It snuck up this year, as though I’d almost forgotten about it until I saw friends in another time zone posting Mardi Gras pictures. Mardi Gras is this week? I thought. That means Lent begins this week?! Maybe it’s because I don’t … Continue reading
Continued from The Panoramic Intersection of God, Family & The Open Road: Part 1-2014 The hardest part about travel is leaving. I procrastinate packing, flip through pictures, smell the room and the people in it, and tightly hug my loved … Continue reading
The black and faded grey asphalt of I-95 southbound leads straight into the sunset. Trees on the interstate edges cascade from bare brown to hunter green with the passing of each new state. A free, soothing feeling comes back to me, … Continue reading
Beautiful new year’s mercies from my writer friend Majo Aldana. She writes at Quedamos los que puedan sonreir. Her original post “Let’s Have More/Tengamos Mas” can be found here.
Let’s have more / Tengamos más
Have you looked at the stars lately? A sunset, a sunrise? Maybe at some kids playing at a fountain or a field? Have you looked at your hands, your eyes? Have you felt your heartbeat?
This 2015, instead of or in addition to (whatever your preferences) the new year’s promises and resolutions, simply decide to have more.
for others and yourself.
be it in tears, dances in the rain or snow fights.
to savor in your mouth, to share with others and realize where it came from.
in the form of sunshine, knowledge
or simply in the company of others that share theirs.
from hugging a tree, talking to your grandparent about life
or enjoying a kiss or a hug.
to live well and more presently,
making sure you are contributing to others’ well being in some way.
from flowers, music or travel.
More smiles, more questions, more… Let’s have more.
Looking forward to “more” with you this 2015.
Thanks for reading.
It started with friends coming over for a post-New Year’s party featuring a dream wall that everybody signed with goals, hopes, and dreams for 2014 and beyond. We each happily began our year, friends coming back throughout the months that ensued to check off items, scratching out a few that didn’t stir our hearts anymore, and adding new ones along the way, because we are ever changing, and true dreams recognize the wind and waves to move with you, not against you.
Right now, I can only tell you my journey of those winds and waves this year.
It went a little something like this:
I found my people.
Together we biked down city streets at night cheering at the top of our lungs so free. We climbed trees, played ukuleles in each other’s backyards, square danced, and laid under stars together. We told stories, shared struggles, asked bigger questions, stepping away from black and white into grey, yellow, neon green, and those hues Crayola has yet to codify.
I celebrated firsts.
My first jellyfish sting.
My first skinnydipping on Playa Flamenco, a beach on the island of Culebra. And it was everything I thought it would be until a second jellyfish stung me and I ran out of the late night water screaming, forgetting to cover my parts.
I fell in love.
Not in the traditional romantic sense.
But with the Earth, animals, and humanity.
I fell in love with chickens, experiencing the joy of chicken farming and that tingly happy feeling you get when you cuddle a chicken.
I fell in love with the night sounds and the warm breeze that wafts into your tent as you fall asleep with the window unzipped.
I fell in love with a city that grew me up into maturity.
Then I moved cities, far away enough to seize an irresistible new opportunity for growth, but close enough to come back and sit on its docks in total silence feeling like I just had the best conversation in the world.
I settled into a new house with roommates from India and Canada.
I left a job and began a new one.
I changed perspectives.
I judged certain people and realized the ways in which I am every bit as much of a contributor to the problem as part of the solution.
I defended myself silly until I learned to stop pining for my opinion to receive external validation.
I went pescatarian, and at the end of this year, watched a man reel in a fish that bled profusely as he removed the hook, making full-on vegetarian one of my 2015 goals.
I ditched make up. For good. And don’t feel guilty about the times I whip out tinted sunscreen under my eyes after late night writing binges.
There were tough calls, hard breaks
An ended relationship like a fissure with jagged edges
That ended more beautifully than I could have ever imagined.
I developed confidence. Developed it by forcing myself to tell others about my book idea-turned-into-action. And I kept telling others even after I received discouraging feedback in an encounter that left me so embarrassed, I ran out of a conference room and cried in the bathroom. Then I gave myself a pep talk, walked out the bathroom door, and the next day, told triple the amount of people I’ve ever told in a single day.
