The Necessity of Tides

I’m drawn to the coast.

Seduced by the subtleties of sand meeting water. Captivated by the currents and briny air ushered in from the water’s edge. The sounds of seagulls and waves always arrive as good news to me.    

And I don’t consider myself a poet, but when I’m near any sort of shore, poetry spills out. My mind grasping for words worthy of capturing the beauty—word pictures snapped as impulsively as the pictures on my phone.

Allie Illuminated | Low Tide

In February, I stayed in this sleepy coastal town just across the Canadian border. What I imagine to be hopping in the summer, all fish & chips shops and ice cream parlors bustling with friendly Canadians now remained mostly dormant in the grey-skied winter months—the boardwalks had more strolling seagulls than tourists.

I was housesitting in this Colonial style home, just a fifteen-minute walk from Crescent Beach. I would take Maddi, the 12-year-old shepherd mix down the 101 rickety stairs cutting into the bluffs down to the stony beach. On clear days, you could make out the Vancouver skyline off in the distance, the North Shore Mountains etched behind.

As a land-locked Iowa native, the tides are a fascinating mystery to me. Our first few visits to the beach must’ve been at high tide the water, a little ledge made a sidewalk out of the beach. Other times, the beach revealed an expanse of rocky coastline. The shallow slope of the land makes the tides dramatic, exposing glassy bars of soft sand stretching out hundreds of feet.

As part of the Straight of Georgia, we were protected from the wildness of open sea. No crashing waves. The ebb and flow of the tide the only sign this water belonged to the ocean. I relished the long beach walks, Maddi dutifully sniffing every third rock.

Allie Illuminated | Low TideWhen I decided to travel solo, I intentionally, willingly carved this wide margin in my life. The rhythm slows down a lot when you spend six weeks alone in a place where you don’t know anyone. I welcomed the spaciousness like a low tide. I explored the exposed tidal pools on my own and admired the rivulets of water etching lines in the salty sand as often as I could those solitary weeks in Canada.

To the untrained eye, the bareness of low tide could easily be mistaken for a drought. A depleted water source pointing to scarcity. Likewise, the barren quietness of my solitude could’ve easily been seen as an emptiness. My poverty of activity and company a glaring sign of all that was lacking in my life.

While isolation isn’t a state I’d like to live in indefinitely, allowing the busyness to seep away and releasing my need for constant companionship was a freeing revelation.

Allie Illuminated | Low Tide

That’s the beauty of low tides. Being stripped bare from the blanketing waves, the secrets of the shore are revealed. Low tide is an invitation to rest. Boats nestled into their docks, lowering closer to the foundations. It’s also a time to explore, to gather and collect hidden treasures unveiled in glistening sand.

Seasons of quiet—margin to simply Be—can make me feel exposed at first. Panicky, I used to reach for some sort of activity to crash over me like the incessant waves I was used to. But this time, on the Canadian shorelines, I leaned into the quiet.

Don’t get me wrong. I love high tides, both the reality and the metaphor. A week after leaving Canada, I picked up my dear friends from the airport. The wave of familiarity reached my delighted heart like the gift it was. I could hardly contain my giddiness as we made our way to the Oregon coast. Waves crashing, sand between my barefooted toes. The rush of conversations and laughter and companionship—familiarity that had almost become foreign to me swept right back in, and I welcomed it.

Allie Illuminated | Low Tide

I need both. The rising tide of action, engagement, moving in the world is directly linked to our purpose in this world. But I’m beginning to suspect our highest contributions can’t happen unless we also receive the moments of low tide.

It feels like the placid waters of my low tide are starting to rise. My shorelines aren’t crashing with waves just yet, but I wonder if high tide is coming. Rising or receding, I want to remain open to the tides.

Allie Illuminated | Low Tide

Cultivating Quiet: A Guide to Solitude (Free Resource Included!)

Solitude isn’t sexy. We may crave alone time in chaotic moments, but the intentional habit of carving out long stretches of time by yourself is a bit foreign in our world of constant stimulation and busyness. Most of us leave the practice to monks and poets. An indulgence we tell ourselves we don’t need.

