On Gratitude.

20 November 2017






This video popped up recently on Facebook, and I’m such a fan of Brene Brown that I watched it.  It puts into words something I’ve believed much of my adult life, and it’s been resonating through my brain in the last few weeks.

“I’ve never interviewed a single person who talks about the capacity to really experience and soften into joy who does not actively practice gratitude.”

“When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding”.  Moments of joy become moments of terror; we wonder when the other shoe will drop, when all this goodness will be taken from us, when we will feel the pain and the grief that we know is coming, and we don’t allow ourselves to fully embrace and feel joy.

I totally get this. I’m sure I’ve written before, but I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop, because somehow it feels completely unfair that my life should be as awesome as it is when there is horrific tragedy around the world and I can’t possibly feel too much joy because I don’t think I can survive the pain that is sure to be on its heels, someday or somewhere.

It’s such garbage.

What do the joyful people do? The people that really do soften into that experience of and abundance of goodness? They get that shudder of fear too, but they practice gratitude. Fear is not the boss of them.  Fear is not the boss of me. Gratitude is a practice, not an attitude.

So as I’m wandering through what kind of feels like a desert season, I want to soften into the joy.  I don’t want to miss those moments.  I don’t want to dwell on the hurt and the pain, the fractured relationships, the mad controlling monster inside of me that spends hours at the gym or cleaning or organizing something because even though my life feels out of control, at least I can be organized/clean/skinny/whatever. I want to soften into the joy, into the opportunity to laugh and smile and be awed and amazed and grateful. 

~~

The afternoon that Harvard and I broke up could have been terrible.  I could have fallen into the depths of despair, wondering who I am without this and what will become of my life and how do I explain this to people who don’t really get it and what will everyone think.  But I didn’t let that happen.  I walked home in the sunshine, the entire time thinking of what I’m grateful for – for the experience, for the great people I met, for the things I’ve learned including how not to do things and the questions to ask before accepting any job in the future.  I went home and I cried a little, grieving the death of the future I had dreamed we might have together. And then I went as planned to the soup kitchen I volunteer at, washing millions of dishes and pots and pans and utensils used by beautiful souls who are really struggling and can experience a small bit of joy in a warm, filling meal served by people who see them and care. 


Let me tell you, if you ever think your life is hard, volunteer at a soup kitchen or a childrens hospital or on a big white ship in Africa or a refugee center or somewhere, anywhere… serve. You can’t help but feel gratitude, not in a sick sort of I’m so glad my life is better than theirs but in a humbling, awe-insipiring thank you for using me. Thank you for these plates and this clean water to wash them in and the food that was on them that now fills the bellies of those who really know hunger and the people that all came together to make this happen and serve and give and lay ourselves down for someone else.  It’s beautiful.

~~

On the last hurrah this fall granted us, before the icy winds started to blow and the final leaves fell and the scarves and mittens and wool coats had to be dug out of the basement, I embraced the gift of freedom and biked out to Walden Pond.  This is where Thoreau wrote Walden, a wonderful bit of literature that I highly recommend reading.  It was the longest bike ride I’ve ever done; about 45 miles in total, plus a lot of exploring the area once I got there. It was glorious. It was a random Thursday in early November which meant no crowds to disrupt the beauty that is seeing and breathing and listening to the still small whisper that somehow seems clearer away from the clutter of the city and home and pressures there. I’m so grateful for a bike that I love that fits me perfectly; for a body that is strong and healthy and knocked out those 45 miles with only minimal discomfort (honestly, the last few miles everything hurt and I didn’t know if I would make it, but that’s all forgotten rather quickly).  I’m grateful for the beauty that waited for me there, for the whispers of hope and healing and goodness for the future in the rustling and falling of the leaves into the crystal clear water, for the clean crisp air and the gift of time to follow my heart wherever it wanted to wander.  I’m grateful for the state and the country that preserves these bits of glorious nature where a soul can breathe, where beauty heals, where the wind speaks and the heart can soar like the eagles above.

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” 
― Henry David ThoreauWalden


“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” 
― Henry David ThoreauWalden

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” 
― Henry David ThoreauWalden


~~


This girl. What a treasure.  Friends since high school, while our storylines have diverged  to opposite ends of the spectrum our hearts remain intertwined, and I’m so incredibly grateful.  She’s in the air national guard and has been activated to DC for hurricane response, and I was finally able to use some old United miles I accumulated few years ago!  We visited the Smithsonian, National Archives, Mount Vernon, and a few other places!  


I was captivated by the rainbow of gemstones and jewels on display at the Smithsonian.
Beautiful fall day in DC.

The General and Mrs Washington came for a visit at Mount Vernon, it was fascinating! 

