Waking Up

I’m not a morning person.  Never have been.  In fact, sleep is one of my favorite pastimes.  But lately something has changed.

I’ve been waking up early.  Not “early enough to get to work on time for a change” early, but “the alarm shouldn’t be going off for another hour yet” early.  I resisted the idea at first.  Surrendering that extra hour under the covers was difficult, but something needed to change.

It’s been a rough two years.  My life has turned upside down and inside out in a dizzying cascade of unexpected and unrelenting one-thing-after-anothers.  Looking back, a lot of it is still just a blur.  It was an odd combination of trying to keep up with all of life’s crazy plot twists, while at the same time feeling trapped in a constant fog of weariness and helplessness and utter exhaustion.

Most days I lived life on autopilot, and honestly, I don’t think I could have survived otherwise.  The tumbling finally slowed to a rumbling, and I began to catch my balance and steady myself enough to survey the new landscape of my life.

I set to the task of processing the many changes I experienced, but it was too much too fast, and I was in a daze.  Truth be told, I still am most days.  I fell into the trap of ignoring much of that processing in favor of good old-fashioned avoidance.  I needed to catch my breath.  Rest my weary soul.  Recuperate.

So I did.  I shut down the turbulent parts of my heart and soul, and simply existed.  I was at rest.  At least, I tried to be.

It didn’t work.  I found myself feeling stuck, stale, and disconnected from everyone and everything, even myself. Especially myself.  Everything seemed off. It was like I was watching a TV with a distorted picture or altered coloration, but I had no idea how to fix it.  I wondered if I even could.  Maybe I had been so damaged that this was my new normal, and the best I could hope for.

Deep down I knew that wasn’t true.  I was changed, for sure, but much of what I had lost wasn’t gone. It was buried in the wreckage around me.  At first, I preferred to accept the loss rather than have to sort through the chaos and misery and destruction I’d just begun to escape. Gradually, however, that left me with a dissatisfaction and longing I could no longer ignore.  I realized that I wanted and even needed to find the missing parts of myself so much that it actually convinced me to face the mess.

I tried, but it was all too overwhelming.  Too confusing.  Too difficult.  For all of my trying I hadn’t regained any lost ground, and found myself even more discouraged than I was at the start.

Until I started writing again.

It was just spurts at first, here and there.  After nearly two years off, it was difficult to get back into it.  There were the same old fallback excuses I used for many things in my life. I was too tired after a long day at work.  I couldn’t focus with so many other things needing to be done.  I just need to relax.

Then, one morning, I woke up early.  No reason.  My eyes opened and I was awake.  Really awake.  And my alarm wasn’t set to go off for another hour.  I got out of bed, made a cup of coffee, curled up on the couch, and picked up my journal.

The house was quiet.  The world was quiet.  My mind was quiet.  And I wrote.  Pages and pages of fears and frustrations and confusions poured out until, when I finally put the pen down, I felt as though I had just had a long and much needed cry.

It was a stirring, an awakening of the things cast aside and buried in the midst of my daily struggles.  It was a clearing of the garbage and a reconnection with the deeper places in my heart, long neglected and desperate for release.

I’ve been waking up early for a few months now, and I can hardly believe that I’m not only willing, but eager.  This quiet hour of the day is my sanctuary.  It’s my sanity.  It has slowly brought me out of my constant state of apathy and mediocrity, and reignited my desire to live a life that matters.  It has reawakened me to my need for deeper meanings and greater purposes than the daily grind could possibly offer.

Life is still difficult.  I am still struggling.  But I am struggling with open eyes and a renewed mind, determined to take every pile of ashes and see it transformed into a thing of beauty.  I am seeking the purpose in every pain, and the lesson in every loss.

And now that I’m awake, I just might find them.


Dear Broken America

Please forgive me.  I know we don’t need another open letter.  But we need something, and we need it desperately.  We just can’t figure out what; or rather, we can’t agree on what.

We are broken.  We know this.  Our brokenness is everywhere all of the time.  We can’t escape it.  We can’t ignore it.  We have no idea how to fix it; or rather, we can’t agree on how.

We want to fix it.  But who can really say what the right answers are when the questions are so encompassing?  So complicated?  So impossible to agree on?

What do you think the answer is?  That is not a rhetorical question.  What do you really think?  What is the answer to the racial division that swells like waves in a stormy sea every time another officer involved shooting makes the news?  What is the answer to Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter?  What is the answer to the refugee crisis?  Illegal immigration?  Corporate greed?  What is the answer to Trump versus Clinton, and the sobering fact that we really don’t have any other options?  What is the answer to homelessness and drug addiction?  What is the answer to terrorism?  Rape culture?  An entire generation who can’t find jobs that will ever repay their student loans?

What do you think?  Do you want to know what I think?

I think The Problem isn’t the sum of the problems.  The Problem is the lies we have been told like lullabies and prayers, that we believe with all of our being and teach to our children and strive to live by.  The Problem is that all Americans know a universal truth that couldn’t be farther from the truth, and forgive me for blurting it out like this, but…

We are not all created equal.

I will say it again, in case you think you misunderstood me.  We are not all created equal.  Before you get angry, please realize that equal is not synonymous with valuable or important or absolutely precious, because every single one of us are irrevocably all of those things.  Equal means same.  And we are not the same.  Of all the human beings who have ever drawn breath on this ball of rock and water swirling through the cosmos since the first human breath was drawn, no two are the same.

And now here we are, an endless sea of people who are as different as can be, convinced we are looking for an agreeable same-ness to conform to, as though such absurdity could solve these massive crises even if it did exist.

It is no wonder we are in the throws of another Civil War.  It is not a war fought by armies, but ideologies.  It is not a war of weapons, but opinions.  This is a war full of propaganda and misinformation that is dividing families and communities and telling us that we have to choose a side.