But disliking solitude is kind of like being afraid of the dark. We won’t admit it, but in the same way run up the last few stairs of the basement, a lot of us casually craft our lives to avoid aloneness at all costs.

Solitude

Maybe now more than ever, we need people who are willing to cultivate silence in their lives. I think most people have little to no experience with the practice, which makes the idea of practicing it daunting to say the least! Which is why I’ve created a guidebook to help demystify it and share tangible, realistic ways to cultivate more quiet in your life.

Included in this guide:

  • What solitude is (and what it isn’t)
  • What we gain when we cultivate more solitude in our lives
  • Practical ways to create more margin in daily life
  • A complete guide to a weekend solitude retreat

My intention in writing this is to provide tangible ways to implement this practice. I’ve tried to make this really practical, but please know this isn’t prescriptive. I’m writing from the experiences I’ve had and insights I’ve gleaned. But like most practices, solitude is a deeply personal and unique experience for everyone.

I find solitude to be helpful when I feel directionless. When I’m creatively blocked. After a heartbreak or when I have a big decision to make. Solitude is for anyone interested in pursuing wholeheartedness in any capacity. But I specifically wanted to address three people before I begin:

For those reeling in the wake of the political climate,

I think a lot of us have been feeling a variety of bewilderment, deep concern, rage, and hopelessness, especially in the last few months. We need people to respond to injustice. But activism that springs out of reactionary anger is not sustainable. Activist and pastor Anthony Smith said, “before we can meaningfully play some part in addressing the violence my our own community, I must first seriously address the violence within my own soul.”  

If we don’t do this internal work, our best efforts only end up reflecting the very thing you’re trying to fight.

For the frazzled,

I know, I know. You’re probably muttering “must be nice…” when someone suggests that you make solitude a part of your rhythm. I get it. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like you’ve got a choice in certain seasons of life.

I want you to know this invitation is extended to you, even now. If you’re a mom of young ones, or work just got crazy busy, you probably need solitude more than anyone. You may have to get creative about the how and the when, but what feels like a luxury is actually a necessity. Leaving things undone for a little while to tend to your soul is so good for you.

For the extroverts,

I’m beginning to suspect that we hide behind the labels we give ourselves. Maybe “I don’t do alone time well because I’m an extrovert” is code for “I avoid being alone because I don’t want to face the demons that await me in silence.” (Equally, I suspect us introverts claim of social exhaustion has more to do with our dysfunctional mask wearing than personality traits) It may not be your natural tendency, but I dare you to give solitude a try. I promise, there are beautiful things waiting on the other side of the silence.

Solitude

In the midst of a world of incessant noise, we intuitively know we need to cultivate quiet in our lives. The gifts waiting inside quiet moments carved out are many.

To reclaim our humanity.

In a culture that worships at the altar of productivity and surrounded by people who wear exhaustion as a badge of honor, choosing solitude is an act of rebellion. It’s reclaiming the territory of what it means to be human. It’s owning up to our frailty and making peace with our limits. Solitude ushers us into the process of unlearning the self-protective “adult” habits that aren’t actually serving us. It’s trading in the forceful hustling, and constant pushing for a gentle wayfinding and sustainable rhythm.

To encounter unprocessed emotions.

Perhaps the main reason we avoid solitude is that we fear what awaits us. The grief we’ve been dismissing. The anger we’ve been stuffing down. The disillusioned doubts and undignified disappointment that we hope will just go away if we ignore it long enough. Uncomfortable though it is, the best way to move through complex emotions is through them. Not acknowledging undesirable emotions actually enslaves us. Pushing into the discomfort can lead to healing, clarity, and true healing. It IS worth it.

To be more fully present.

The true intention of solitude is not selfish isolation from the world. Richard Foster says “the fruit of solitude is increased sensitivity and compassion for others. There comes a new freedom to be with people. There is new attentiveness to their needs, new responsiveness to their hurts.” And Thomas Merton observed that “it is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am the more affection I have for them… Solitude and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say.”

If this is something you’re curious about, please download my free Cultivating Quiet Solitude Guide. 

