. Small ones, like breakfast. Big ones, like marriage. And with our hands on the controls of our own lives there are more decisions than time. It is probably why time in jail seems so long (I’m assuming, of course). Loss of control equals the slowing down of time.

So here’s the question. Is there something we can do to slow down time without losing control?

Vacation? That works sometimes when we give up some of the control to the housekeeping staff or the taxi driver. Or maybe those rare occasions we refuse to make decisions and spend some quiet time with our thoughts…but not thoughts about what we are going to do or need to do.

It just seems like it is hard to find the balance between control and loss of control—each of which is both a prison and a paradise.