Sail on

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Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels
blessing the boats  (at St. Mary’s)
by Lucille Clifton
may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back     may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

This morning I struggled to rise. While some days bring with them a dawning of boundless hope, others weigh heavily like leaden clouds on the horizon. Today began with darkness and the scent of ozone and rain. It would have been easy to roll over and seek escape, but I did not.

Recently, I heard another man share his own struggles. Days when, despite all his success and gifts, he must make a conscious decision to get up and do it all again. Today was my day. And I rose to face the day, to carry out today’s tasks no matter how small, to embrace the present, and to entrust my back to the wind. I will face my unknown waters, waters “waving forever”, and sail on.

Life lessons bound in leather

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This journal is one of my favorite Christmas gifts, and as of today I am 40% of the way through it. I felt a little sadness as the imminence of its passing crossed my mind. Soon I’ll trade it’s cloth-like paper for the smoother, modern sheets of my usual journal of choice, a Moleskine Cahier. The quote etched leather binding will give way to plain card stock, and the legal style horizontal binding transition to a more tradition vertical binding. And while that day is still a ways off, its passing is inevitable.

Today it marked a reminder that all good things must end. Yet even as I see that day approaching, I will continue to use my journal to the fullest. I will not shorten my time with it in hopes of making it last a little longer. I will not avoid it, and in using other journals keep it closer for just a bit longer. I will not put it on a shelf to admire from afar. I will not run from the inevitability of our parting.

Instead, I will continue to meet inspiration, joy, worry and sorrow within its pages. I will continue to take pleasure in the feel of the paper, the way it takes the lead of the pencil, and its unique aroma. I will enjoy it until they day comes that our time together has come to an end, and then I will, with fond memories, move on. Made better by my time with it and ready to embrace the new and the different.

Such is today’s life lesson. One found in blank pages and pencil lead. One bound in leather.

the greatest treasure

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my shadowed places
your radiance illumines,
by your life I shine.

-kirk stevens

I feel very blessed to be surrounded by amazing people. Tonight, a friend’s heartfelt concern for another challenged me. It was nothing more than the comment of a moment, an expression of desire for someone we both care about to know Christ.

Some who read this may not agree with that desire and that’s okay. If it helps, think of something else that you deeply value for a dear one’s life. The point is, her presence reconnected me with something important. Rather than bring guilt or shame, it challenged me, and, in a way, invited me to join her in her care for another.

If you have people in your life that make you a better person simply by their presence. People who, in the simple act of living, encourage, challenge and inspire you. People whose light makes your light brighter. Hold them close. I’m not sure there is any greater treasure in this life.

Moving on

Three years ago I bought a house. I believed it to be the best decision for me, and at that time it was probably true. Today, however, I am moving out of that house and preparing to sell. Time have changed, and I with them.

Preparations for today have stirred up memories like sediment in a stream, and my mucking about has only brought up more. In some ways, it was an act of desperation. I’d enjoyed exceptionally low rent for several years, but the house I’d lived in would soon sell. I had to move, and nothing on the market could match my budget. Oddly enough, here in Memphis a mortgage payment could be far less than rent, and it didn’t hurt to know I would ultimately be investing money in my own pocket rather than a landlord’s.

As for other reasons, I was seeking a more “normal” life. My life has never exactly conformed to the status quo. Sometimes I see that as an amazing gift. Others, I wonder what I’ve been doing with my life. At that point in time, I knew the life I had been living needed to change. For the me of three years ago, change meant more stability and more money. So I began pursuing a management career at Starbucks and bought a house. I know I hoped it would bring some legitimacy in the eyes of others, and maybe a wife.

You may wonder, how did that work out for me? Well… not bad. And not in any way like I planned.

For one, I never saw the money I hoped for. Turns out management is not something I’m well suited for. And the house, while quickly paid off due to an inheritance, became a time and money sink. I never had enough to make it the house I’d hoped it would become, and I realized 1,600 square feet with a front and back yard is a lot of real estate to manage for one person.

That said, these past few years it has been a gift. Paid off, it gave me the freedom to leave Starbucks, and after the chaos of my experience there I needed to leave if only for my mental health. In the interim between my sister selling her house and purchasing a new one, it provided a home for her, my niece and my nephew. And when a friend needed a new place to stay, I had an extra room for him. But most of all, this house has been part of a process of learning about the world and myself. I better understand the value of my time and mental well being. I had to learn that lesson through imbalance of a job, a life and a home.

All in all, it served its purpose and I am grateful I made the decision. But as I mentioned before, times have changed and so have I. I’ve rediscovered my long lost dream. I’ve found peace in who I am, and I am not trying so hard to match up to what others think is normal. (Note, if you happen to be looking for a life partner, it might do well to find someone as crazy as yourself.) And I am free. Free from most of the obligations of my peers. It is startling to realize I have the same freedom I did the day I first braved the world and left for college.