 

The Importance of Being Earnestly Receptive (A Productivity Hack)

It’s a quiet morning. Grey Vancouver light pours into the windows as I sit down on the couch next to the dog I’m housesitting for, Maddi. She snores gently as I open up my computer, the blank computer screen illuminating my face.

I think through the to-do list, trying to prioritize. I have a client call in an hour and I’d like to finish revising the article I wrote yesterday. But I didn’t write a blog post last week, and there’s an email that I still need to respond to. A dozen other tasks filter through my mind, vying for importance.

I take the last sip of my french pressed coffee; gritty silt clinging to the rim. That familiar tightening in my chest clenches—the nagging reminder that I don’t have time to waste.

Productivity.

This is one of my biggest triggers for anxiety and shame. The daily evaluation of whether I was Productive Enough. The chase for Utmost Efficiency in accomplishing the tasks on my list. The meticulous analysis of whether or not I’m Wasting Time. 

productivity vs. receptivity 

(And inevitably, ironically wasting time reading productivity hack articles online… Am I the only one who does this?)

This near idolization of productivity has been engrained in me. Raised in the hardworking Midwest, bootstrap-pulling was brought to an Olympic-level. The demonization of laziness was a part of the ethos. Then I chose a profession that glorified those who made work an all-consuming lifestyle. The five years that I was an elementary teacher were accompanied by a constant buzz of guilt over not doing enough.

Without explicitly announcing it, my worth sidled up to my ability to Get Things Done. How I felt about myself when my head hit the pillow at night was directly related to how productive I felt that day. We get a release of dopamine when we accomplish tasks, but I’d become addicted to the hit, needing it to feel secure.

I left the relentless pace of the teaching world with the hope to live a life that felt more…human. But old habits die-hard. A few months into freelance writing, I’m still struggling with the same battles.

The problem with obsessing over productivity is the collateral side effects. It requires that I act like a martyr, isolating myself to avoid all distraction or any threat to my efficiency. And beating myself up at any sign of weakness or failure. I stake my happiness on an impossible standard of perfection. When I dig down, demanding productivity is really an attempt to create and maintain and image of worthiness.

It’s true—I’m still facing the same old lies. (To be honest, I wouldn’t trust a quick-fix solution anyway.) But the bravery that has been showing up and whispering new possibilities is giving me hope that this isn’t the way that it has to be.

creativity and being receptive

What if I actually believed that my worth wasn’t dependent on what I do or how much I get done?

What if my primary responsibility wasn’t to muster up the effort to Accomplish Everything, but to remain receptive to what is needed only for this moment?

See there’s a big difference between valuing productivity and honoring receptivity:

Productivity requires a constant hustle. Receptivity means submitting to a rhythm.

Productivity demands specifics outcomes to feel ok. Being receptive chooses to gently trust the process.

Productivity is fueled by an anxious suspicion of scarcity. Receptivity invites a hearty hope in a generous world.

Choosing a posture of receptivity means remaining open to possibility. When inspiration flows through, I roll up my sleeves, but I don’t force it to perform on my own terms or timeline. It means being hospitable towards ideas and projects along with the uncertainty and risk that come with them.

If I’m going to be a receptive human, that means that things like getting good rest and taking breaks are not wasted time. It means showing up consistently, expectant to be surprised in the best way. Because being receptive acknowledges that things aren’t only up to me. I’m invited into collaboration—with others, with Inspiration, and The Creative One.

Being receptive requires paying attention to the present moment with open hands. It means letting go of expectations and accepting my limits. (The paradox is that I am often able to accomplish far more when I’m not obsessing over productivity, however.)

receptivityThis morning, I choose to close my computer screen, choosing to put the to-do list on hold for a second. There’s still a gap between what I’m learning and processing about receptivity, and the evidence of freedom in my reality.

I am slowly learning to retrain my thought patterns–because a receptive heart has to believe in its enoughness. And freedom happens in a collection of small moments.

The dog looks over at my big sigh as I set my computer on the coffee table. “What do you think Maddi, want to go for a walk?”