I'm grateful for a country that preserves history the way we have; I'm grateful for historians and museum scholars and art history people and those workers that are so passionate about that kind of thing - because I'm not, at all, but enjoy looking at it.  I'm grateful for the opportunity to spend quality time with my friend in a beautiful place on a beautiful Veterans Day weekend.  

~~

I just ran nine and a half miles…  and it wasn’t even that hard, really. I do need some new shoes.  But I’m so grateful for a strong body that is healthy and fit that can peel off nine and a half miles and still get to spin class tomorrow.  I’d like to run a marathon in 2018.  I’ve run two half marathons but never the whole distance, and it feels a little crazy, but I’ve never let that stop me before.  I can’t commit at the moment because I don’t know where I’ll be living or working yet, but holding it out there as a big hairy audacious goal for 2018.  I’m so grateful I get the opportunity to even consider something like that.  I’m grateful for my running friends who cheer me on and encourage me and inspire me to reach for greater than I think I’m capable of. 

After my run I came home to an apartment I love and a roommate who is fabulous, and I made a huge salad filled with healthy ingredients and vitamins and flavors and textures and I’m so grateful for all of those things. I brushed my teeth in water right from the tap without fear of cholera or typhoid or intestinal parasites; I’m going to sleep tonight in a warm, comfortable bed where I don’t need to worry about my safety or security, and I get the joy of another day tomorrow, to be light and bring life and serve and love and grow and learn and expand my horizons beyond what I see. 

I wrote earlier in this post it feels like I’m in a bit of a desert season… and I take it back. It’s not. At all. It’s a season of abundance, and greatness, and joy, and promise and hope and peace.  And I’m so grateful.


xxk

On learning.

09 November 2017

I’m sitting in Logan airport and the sky is such a beautiful shade of blue I can’t help myself but smile.  The air was crisp this morning; a cold front coming through this weekend has Bostonians digging out their winter hats, gloves, scarves, and sweaters. A neighbor across the street has put up a few Christmas lights, and I was giggly with joy.  I’ve been in the states for Christmas a few times in the last decade, but haven’t had the joy of experiencing the season.  The excitement of anticipation, looking forward to family and Christmas trees and menorahs and sweet treats and lights and rosy cheeks… It’s kind of the same anticipation about this season of life, of great things to come, of family and joys and love and so much happy.

~~

The pastor last Sunday shared an illustration that’s really stuck with me. He admitted to being a typical Bostonian driver; incredibly impatient, irritated by people who can’t make up their mind and angry at those going too slowly.  But not always; the exception comes when he sees a banner on the back of the car. Student driver. In those cases, not only does he not get impatient but he’ll be exceptionally gracious; waving them in, giving them space, and a thumbs up as he’s passing.
I relate, though not when driving (I’m not generally an impatient driver), but when I’m ordering something in a coffee shop or a restaurant, and I see that label on the server’s nametag, in training.  Suddenly I’m much more gracious, telling them my name or my order four times without any frustration that would have appeared otherwise. 

They’re learning, and for some reason, that tends to make us all more gracious.

But the point was this: Aren’t we all? Aren’t we all students of life, of earth, of God, of experience? 

We’re all learning, every day, how to do this thing we do, how to live unashamed, life to the full, to put one foot in front of the other and muster all the courage within us to be seen and trusted and make the world a little bit better place.

It doesn’t help anything when I get irritated at the people in front of me in the TSA line for the agent stopping everything to take out their water bottle.  It’s not going to move the line any faster, and maybe they haven’t flown in a decade or ever and didn’t realize, or in their haste to make their flight simply forgot. They’re learning, and maybe what they need in that situation is a wave and thumbs up as I’m passing by.

~~

I’ve learned a whole lot in the last few months; some of it amazing and awesome, some of which I honestly wish I hadn’t had to learn the way I did.

I’ve learned simple things, like how to use Uber and how to roast perfect vegetables and the fact that on the green line train you have to indicate if you want to get off after a certain point after a certain time in the evening.  I’ve learned some hard things, like people don’t always care about other people, not everyone is out to make the world a better place, and logic is often not valued.  There’s still things I’m trying to figure out, like how to navigate a culture where people will tell you one thing, but their actions say exactly the opposite, or yeah let’s get together means you might see them sometime in the next six months, but maybe not.

But within and around and throughout all of this, I’m learning to be gracious with my learning.  And with others, too.

~~

One thing I keep coming back to right now is abundance. I read the 7 habits of highly effective people probably a decade ago, (if you haven’t read it, stop reading this now and go get it.) and that’s one of them – foster an abundance mentality. What this means is there’s plenty to go around – love, kudos, blessing, praise, etc.  There’s an abundance of those things, which means if someone else gets some, the response is to cheer them on and be happy for them, not be jealous of what they have, which would be a scarcity mentality – that there’s not enough and anytime someone gets what you want, there’s less for you.  (That was probably a terrible explanation, but just go get the book).