And we choose sides quickly.  It isn’t difficult.  It actually comes quite naturally.  Why do you think that is?  How can we look at such enormous and complex problems and have no idea what the answer is, but when presented with a battle line we instinctively know what side we are on?  The Problem is another lie that we all seem to believe.  And again, please forgive me for blurting it out like this, but…

Your opinion doesn’t matter.

I can almost guarantee you’re offended.  But I didn’t say you don’t matter, and you are more than the sum of your opinions.

Opinions deceive us.  They are not fact, but they convince us they are.  They tell us we are right to think what we think and believe what we believe.

Opinions are formed by perceptions.  Perceptions are formed by experiences.  And experiences are colored by personalities, temperaments, IQ, EQ, culture, gender, and an array of other variables so vast and unpredictable and beyond our control that it makes me dizzy to think about.

We may stand firmly by our opinions, but there is nothing firm about them.  If any of us had lived a different life in a different place in a different tax bracket with a different body and a different personality, I guarantee we would have different opinions.  In fact, you don’t need a different life.  I guarantee that we could continue living our same lives as our same selves, and discover that the simple passage of time and the experiences it contains are more than enough to change our minds about things we were once so certain of.

Our opinions deceive us, but they don’t have to divide us.

We are not all the same, but we are all human.  We are all flawed and fragile.  We all feel the same emotions.  We all know fear and anger and disappointment and defeat.  We all desire love and acceptance and safety and belonging.  We all know the unspeakable desperation that comes from feeling invisible, unimportant, unloved, and unwanted.

Can you imagine what it must be like to live in a world where you are desperate enough to pick up a sign and shout at the top of your lungs that your life matters?  Not that it matters more than another person’s life, you just want it to matter as much.  Isn’t there something wrong if an entire race of people are desperate enough to pick up those signs?  Can you imagine feeling that disposable?

Can you imagine what it must be like to start each work day by strapping on Kevlar, just in case?  Could you choose a profession that makes you a constant target, where you are hated by many because of the actions of a few?  Can you imagine the courage it takes to serve and protect a community that hates you?

I don’t know where I’m going with all of this.  What I do know is that I can’t bear to watch where We The People are going with all of this.  I am saddened and wearied by the constant barrage of opinions flying from one side of the battlefield to the other, doing nothing to unify and creating further division.  I am grieved by all of the hurt and pain, caused by people who are full of hurt and pain, who are answered with more hurt and pain.

When does it end?  When will we realize we can’t have a conversation if we don’t stop shouting at each other and start listening?  When will we become more concerned with understanding and accepting each other, than we are with convincing each other why we are right?  Will we ever find the humility to admit that we could be wrong, and maybe we don’t have all the answers?  Because the truth is, until those things happen, there will never be any real answers to any of these problems.

But that’s just my opinion.

When It All Goes Up In Flames

The summer before my senior year in High School, a neighboring beach community experienced an unforgettable 4th of July. Long Beach Island is a popular summer destination at the Jersey Shore, and every year thousands of people travel from all over the tristate area on to enjoy its 21 miles of coastline. But there is also a large community of locals, from both the island and mainland, who grew up feeling that this tiny barrier island off the coast of NJ was a part of our very soul.

In 1998, just like every other year, this mixed crowd of locals and bennies gathered at sporadic locations up and down the island, ready to enjoy the fireworks show prepared by whatever township they called their own. In Harvey Cedars, crowds gathered at and around Sunset Park, watching from beach chairs and blankets, from rooftops and porches, and from boats on the bay, eagerly waiting for the spectacular display to light up the night sky. The Harvey Cedars crowd gathered expecting what every other person in every other town expected, and for the first few minutes, that’s exactly what they got. That was, until the wind changed.

Only minutes into the display, embers began blowing towards the crowd and the show was halted. For the next ten minutes, the crowd sat unamused and disappointed, and grew increasingly restless while absolutely nothing happened. As soon as the wind let up the fireworks resumed, but just moments later the unthinkable happened.

A single ember landed in an open cooler where a few fireworks sat waiting for their turn to be loaded and exploded. Within seconds and without warning, a chain reaction set off 200 fireworks on the ground. I wasn’t there, but I know people who were, and they have said it was the most terrifying moment of their lives. Nearly 3,000 people witnessed in horror as an enormous fiery explosion at the water’s edge reminded them of the terrible fact that we all know and wish we didn’t. At any time and without any warning, it can all go up in flames. And there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.

These past few weeks have been like that Harvey Cedars fireworks show, not only for me but for a number of those who are dearest to my heart. My life’s journey hasn’t traversed the calmest of seas, and over the years I have adopted the catastrophist’s motto: “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” The worst, however, can’t always be prepared for.

Sometimes the worst is as unexpected as a lighthearted and celebratory fireworks display suddenly exploding into a raging inferno. We all know that fireworks are dangerous, but although we are aware of the inherent danger, we also trust that the danger has been tempered into something safe. We trust that even though something bad could happen, it won’t. If we didn’t live believing that, we would never get on an elevator or into a car. We would never ride a roller coaster or eat from a roadside hot dog stand. We would never take medications or agree to lifesaving medical procedures. We would never fall in love, get married, or have children. We would never live our lives.

Subconsciously, we are all aware of the painfully fragile balance that our lives and everything in them are at the constant mercy of. When bad things happen, restoring that balance takes time and is – quite necessarily – followed by a season of uneasiness and excessive caution. The weak and wounded are much more vulnerable to further damage, and need to be guarded carefully until they have had enough time to heal.

But sometimes, the worst isn’t a single event. Sometimes it is like that fireworks show, when one event sets off a chain reaction that can’t be stopped. Sometimes the weak and wounded don’t have a chance to retreat to safety. Sometimes they are trapped in a place of pain and fear and vulnerability, where the inability to escape becomes even more terrifying than the thing you are trying to escape from.

