Mountains

Just a little more sparkly …

Earlier this summer, I wrote a post about my experience with my mountain top metaphor. I’m a Colorado girl so the physical overcoming of rocks and stones makes a lot of sense when we connect the image to our challenges in life.

For snobby, Colorado me, the metaphor feels a bit, well, overdone. I get it. The smell of the pines, the crunching stones on a dirt trail – idyllic – but I’ve lived the mountain ups and downs for a long time. I haven’t lived the ‘shouting from rooftops’ metaphor or the ‘view from the top of church staircases’ or ‘tripping on cobblestone’ or ‘lessons found when getting lost in London’s alleys’ metaphors.

I’m not a very big risk taker and the hills and valleys in my backyard were spiritually working for a long time. Until they weren’t.

Deep breath – here it is – I’m tired of mountains. I needed a change of scenery.

This year, the bravest thing I’ve done was plan a two week vacation to places I’ve wanted to go since I was a teenager. I knew I needed respite and took baby steps to see if maybe, magically, we could make a dream come true. I made lists and price comparisons, read blogs about places to see and interviewed seasoned traveler friends for their advice.

I asked my boss for two weeks out of the office. He agreed.

Then, I bought plane tickets.

Then, I waited for weeks.

Dare I take another courageous step? Did I believe I could invest in me and the universe wouldn’t retaliate?

With each planning step my palms would sweat. Every time I clicked purchase on a hotel reservation, or a show I wanted to attend, my heart beat loudly in my nervous chest. I wrote about my fears and my doubts and all the reasons why chasing this dream could be halted. I was sure, if I left, someone else would die or need me back at home. An unhealthy pattern, yes. A pattern that my friends in grief group nod along to when I voice – ‘I’m just scared of who is going to go next.’

Time passed. I prayed. I planned. I clicked purchase. I made an itinerary on Google and copies of our passports. We bought luggage, we packed, and eventually we boarded a plane.

Nine hours later, a conversation with a nice lady at Passport control, and we walked out the airport doors and into the English air.

A dream came true and we made it happen. A beautiful thing.

I have lots of stories about our trip and much like Dylan is editing the 700 photos he took on his DSLR, I’m still processing the lessons I learned over there. I’ve waited to share here because one little post seemed inadequate to capture the joy found in exploring museums, churches, magical places with cones of rose-shaped gelato in our hands.

So here goes.

There are a lot of stairs in Paris. Stairs in the subway stations, in the art galleries, in the lines of the tourist destinations. They seemed to be everywhere. Just like the stairs of life. Sometimes, we fall down them. Then we get back up and keep asking, ‘what can I see at the top?’

On a Thursday night, Dylan and I climbed stairs to the 6th floor of a big building hoping to see some modern art. We went to late night hours and found ourselves gazing out at this view instead. A little different the tops of mountains I’m used to.

The things we’ve overcome to stand on this rooftop! I was moved to tears.

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Beautiful tears for the past, for the new memories made we won’t share with my dad as we debrief at home, for the pure joy that comes from believing my own dreams are worth pursuing. Beauty found in the power of listening to the little voice inside my heart that said, ‘you are worth it, go explore. These people you love will be ok.’

The people I love, they were ok. We were too. More than ok.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

– 1 Peter 5:10

From under the lights of the Paris skyline, to the sides of the Thames river my heart soared in places unfamiliar. I kept saying to Dylan, “I feel so ALIVE here.”

Every time we walked in a plaza, sat in a beautiful garden, slurped onion soup at a sidewalk cafe, I would whisper thanks. In Europe, 7,000 miles from home, I couldn’t believe how far we had come in our restoration journey. God brought us there, at the steps of these famous, picturesque places. With my ability to trust and release my paranoid control of the lives of my loved ones, I stood at the foot of Notre Dame, saw the London Eye, visited Queen Elizabeth’s home, and watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle up from the top of a building, dazzling in glow of Parisian light.

Travel was balm to big wounds, the scabby heart ones still grazing my grasping fingers each day. I’ve been home two weeks and continue to integrate these new experiences. I’m realizing all over again I can heal and hurt and delight all at once.

Perspective from any kind of higher ground is a beautiful thing. The metaphor is just a little more sparkly in Paris.

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My Mountain Metaphor

I’m a seasoned ‘church camper.’ As a teenager, for at least a week each summer, I’d pile into a fifteen passenger van with sweaty boys and anxious girls and venture to the Colorado mountains for whitewater rafting, rock climbing, and torture … er, mountain biking.

Each night, after facing our fears and relying on God’s mercy to survive hormones, and crushes, and camp food, we’d hunker down to listen to sermons from a pastor underneath a picnic shelter with flames flickering behind him.