Anyway, I love it and work really hard in my life to foster that always.  I want blessings, love, life to the full, favor, and goodness over everyone and everything.  And you know what? So does God. I always want to err on the side of generosity and inclusion.  It doesn’t always happen naturally (like in the TSA line), and it’s generally a result of obedience. 

I’m headed to see my BFF on a ticket that cost me almost nothing thanks to airline miles. My roommate had a chest cold all last week but somehow I didn’t get sick. I have time right now to choose joy and breathe and relish in being happy.  I took a life-transforming class a decade ago that taught me that living without debt was a key component in the pursuit of life-to-the-full, and because I worked hard, always lived beneath my means, and didn’t try to “keep up with the Jonses”, I have nothing tying me down anywhere and I can do absolutely anything with my life. What a gift, what abundance, somehow good things keep being poured out on such a completely unworthy recipient. 

My friends and family, for the most part, have been incredibly supportive and encouraging this last week.  I’m so excited to see where this journey takes me.  Thank you, dear ones, from the 
depths.


My view at Logan Airport.

A change of direction. (Alternate title: The breakup)

03 November 2017

It’s been quiet here on the blog… for one big reason.

I’ve been kind of miserable in my job.

And so we broke up, Harvard and I.  

It very much feels like a breakup is the best way to explain what happened, so I’ll keep with that analogy.  

I’d heard so much about him, and everyone knew him, and thought we’d be a perfect couple.  On our first date, I went home and cried afterward.  But everyone, including myself, thought we could make it work based on who he is, and the direction we were going, and I really tried to make it work.  I was continually instigating define-the-relationship talks.  I should have realized it wouldn’t last when every single talk was instigated by me. But I held on and we had a few really, really happy wonderful moments.  Moments that took my breath away and inspired hope that the future would in fact be bright.  I had hoped and assumed that those moments would become more common, once we learned more about each other’s quirks and likes and dislikes and approach to work and life and how we affect those around us. 

But ultimately, as much as we can hope for the other person to change, and want to stick with them because we believe they can change, there’s some fundamental pieces of ourselves that will never change. And shouldn’t change. 

And it turned out that the person I am and the person I needed to become to make this work were incompatible.  And I’m not willing to lose myself, my integrity, my fire, my passion, for anyone or anything. 

It stings a little, as any breakup does, even when you know it’s exactly what is right and good and even feels like a huge sigh of relief, there’s a little grief in saying goodbye the life I had imagined we might have together.  It ended a bit unfairly, but no one said life is fair, and I also recognize I see only one piece of the story. 

So I don’t know what’s next.  But I do know a lot of things:

I know this wasn’t a mistake. I learned a whole lot in this last three months and I’m really grateful. I’m glad we both had the courage to try something new, and I know that not everything has to work out to have been a success.

I know I don’t have a single regret, and I’m so grateful to be able to say that.

I know better is coming.  I know there’s someone/thing out there that won’t make me cry at night and will bring out the best in me and not expect me to be someone I’m not.

I know there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with me.  I know there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with him. It just wasn’t a good match.  And that’s enough of an explanation.  If you want more dirt, well, mind your own business.  I’m looking ahead, not behind.  And there’s no sides, either, so don’t bother picking one.

I know I’m going to take a few months off, the time I probably should have taken when I first left the ship but didn’t… I’m going to finish my thesis, give it the time it deserves (and it’s been sorely abandoned in the corner these last few months).  I’m going to explore the special places in the Boston area that I haven’t made it to yet.  I’m going to visit family.  I’m going to put out some feelers for jobs, but not rush into anything.  I’m going to write. I’m going to breathe and meditate and pray and go to the gym and eat well and speak life and put one foot in front of the other while clinging to the hand of the One who created both the feet and the path and the universe and the passion and fire within my soul. 

I’m truly grateful to everyone who has been a part of this journey.  I’m really excited to see what adventure is next.

Greater things are yet to come.

P.s. for those of you who know some of the people I work with – all is well.  True friendships endure, something for which I’m deeply grateful.


The sunrise over Boston this morning... breathtaking.

The winding road.

30 September 2017

I’m sitting here in this beautiful place this morning; the soundtrack complementing the lush green hillsides and cool(ish) morning breezes is a mélange of children’s voices, roosters calling, birds tweeting from the surrounding palm trees, the hotelier rhythmically sweeping the dirt of the entryway, and the firey evangelist some ways away on a loud microphone emphatically preaching indecipherable words punctuated by amen, amen, alleluia, alleluia, amen approximately every other sentence.