I developed it by openly disagreeing with others, stating my opinion, and making my voice heard. There was that work meeting where a man interrupted me and I said flatly, “I wasn’t done speaking yet,” without even a second thought about holding back.
Felt afraid of riding my bike for the first time as I rode in an ambulance to the ER with a friend who got hit on a training ride. I felt afraid after getting hit by a car on my morning commute, grateful for how minor it was. I felt afraid of training rides with a new team after there were three weeks in a row of accidents. I felt resilience as I rode and trained anyway. I felt freed after I reached out to female cycling friends once I realized just how afraid I became, and was met with encouragement and understanding. I felt joy as I had more and more God-its-good-to-be-alive mornings on my bike, my freedom machine, my Big Blue. The kind of mornings that make you stand up on both pedals and say, “Weeeeeee,” biking fears replaced by biking bliss.
I gave myself the permission I never needed.
Permission to not have kids. Permission to reduce my triathlon training in exchange for pursuing creative endeavors. Permission to not have to feel productive all the time, instead spending an hour capturing the sunset through my camera lens from a third story window.
I wrestled. With seemingly everything.
Marriage. God. Myself. Gender. Anything with one too many question marks. Privilege. Food justice. Bike parts. The back door lock. Academia. The front door lock. The US political party system. Women- only spaces. Mouse traps. Death. The future. The past. And the length of this paragraph.
Learned from friends who live in Rwanda what it was like to grow up during the genocide. And then, I learned about the peace and reconciliation process of Gacaca, moved as my friend told me, “People think Rwanda’s story is about genocide. But what they don’t know is ours is a story of forgiveness.”
I learned that perhaps if we aren’t experiencing joy in our lives, it’s because we’re not creating it. And with that, I stopped at a waterfall that I used to zoom past every day on my way to work. Stopped for a week straight to take pictures of it. Stopped to close my eyes so that I could solely focus on my sense of hearing- hearing that thundering waterfall sound with a few birds chirping in the background. And I would make sure to do this again when it snowed and again when it thawed until the only thing that stopped this newly adopted morning routine was moving away.
I spent money.
On a new racing bike, a Specialized Alias, feeling only one twinge of guilt over the cost before smashing it to the grindstone, remembering that privilege guilt doesn’t actually create systemic change, and that part of my triathlon passion is not just the joy of the sport, but in challenging gender norms.
I spent it on airfare to Puerto Rico, where I timbered trees with a WOOFer from Czech Republic who’d sing the words of Ke$ha everytime the tree fell: “It’s going down, I’m yelling timber…”
I interviewed people. Interviewed women in their 80s, 90s (including my 93 year old grandmother) and even 100s, on their lives, asking hard questions, receiving even harder answers. I interviewed men regarding gender dynamics, and walked away with full reality of male privilege but completely excited about allyship and creating spaces for women and men to talk about the messages we face daily but often don’t bring up.
I let go.
Let go enough to be silly and join strangers-turned-friends in giving out free hugs at the Farmers Market.
Let go enough to dance on a street corner to “Jump on it” with a woman who was homeless.
Let go of the cradle-to-grave life itinerary I used to demand and took on a one year global health fellowship. I have no idea what I’ll do when it’s over in 7 months. But never the matter. I’ve let go. And choose to believe it will all work out.
Laughed as friends and I sledded, saucer-ed and snowtubed down a staircase-turned-snow ramp during the polar vortex, bombogenesis, snowmageddon that was winter 2014.
Laughed as my dad told me stories about his life “BC” (before children)
Laughed at myself as I mispronounced bike parts and for the first time, it didn’t sting; the need to prove myself as a competent women replaced by need for humor and grace.
Stopped going to Church.
At least the one that meets on Sunday mornings in pews, instead experiencing the kind of Church that happens when you’re about to go into your house but something catches you outside, urging you to sit on the porch ledge and ponder the Pleiades until your gaze becomes a wordless prayer as you experience the intimacy of God like one thousand choirs filled with sacred song.
I stopped filling journals with worries and instead, created “memories I don’t want to forget” pages, trying to capture experiences that leave my mind all too quickly.
And as quickly as it started, so quickly it’s ending.
