“For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. This perspective has helped me to see there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. So treasure every moment you have and remember that time waits for no one. Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” –Souza
If you could go back to yesterday, and do one thing over, what would it be? And would you do it?
I’ve always professed to live without regrets. While that’s certainly humanly impossible, it always sounded like such a powerful way of existing: embracing every mistake you ever made, no matter how iconically it changed your life or how gut-wrenching it is merely to allow the memory to flood your thinking momentarily; I know, quite the fanciful notion.
In this season of my life, I’m experiencing everything on a much more bare-skinned, no-holds-barred, in-your-face, like-it-or-not, taste it touch it see it smell it hear it embrace it, tangible level.
And to be perfectly honest… I really like it this way. Admittedly, the adjustment was a bit shocking and a lot overwhelming and everything you would expect from going from head-in-the-clouds daydreaming to feet-on-the-ground truth-hiking; but once you acclimate you discover that it’s SO MUCH MORE REAL than anything before.
That doesn’t mean I’m sitting in a dark room weeping for all the nonsense and bad judgement I’ve spent most of my life perpetuating. It simply means that I’m not dwelling in the emptiness of false words about embracing my worst memories for the prescribed destiny they served to satisfy… Make no mistake. My mistakes were no gift from fate and my destiny never depended on my ability to live like an idiot who was Queen for a day, (every day, for years at a time in some cases). I’m not chasing down my bad judgement so I can look it square in the face and claim it, either. I’m just letting go of those former defense mechanisms I was once so fond of turning to when I didn’t particularly like how it felt to face the truth. I’ve been set free, you see. I don’t need to forgive myself for all my stupidities; but I no longer need to run from the reality of them either. I’m looking at the world through my own two eyes, standing on its surface with my own two feet, and quite possibly for the first time in my entire life, I like how it feels to be split wide open in the truth of it all.
Humility is a double edged sword. It’s important that before you go swinging it, you know what it feels like to be cut with it first. You can’t cut yourself in half and be done with it. It’s the delicate art of slicing through our exterior, one layer at a time; slowly, gently, peeling away the dead layers of our perception of self and letting what’s underneath BREATHE for the first time. It’s the only way to ever truly know who you are: learn to be honest with yourself, first.
“Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.” –Albert Einstein
Imagine if you will, a day much like any other, in which you wake up and feel differently than you ever have before… Has this ever happened to you, without a specific reason to pinpoint the shift in how reality appeared before you?
In the days of our youth, we wake up once a year with the expectation that we will somehow experience that very moment in time. We go to sleep on the eve of our birthday with wide-eyed anticipation for the sun’s first light bringing with it some tremendous, unknown change in how our life is going to feel to us. Over the years, of course, our excitement for this magical moment grows dim as we slowly discover what life’s all about. We lose our sense of wonder as we’re taught that magic isn’t real. The older we get, the less fantasy and awe we come to expect from our birthdays. In fact, we grow so complacent about life’s predictability that we create a world in which life is merely just that: predictable. Unchanging. And we slowly morph into the same boring grown ups we swore that we’d never become. All those years of being told, “Just wait; someday you’ll see what I mean, kid.” …They were, admittedly, right.
This will be the first year I’ve ever had to remind myself that it’s almost my birthday. And then, once I remembered that my birthday is almost here and I remember that I didn’t remember my own birthday, it suddenly dawned on me… Holy crap. I’m getting old.
My birthday is the last day of this month. (Hoorah.) I’m not feigning some sort of nonexistent contempt for my swiftly approaching birthday; I’m also not repressing some kind of hidden excitement about my birthday arriving… I’m honestly completely ambivalent. I could take it or leave it. I have no plans, really. And I kind of enjoy it that way. Until I realize, with the urgency of a derailed train five yards in front of me approaching at terminal velocity, that I am officially one of those foggy-brained grown-up people who forgot what magic feels like because life is more about deadlines and worries and responsibilities than it is about the EXCITEMENT of what comes next, well… The feeling is truly quite sad.
