Go Ahead and Dance

A cloak of heaviness hung over my house.

There had been one thing after another after another for a few weeks now, and I felt like I couldn’t keep my head above water before the riptide of my life dragged me down again.  Working two jobs, trying to start my own business, attempting to flip my first house with my mother, trying to get everything in order to leave town for 2 weeks,  and my 97 year old grandmother being taken to the emergency room after repeated falls left me weary and worn thin.

My boyfriend was under intense stress of his own, having quit his job to start his own business and trying to juggle a long distance relationship with me amidst the pressure of a start-up.  Every time him and I felt we were seeing a break in the clouds and that we may finally may be able to move in the direction of him being able to move and us finally be in the same location after being long distance for a year, the proverbial rug would get pulled out from underneath of us.  Again.  We were both exhausted and drained after months of intense pressure and stress.

These stresses led to poor communication between my boyfriend and I.  We simply weren’t hearing each other, and our hearts were lost somewhere in the shuffle.  What would typically be easy, light conversation between us felt like led.  Both of us felt our needs weren’t being met.  Instead of gazing into each other’s eyes, it felt like we were turning our backs to each other and walking away in defeat.

The weight of everything heaped upon my shoulders, I went about my day wearing a black cloak of heaviness.

My mom was cooking dinner and her pandora mix blared from her bluetooth speaker.  I found myself exclaiming, “Oh! I love this song!” when Hall & Oates  “You Make My Dreams” came on.  The flash mob dance to this song in the movie “500 days of Summer” pierced my mind, and I suddenly began to silly dance in the middle of the kitchen.  My Mom, who had been battling heaviness too, joined me.  The music blared, and we danced.  We danced like no one was watching, and the heaviness broke.  The dark clouds rolled away and the sun began to shine through.  The black cloak I had been wearing slinked to the floor.

The entire atmosphere shifted by choosing to step into joy for just a moment.  Once the moment had passed God reminded me of the passage in Isaiah 61:3: “To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” It is the garment of praise that breaks the spirit of heaviness. God has created it this way- that praise should cast off the heaviness that intended to keep you bound.  When life’s burdens are dragging you down one of the best things you can do is put on worship music and sing praises to the God in whom there is no lack.  Perhaps when you start worshipping God you won’t feel like it, and you’ll barely be able to mouth the words to the song while tears are streaming down your face.  I encourage you to praise out of obedience to who God is, and not based on your circumstances or how you feel.  Most of the time when I offer this sacrifice of praise in the moments I don’t feel like it, and I continue to press into His presence, my emotions will eventually follow my obedience, and my body will eventually follow my heart.  What began as me being able to barely mouth the words to a worship song will end in me kneeling before a most Holy God, undone at His beauty, grace, and goodness, raising my hands to the One who paid it all for me.

God used this simple example in my life to remind me that the garment of praise truly breaks the spirit of heaviness.  Next time the heaviness is weighing us down, let’s choose to praise Him and cast it off!

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The Journey

Feet on the dash, I sat in the passenger seat with the windows down and the wind blowing through my hair as my boyfriend drove us through the Adirondacks in New York on our way to his annual family vacation in Vermont.  Lord Huron blared on the radio as I peered outside at the lush green surroundings.  The five hour drive was largely on the back winding roads through small towns filled with local mountain stores to stock up on smores supplies and lakeside campgrounds with the smell of wood fires burning.  Although it was the end of July there was a crispness in the air that to my Virginia blood felt like fall.  With the family canoe strapped to the roof of the Civic, we rambled toward Vermont after stopping for beef jerky to snack on the rest of the drive.


A large, red bridge came into view and I begged my boyfriend to pull over and stop so we could enjoy the perfect blue sky and rolling stream beneath the bridge.  He gladly obliged, as he had just bough a drone and saw a perfect opportunity to test it out.  I laid beside the bridge, listening to the stream and watching the sparrows flitting back and forth in the sky beneath the fluffy clouds.  We seemed to be the only people within miles radius.  A strange emotion crept up on me and settled deep in the pit of my stomach: contentment.  There was a deep abiding peace in my soul that very moment despite knowing that we were delaying our arrival at the vacation house–I was finally at peace on the journey.  Contentment has never been my forte.  Every personality type has it’s strengths and weaknesses, and dare I say that your greatest strength is probably also something that when it is turned on its head is also your greatest weakness.  I have always been someone in search of the next adventure, seeking to arrive at my destination as quickly as possible so I can cram in the maximum amount of experiences into every trip.  This has many benefits, but savoring the moments like this one on the journey is not one of them.