Benjamin Franklin, looking at a painting of a sun that artists found difficult to decipher as a rising or setting sun, once said, “But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is indeed a rising and not a setting sun.” The coda to this year may end with 11:59:59 on the clock, a few dim stars in the winter air, about to be blasted with fireworks. But in my heart is tomorrow’s sunrise, an invitation to not just a new day, but a new year. I can already peer into its apertures, knowing 2015 will bring another move, some wanderlust in Africa, my 10 year high school reunion, and lots of humble embraces with old and new friends. The dot-dot-dot ellipses of these 365 days ahead remain a mystery, but we’re about to fill pages with color, question marks and exclamation points.
Two thousand fifteen.
Let’s write the next first sentence in our stories that are ever changing, ever evolving,
forever living onward into a beautiful infinity.
I founded a project called “Letters to Future Sisters” in which women from all over the world tell their stories of what life was like growing up in their part of the world while sharing dreams for future generations of women and girls. Here is my wise friend Caroline Numuhire’s letter on growing up in Kigali, Rwanda during the genocide, the innocence of her childhood, and her dreams for future generations of women and girls.
Originally posted on Letters to Future Sisters of the World:
I grew up in Kigali but I was born in Butare, a University City in southern Rwanda. I grew up during a very challenging period because in my early childhood, Rwanda experienced one of the worst holocausts of our century. I grew up in a society torn by this division which engendered a profound mistrust among its children. But this doesn’t include the fact that I have known the insouciance and innocence of a childhood, children’s plays and oral stories told by the elders.
I grew up in a family of three girls and one boy. My father, though highly educated and very smart, was like the majority of African men who believe that women must play a secondary role in society. He was constantly recalling this. But my mother, a very emancipated woman, always whispered the contrary in our ears. At the same time, whenever something was…
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I am secretly coming to love the late autumn and early winter. It’s in these months that I give myself permission to reduce my triathlon training mileage. To take a break from my intense personality and the regimented core workout–work for 8 hours–timed race pace run–nutrient dense dinner–stretch–ice–foam roll–nine hours of sleep–40 mile ride in the morning– schedule. To tame down the constant part of me that insatiably demands, “More, more, more,” always dreaming of being stronger and faster. To slow down in order to let my creative spirit take precedence over the athlete in me.
This lending over to the artistic spirit allows me to bask in awe of beauty, binging on new musicians via Spotify until 2 in the morning, musing over what experiences and stories led up to these lyrics being sung in this exact manner. I’m Skyping with old souls from all over the world. I’m owning my book project with far less hesitation and it’s leading me to people and organizations I’ve been dying to meet. I’m singing more than ever before with less reservation, in front of more and more people, not just my shower walls. I’m finding my way into local coffee shops, museums, libraries, and concert halls- the most recent being Lincoln Theater to see James Vincent McMorrow thanks to the generosity of a friend who offered me his tickets when he no longer could make it.
Sitting there in the audience Saturday night, I watched, captivated, mesmerized by the budding, expanding, blossoming of the human voice. His voice holding out into time and space, long, lengthened pitches, strong and resounding. Beats and questions and thoughts that float along steady into the atmosphere, a bit like bubbles coasting in the daylight, lingering, hovering a little, and then… a combustible, “Pop.” How vulnerable it must feel to put something out there like that.
What would the world look like, though, if we spoke in those soft, yet loaded, gentle, iridescent bubbles that pop in fits and spurts until something inside of our soul that once was trapped has become freed, so freed, it could just do it again and again and again and again? How empowering would it feel to finally find an expression that elucidates your innermost feelings of an experience?
I think this gripping beauty mingled with freedom would get us to stop and nestle in deep into the heart of it all, ditching the fluff-and-stuff of life for the yes-and-yearn.
The yes-and-yearn is not easily won. In fact, it can be downright hard, can’t it? To live exposed like that, willingly putting yourself in front of the microphone, or name on the page, speaking those words and asking those questions that it feels like nobody else is asking, just wondering alone to themselves in the dark on some restless, sleepless night?
It can be hard to get in touch with every part of ourselves without sacrificing one part for the other.
But it’s worth it.
So worth it.