I’m not old at all. I consider myself to be foolishly young, with a significant road before me that I must travel (barefoot, uphill, in the snow) before I will have earned the right to wedge myself into the esteemed and respected category of “old;” however, I’ve also hiked my way (barefoot, in every direction, as far as I could go) all on my own… I distinctively remember a conversation I had a few years ago with my tree-hugging granola-eating barefoot and starry-eyed group of friends, about the notion of being a “grown up” and how we could never in a million years imagine ourselves calling each other that. Granted, we had no children then; no burdens, no worries, no obligations or responsibilities… We drank coffee with dinner and read books at midnight and took frequent and spontaneous road trips to random and undetermined destinations hundreds of miles away for a week at a time, often for the sole purpose of competing for the most elaborate and varied assortment of truck stop bumper stickers; we were carefree and footloose and driven by the wide-awake wanderlust compelling our souls to go and see and live and BE… We existed in a constellation of inter-galactic wonder and cosmic philosophising; unhampered by the weight of real-life encumberments and all that adult-type nonsense. We were alive. We understood the notion of forever, and we reveled in it daily. We were gypsies, meandering through the world with reckless abandon and purest joy. We were unstoppable in our curiosity; unshakeable in our conviction that reality is what happens when you stop living and ask why. We were never that kind.
This was only a handful of years ago. It feels like yesterday to me. And yet, it also feels like seventy-three lifetimes ago… I am a mother now, to five beautiful boys. I am a wife. I am a lot of different things to a lot of different people; not just a college kid living on dreams and an insatiable desire to see the world…
But when it occurred to me (and to my own dismay, quite frankly) that I have seriously reminded myself three times now that I’m about to have a birthday, I understood–in that tiny little moment–that I am, officially, a “grown up.”
The thing about it is, however, that I see now why I never expected to fit in to that title. Because all the grown-ups I ever knew were perpetually bummed out about this whole ‘getting old’ thing, and constantly stressing out about some mundane obligatory aspect of their daily life (which, of course, they were postponing and dreading and expected to fulfill), or complaining about how birthdays aren’t special once you’ve had a whole bunch of them… Well, I get it now. And I totally agree with my younger self. I’ll never be one of those people.
I wake up expecting to experience some kind of magic in my day… Every day. That doesn’t mean I always wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and following my every whim and fancy. It actually means that I’ll usually feel content and satisfied if nobody spills the milk on the table or nobody wakes me up screaming incoherently between bloody-murder sobbing about how their brother was mean to them three days ago when they stole the yellow transformer toy and then broke it so it was gone forever, or no one tramples all over mommy’s brand new flowers in the garden, or nobody pees on the floor or bloodies a random body part or has a total toddler temper tantrum in the middle of isle 5 at the overcrowded supermarket… You understand, don’t you? Magic doesn’t have to maintain the same premise, you know. Sometimes magic is simply looking at your alarm clock–before it goes off–getting out of bed–before anyone else–and enjoying a fresh cup of really strong coffee while the sun rises to the melody of love singing in your heart. I don’t have to go on any certain adventure or blind road trip to get my kicks these days. The places that give me the deepest thrills aren’t places at all, so much as they are ways of seeing exactly where I am.
Today, I am twenty-eight. Soon, I will be twenty-nine. I know well enough that I won’t wake up feeling any older on the 31st… But I will wake up feeling different. I will awake with that familiar–and yet NEW–magical feeling. The feeling of simply BEing. Magic.
“Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.” –Seneca
I believe this world has a certain mercy about it. I’ve come to know the pain it dispenses like pez candy quite well; I’ve known heartache so deep that my soul became numb and my body caught fire in flames of roman-candle sorrow, ignited by the continual spark of sadness against the fuel of my deepest loss. I’ve known emptiness so wide and so vast that my very existence was an abyss in which everything around it was consumed in an instantaneous vacuum wherein it ceased to exist. I’ve known brokenness so real that my bones ached and my mind slammed itself repeatedly against the walls of my own dark thinking; over and over and over again, until my cranium radiated with skull crushing pain and the only idea that continued to make sense was to kill myself before it lasted another minute. I’ve been broke down and sold out and battered by the hands the hands of time; cleaned out and murdered in my soul. Some of you may think I’m stretching things for the sake of entertainment. I’m not. With all of my being, I sincerely know the deepest depths of pain and the darkest places it can take you. And in times like those, nothing could have been said to lighten my burden; it was mine to carry. Nothing could have been done to lessen the load; I was a hollowed out image of a girl who once dreamed; a ghost in a fog; ripped at the seams. I’ve been there, as close to the edge as you can possibly get… I’ve also gone completely over it.