The bible is full of references to mountains. How we ought to look to them, how God moves them, how they melt in his presence, or shake in his glory. God speaks to people on mountain tops, bushes burn, internal battles are fought. Tectonic plates are holy ground.

Wise, college aged mentors would french braid my hair as I sat between their knees. I felt safe, loved, and seen. The mountains I was climbing in that season of my life involved grades, crushes, and college applications. All age appropriate, and yes, privileged.  I’d have my mountain top experience, head back down the hill and return to normal life.

Ten years passed and I still hadn’t climbed all the way to the top of one of Colorado’s beckoning peaks.

This past weekend we rallied with our cousins to trek to the top of a 14,000 foot mountain. We picked an “easy” one. Never you mind that easy still means you’re climbing an f’in MOUNTAIN.

It was not an easy experience for me.

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At the end of the meadow stretch, full of waving wildflowers, I could look up the steep trail and see people moving in front of me where I was headed. Like ants, we fell in line and moved slowly up, up, up.

“Our faith can move mountains” – Matthew 17:20

But could it move me?

We stopped every 200 yards to catch our breath. All the blogs told me this was a normal part of the process. I’d keep looking up, and see people ahead, and I’d ask, “how am I going to get up there?!”

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord – maker of heaven and earth.” – Psalm 121: 1-2

The answer was adjust my blinders. I had to focus on the ten feet in front of me, and then the next ten, and the next, to keep moving along. Any time I looked to the top of the peak, I’d falter. Mentally challenged and physically tired my cousin offered me his trekking pole so I could stop stumbling.

 

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As we approached the summit, solid ground gave way to piles of boulders. Big rocks stacked over one another. Why would something so massive be made up of hundreds of moving parts?

The last 200 yards I was using my hands to pull myself up and over big chunks of stone. Why did God design mountains that way? Heavy, precariously balanced stones for us master?

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I made it to the top. I sat and caught my breath and inhaled God’s fresh air. He whispered to me, “look how far you’ve come.”

In this season, my mountains have matured. Accepting the loss of a parent is not meant for almost thirty year olds. Finding employment after job loss. Navigating marriage. Coming into our own skins with confidence and learning how to soothe broken hearts. Those were bigger boulders found when a previous foundation fell apart – the aftermath forming new piles in our way. Rubble. Crumbly, heavy, hurting chunks of stone.

We’ve moved these last two and a half years, holding hands, five feet at a time up, up, and up to this new summit. The view is beautiful, holy, and aching. For Dad is closer to the heavens than back at the trailhead, and he wasn’t waiting for me to return at home.

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“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken.” – Isaiah 54:10

It’s peaceful up there on piles of stone. Hearts soar and God speaks.

And then you have to come down.

Spiritually, I’m afraid of coming down for I know new mountains will form for me to climb. I don’t want to hurt nor do I want to find new footing.

We want the summit. We don’t want the work. Unfortunately, beautifully, you can’t have one without the other. 

As we trekked down and our knees screamed, God brought this song back to me from camp years ago.

The artist wrote this song from a mountain near where we spread Dad’s ashes. Funny how our stories connect. Funny how boulders mix with pebbles to create beautiful trails racking our lungs and pounding our hearts.

I’m offering up my broken cup. Keep climbing up. Willing to come down.

Keep stepping the next ten beautiful feet in front of me.

Rest. Breathe. Observe. Reflect. Repeat. 

I just got back from a weekend away in the mountains.

Funny how when you say yes to rest, your body shows you just how tired you have been.

I have been tired.

Like watching your puppy stare up at you, eye lids heavy, trying to stay alert and awake and failing. Head droops. Heart rests on the floor.

I’ve been tired of the rushing from here to there and my self-propelled late nights working on dreams.

Tired of my wrists hurting from typing.

Tired of scrolling through angry posts, of crazy world news, of buckets of rain and high winds.

Tired of tuning in to CNN.

Tired of fear and inadequacy.

Tired of sadness and the gut ache of grief.

Tired of big sighs and big storms and big losses.

And when we are tired, the world says do more, but my God says, ‘do less’.

Tired of resisting this truth.

I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” – Jeremiah 31:25 

Why is it so hard to press pause, to release, to take not just one, but repetitive deep breaths.

Let go of the guilt you feel walking in the door upon returning from your escape.

Smile as you push the grocery lists and bills off the counter.

Watch the paper responsibilities, just paper, flutter to the floor.

For just for a few moments allow deep pulses of respite to seep into your bones. To massage out the tense aching in our ever fearful bodies.

Rest. Breathe. Observe. Reflect. Repeat. 

It’s ok. You can pick up the envelopes and organize the pile now. Think about food. Nourish your self. Rest.

Tomorrow will be for rising again.

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Still Up?