Reflect & Envision: An Illuminated New Year’s Guide

The week in between Christmas and the New Year has always been a hushed margin of possibility for me. The presents are all unwrapped and all the chocolates in the Advent calendar have been eaten. But the decorations are still up, and the days are still infused with the holiday rhythm. There’s less of a push to be productive, and as the year comes to a close, it’s okay to just revel in the snow-globed magic of the season.

img_3372At some point in this transition week, I always try to steal away for a couple of hours. I find a quiet corner in my favorite coffee shop, drink my coffee slow as I think back over the last year and dream about the year to come.

This tradition of reflecting and envisioning has been a practice that I look forward to almost as much as Christmas morning.

It’s surreal to think about where I was at a year ago. I was halfway through my last year as an elementary teacher, living in Kansas City with five roommates. I had recently gone through a breakup and was making my first attempts at delving into the bizarre world of online dating. I knew that 2016 would hold a lot of change, but I didn’t know how it would manifest.

I wanted to be living a life that felt congruent with who I was–I longed to feel deep joy in what I was doing. My time in Kansas City had been filled with beautiful growth and I loved it in a lot of ways. But my sense of belonging and purpose had been slowly diminishing, to a degree that was now painfully evident. I was starting to feel this invitation to step out of this predictable narrative. 

The thought of so much change terrified me, but the only thought more terrifying was the prospect of everything remaining exactly the same. It felt like there was so much at stake, and the possibility of failure felt inevitable. Even so, I decided that risking disappointment was better than living disappointed.

So, as I left 2015 and all of its disillusioning heartache, I dared to write out some of my hopes for the brand new year. Not so much a New Year’s Resolution self-improvement campaign, but a ritual of remembering who I am and dreaming about how to live in line with that identity. A brave declaration of hopes, held with an open hand.

I’ve now arrived at the other bookend of this year. I’ve almost made my way through all 365 days of 2016. And guess what? Those whispers of hopes that I wrote down? Those dreams scribbled into my journal last January? Many of them actually happened. Beyond what I had the audacity to expect! I am living out of a rhythm that fosters my wholehearted flourishing! Unexpected and unconventional though it may be, I love the season I find myself in.

img_7468If this is the part where you’re expecting to hear me say that I’ve now arrived at some continual state of self-actualized contentment, you’ll be disappointed.

2017 is coming with just as much uncertainty and me not having it “figured out.” The highs may be higher, but the lows feel lower. That makes sense–I chose a posture of vulnerability when I left comfort and predictability. 

But I can say that 2016 was a year of me stepping into More (life, freedom, joy, moments of beauty). It was a year of me entering further into the endless process of becoming. There were moments of bravery and moments of failure. Moments of sheer terror juxtaposed against moments of sheer delight. I felt the depths of isolation and tasted the sweetness of true connection.

In other words, it was a year of vibrant humanity, splendid and imperfect. And I wouldn’t trade any of it.

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So I find myself this week, back at another little coffee shop, thinking back on the whirlwind that was this past year. On the borderline between one year and the next, I want to remember where I’ve been as I remain as open as possible to what lies ahead.

The ritual of looking back–of naming what has happened and feeling the weight of its impact has brought me freedom. Starting a new season with intentionality, taking time to quiet myself long enough to listen to my desires shapes my coming months in ways that I didn’t know were possible.

I don’t know what 2016 was like for you. If you are longing to escape a year that left you battered and bruised, or if you’re ending it with a sense of deep gladness. I wonder how you are feeling about 2017. Is it a year full of possibility and hope for you? Or do you feel daunted by the mountains looming ahead for you to climb? Perhaps you feel stuck, disillusioned by the suspicion that nothing will change. That next December will find you stuck in the exact same spot.

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I wanted to share the framework that I use to help me look back and look ahead. It’s not really a formula for a New Year’s Resolution, but some open-ended questions to get you thinking. I hope it is a catalyst to help you claim more abundance in your life.

Maybe you can find a time in this week of margin to get away for just a bit. I’m getting so giddy excited for you–maybe sitting down with a big mug of hot chocolate and your favorite pen; cozily wrapped up in a big blanket and envisioning what 2017 could be like. 

Click on the picture to download this free workbook!