What I see now from the outside looking in is a great awakening. I see an apex. I sensed it then, even… But had anybody said that to me, I would’ve raised my tattered white flag. Because I didn’t have it in me. For all my drive, for all my perseverance, some shadows are too long–and too close to us–to face them. In my loneliness and grief, no words of encouragement could have motivated me out of my messes. No condolances could have reconciled the distance between my state of mind and my actual potential… Because in those moments, NOTHING MATTERED.
I know some incredible people. Over the years, I’ve witnessed their seasons of insurmountable madness. I’ve watched, holding my breath, as they emerged from their hopes for the future to find themselves surfacing in a giant ocean of complete disappointment. Heartbreak, of every kind. I’ve seen what these things look like from the outside… You know, the point at which we get a phone call and fall to our knees; we wake up to find our bed and our home suddenly empty; we show up for work and we’re handed a pink slip; I’ve seen the tide roll in on top of me, and I’ve also watched it rise from shore. And there are certain people I have known who learned–in that VERY INSTANT–to go with the flow. Without a moment’s hesitation, their stride switched to meet the occasion. Who does that? Who has whatever it is that makes you go from floating on a cloud to diving head first off a hundred foot cliff without even looking down first? I consider myself very fortunate to have met these kind of people in my lifetime. It may sound absurd, but there are real heroes in this world. I know a few.
But I never was a heroic type of girl. I was always spontaneous, yet committed. Carefree, but grounded. Free thinking, yet aware. I went where my feet led me without a worry in the world. And sadly, the world brought me plenty to worry about.
When I love, I love like a forest on fire. I don’t know how to do it any other way. And in the intensity of that kind of love, there is always something that gets burned. In my case, it has almost
always been my belief in the unbelievable. Sometimes, the general consensus is not, in fact, wrong. I was born with a burning desire to prove otherwise; hence many of my own personal pains.
Almost everyone I know is currently experiencing that life-changing moment in time where they casually glance behind them to discover a massive fifteen foot wave is rushing in over their heads… I’ve been in that situation literally, swimming in the ocean, bodysurfing in Hawaii, without a care in the world or a clue in my mind that my fragile little life is about to turn upside down. I lived through it, like anybody else certainly would have, but it was the single most INDESCRIBABLE sensation of my life, and I will never forget the intensity of it.
Pain is a lot like that. We know how bad it was once we’re out of it, and we think we remember the extent to which we were horrified and ripped in half and trapped in the weight of that moment… But do we really?
These people I love are shutting down. They are going through the motions, they’ve done it before and they’ll do it again… But it makes me wonder: do we have any idea how strong we are? Do we actually comprehend our ability to survive?
Survival isn’t a competition in real life. It’s not about anybody else. It’s you, and you alone. Nothing anyone else says can help you. Nothing anyone else does as a gesture of love and compassion can get you through it. Survival is the bare bones, brass tacks question: “So what are you made of?”
I’m made of fragile broken pieces taped back together in a mosaic of melodies and harmonies, opposites and similarities, losses and opportunities. A brightly colored assortment of hodge podge horrors that I learned the hard way were actually victories in disguise. You cannot know what it is to win, until you have had to fight. Some valleys can’t be crossed and some mountains can’t be climbed. I’m not out to convince the unconvinceable, or to cheerlead the overcomer within you. I’m simply suggesting that maybe we have no idea how strong and how certain our core is. If you think about the peace of God, about His mercy in the face of every kind of evil; if you think about His grace, and how He quietly leads us out of our own inability and into our supernatural identity… How could we be anything less than perfectly and undeniably capable of complete and total perseverance?
All I know is this: you either make it or you don’t. It’s that simple. A lot of heroes die never knowing how close they came to the summit that they had spent a strenuous and deeply lived lifetime pursuing. A lot of great men and women lose the battle because of those moments when it simply became too much to bear. But I believe in the hero within us. I know that nothing can quiet the roar of the tide… But wow, how it sounds from the other side.
I have developed this deep passion for gardening. And not like some little hobby or side job, no, we’re talking a borderline fixation. An obsession, truthfully. Or maybe it’s a compulsion. Compulsively, I am obsessed with planting seeds. And harvesting trees. And cultivating plants. And it is seriously the coolest thing in this universe. (Besides being a mom of five insane boys, but you get my point.) I love love love my plants.