Sometimes the worst is not one knockout blow. Sometimes it is like that fireworks show, and a number of smaller blows hit in rapid succession from every direction, keeping you swinging at shadows like a frantic game of whack-a-mole, until the swinging back has left you even more exhausted than the beating you’ve taken.

Sometimes the worst blindsides you. Sometimes it is like that fireworks show, entirely unexpected despite our awareness of the very real danger we have subjected ourselves to. Sometimes we are forced to face the terrible truth that although the event was extremely unlikely, the terrible thing we’ve experienced not only can – but has – happened to us. And facing that realization chills us to the bones.

That kind of shock pierces much deeper and causes much more destruction than we realize. We blame ourselves that we didn’t see it coming, that we should have known better, that we shouldn’t have taken that very specific risk at that very specific time, as though something within us could have possibly known the unknowable, or prevented the inevitable.

That kind of shock makes every unlikely and remote danger suddenly feel very real, and the most outlandish prospects of harm and hurt feel entirely present and possible and imminent every moment of every day. Every driver could be drunk, every man on the street a rapist, every friend a closet sociopath. Every phone call could be that phone call. Every storm could be that storm. Every person you love and trust could betray and abuse and lie and cheat and torment and abandon you, and you might never see it coming.

These past weeks have been like that Harvey Cedars fireworks show. There is chaos and crying and confusion and panic all around me, and I’m afraid to even pick up my head for fear that it’s not over yet. I’m afraid to look at the devastation once the smoke has finally cleared. I’m afraid to see how much damage has been done to the places and people I love. I’m afraid to discover how much damage has been done to me.

But then I remember that although the unlikely, unexpected, unbearable worst can and does happen, the unlikely, unexpected, inexplicable miraculous can and does happen as well.

In the aftermath of that Harvey Cedars fireworks accident, we learned that no one was killed. One man lost a finger. A few suffered cuts and sprains, and some were treated for smoke inhalation. But no one was killed.

Life is uncertain. It is messy. It can be painful and frightening, and sometimes it is absolutely devastating. But even in the midst of devastation, the divine spark that exists in the soul of every human being who walks this broken earth still flickers. It is always there, giving us strength to go on when we have nothing left to give and hope in our moments of deepest despair. That flicker never leaves us and never fails us, because it does not come from us. It does not depend on us, or on our abilities, or on our circumstances. It is the gift of the Divine Creator, and He is the one who keeps it burning.

I don’t know why bad things happen when and how they do. I don’t know how long deliverance or restoration or healing or help will evade us. I don’t understand why some prayers go unanswered, and why some people seem to face so much more trouble than others. But the beautiful thing about faith is, I don’t have to know.

What I do know is that God always is, always has been, and always will be working all things out for our good. He just doesn’t work in the ways that we expect or understand or appreciate, and He rarely works as quickly as we want Him to. We are so shortsighted, and so easily forget that His eyes have seen eternity.

His goals are different than ours. We want the pain to stop, the troubles to pass, and the blessings to flow. We want life to be good. We want everything to be easy. But He wants to make us the brightest, most beautiful, most perfect version of ourselves that we can possibly be. He loves us too much to leave us stunted and shallow and spiritually stagnant. He loves us too much to leave us ignorant of how much more extravagant life can be when we learn to live beyond the comfortable and the common. He loves us too much to leave us blind to the unfathomable beauty that exists in the world, in each other, and in ourselves.  We see our limitations, but He sees our potential.  And He is determined to see that potential reached.

Terrible and tragic things happen, and it never makes sense. But I know that if I hadn’t lived the life I have, with all of its trials and troubles and hardships and heartbreaks, and if I hadn’t known the people I’ve met or walked the paths I’ve both chosen and stumbled upon, I would never have survived these past few weeks. I wouldn’t still be standing, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to believe in the hope that this will somehow perfect one more weakness in me and prepare me for another challenge that awaits me somewhere in the unknown future.

I still wish I could answer the unresolved questions and alleviate the stubborn, lingering pain from the wounds that haven’t fully healed. I still wish I knew why things have happened the way they have. But the reality is I don’t know, and I probably never will. What I do know is how all of those experiences, both past and present, have changed me into who I am today. And somehow, that has made everything worth it.

Inspiration, or the Lack Thereof

I haven’t written in awhile, mostly because I’ve been really busy.  Okay, maybe not mostly but at least partly.  Okay, I confess, busyness is just my favorite fallback excuse when I don’t want to admit that lack of inspiration is the real problem.

Writers, along with every other soul whose chosen task rests upon the creation of something new, can appreciate the importance of inspiration.  We all know that feeling when something suddenly ignites inside of us, and absolutely demands our attention.  We sit and write (or draw or paint or sketch) with an inexplicable sense of intensity and urgency, and with an ease that makes it seem like the finished work already exists somewhere inside of us and our job is simply to translate it from idea to reality without getting in the way.

There have been times I have typed furiously without stopping to think, only to read what I’d written and wonder where in the world all of that came from.  And then there are the times when I’ll do just about anything to avoid writing.  That blinking cursor on the blank screen just taunts and mocks, and every sentence is a struggle to formulate.  It is written and deleted and reworded and revised with a frustrating difficulty that makes cleaning the bathroom and paying bills seem like a welcome distraction.

I know that, eventually, something will break through and the words will start to flow.  But until then it’s a choppy stop and go task full of “what’s the word I’m looking for” and “what am I trying to say here”.

It would be wonderful if inspiration was something that could be concocted with a simple formula, like the mixing of ingredients in a favorite recipe.  Two parts this and five parts that, and voila, a tasty comfort food guaranteed to satisfy.  Alas, the ingredients that combined so perfectly the last time may be a flop this time.  Inspiration never seems to come the same way twice.

Sure, there are some ingredients that seem common to every great creation.  I’ve never baked a cake without flour, sugar, and water; and I’ve never written anything worth reading when I didn’t really care about the topic or have some kind of personal experience with it.  While those are crucial ingredients, they don’t stand alone.  You can’t bake a mixture of flour, sugar, and water and expect a result that even slightly resembles dessert.