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Is Life an Adventure…Or a Quest?

I’ve just spent the last two weeks exploring the Pacific Northwest. I had been in California for most of September and early October.
This morning, I will cross the border into Canada. The plan is to housesit for the next month, exploring Vancouver and building my new career as a freelance writer.

Sometimes the surreality of my current situation hits me. This wasn’t “The Plan.” The original plan I’d made.

The Plan was to be an elementary teacher in the Midwest.
The Plan was I was supposed to be married by now.
The Plan was to eventually be a stay at home mom, in a cutely decorated home in a hip neighborhood somewhere in the Midwest.
The Plan was to be living the story that was expected of me.

img_0255Truth is, I could be living that life right now. I could have gotten married to the man who cared for me and would have provided a stable life. I could still be a teacher, making a difference in the lives of eight-year-olds. I could have a house and all the things I dreamed about when I was a little girl.

And that would have been a good story. It just wasn’t my story.

Believe me, I wanted that to be my story for a long time. Even after I made choices to step away from those things, I had to grieve the loss of this expected narrative of my life. It would have been so much safer, so much more predictable and comfortable. It was definitely what was expected of me, and for someone who has often found her security in meeting others’ expectations, it was devastating when that didn’t happen.

I think I used to want my life to be more like one of those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stories, where you get to decide how it will all turn out. I wanted some thrills and adventures here and there, but I wanted the risks to be within my (perceived) control. I wanted the end goal to be clearly stated and the road to that “happily-ever-after” to be well planned out.

90b6eb0f-93fe-4295-a17f-bdb0a5086014Things have not turned out to be that neat and tidy. While my story has certainly been adventurous, it has become more and more evident that the adventure is not the end point, but the means to an end that extends beyond me. I found a spark of clarity in a conversation with my friend Karen when she explained the difference between an adventure and a quest.

“See, an adventure is a there-and-back-again tale. It’s like The Hobbit. The character goes out for the thrill and excitement, with some treasure in mind. There’s danger along the way, but the ending is a homecoming, the hero happy and unchanged. A quest, on the other hand, is a journey that a character takes, leaving him so changed, he can’t ever return to life as normal. It’s like Lord of the Rings. It’s about a purpose bigger than the character even realizes…

…Allie, I think you’re going on a quest.”

I loved this analogy. It’s why I love Travel—the way the experiences and encounters change me and shape my perspective. But while the idea of a quest is romantic and makes for a good movie, but can I be real honest? It’s a bit more challenging to be in the midst of a real life story that is full of plot twists and so much uncertainty. There is no treasure map to follow. And the plans I had made in the first few chapters have not at all come to pass.

img_6714I can make peace with the ambivalence of my traveling adventures. I have my arms wide open to being changed by this trip. But when it comes to the greater narrative of my story, I want a little more control than I’d like to admit. I’d prefer calculated risks with predictable outcomes over jumping into risky unknowns.

I’ve been thinking and writing about uncertainty and the landscape of change for awhile now. But I’m no longer in the foothills of transition. I’m on the cliffside of a quest. And I can look back on the valley that I’ve been climbing up. I can look back on the safety that I thought I wanted and see that my life has been far more adventurous than I ever would have planned for myself. And I can say beyond any doubt that I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“If we are to be aware of life while we are living it, we must have the courage to relinquish our hard-earned control of ourselves.”

fullsizerender-jpg-1If life is a quest, this opens me up to the freedom to enter into the mystery of the messy middle chapters. To trust that the story is a good one, even if I can’t skip to the end to see how it all turns out. Madeleine L’Engle, the beautiful author of the quote above also said that the basis of all story is the question “What if?” “All of life is story, story unraveling, and revealing meaning. Despite our inability to control circumstances, we are given the gift of being free to respond to them in our own ways.”

How Transitions are Kind of Like Getting Lost on a Hike

Transition.

It has become an unexpected theme these past few months, as I’ve processed out loud the heart wrenching and messy and beautiful process of saying goodbye to one chapter and heading into a new one. This week, the transition is reaching a pinnacle, as I move out of my Kansas City house I’ve called home for three years, say goodbye to the dear friends I’ve shared life with over the last five years.