Laying beside the bridge with my boyfriend in the silence felt like I had finally arrived right where I was supposed to be all along: being able to enjoy life on it’s own terms and time table.


We will get there eventually.  I’m just finally enjoying the journey.

 

The Undoing

The evening started out fine: dinner and drinks out with a few friends and my boyfriend at our favorite Mexican joint in upstate New York.  After dinner we migrated towards a local bar to meet up with a different group of friends for a few drinks.

I’m typically quite good at pacing myself and feeling how much I’ve had to drink and when I need to stop.  I’m way past the stage of life where I am seeking to have more than enough alcoholic beverages.  That evening, though, apparently my inner radar was off, because I was fine, I was fine, and then suddenly a line was crossed and I was decidedly not fine very quickly.  I vaguely remember my boyfriend’s face spinning as he said to his friends that he had never seen me this way before and that he needed to take me home.

By the time we got home I was yelling that I needed to throw up.  My boyfriend swarmed around me, putting a trash can in front of me and trying to get me comfortable.  I told him I didn’t want him to see me that way and asked that he leave the room.  After I had thrown up I screamed for him and he took the trash can away.  I felt better for a few seconds, and then I immediately needed to throw up again as the room spun around me and tilted on it’s axis.

Guilt and shame washed over me, and hot tears began to stream down my face as my boyfriend hugged me.  My crying became increasingly more intense, to the point where I could no longer speak.  My boyfriend stroked my hair as I cried on his shoulder, my body heaving with my heavy sobs.  This was way past the “cute cry” stage; snot was running down my face and my eyes were swollen shut.  What began as a sting of shame for my boyfriend seeing me in such a vulnerable position that I was ashamed of turned into a release.  I’m not quite sure when it switched from being gentle tears of shame for being drunk when I had not intended to drink too much to every thing I ever felt guilty for, and everything I felt ashamed of breaking off me.

For an hour I sobbed on my boyfriend’s shoulder and allowed everything to break off me: every last bit of guilt, shame, fear, and every heavy load I have carried throughout my life.  Memories from my childhood, family drug addictions, my parents divorce- every last bit of false responsibility I had carried broke off with each loud sob.  There was a shift from feeling ashamed to a deep inner knowing of how unconditionally loved I am by this man of mine, and I was undone.  My boyfriend embodied the love of the Father to me that night in flesh and bone beside me and fear, guilt, shame and regret cannot stand in light of that Love.

For the first time in my life I felt like I could finally let go.  Experiencing this unconditional love wrapped in skin and holding me tight allowed me to shake off my weary past and finally see and feel myself as beloved.  There was an urgent nature to my sobs:  a shrugging off of all that entangled, a setting free.  There’s a mysterious nature to what broke inside me that night, but I know it was deeply spiritual, necessary, and good.

The deep mystery is I am beloved by God sins, faults, and all.  And I’m beloved by this man of mine sins, faults, and all.  There’s nothing more life changing than that.  There’s nothing more freeing than that.

**please note I am not condoning drunkenness in this post in any way.  I’m simply trying to praise the God who turns everything around for good, even our faults and shortcomings.**

Responding in the Opposite Spirit

My first home health appointment earlier this week was a woman only 4 years older than me that had undergone a below knee amputation, multiple toe amputations, and had already had a stroke causing hemiparesis all before the age of 40. 

She stumbled to the door groggy, and ushered me in. Her breasts hung out of her low cut skinny top and she made no move to cover herself. My job that day was to do a re-assessment visit and recertify her after her most recent hospital stay.  I thought to myself “OK, this is how it’s gonna get done-breasts hanging out and all,” and began the paperwork, unphased. 

I began by asking her how she was feeling and taking her vitals. I started asking her some questions about her health history and her previously groggy and apathetic apparence snapped and her eyes cut into mine as she screamed, “I will NOT go through all that again. I won’t. I’ve been through that a million times. I don’t feel like doing that!” Her sudden shift in demeanor caught me off guard and I attempted to explain how even though she may have gone over that information with other clinicians before, I didn’t have that information available to me at the time. 

Before becoming a home health physical therapist where I regularly encounter individuals and situations like this my knee jerk reaction to such a situation would be to be rude in return. I felt someone’s anger or frustration pointed towards me completely justified me to point it right back towards them and deal right back to them the same hand that they delt. This inevitably would lead to an escalation of anger and frustration being thrown back and forth between the two of us. 