Unfortunately, many of the other ingredients are intangible and mysterious.  They come from the spontaneous unexpected moments in life that cannot be manufactured, and spark something that cannot be explained.  They just happen, and we are thrilled when they do.

There are times in life when such moments are few and far between.  Even then, inspiration can be found in a walk in the woods or an hour at the beach, a heart to heart with mom, or people watching over lunch at the local cafe.  In this particular moment, however, it is cold and rainy, mom is probably still asleep, and the cafe isn’t open for another few hours.  But this happens to be when I have a little bit of time, and so here I am, struggling to make the most of it.

It occurred to me that as I’ve been sitting here pondering the question of where inspiration comes from, I’ve been extremely distracted by a number of other dilemmas and demands I am dealing with right now that just won’t clear out of my thoughts long enough to allow me to focus.

It brought to mind a video I stumbled across yesterday of a young elephant trying to fight off a pack of lions.  My first thought was that’s exactly how I feel right now.  There are two or three persistent problems that just keep on attacking and won’t give up, one that won’t get off my back, and another ten ready to pounce and feast as soon as I lose my determination to fight.

Okay, so maybe that’s a bit heavy on the dramatics.  My problems don’t have literal teeth and aren’t actually going to make breakfast out of me.  But they are both time consuming and mind consuming, and are approaching the point of exhausting.

I often find that strong negative emotions can be just as powerful a catalyst for good writing as positive emotions.  On the other hand, boredom, exhaustion, and discouragement are inspiration parasites.

There was a moment in that video when the elephant had had enough of trying to escape, and turned and charged at its attackers.  Maybe that’s where I’m at.  Maybe it’s time to turn and face these things that are wearing me down instead of just trying to survive them.

Easier said than done, especially for a seasoned escapist like myself.  Honestly, I really didn’t want to go there today.  I really haven’t wanted to go there for awhile now.  I suppose it’s very likely that this is the clog stopping up my inspiration.  As much as I don’t want to face and deal with some of this stuff, maybe my next muse is waiting in the midst of that particular struggle.

It’s hard to believe I’ll be victorious there, but at the same time, I really didn’t expect to finish a whole post when I sat down this morning.  Yes, it took me twice the time and twice my average coffee consumption to finish a shorter post than most things I write.  It was a struggle, but I did it.  I finished.  Time to try it in real life.

So Long, Summer: A Discourse on Seasons

I know, I’m a bit late saying au revoir to my favorite season.  I just didn’t want to let it go.  But then I woke up early this morning because I had become something of a human popsicle.  Turns out I set the heat last night but didn’t actually turn it on.  It was horrible.  As I shivered my way the ten miserable steps from the bed to the thermostat I began to remember what every morning of my life in winter is like, and the grieving for summer’s end officially began.

Summer is my refuge.  No, I’m not a teacher, I’m just perpetually cold.  I’m that girl who needs a sweater in 75 degree weather and never turns on the air conditioning.  Yes, I’ve had my thyroid and my iron checked, in case you were on the verge of being the latest in a never-ending line of people who think they’re suggesting something I haven’t thought of.  This is just me.  So when the weather outside is a steady 80+, it’s a relief inexplicable to those whose internal thermometer is normal.

But then Pumpkin Spice coffee shows up.  And Halloween stores open.  I ignore it as long as I can, not wanting to face the reality that the glorious feeling of warmth I am able to enjoy 3 months out of the year is once again about to evade me for 9 more.

I really don’t dislike Autumn.  I don’t mind sweaters and jackets during the day.  The leaves changing color really are one of God’s most glorious displays of splendor, and I happen to love Pumpkin Spice anything.  But chilly Autumn nights are an ominous reminder that the earth’s orbit is about to move my particular spot on the globe just a bit further away from the sun, which in turn translates to major temperature crashes.

As if the plummeting temperatures weren’t bad enough, the days have also grown shorter.  In peak summer, the sun shines until almost 8 pm.  Tonight, sunset is at 6:04.  And the dreaded nail in summer’s coffin – Daylight Savings Time – is still a week away.

Short cold days and long frigid nights are upon us.  No wonder the squirrels are in hyper-drive.  I’m kind of jealous of them, actually.  I would love to hoard up some food and lock myself in my apartment until April with no plans except eating and napping.  Alas, my status as a homo sapien requires me to throw off the warm covers every morning and venture out into the world, no matter what inhumane conditions might exist outside my front door.

Social media has been perpetuating the hysterical “it’s supposed to be another really bad winter” articles for a few months already.  I don’t give them any credence.  Since when is the weather report accurate 3 days in advance, let alone 3 months?  Still, I have to admit, even though I don’t believe they are accurate I still have a dreadful fear that they might be.  There was a time near the end of last year’s horrific winter – I think it was about the 17th snowstorm, or maybe it was the 23rd – where I actually started job and apartment hunting online for a nice new life in southern Florida.  Of course, that may have been spurred on by my brother’s Facebook posts of he and his girlfriend boating off the beautiful Gulf Coast in shorts and tank tops under sunny skies.

They’ve lived in Florida for a few years now, and every now and then I hear something about “missing the seasons”.  When I posted pictures of snow and sadness and offered to trade places, they never took me up on it for some strange reason.  And I don’t think they got the humor when I posted these:

2014-02-28-08-09-37 2013-12-10 17.39.46

So basically, this is how the seasons translate to me:

Autumn is the alarm clock going off.  As much as I don’t want to, I know I have to drag myself out of bed and get ready for work.  If I’m lucky there is time for breakfast and coffee, but usually it’s a race against the clock just to get out the door on time.  Winter is the long, miserable, dreary work day in an office where the thermostat is set to frigid and I left my sweater at home.  The fluorescent light above my desk is burnt out, and every time I look at the clock it’s at least 2 hours earlier than it feels.  Spring is the drive home.  Traffic is annoying and the ride always seems so much longer than it actually is, but at least the office is behind me.  Summer is walking in the front door, kicking off my heels, and trading the pantyhose for yoga pants, then enjoying a nice dinner and an hour or two with Netflix.