The process of transitions seemed to mirror my experience of hiking on the unfamiliar mountain trails that I went on these past few weeks while housesitting for some friends in Denver.

Most adventures involve feeling lost at some point. Thinking back on the hikes, it’s the moments of uncertainty that made the journey memorable. It’s the unplanned routes that lead to the most breath-taking vistas. And yet, in the midst of it, sweaty and thirsty, and more out of breath than you should be for a healthy young person, you feel it all. The panic of feeling lost, the drudgery of the uphill stretches, the relief at discovering you are on the right trail and the moments of awe on the crest of the mountain.

Always, transitions move us forward.* “Further up and further on” as C.S. Lewis calls our invitation into more. Below is the description of the journey that I’ve been on that has mirrored the adventures my feet are traveling.

The Dead End

The comforting, well-worn path peters out into a copse of trees. Squinting in the high-altitude sunlight, I peer beyond the boulders for the continued path. The well-worn grooves of the path melt into the pine-needled floor. Unfolding the crumpled map I slipped into my back pocket, I try to make sense of the tangled ribbons of multicolored trails, feeling more disoriented by the moment. Glancing around for a boulder, I sit down to catch my breath and take some gulps from my lukewarm water bottle.  As my breaths come in more steadily, I take in the valley stretching out below the bluff I’ve come against. Glaciers of cloud shadows glide over the evergreen carpeted foothills ahead. Off in the distance, a purple bruised  sky threatens rain. My plan for the 3.2-mile trail that my friend recommended is decidedly not what I am on, I figure, studying at the map again.

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We may know the end of a road is coming (a graduation, the end of a lease). Or the end may come abruptly and unannounced (the end of a relationship or the loss of a job). Either way, a “dead end” always involves a death of “life as we currently know it.” Sometimes these ends are tangible and external, but there is a multitude of deaths that we experience that are more subtle and internal.

A dead end may come in the form of the end of a “honeymoon period” in the newness of  a relationship. Or it might be the loss of your sense of wholeness in a season of failure, depression, or woundedness. It can even be the feeling of loss we experience as our own preconceived ideas about how the world works unravel.

The dead end I faced this past year was a culmination of so many of these things. The realization that the career I was in wasn’t for me anymore. The decision to travel which meant letting go of the place I’ve called home. I’ve experienced many small deaths to my idea of “certainty” this past year as things I thought were definite became more unclear.

The thing about dead ends is that have to name them. See them for what they are, and then turn around. The only way to move forward is to get back on the path.

A Fork In the Road

Resituating my backpack on my shoulders, I start retracing my steps. I remember that a half mile back there was a signpost, so I make that my goal. It’s uphill terrain, the roots of the pine trees making steep stair steps further and further up. I get to the place where there’s a fork in the road. I could turn right. I know that a ways down the path is the parking lot, the map with the reassuring “You Are Here” arrow. Or I could turn left. The path continues up, switchbacks preventing me from seeing the final destination. With another cursory glance towards to storm clouds on the horizon, I turn left and continue up the slope.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetIn the wake of our deaths, we are faced with a choice. A strong pull within us for self-protection and self-preservation calls for staying put or turning back. But there’s another whisper inside us as well. The call to adventure. The call to live life to the fullest possible extent.

And that involves risk. It involves the challenging work of moving forward, even in the uncertainty. Life is found in forward motion, not back. Retreating, refusing to move on will either result in unhealthy fantasy or ever intensifying bitterness.

We live in a universe that is always moving forward. Inner transformation happens when we join in this unfinished business of transformation that all of Creation is undergoing. When we choose the riskier path of inner transformation.

Feeling Lost

All bravado from the fork in the road ebbs away with the wind whistling through the juniper leaves. What if I’m heading further away from where I wanted to go? What if I hit another dead end and I have to turn back, this time five miles away from my car? What if it starts raining? The rustle of leaves makes my heart go into double time. Moments later, my eyes roll in self-mockery as a ground squirrel darts across the path. My eyes search for a guidepost, reassurance that I’m on the right trail. But all I see in my line of sight are more and more switchbacks.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetThis part of the journey is messy. Grieving the loss of comfortable familiarity is a part that cannot be skipped in the process of transition. Moments of self-doubt, the arrival of fear and the tangle of what-ifs are inevitable.