It sounds so incredibly simple, but I’ve learned to respond to people who are being rude to me in the opposite spirit; I’ve learned to respond in love. Nearly every time an amazing thing happens when I respond in love no matter how someone treats me: there’s an inevitable softening, a de escalation of the situation, and the person snaps back to being their pleasant self. Responding in a like manner the situation escalates, and responding in the opposite spirit almost always has the power to change the situation for good. 

I should know this. Isn’t this the way of Jesus? Turn the other cheek. Forgive not seven times but seven times seventy. The teachings of Jesus are remarkably simple and incredibly difficult to live. And I’m convinced He will always give us these difficult people, these ones who are hard to love, to give us practice in the way of Jesus and allow us to become more like Him. 

When we accept the invitation to love those who are difficult to love we become more like Him and allow ourselves to become His hands and feet to a hurting world. 

How can we practice responding in the opposite spirit in our lives together?

The Case for Less

For a little over a year now I haven’t worked a full time job. I make far less money than the days I worked 40+ hours a week, but I’m far happier and my bills still manage to get paid. On average I would say I work 25-35 hours a week, depending. Since I am not a full time employee, I don’t have to beg for crumbs of vacation time. I tell my employers (most of the time with as little as a week’s notice) when I am available to work,  and when I’m not, I’m not. This has meant far more freedom, exploration of the world, and more time to drink in the richness of life. 

The richness of my life has far made up for my lack of material riches. 

I found this quote from an unknown author today that had a deep impact on me:

The American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. 

The Mexican replied: “Only a little while”. 

The American then asked why he didn’t stay out longer to catch more fish. 

The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. 

The American then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.”

The American scoffed. “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats. Eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA, and eventually NYC, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But how long will this take?”

To which the American replied, “Fifteen to twenty years.”

“But what then?”

The American laughed and said that’s the best part. “When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich; you could make millions.”

“Millions?” Asked the fisherman. “Then what?”

The American said, “Then you could retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evening, sip wine, and play guitar with your amigos!”

How many of us have bought into the lie of needing the American dream of excess to mark our lives as a success? How many of us, like the Mexican fisherman in the story have “the best part” right now, but we have been drug away and enticed by the American dream into believing the answer is more and we reach retirement alone, or with a broken marriage, or with failing health, only to not be able to enjoy what was there all along if we had been content with enough. How many of us work long, grueling hours at jobs we hate in order to pay the bills of all the things we really don’t need and aren’t even home to enjoy? Anyone who has traveled to any extent outside of the US knows that we Americans truly have poverty of soul. 

Perhaps everything we need is here if only we would be content with enough instead of the American dream of excess. Perhaps we really could have it all: love, experiences, joy, relationships, if we learn to be content with what we have instead of always striving for the insatiable more that growls in our bellies, never satisfied. 

What could we give up striving for in order to live in more abundant riches right now?

We are enough. We have enough. 

What Your Soul Loves

During a phone conversation with my soon-to-be photographer who is doing my professional headshots for my upcoming new blog, I found myself trying to explain my vision and my style since we had never met in person. “Nature is very important to me”, I find myself saying, as I stress the significance of the location of our headshots. I drop words like “free, joyful, authentic, and fully alive” for the feeling I want relayed in the photos. A lavender field in full bloom was decided upon as the optimal location for the shoot, and finding a gray flowy dress to twirl in that lavender field is my next task. 

I turned the conversation to asking her if she perhaps had any photos that she would be willing to sell me to use as the header for my new blog, ideally of mountains. Photography is my oldest passion, specifically black and white photos where I can be in charge of the process from start to finish: taking the photos, loading the film in the developing tank in the sealed black bag to block all light, trying desperately to hold the film by the edges so as not to smudge your best photo with your thumb print, pouring in the developing chemicals, hanging the film to dry, making the contact sheets and having those   hidden treasures finally revealed, exposing the image in the red glow of the darkroom amidst the pungent smell of developer chemicals, dodging and burning and getting the exposure just right, slipping the blank page into the developing chemicals and gently agitating the tray and watching the image slowly appear before your eyes, and finally, after all the chemical baths are through, having what you envisioned all along staring back at you in black and white, frozen forever. Not having had access to a darkroom for years I hung up my darkroom days for digital photography years ago (but never got as much joy from the craft). My digital SLR camera saw fit to break a few weeks before my around the world trip. Therefore, many of my favorite photos have been taken with the camera that was available to me at the time-my iPhone. The quality of print that I would need for my website needed to be much higher, thus the inquisition if she could help me with high quality photos of mountains (which never fail to make my soul sing). 