I miss you already summer, and I’m dreaming of the day we are reunited.

(Betcha were expecting an extended cliche on the seasons of life.  Perhaps in May, when hope has returned…)

19 Things People Who Are Always Cold Understand

Blogging at 29,000 Feet

I don’t want to sound corny, but sometimes the marvels of modern technology just blow me away.

I am sitting on my last flight home from my week long escape to the Ozarks. And I am blogging at 29,000 feet. I wasn’t really looking forward to an 8 hour trip home on multiple planes with multiple connections. However, looking out over the world from this height makes me look at it differently. Not as a drudgery, but an opportunity.

I guess that’s part of what I learned this week. I am blessed with the ability, and the opportunity, to see the world differently than I did yesterday, and differently than I will tomorrow.

Life had been busy, bleak, and honestly kind of boring. I had commented to someone a few days before I left that my life was starting to feel like Groundhog Day. Each day was a repeat of the one before. The days kind of melded together and sometimes I really couldn’t distinguish one from another.

Did I do that thing on Monday or Tuesday? Or maybe it was Sunday?

But staring out the window and watching a lightening storm off to the west, at just about the same altitude as the storm clouds themselves, it’s hard to remember being bored. Scattered flashes of light from inside the clouds look like fireflies in the fog, and I almost forgot for a moment what I was watching until a piercing bolt shot sideways instead of downward.

I have a bird’s eye view of a huge, glowing orange moon. And just a few hours ago I watched the sunset from above the clouds. It was glorious.

It occurred to me that all of these things go on every day all over the world whether or not we remember or acknowledge or appreciate them. There is incredible beauty and miraculous wonderment in what we allow to become the everyday and the mundane.

Life hadn’t become boring – I had simply grown dull.

In an hour or so we will be landing. Back to the grind, back to the business and chaos of real life. But I hope this trip will not fade quickly into the shadows of memories rarely revisited. I hope that I will have been genuinely changed, if even just the smallest bit.

I don’t need to hike around lakes at sunset or climb mountains or explore caves or canyons, nor do I need to soar 29,000 feet above the earth, in order to appreciate the beautiful gift that this world and our lives in it truly are.

But I do have to lift up my eyes beyond my immediate circumstances, past my constant consuming obsession with me. How I feel, what I think, what I have to do, what I suffer through, what I desire. I…I…I…

Life seemed bleak and boring because I was focused on such a small and contained little piece of existence, and mistakenly called that “life”.

That wasn’t – isn’t – life. That is just a snapshot of a much larger picture, larger than I could even begin to comprehend. It is a moment and place in time, and even there I am surrounded by beauty and blessings that I have become blind, deaf, and dumb to.

I want to keep my eyes and ears open. I want to see the miraculous in what others consider mundane. I want to live my life, and not just endure it.

We’ve left the storm behind. The moon is out of my view and the sun has long since retreated below the horizon. But tomorrow I may see the sun again. Or a storm. Or both. I might see a rainbow. I might glimpse out my window at just the right time to catch the fluttering dance of a monarch. I might see a mother laughing with her child. I might see any number of things that a week ago would have gone unnoticed and unappreciated.

Not now. Now I remember that it is the simplest things that are the most miraculous, and bring the most joy and purpose to life, thanks to the gifts that God has given me in the mountains and a really long plane ride home.

Distractions, Deterrents, and Nuisances

Day 3 promised to be the most beautiful day of the week, so I decided to go on the excursion I’d most been looking forward to – Dogwood Canyon Park.  Some of the locals had already assured me that it was the one of the prettiest pieces of land around.  There were, of course, the pricier options of tram or jeep tours, but I had my eye on the 6 mile walking / biking trail around the canyon.

It was nearly an hour and a half ride there, and although we are now into October, the forecast called for sunshine aplenty with a high around 86 degrees.  Once I arrived, I layered on the sunscreen and bug spray, grabbed my bottle of water, and was off.

Somehow I had it in mind that this long hike through the beautiful canyon would allow for the most peaceful experience of the week, when I would be able to get quiet and serene enough to really hear that still, small inner voice.

The first stretch of trail ran parallel to a massive construction site.  Like all construction sites, it was loud, dusty, and gave off the nauseating smell of exhaust fumes.  I just had to get past that, I told myself, and my peace and serenity would begin.  Unfortunately, I soon discovered that I had started out just about the same time as a tram tour.  Tram tours apparently use the same trail, and move at just about the same speed.  They’d pull ahead a distance, stop, and the guide would get on his cheap tram microphone with his generic corny humor giving the little facts and quips about that spot.

At first I considered power walking on ahead, but that wasn’t why I came here.  I was here to take a quiet stroll.

I slowed my pace to linger on a stone bridge over a bubbly stream when I heard a nervous warning called out from behind me.  I stepped quickly to the side as a young woman on a bike carting behind one of those child trailers wobbled past.  A man wasn’t far behind, also toting a tot behind.  She apologized profusely, and said those bikes weren’t as easy to maneuver as they looked.  I answered sincerely, and with pity in my voice, that they didn’t look easy to maneuver at all.  I hung out on the bridge a bit longer, figuring she’d get the hang of it, and on bicycles they’d outpace me soon enough.

She didn’t seem to be getting the hang of it, and although I couldn’t make out their words, the tone between the two of them grew tense and angry.  They stopped by a few benches and I decided to go on ahead.  Somehow it didn’t seem likely they were going to continue on.

I have to admit, I was relieved.  I already had the stop and go tram to contend with, and didn’t need them distracting me as well.