I had a pretty deep talk with my stepson awhile back about the necessity of certain curricula in education. Specifically, why biology matters. He’s so much like me it’s crazy… Math is for geniuses, history is for boring people, music is for everyone and reading is for real. But I was expressing to him that in college I was blessed with the coolest, nuttiest Biology professor, who brought the subject to life for me and helped me discover endless possibilities in the basics of the subject. Energy, for example. The fact that we are (on a cellular level) composed of the exact same material as stars in distant galaxies. Or matter; the same processes that make life on earth possible (gravity, relativity, etc) are the same processes that maintain order in our universe. We are all a bunch of atoms, molecules, tiny particles of elements that come together and form mass, and that’s exactly how God created it to be. The microscopic level of life is a reflection of the macroscopic. The details might seem boring at first, but when you start to discover the magic of life and how intricately woven the structure of life is within every part of our existence–and how unbelieveably complicated it is–it becomes clear that we have NO IDEA how great, how infinite, how indescribably complex our God is.
In attempt to give him a hands-on idea of what I meant, and why biology matters, and what makes it fun, I invited him to join me in the adventures of planting stuff. He loved it. His zinnias are beautiful. :))) (A super cool mom moment for me.) We planted a baby tree. A couple of weeks later, he totally lost interest. His excitement in learning about the PROCESSES of seed growth and plant development flew out the window the second he stopped getting immediate gratification. Once the seed sprouted, the magic was over for him.
What struck me is how we are all like that. We discover something new, it sucks us in because it is novel and different and exciting… And then it becomes familiar and our enthusiasm fades. We see the changes as they happen, and when it happens slowly we forget it is changing at all.
The Holy Spirit showed me something today. As I walked out to get the mail, I couldn’t believe how much our maple tree has grown. It was only about ten inches tall when we planted it. It’s now sitting at about four feet. It’s gorgeous. It’s healthy. And I felt so proud… But I started thinking about the biology of it, and how people and plants have so much in common. The faster a tree grows, the weaker it is in structure, because the roots take time to develop and gain depth. The more slowly something grows, the better established it becomes and the higher its chances of survival.
The lessons we learn in life, and the time it takes us to learn them–to grow from them–is much the same. The longer we meditate on the purpose of a painful experience, the more purpose we are able to absorb from it. When you plow through the tough times as quickly as you can without stopping to look around and evaluate how you got there and why, you end up wasting a large part of your life retracing the same terrain; over and over and over. You have to pay attention in life, take your time, and give your best effort.
I told him once that the most important thing I’ve learned in my life is to always give 100% of yourself to everything you do. Whether it is your Biology homework, playing with your baby brothers, helping with chores or learning how to play guitar… Whether it is exciting or not, interesting or not; just give all of yourself. The moral of each story always comes at the end. And if we spend our precious time worrying only about what we have to learn from it, and never really investing ourselves to the task itself, we discover the hard way that we end up never learning the lesson at all.
The tree we planted is actually a slow growing tree, compared to other species. But it has grown significantly. And what’s really cool is that once we stopped staring at the freaking thing, and watching our clocks saying “Has it grown yet? Has it grown yet?” …It actually, finally, grew.
We spend so much of our life asking these sorts of questions; “Are we there yet? Are we done yet? Is it here yet? Is it time now?,” that we suddenly look back and realize time flew by, we can’t get it back, and we never stopped to experience the PRESENT. People have regrets in life because they never learn how to just be. It’s always hindsight or foresight, what could’ve been or what should be, what we’ve been through or what we hope for… God is telling us to see the right here, right now. Because the growth that lasts is the growth that takes its time, absorbs all that it can, and uses 100% of its energy; consistently, patiently, completely.
Driftwood you find in rivers and lakes is typically dogwood, or cottonwood, or birch. These types of trees lack the aged maturity to withstand inclimate weather. The storm hits, and the trees that grew too quickly are uprooted or destroyed in the blink of an eye. The slow growing things last the longest. It’s human nature to want to grow quickly. And there’s a time and place for that. But more often, the growth that ensures our endurance, and our perseverance, is the growth that takes time.