Just returning from Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park I do have high quality photos of those mountains, I explained to my photographer, but those red rocks fail to make my soul come alive the way lush green mountains do. It’s a funny thing, what your soul loves. Some people adore desert and their soul feels free amidst the red dust and turquoise sky. My soul has always felt most alive in lush green mountains with waterfalls, moody fog, moss, and damp earth. Until I explained this to her in a conversation where I was forced to express what my vision was and why I never realized the reason behind my soul gravitating towards the landscapes of the Pacific North West or the Blue Ridge Mountains instead of the red rocks of Arizona or Utah. I had always thought it was as simple as “I prefer this landscape to this one”, but it was much deeper than that. Your soul knows what it loves, and it has deep reasons for it-deeper than even your conscious mind may know at times.  During that conversation the deeper purpose revealed itself to me much like the latent images of my photography: green, lush mountains with damp earth screams of abundant life. The fog, the mist, the waterfalls, the green moss and leaves and creepy crawly things in the soil are bursting with earth’s fullness. “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” John 7:38. The red rocks are dry dust, bones that are no longer amongst the living, but the dead. From ashes we came and to ashes we will return. It speaks barrenness to my soul, a chewing on sand, mouth dry and unsatisfied in a weary waste land. “You will crawl on your belly and eat dust all the days of your life” Genesis 3:14 was the curse God gave the serpent. 


There are deeper reasons for the things our soul loves than we may be consciously aware of. My soul has been drawn to abundant life, to living fully alive as long as I can remember. It’s only fitting that the header to my blog will be the lush green mountains of Oregon, that glorious state that makes my soul burst wide open with the possibilities of it all. 

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

Grace for a Season

After nearly a year of not traveling solo, I decided to dip my toe back into those waters.  The first day of my travels didn’t go well, to put it lightly.  Almost everything that could go wrong, did.  On multiple occasions I found myself asking, “How in the world did I ever do this for months and months, no less in countries with cultures completely foreign to my own where they spoke no English?!”

It would be fantastic if when we came out of the womb God handed each one of us an individualized life plan.  A time table would be helpeful.  I can see it now: the charts, the graphs, the timelines: you’ll be in college for seven years, then you’ll work at this job for six years, then it’ll be time for you to travel around the world by yourself, then that stage is done and you’ll do x, y, z, and so on.  That life plan sure would clarify things a lot, right?  What I realized in my exasperation that day was that what works in one season doesn’t work in another.

When I was backpacking the world by myself I have never felt more free, more alive, and more myself.  It was a time when I was truly living out what God had called me to do in that moment.  I was journeying with Him, and it was one of the most fruitful times of my life.  It’s easy for us if a certain stage of our life was successful to think that is who we are and what we are called to forever.  We want to continue to live out what worked for us.  We want to re-create that feeling, that aliveness, that absolute assurance of walking with God and His purposes for your life.

The problem with that comes when we continue in a stage that God is no longer breathing on or calling you to.  What has worked in the past and what God called you to in a specific season may not be what He calls you to forever.  How many times do we hold onto something past the time when we should? Perhaps this is why we often return to things, trying to recreate the original feeling we had, but it is not to be found.  The time for that is done in your life, but you refuse to move on.  

Our lives don’t come with a pre-printed individualized life plan so we can know when to move on from one season and into the next.   Thankfully it does come with the Holy Spirit to lead you and guide you, if you choose to accept His guidance in your life.  God wants us to live every step of the way dependent on Him and His guidance.  He wants us to step in whatever direction He is telling us, even if it’s different from what worked for us in the past.  He wants us to journey with Him into the unknown future trusting a known God.

As much as I have loved traveling solo in the past and will treasure the memories made on those adventures forever, it feels like that season has come to a close for the moment.  I’m learning to live in the season He has me in and accept it for whatever it may be and however long it may stay.  Allowing the seasons to come and go with open hands is a new, freeing way to live. Perhaps admitting I need help and I prefer company at this point in my life isn’t me becoming less free, less myself, but more myself. Each passing year and season we shed the layers that no longer work for us anymore and become more of who God made us to be.