I walked past them and soon came up to the main creek, which meandered along the canyon floor in the classic babbling brook manner.  Every so often there would be little waterfalls, and stone bridges to cross.  I stopped here and there to take pictures, but although I recognized how beautiful it was, I can’t say I was completely appreciating it.  I was distracted as I kept waiting for that peace and serenity that just wasn’t coming.

There were a number of hikers and bikers and passing jeeps.  Every so often I’d catch up to the tram.  Instead of serenity, I began to feel frustration.  Then I’d scold myself.  This was a public park.  Did I really expect to find that much solitude here?

I stopped and briefly made up my mind that it wasn’t going to spoil my day.  I may not find a hidden little Eden here, but I was still going to enjoy myself.  I was still going to find that peace.

The further I went the fewer people I encountered.  This was a three-miles-to-the-end-then-turn-around-and-come-back-the-same-way kind of trail as opposed to a loop, so perhaps a lot of people didn’t opt to go all the way to the end.  Better for me.

But as I got deeper into the canyon, the brush grew thicker.  There hadn’t been any significant rain for the last few weeks, and the creek here was low and barely flowing.  It looked more like a trail of shallow pools of stagnant water.  Where there is stagnant water and thick brush, there are gnats.

At first there were just a few here and there, and I simply gave them the occasional swat.  Before long it was frequent swats.  Eventually I found myself walking with both hands waving constantly in front of my face like windshield wipers.

I knew that at the end of the trail was where the highest waterfall and some of the prettiest sights were, but I had gotten to the point where I almost didn’t care.  I’d had quite enough of the gnats, and had almost decided to turn myself around, when I had a quiet thought.

Why, when I had come so far down a path I was determined to walk, would I let these distractions and nuisances become deterrents?  I thought about it.  These weren’t biting gnats, so they weren’t doing any damage.  They were simply annoying.  I also hadn’t seen the tram in awhile.  And I was nearly to the end.

I decided the gnats weren’t going to beat me.  This may not have been the calm, peaceful stroll I had planned on, but I was going to finish.  I turned up my windshield wipers and picked up the pace, and before very long I heard the distant sound of rushing water.  As I moved along it grew gradually louder until finally, it was there.  To be honest I wasn’t sure what was a more welcome sight – the cascading falls or the sign proclaiming “End of Trail – Turn Around”.

As I stood there watching the water crash over the rocks into the pool below, I did not feel a sense of peace.  I did not feel serenity.  What I felt was a sense of accomplishment and victory, and with it, strength.

I tend to be easy derailed and deterred by the constant distractions of life (which is beautifully illustrated by the fact that I felt the need to come out to the mountains alone for a week in order to relax and recharge).  I am also easily deterred by the many nuisances that sometimes seem to swarm around me, stealing my joy and peace and replacing it with frustration.  Often I simply turn around and go back to where the path was easier and more enjoyable.

As I turned around and walked back, I thought about what I had come out here looking for as opposed to what I’d found.  I had come out here feeling as though I needed to find peace and rest and through that I would find some inspiration and encouragement.  As usual, I had it all wrong.

I have been doing a bit too much “resting” as of late.  I don’t mean the kind of rest that renews, but a rest of stagnation and resistance.  I’ve come pretty far, and learned a lot about myself and my life.  I could keep pushing forward, but there are distractions all around and some serious nuisances swarming around up ahead.  So I hang out here.  The problem is that it won’t take long before the stagnation begins to breed more gnats.  What will I do then?  Finally push forward or retreat even further back to where I was in the past?

It wasn’t peace and rest that imparted inspiration and encouragement, it was determination and follow through.  The final leg of my walk wasn’t pleasant, but I did it.  That sense of accomplishment and victory gave me the biggest surge of joy and strength I’ve felt so far this week.

It’s time, I think.  Time to break away from the distractions and push through the unpleasantries.  Time to keep on moving toward where I want to be, instead of lingering along the road just far enough away from who I was to keep me content.

I have been waiting for months to find that surge of inner strength before moving forward, but it is clear to me now that sometimes the strength doesn’t come first.  Sometimes the strength is the victor’s reward.

2014-10-07 11.57.17

From the Depths to the Heights

Day two of my solo retreat to the Ozarks was quite an interesting day.  I decided to tour a cave.  I’d never been in a cave before, and I was kind of nervous.  But at the same time, I was excited.  It was something I’d always thought looked intriguing but never had the chance to do.  New Jersey isn’t exactly known for its extensive cave systems.

My tour guide was a cheerful, enthusiastic man probably nearing his 60’s, with a thick but affable accent.  His name, no lie, was Rad.  I liked him immediately.  When he asked me how many caves I’d visited before and I said this was my first, he broke out in a great big smile, and said “you shure did pick out the purdiest one around”.

He told me the cave’s original name was Fairy Cave, because the first person to explore it said it looked like an underground fairy land.  His enthusiasm was contagious.

There were about 20 of us on the tour, mostly families.  I got a few strange looks for being the only solo tourist, but I’ve been getting used to that.  Something about a person out and about enjoying life alone seems to make other people uncomfortable, or suspicious, or perhaps it’s an embarrassed curiosity.  But I digress.

Before the tour departed, we got a brief history lesson, and then the disclaimer.  We would be descending about 100 feet and walking 263 stairs.  There would be a few very narrow passthroughs, and as part of the tour, at one point the lights were going to be turned off.  Anyone with physical limitations, any form of claustrophobia, or fear of the dark, should consider backing out now.

One couple promptly opted for a refund.

We began our descent.  The pseudo spiral stone staircase was very uneven, and no two steps were the same height.  Most steps were steeper than the typical stair, and everything was wet.  Needless to say, the trek down was slow going, and very tedious.

We stopped at a platform about halfway down to let the group all catch up.  Rad explained that unlike many other caves which are horizontal, this one was vertical, and had only one opening.  That was most likely why it had been discovered so relatively late in the game.