When I was growing up I would often sneak into my parents’ bed on a Saturday morning. My dad would already be awake, and the sun would be streaming in the half moon window, warming my spot at the foot of the large four poster bed. I’d snuggle in and pull up the sheets and watch the world wake up as my family began our Saturday morning. My dad, after thirty years of marriage or so, would bring my mom tea in bed, just as she liked it. My brother would come bounding down the stairs and hop in to join us. I watched this weekend ritual (judgement of appropriate boundaries aside) and think to myself, “Hmm, I hope someday, when I’m old and married, my husband brings me tea on Saturday mornings.”

I haven’t been married yet a year. This Saturday, my husband did not bring me coffee in bed. I figure I’ve got twenty nine years of Saturdays for this to change. We did, however, have a slow wake up day reading and watching the sun on the lake, and sipping coffee I prepared. Slow wake up days are beautiful. As I was laying in bed scrolling through my Facebook feed I noticed plenty of people were out and about on early morning adventures. Dang! Maybe I should have jumped out of bed to go hiking, or brunch, or raft a river. I do not like early morning adventures. I like sleep in Saturdays with my white down comforter, and pillows, and maybe some biscotti as well. This week, slow rising was beautiful.

We also had the chance to get away to the mountains for an afternoon hike. I can do afternoon adventures. We haven’t had a very outdoorsy summer, and I was craving a mountain experience. It amazes me how often I forget that we are literally thirty minutes away from one of the biggest natural tourist destinations in the world.

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On our hike we encountered a European family.

After smiling and making eye contact on the trail the mother asked, “How much further?”

“Not far,” we responded like the lying Coloradoans we are. “Just around a few more curves.”

The father turned and asked in a European accent, “Still up?”

“Yes, still up,” we said.

“Perfect. More up. I love up,” the gentleman responded.

We laughed as yes the trail was straight up hill with plenty of stairs equating to a lunge workout. Many steps, many breath taking views along the way.

Sometimes life feels like a balance between rest and the challenging moments of “still up huh?” We face unknowns and questions and self doubt and then, every once in awhile, we have the option to stop and take in the view. To watch the world wake up from a window as the sun rises, to drink coffee in bed. I’m thankful for the beauty in both options this week, and in this season of life.

Essie – None

Biscotti – None – CHERRY POPSICLES! That’s my jam!

Little Luxuries

I’m having a bit of a fearful day today. But, progress has been made, because my little bit of fear seems to be floating on the surface of a lot of good things that are happening. I’m thinking about that paper marbling technique I used to do with my mom when I was little – you put the drops of paint that float on water, watch it swirl around, and dip paper into the pretty patterns to capture something more unique; the pattern is different every time.

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When I googled the term “marble painting” most of the hits came back with tips and techniques for pre-schoolers. Channel my inner child. Ok. I’ll take the term and turn it into an extended metaphor. My favorite exercise. In my life right now there seems to be quite a bit swirling around. If I’m creating a marble painting of myself I think these are the things that I would be dropping onto that watery surface.

Drop one – Wedding planning is a beast – no wonder people elope. There are so many decisions to be made, and I’m being taught again and again that my tendency to want to cross things off my list, and do it NOW, is maybe more of a character flaw than an asset.  This is a process, not something to check off my list.  Drop two – my job is pleasant, but days are always full, and I continue to balance a multitude of tasks and responsibilities. I am happy here, though, because I’d rather to have too much to do then sit at a desk twiddling my thumbs. We are preparing for the biggest fundraiser of the year and are pushing relationships and promoting ourselves in good ways. Drop three – I am continuing to trust in God’s promise of provision. This is a huge area of struggle for me – maybe this drop of color would be darker, black or grey, or something not so glamorous because trusting God is hard work. I don’t like spending money, and I don’t like asking for help, and I don’t like admitting imperfection or mess – but here I am doing all of those things as I walk towards this next chapter of my life. So, I imagine that all of those swirling things are in the process of creating some beauty – a unique pattern that reflects this time in my life.

In the meantime, as I reflected back about this week, nothing stood out to me as extremely beautiful. However, there were a few ordinary moments that I am thankful for. Here are my little luxuries of the week:

1) Gumballs

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I have a mason jar filled with gum balls on my desk. These little sugary bursts of color bring a lot to the interactions I have during my day. First of all, I love the way they look in that small little mason jar. Their presence is comforting aesthetically; the way those colors interact with each other bring some fun to my workspace. Too, when people come to my desk I offer one up to share – it’s a conversation starter, a reason to smile, and a little breather for those who I work with. Because let’s be honest. Who doesn’t love gum balls?