Spring will come again, my miles will expand, and I will fall in love with the beauty that ensues when running shoes hit shaded trails.
But today I will fall in love with the beauty that resounds in coffee shops and viewfinder eyepieces. I will fall in love with the full spectrum of the human experience by pondering what’s going inside the soul of a musician as he or she sings his or her truth. I will fall in love with color by popping out the screen window and taking copious amounts of sunset pictures from my third story window, chronicling its evening travels off the edge of the horizon. Maybe, even, one of these mornings, I will wander downstairs to make a warm cup of coffee, only to come back upstairs to take in the sunrise. And together, the light, the people, the connection, this spiritual world will leave us with no other option but to…
So soon you will be in that part of the book where you are holding the bulk of the pages in your left hand, and only a thin wisp of the story in your right. You will know by the page count, not by the narrative, that the author is wrapping things up. You begin to mourn its ending, and want to pace yourself slowly toward its closure, knowing the last lines will speak of something beautiful, of the end of something long and earned, and you hope the thing closes out like last breaths, like whispers about how much and who the characters have come to love, and how authentic the sentiments feel when they have earned a hundred pages of qualification…. -Donald Miller
“And next month will be December!” I realized as the final minute of October 31st decrescendoed. I let the words hang in the air, a soft hug over the hundreds of still shot images of the beautiful and broken from the past 10 months flashing through my mind. Warm nostalgia crept over, soothing like a cup of chamomile tea easing me into slumber. It’s taken me a while to get to a place where I confidently say this, but for the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m finally living the life I always imagined, and yet there’s a constant tug in my heart to keep letting go and re-creating, giving into fear just a few times less. Beginning the second to last month of the year brings me in touch with reality: that this year’s impending end is ever closer, and I flop on my bed with a journal to begin the treasured process of evaluating my year, knowing there’s still time to tick off my 14 for ’14 goals.
What is it about a waning year that causes us to both reach out and within? To become introspective, reaching deep inside the storehouses in our hearts that house love, joy, and possibly even regret, while in the very same breath, reaching out to friends and family in a spirit of giving more than any other time of year? Why do some months naturally evoke reflection or goal setting?
Flipping through my calendar tonight, the place I scribble quotes and song lyrics that stand out to me on particular days, the bulk of pages lie crinkled on the left, just a few thinning pages on the right. It’s here I realize the answer to my question lies in the provocative thinning page. If these pages could talk, they’d ask incitingly, “Will will you do while there’s still sand to run through the 2014 hourglass? What will you do while there’s still leaves available to fall freefall down from fading branches onto cool ground? What do you want to say on these last few pages?”
Because there’s something about this thinning page that dares us to go all out.
I’m sitting at the edge of my seat.
I feel like I’ve written that vulnerable message to someone near to me, cursor hovering over “send,” one click away from initiating that scary, deep, beautiful, unguarded conversation.
I feel like I’m back on the bridge I jumped off college graduation night in celebration, standing on the ledge, beginning to swing my hips forward into the direction of the dark nighttime water, half thinking, “Should I do this?” Half thinking, “Yessssssssssssss.”
I feel like I’m back on the airplane at 16,500 feet, the only thing moving me closer to the exit door being the instructor strapped tandem to my back.
I feel it.
I feel it.
And all that’s left to do is to to take that dreaded proverbial leap.
To follow through on the impetus to drive West until I reach some state sign I’ve never seen before.
To follow through on that impulse to message the people who cross my mind, without rationalizing how long it’s been since we last talked.
To sing aloud on my bike and around the house and out in public replacing fear of how I’ll sound with fear of missing out on joy.
To confidently call myself an author and move forward in creating my first book.
And so maybe you’re discovering the thinning page of your year, your decade (as I watch friends lament over turning 30, which I know we’ll look back on with laughter), or maybe even your life, as you reach ages you weren’t sure you’d ever see. But no matter what stage, your pages are thinning. All that’s left to do is to make the last few read a tale that’s got you hooked. And when we finish that last sentence to close the book on December 31st, I hope you’ll find yourself glancing upward at the fireworks with the friends and family you love, arms outstretched, blessed and strengthened by the richness of your last few pages, ready to write the next first sentence in your story that’s ever changing, ever evolving, forever living onward into a beautiful infinity.