Thankfully, I also have a little more experience and, I hope, wisdom. And soon, once the house is sold, I will also have a fair starting point for this next stage of life.

All in all, I guess life is still life. I made the best call I could at the moment. I ran it for all it was worth, and now it’s time to move on. I don’t regret the struggle. I certainly don’t regret the blessings that shined linings of silver on sullen, grey clouds. They made me who I am, and have laid and are laying the foundation for what comes next.

& what’s next?

Well, I’ll save that for another day.

Something good

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“If you smash into something good, you should hold on until it’s time to let go.”

-Marcello, Under the Tuscan Sun

These words are one of several ideas to remain with me after watching Under the Tuscan Sun. To me, they represent the acceptance of a gift and the willingness to live in the present. So I felt sadness to find they were uttered as a precursor to an affair. Heavy with the weight of inevitability. All affairs must end.

At another point our lead declares her fears aloud. With tears she lays out her hopes for a home, a wedding and full rooms. Hopes she doubts she’ll ever see. And the man who is quite possibly my favorite character in the film tells her the story of a train from Vienna to the Alps, a train whose tracks were built before they had a train that could make the trip.

Finally, from the lips of a care free and enigmatic actress comes a story from her childhood. She spent the entire day searching for ladybugs. She found none. In the end, she fell asleep on the grass only to awaken covered in ladybugs.

Each of these moments is a lesson in itself. But I think each of these moments is a part of the picture that it took an entire story to paint. Juxtaposed they gain a greater meaning.

It is a gift to live in the present, to take hold of good things and hold on until it is time to let them go. But a life lived in the present without care for the future is dangerous, both to ourselves and others. It is in looking to the future that we build the foundation capable of holding and manifesting our dreams. And if we are willing to commit to the tracks, trusting in the train to come, it sets our present on a set of tracks that will lead us toward our dreams. But this too is something to be wary of. In looking too closely for one particular future – one job, one relationship, one mission, we may find that we miss it entirely. Maybe by returning to the present, even at times having fallen asleep, we will awaken to find we have found the very thing we’ve been seeking.

To be honest, this is a path I am learning to walk. It is messy, and full of as much pain and hurt as it is comfort and joy. And as much as I feared it in the past, I think it’s supposed to be that way. I’ve come to realize that I don’t regret mistakes nearly as much as I regret chances not taken. I suppose we’ll see how that turns out.

 

God’s Little Never Angels

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It was a little over a year ago that I first heard of Never Angels. I don’t recall the details clearly, but the man who told me about them gave clear advice.

Be careful what you say you’ll never do!

He recalled his own past and the fate changing words, “I’ll never live in (insert state name here).” It was then, he said, that God sent out his Never Angels, and he soon found himself pastor of a church is that very state.

While I don’t necessarily believe in the existence of a covert branch of the angelic realm bending fate against our will, I have come to appreciate a healthy challenge to my own “Never”s. Looking back I’ve started many sentences with “I never”. I don’t have to look far. Take last weeks declaration as an example.

“I’ll never again own an Apple product!”

But today I ate my never pie as I read reviews of the new iPhone 11. Put bluntly, for the path I intend to take in the near future it may be the best tool for the job. And it may not be, but if it is… Well, I’ll own another Apple product. Worse yet, I’ll be the better for it.

You see, Never is a dangerous word. Never is a biased word. Never is a closed word. Never refuses to look any deeper than its expectations, and I am learning to be wary of Never. I think Never might be one of my greatest enemies. He draws close and pretends to protect me while holding me back. He provides the well intentioned platitude that gets in the way of the new, of growth and of adventure. He blinds and distracts me from the tools I most need. Worst of all, he feels safe.

But I think maybe I don’t need him. I need a whole cadre of Never Angels helping me go places I never thought I would!

 

Not making light of the shadows

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Over the past few days I’ve been busy binge watching Songland. From where I stand, it feels like a master class on songwriting. Not only do I get to hear constructive criticism from some of the top writer/producers in the music industry, I also get to see how they transform good songs into great songs.

One particular concept hits close to home. One Republic’s Ryan Tedder summed it up in a word – duality. I think of it in terms of Yin Yang philosophy where Yang is present in Yin and Yin is present in Yang. Each has an element of the other within it. In life the brightest light often casts the deepest shadow, and without the contrast we might never recognize it for what it is. This has always been a struggle for me. Not only with music, but in any form of creation. As an Enneagram seven, I prefer to live in bright places and, pun intended, make light of the shadows.

I’m learning. In order to make the beautiful ideas more than pure idealism, I have to expose the pain and hurt that makes it real. It requires honesty and vulnerability. Not only with my readers or listeners, but first with myself. It isn’t easy, but I believe it is necessary. That kind of honesty is where shared experience sets the stage so that great ideals have a chance to become real in the lives of others. It brings the divine into the realm of mortals so that maybe, just maybe, we allow it change our lives.