He began to talk about what a cave is and how it is formed, and as usual, it spoke to me about some deeper truths.

When the earth was younger, it experienced a number of cataclysmic events – major flooding, earthquakes, and massive shifting of the continental plates.  This smashing together and tearing apart of those plates was what created the mountain ranges.  As it happened, however, numerous pockets of empty space become trapped in between the massive pieces of stone and earth.  Caves.

I began to think about some of the cataclysmic events I experienced when I was younger – the smashing of dreams and tearing apart of relationships, things which shook my very foundations and forever changed the landscape of my life.  Was it possible that all of those events left empty caverns trapped beneath the surface, stretching down to unknown depths?

The tour began to move again, and we crept ever so cautiously down the treacherous steps.  A second stop in a wider part of the cavern gave us a clear view of the ceiling of the cave.  Stretching down from the top were waiving curtains of rock and spears of stalactite.

Rad used a laser pointer to trace the source of these formations – a thin crack along the ceiling of the cave.  He said that as it rains above and the water seeps down into the ground, it drips through that crack and melts the limestone, which slowly over hundreds of years forms these columns and curtains in the same way that dripping water in cold conditions creates an icicle.

Hmm.  Rocksicles. The thought made me smile.

We passed through a narrow and unaltered hallway (no steps, no even walkway – just natural, curvy, slippery stone), and after one more set of stairs found ourselves on the floor of the cave.  From there we had an unobstructed view of the most spectacular formation in the cave.  A 50 foot column of rock which Rad called “the angel”.  I still don’t understand the science of it, but in addition to stalactites which drip down from the ceiling, caves can also form stalagmites, which grow up from the floor.  When they meet, they have become a column.  This one was spectacular, and really did resemble an angel.

Again, I began to wonder.  I’m sure that much of what goes on at the surface of my life has dripped down into the unknown depths.  Had they created such beautiful formations?  Were there possibly such glorious things still to be discovered?

My thoughts were interrupted by the announcement that it was time to turn off all the lights.  It didn’t phase me.  Until it happened.  I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced such a heavy blackness.  My pulse quickened and I could feel my eyes reflexively open about as wide as they could.  I suddenly felt cold, and a chill went up my spine.  Thankfully, one of the kids began to cry and the lights were promptly restored.  I could see on the faces of the other group members that I wasn’t the only one so unsettled by that utter and complete darkness.

With that, the tour concluded and we climbed back up to the surface.  Earlier on Rad had mentioned some nature trails on the property, and as the group milled about the gift shop picking out souvenirs and asking questions, I quietly slipped out the back door to get some sunshine and fresh air and ponder the thoughts the cave had stirred up.  The trail wasn’t very long, about 2 miles around, but it was uphill.  Very uphill.  I didn’t mind.  After feeling cramped and moving so cautiously and awkwardly below ground, a brisk walk in the wide open air felt good.  As I neared the top of the loop, I discovered an observation tower.  It looked about 4 or 5 stories high.  I’m not typically a fan of heights, but I figured I had come this far and might as well go all the way to the top.  It was breathtaking.  I could see mountains and valleys for miles in every direction.

It occurred to me how strange it was to have gone from the depths of the earth to heights above the treetops all within a matter of hours.  And quickly there came to mind a familiar and very personal verse.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Where can I flee from Your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.  If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You. (Psalm 139:7-12)

None of this is a mystery to God.  The things unknown to me that lurk undiscovered in the depths of my heart are as clear and as illuminated to Him as that wide open mountainside was to me.  Rapid fire verses began to flood my mind.

He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, And He set my feet upon a rock (Psalm 40:2)…He has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9)…He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the heights (Habakkuk 3:19)…For great is Your love, higher than the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the skies (Psalm 108:4)

As I stood on those heights looking out over the mountains, remembering the depths of the cavern, I became aware with new clarity what God has been doing in my life.  With this Monday afternoon excursion, He was able to show me His purposes in a way that I understood.  Through all the chaos and confusion and pain and frustration of the past few months, He has been helping me to uncover the depths and illuminate the darkness within myself, so that I will – finally – be able to reach new heights.

2014-10-06 12.59.44 HDR

Outgrowing the Cocoon

Perhaps you may have read an earlier entry, Caterpillar Soup, that I posted back in May.  In it, I compared the state of my life at the time to what actually goes on inside a cocoon when a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly.  I used to think that a caterpillar simply sprouted butterfly wings.  Not so.  In reality, the caterpillar melts down completely into a mess of disgusting goop, and special cells that had been dormant until then come to life, use that goop to nourish themselves, and grow and merge into the adult butterfly.

Yes, I had melted down completely.  I was a disgusting mess.  Nothing in my life was certain or secure, and I had no idea what to do with the chaos and confusion within and around me.

Fast forward a few months.  Life has settled into a new normal.  I am in a better place than I was, albeit certainly not a place I want to remain for very long.  Life still feels transitional, and I am still unsure of the direction I will ultimately end up going and the person I will end up becoming.

If I could describe myself over the past 6 months in one word, I would use the word pensive.  Even when surrounded by coworkers and family and friends, a small part of me has been perpetually withdrawn, alone with my deep thoughts and emotions.  I have been using this time to face who I have become along the bumpy and treacherous roads I have chosen in the past.  I have examined some of the many wrong turns and choices, and identified some of the damage done to myself and others.  I have made some peace, and uncovered some deeper pain.  But there is a theme here…some.

As much as I’ve been pensive, I’ve also been busy.  Very busy.  All of that busyness and chaos and noise quickly began to infect my introspection and turn it ugly.  Exhausted and overwhelmed introspection can quickly become depression, discouragement, and cynicism.

So I did what I’ve never been good at before.  Rather than just tell myself to suck it up and deal with it, I admitted I was exhausted and overwhelmed and did something about it.  I took a vacation.  Alone.