This place feels a part of me already; the red dust coating everything, the smiles of welcome, the directness with which people speak, the slow, methodical, clearly-enunciated English surrounded by emphatic Swahili that I can’t yet follow more than a few words at a time. I’m working on that.  It’s been cooler than I expected, quite pleasant really, and the scenery so beautiful I found myself actually gasping as we crested a hill or turned a corner to a panorama of natural glory.

The first part of the week was spent trying to force my circadian rhythms seven hours into the future and traveling out to the northwestern region of the country; the last three days have been filled with hospital visits surrounded with meetings with local authorities, debriefing, report-writing, and summarizing said visits.  I always loved this type of work with Mercy Ships and it has me fondly remembering assessments and trainings and the relaxed trust and flexibility it requires; made more challenging here due to my extremely limited Swahili language abilities and traveling with a group of complete strangers.   Jet lag doesn’t help.  But truly, I love a good challenge, and have really, really enjoyed it so far.

This week will be busier than last, but thankfully my sleep has been better in recent days and we have a little time to breathe this weekend. A resetting of focus, a recommitment of trust; this season is one of growth and learning and humility and wide emotional swings that need to be acknowledged but not empowered.  I know I’m the best version of myself when I’m eating well and sleeping well and exercising well and feeling supported well; today’s reminder from the stillness is that even with all of those things absent and when my emotions seem to swing wildly from one end of the spectrum to the other and back again, in the same way that fear is not the boss of me neither is hopelessness or excitement or loneliness or passion or doubt or joy.  They are welcome in the room and their presence acknowledged but they don’t get a seat at the decision table. 

So I keep on doing the next right thing, loving this place and these people and this wild calling on my life; when you spend a day on the road and the worst thing that happened was you didn’t see any giraffe, that’s a day to be grateful for.   And though the road I’m on feels both figuratively and literally winding and waving though unknown savannahs, I trust my feet and the ground under them to the One who directs my steps and created both my feet and the red earth to reflect eternal glory.


Until next time...


My literal winding road through rural Tanzania

The fabric of my soul.

25 September 2017

I’ve been on the ground in Tanzania for less than 24 hours, and somehow it feels like home.

It defies explanation; I don’t understand how it is or what it is or why, but something in me just feels alive here in a way I seldom feel in the United States.  I'm watching the cursor blink as I try to find the words to explain that somehow the air and the dust and the equatorial sun feel as though they have become a part of my DNA; woven into the fabric of my soul. I can feel it running through my veins... and that's where the words begin to fail me.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that no one expects understanding here; I feel free to ask anyone for help, where to find things I need or how to get there or what they mean by one thing or another.  Everyone is so helpful and warm and greet you with a big smile.  In the states, we’re siloed, cut off from others, fiercely independent and asking for help with something that is unfamiliar is a challenge.  I think back on one of my first train rides in Boston; after a certain time at night, on one particular line, you have to signal when you want the driver to stop/open the doors but only after a certain point.  Of course, I didn’t know this and was so confused and embarrassed when I missed my stop.  If that happened here, I would simply ask the person next to me what was happening and they would explain how it works without a second thought.  Maybe that would have happened in the states, but in general the culture is such that I don’t even feel comfortable asking. It’s intrusive and I feel like an idiot.  Here, it’s just expected and people look out for each other. 

I also love the complete 180 in my own temperament regarding time.  In the states I’m attached to a rigidly pre-defined schedule and a certain amount of anxiety is allocated to ensuring I’m on time (or early); here, you figure things out as you go along and planning is limited at most to a few hours in advance, with loosely-defined hours. 

I think it also has something to do with my own anxiety levels here.  They're nearly nonexistent.  In Boston I feel stressed about trying to understand things that aren't clear, how to get around, how to interact with people and how to ensure I'm doing a good job and doing everything 'right'.  Here.... here we figure things out as we go along. And I know that very little is actually in my control.  And I probably should try and transfer some of that temperament back to the states, now that I think about it... 

And really, nothing fills my heart with more joy than the excitement with which my few words of Swahili are received.  When I ask how to say something, eager to (re)learn basic conversation, you would think I’ve just offered them a million dollars, they’re so excited.

So today is a settling-in day; I got my Tanzanian cell phone number, adjusting to the many-hour time difference and reminding my skin that secretly it really loves the heat and humidity. Tomorrow I head out at 4am to fly to the north of the country where we will be doing hospital assessments; something I love, have done many of with Mercy Ships and am so excited to be able to do again. 


My heart is so full it feels like it might burst right out of my chest.  I’m so grateful to be here. 


Tuk-Tuks are called Bajaji's here.

Coconuts

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