Before we move on to the new, we must grieve what we are losing. To attempt sidestepping these uncomfortable moments is to deny your own humanity.

I feel like I’m just getting out of the thick of this stage in the process of transitions. I knew it would come, but that didn’t make it any less messy. This time, though, rather than resisting the storm of uncertainty, I tried to pass through it. Sometimes it was a struggle just to put one foot in front of the other, but knowing that this was a necessary part of the process helped.

Staying the Course

There were no external confirmations that I was headed in the right direction. But internally I feel a shift of new confidence as I keep climbing. My senses feel more awake up in the alpine air. The distinct aroma of mountain air that no candle or air freshener can even hope to replicate fills my lungs. My eyes land on the happy yellow teacup of a flower, stubbornly growing atop a cactus. Aspen leaves dappled the sunlight above, and between the trees, a snow-capped mountain range cuts the horizon. Well, I think, I’m not sure where I’m headed, but I am here. And I love that I am here in this moment.

IMG_1365Between the doubt and the fear, poking through the brush like the views of the mountains, are glimpses of deep and resounding peace. Discovered by patient attention to the present moment, there are moments where we become brave enough to let go of the season we are leaving behind.

These aren’t the trite Hallmark card-sounding optimism that we pull out for talking to our acquaintances, but a deep equanimity that has come through the hard work of grieving and wrestling with the death we went through.

We find that we are able to be blessed by the past season. With all its imperfections, heartbreaks, and monotony, we see it for what it was. A beautiful part of our story that shaped us and laid the foundation, not only for this very moment, but also for the unforeseeable next season we are headed towards.

We recognize that there were beautiful moments of deep belonging and significance that named us. We also are able to honor the bruises and scars we carry as souvenirs, wounds that hurt like hell in the moment, but from which truth and growth flowed out in a way that we wouldn’t have traded for the world.

The line between honoring the past and the trap of nostalgia is subtle. With a little bit of distance between where I am now and that gorgeous view that the dead end led me too, I feel the urge to go back, to camp out there. But we cannot cling to the past if we want to fully inhabit the life we are now living. Rather, we enter into the dance of celebrating the gifts we have received and setting our sights on the road ahead. Believing C.S. Lewis’ promise that “there are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

Arrival

The light starts to come down in ever widening shafts, the canopy clearing ahead to the peak of the mountain. Panoramic views dizzy my senses. My heart  is overwhelmed at the shades of hills and slopes repeating into the distance. Billowing cumulus mountains compete for grandeur with the peaks and slopes on the ground, their extravagant temporariness contrasting the mountains’ sheer confidence. I resist my millennial urge to look first through my iPhone screen, capturing the beauty and not really seeing it. I climb up onto a stack of boulders, taking me out that much further into the beauty and sit down cross-legged on the sun-warmed stone. Any memory of anxiety over whether I was on the right path is distant. The thought of turning back at the moment of feeling lost now seems laughable, as I drink in the beauty of the adventure.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetSo what happens on the other side of transition? What does it feel like to settle into the newness of what’s next? That’s a great question. I don’t think, in this transition, that I’m there yet. I’m probably back on the path, starting to accept where I am, being blessed by the dead ends and refusing the urge to turn back.

I think the arrival feels like embracing the spirit of the new season, which looks and feels different from the spirit of the last season. It’s a joyful settling into my new skin, learning how to fully inhabit the life I am currently living.

And, at some moment, it will come time to keep moving forward. There will come a time when this season will become a dead end. And rather than clinging, it will be time again to receive the invitation to “further up and further in.” On this side, that longing for home will never fully be satisfied.

And that is okay. “In order to come to fuller life and spirit, we must constantly be letting go of the present life and Spirit.”

*The framework of thought for this post came from an article I read called A Spirituality  of the Paschal Mystery. It is a chapter in the book The Holy Longing, by Ronald Rolheiser.