Lately, I’ve been thinking some unhelpful thoughts about the future that rob my mind from experiencing joy in the present moment without distraction. Thoughts that lead me to feel guilty about things that I can do “because I don’t have kids.” For example, I set my alarm many a Friday night to a leisurely waking hour that some folks with toddlers can only dream about. I feel guilty over having time to myself-some might call it ‘me-time,’ but I think that denotes selfishness instead of recognizing our own individual needs for renewal. This is free time that I get to choose how to spend. Time to workout for as long as I’d like, read for pleasure, or simply sit by candlelight in quiet meditation before going to bed. All of this is self-inflicted guilt because I believe I fall into the whole “oh-she-doesn’t-really-get-it-yet-because-she-doesn’t-have-kids” category. I think about the myriad of things my parents did for me and my two siblings; things I cannot even remember, like the hundreds of smelly diapers they changed, or all the times they were patient and forgiving towards me when I threw temper tantrums. And while I’ve been getting better at turning my guilt over these things into expressing gratitude for my parents’ dedication and love, I still get caught feeling like I might be selfish if I don’t do the same for future offspring one day, as though my entire worth as a human being is dictated by whether or not I chose to “selflessly” procreate.
I’ve always intended to have children one day, that is, through the means of adoption. I never was interested in having children biologically, though I’m grateful that there are women who choose to do so, giving the precious gift of life to another human being. Adoption can slow population growth, thus preserving our Earth’s precious resources. It can provide loving parents to one of the 132 million orphaned children on this planet. Additionally, the cost of adoption is not nearly what most might think, with adoptions ranging from $0-$2,500 in US foster care systems, $5,000-$40,000 in private agencies, and $7,000-$30,000 internationally. Conversely, average costs for a vaginal delivery are $18,329 and $27,866 for a C-section. Despite my research, I’ve been criticized by some for my interest, and was even told surly, “That won’t REALLY be your child!” by someone close to me. I remain undismayed by this, knowing firmly that an adopted child is every bit as much MY child— yes, the kind of child you see on stage or in the pool and want to stand up for all to see, shouting, “That’s MY kid!” Beaming, overflowing with pride. Pride because I’ve dreamed of this child for so long, wondering in which country s/he would be born. Pride because I’ve wanted you, imagined you, and—if I decide to follow through with this desire– will one day treasure you as my very own child. So when asked if I want to have kids, my response is usually: I want to adopt one day, but the age that I wish to adopt gets a little bit later every year as time moves forward while my desire for motherhood halts.
And so, when I see pictures of my friends’ babies on Facebook, or see frazzled parents running to practices and meetings all over town, I lie in bed at night, wondering if that’s my same fate. I see women with pregnant bellies and am grateful that they would be so giving as to spend nine months, sometimes in discomfort, to give someone the opportunity to experience the incredible gift of life. Though I’ve never been pregnant, I contend that we, as a society, are sometimes inattentive on how to treat a woman who is pregnant. I’ve seen people excessively stare at a woman’s belly instead of make direct eye contact with her face. I’ve seen people lose interest in a woman’s personhood, ceasing to ask questions about the woman and her life, instead solely talking about her embryo, as if they choose to now view her exclusively through the identity of mother, instead of a mother AND a person. I imagine myself pregnant and cringe. Some months, I experience dysmenorrhea so intensely, that one time, I had to lock myself in the bathroom at work to lay down on the dirty floor in privacy to relieve severe menstrual cramps, as lying completely flat and popping round-the-clock ibuprofen are my only anodyne. Given my experiences with just having a monthly period, pregnancy sounds like a nightmare that you can’t wake up from until you’ve given birth…and then, there’s breastfeeding.
Let’s be clear. I know what I’m saying is probably skewed. I lack the perspective and maturity to understand the full realm of pregnancy as both a beautiful, miraculous thing to be celebrated, in addition to being something that can be painful or potentially socially isolating for some women. I don’t balance both sides of the beauty/discomfort scale, and my perception of pregnancy is entirely skewed because of it.