2) The Mountains

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Again, I am a Colorado girl, so forgive the gushing mountain comments – but can you please appreciate that view?? It is really an amazing privilege that I can drive two hours and sit on a little chair and be at the top of a mountain with two pieces of wood strapped to my feet. It was a windy day, but I was in awe by the view at the top of A-Basin where you can see all three ski resorts in the area, and really felt “On Top of The World” – even if it was just for a minute.

3) Comforting Quotes

I surround myself with phrases and quotes and inspirational sayings. These were a few I came across this week that made me feel more grounded, and reminded myself that I am my own biggest critic.

  • “Always remember YOU are NOT what you DO, you are YOU….”
  • “The option to leap into the unknown is always present. We are never at a lack of options. It is courage we sometimes lack…. It is a battle cry before I ride into the siege of possibility, the storm of uncertainty and the dark night of transformation. I write knowing that on the other side, beyond the struggle and the stomach churning fear is everything that every one of us has been waiting for–miraculous Truth, peace, contentment, freedom. Who wants to ride with me?”  – Katrina Nilsson – Gorman
  • Matthew 6:34 – my daily mantra because I’m a pretty good worrier.
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What would the drops be that contribute to your swirling beautiful marble painting this week? What little luxuries crossed your path?

You Can’t Count That

Have you noticed how goal oriented we are as a society? Or maybe I should ask, as my friends, have you noticed how goal oriented I am? I get so excited about checking things off my list, about saying whew… that project is done, or I’ve finally accomplished that! I have, for YEARS, been trying to read 20,000 pages in one year – a new years resolution that has rolled over for the 7th year now. (Two years ago I got close with 18,500 pages- last year was a dismal attempt at 7,500 pages). I love a good grading rubric (Thank you IB Program), my “FitBit @fitbit” that counts my daily steps, and anything else that helps me to quantify the things I am doing in my life.  It feels good and secure to check things off and say to who ever “they” are – ha! see I did it! Aren’t you going to applaud? Sometimes “they” do, and sometimes, “they” don’t.

But I have been thinking so much about how as I enter my mid twenties it is becoming more difficult for me to quantify my success. I suppose I know the right things to do that I’m not and it’s driving me crazy- the applying to grad school, the “career track”, the happy wedding planning, the saving to buy a house. I know, some day, I will accomplish all that but I am afraid I may look back and the applause won’t be there. I’m pretty sure when those things are under my belt I may feel a significant tug for ok, what now! I even feel that way about this project – how many ‘likes’ am I getting, and why is no one new following me! Am I performing too much for the invisible “they?”

Dylan and I often talk about how we measure success, and what it means to be living a happy life. Isn’t it rather ironic how difficult it is to put a number on such a thing? Sociologists, psychologists, researchers – they dedicate years of their lives to try and put a number on such an illusive concept. Success – what does that mean for me? Especially now when I’m not getting a grade, or a daily pat on the back from someone other than myself, or finishing a program and filling out an evaluation or a really wonderful rubric. I guess that’s what it boils down to – what does it mean to me? Well, I am not quite sure most days, but I am working on stepping away from the counting, the calculating, the trying to find an answer, and that standing on top of the mountain moment where I turn around and expect applause. I want my applause to come from my heart more than from others on a daily basis. This is a huge shift in attitude for me. Can you help keep me on track – because let’s be honest, the atta’ girls from society’s expectations feel so good. They make me feel on track, not off center. Other’s approval makes me feel secure. That’s ridiculous.

Maybe being ‘successful’ is more about bending in the wind, the side steps, and the ability to adapt to the world around me and the changes moving within me. Within ME.  Does anyone else ever wonder how hard it is to be an individual in such an individualist culture that is pulling us to all be the same thing? Yuck. I don’t want to be the same.

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This weekend we had the privilege of spending some time in Breckenridge at Dylan’s uncle’s cabin. It was a beautiful breather where I got to go skiing, and try snowshoeing for the first time, and sleep in, and watch the sun come up over Mount Quandry while drinking too many cups of coffee. So this week, I am thankful for the beauty that the mountains offer and for quiet at night. Do you know how quiet it gets at night when its just the stars and the beautiful whisper of the pines in the wind?

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I am thankful that I live in a destination state where people come from hundreds of miles to see. I am thankful for the beauty of a relationship where I can spend a weekend with a guy I love, whom I’ve spent six  years learning about, and learning with, and loving, and laughing. And I’m thankful that I can keep climbing mountains, when I’m not sure what’s behind that next bend. I am thankful for the beauty in knowing that I can work on expecting less applause at the top, but rather change my focus to appreciating where I’m at on the trail.  And I am finding beauty in the things that I am doing – the working for a non-profit, this project, the learning to love my parents as adults and friends, and the finding my way in the world – one day at a time, with patience and grace and a little bit of applause within my own heart.