Skewed or not, though, I’ve given myself permission to not even have kids. To not even adopt, though my ardent depiction of adoption I mentioned earlier might suggest otherwise. Oh sure, I may very well change my mind. But by giving myself permission to not have children when many of my friends and family members are and when many societal, religious, or familial voices expect that each woman “should,” I am discovering blissful freedom. By loosening myself from the forced grip of motherhood, I am better able to love, understand, care for, support, and be present in the lives of women who wholeheartedly desire and embrace motherhood. I can love such friends (and their kids) without feeling as though I have to be doing what they have chosen to do with their lives. And who knows. One thing I’m learning about life is that things change. Despite being an obstinate person, I’ve changed views and decisions on things that I was once so sure about (like deciding not to go on my Peace Corps assignment). Perhaps in another 5-10 years, I will feel differently about the whole parenthood thing. My views, beliefs, and opinions that I held 5-10 years ago are not tit-for-tat those that I hold now. We exist in a life that is fully evolving, each day marked by choices that twist and turn us into people reignited, perhaps now with gifts like perspective and maturity.
Choosing to become a parent is a deeply personal, intimate decision that only you as an individual, and then ultimately, you and your partner as a couple, can make. It is indeed a choice, though, especially if you use effective birth control (I understand that “oops-es” can happen- and I’ve met some beautiful people that were brought into this world through an unintended pregnancy). Having children is not a requirement. It’s not a demand. Certain religious voices might tell you otherwise. That’s what Evangelical Christians tried to tell me for years- that “motherhood is a woman’s highest calling.” But, like author Rachel Held Evans points out, “A Christian woman’s highest calling is not motherhood; a Christian woman’s highest calling is to follow Christ.” What’s more freeing than anything else, though, is remembering that none of us have to do anything that isn’t the best choice for ourselves, just because it is the best choice for many others. You can serve and love unselfishly without having children, just like you can serve and love and have children. Not having children can be a great choice for you, just like having children can be a great choice for you. The important part is not to judge other’s decisions and to remember that you have a choice in the matter.
I keep meeting and spending time with couples who have intentionally chosen to be childless. I’m amazed by their firm commitment to serve their communities, places of worship, and for using their time to promote goodness and peace in this world. Similarly, I’ve been meeting couples that have intentionally chosen to have children, and I’m amazed by how they love their kids with such character, teaching me so much about patience and dedication- what it means to truly love when it’s easy, and even more so, when it’s hard. They’ve taught me that if you quit and give up early, you miss out on beautiful memories that would have never been possible. I’ve watched my own parents deal with behavioral challenge after behavioral challenge in raising a daughter with Down Syndrome. But everytime I see her smile and hear her laugh, I am once again so grateful for their steadfast commitment to not give up on unconditional love, patience, and kindness, when anyone else would understand if they did. Yes. I’ve watched couples create identities as mothers (and fathers) as well as identities in their own personhood, interests, and dreams. Both of these kinds of couples- childless and child-filled alike- help mold, shape, and stretch my perspectives as I carefully, prudently choose the path that fits best for my life.
So until I’m ready to make a firm decision, you will find me musing, and asking questions- LOTS of them. I thank all of you who have patiently let me ask you very personal questions. I especially thank you for your honesty and vulnerability. It’s been said that “maturity is not believing everything you’re told.” So I’m ready to maturely move forward into my adulthood, freed from the critical voices that used to clobber my mind, and unburdened by anyone’s unspoken expectations, knowing that one day, if I decide to become a mother, it is because it was the cry of my heart, the melody of my passion. No expectations. No demands. Just love.
Another beautiful piece from my writer friend Amber Cadenas as she tackles the meaning of family with beautiful poignant truth. http://amber-beautifulrubbish.blogspot.com/2014/10/the-point-at-which-family-starts.html#.VEbmsfnF-1T
“And so, with the questions coming not long into this story of marriage – But when are you going to start a family? – I squirm inside, protesting. But don’t you see? We already have.”
“It is not children who make a family a Family. It is people, loving each other, in abundance and in lack, in sickness and in health, in desire and in struggle, till death do us part.”
If you enjoy reading about spirituality, grace, and finding God in everyday experiences, be sure to check out her Facebook page for updates.