Yesterday was my first day in the beautiful Ozarks in Missouri.  It’s a strange destination, I know, but it is far enough away from my busy suburban existence where I am constantly in motion but never seem to “catch up”.  Here, there is nothing to race around for.  There is fresh air and mountains and nature trails and lakes.  It is peaceful.  It is quiet.  It is not in a hurry.

I spent my first day here hiking around Table Rock Lake.  It was a perfect day.  The water was clear, the sky was blue, the day was warm, and the breeze was cool.  But something unexpected met me on that long walk around the lake.  Butterflies.  Dozens of butterflies.

In the peace and quiet and beauty of my surroundings, I was able to do what I came out here to do.  I was able to think.  What I thought about was Caterpillar Soup.  I asked myself where I was in my own transformation, and the immediate and brutally honest answer was stunted.  I had made some important changes, and learned some important lessons.  But I had also avoided some of the more difficult things that I didn’t want to deal with.

As I watched the butterflies, it occurred to me that I couldn’t call what they were doing “flying”.  They were flitting.  Dancing.  They seemed light and unburdened and if I had to guess, I’d say they were entirely enjoying their existence.  As I watched them, I had to admit that I definitely haven’t emerged.  What was taking me so long?

I immediately thought about a story I’d heard where a boy was watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon.  He wanted to help and cut the cocoon open, but when the butterfly emerged it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings.  It turned out that the butterfly’s struggle out of the cocoon is what pushes the fluid out of its body and into its wings, and strengthens it to fly.  Without the struggle, it cannot become what it was meant to be.

Personally, I’ve never liked a struggle.

I didn’t want to think about it so I changed the subject (which is really easy to do when you are conversing with yourself).  I kept on hiking, and taking pictures, and made it back to the starting point with enough time to watch the sunset.  It was glorious.  But it reminded me of another story about a struggle, and this one was harder to forget.

Genesis 32 tells the familiar story of Jacob wresting with God, but far fewer people know that story in its context.  In Genesis 31, God tells Jacob that he has worked as his uncle’s servant long enough, and He sends him back to the promised land.  There is a problem, though.  In order to get there, Jacob must cross through his brother Esau’s territory.  The last time Jacob had seen Esau, he had just deceitfully stolen both his birthright and his blessing from their blind and dying father, and Esau was going to kill him. That was why Jacob had fled to his uncle in the first place.  Twenty long years had passed, but Jacob was still terrified of his brother’s wrath.  When he heard that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men, he divided his possessions among the company traveling with him, to be given as gifts to his brother.  He sent them all ahead of him, one group at a time, hoping that the gifts brought by his company would appease his brother’s wrath.  Lastly, it says, that at night he sent his wives and children with whatever he had remaining across the river, and he himself remained there alone.

That was when the real struggle began.  And sitting there alone, with no one and nothing around me, watching the last of the sunlight disappear behind the mountains on the other side of the lake, it all began to make sense.  Jacob wrestled with God until daybreak, refusing to let go until He blessed him.  There is plenty of theological discussion (i.e. argument) about what this passage really means.  Without getting into that, here’s what it meant to me last night.

I tend to agree with the teaching that Jacob wasn’t wrestling against God (because really, how absurd is it to imagine that any human being could possibly outmatch God in hand to hand combat?).  He was wrestling with God against himself.  He knew that come daybreak, he had two choices.  He could cross the river alone and face his oldest and greatest fear, or he could abandon his family and possessions, and tuck tail and run back to his uncle.  I don’t know what it was in Jacob that was holding him back, but I know that he and God wrestled with it until daybreak, and together overcame it.  I know this because when Jacob sees Esau and his men coming the next morning, he doesn’t hide behind his family anymore, but passes on ahead of them to meet his brother head on.

I may not know what it was in Jacob that held him back, but I do know what it is in me that holds me back.  I know what my Esau is, and I know that I can’t run and hide forever.

I also know that I’ve outgrown the cocoon, and it’s time to struggle my way out.  Do you know how you can tell when a butterfly is almost ready to emerge?  The cocoon becomes transparent, and you can see the color from its wings through the chrysalis.

I’ve gotten a glimpse of who I can be, and I know that what lies between here and there is a great big struggle.  It’s a struggle against the things within me that still hold me back.  But as I watched the sun set over the lake last night, it was as if God was reassuring me that it’s not a struggle I have to go through alone, because He will be there to wrestle with me against the things I cannot defeat alone.

2014-10-05 18.36.40

Choice and Consequence

I recently heard someone say that free will was God’s greatest judgment on mankind.  I couldn’t agree more.

We’ve all made some bad choices in life, and ultimately faced some kind of unpleasant consequences.  Hopefully we “learned our lesson”.  Unfortunately, for many of us there is something in our nature that prevents us from learning our lessons well enough not to repeat those same bad choices.

Think about it.  How many times have you done something that caused some kind of pain or misery, and sworn off ever doing that again…only to find yourself doing that again?

Personally, I’m tired of learning lessons the hard way – especially lessons I have already learned the hard way multiple times before.  But for some maddening reason, I often find myself walking down the same familiar paths that have only caused me trouble and angst in the past.

I suppose not everyone struggles with this particular affliction, but those of us who do are sorely familiar with the very popular definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  I am the first to admit that in these kinds of situations, I feel like a genuinely crazy person.

I know it’s not just me.  I’ve had conversations with many other people who knew exactly what I was talking about.  And we all ask the same frustrating questions.  Why do we do what we do?  What is it that drives us to these self destructive patterns?  Is the immediate gratification of this bad choice really so overwhelming that it causes temporary and selective amnesia of the all the past consequences?  Because that’s exactly what seems to happen.  Somehow our minds manage to extract the memories of the few pleasant moments associated with the past experience and keep the rest cloaked in darkness and obscurity.

There are, of course, some consequences so excruciating and enduring that one lesson lasts a lifetime.  Most aren’t quite so cataclysmic, and as time goes on the pain fades.  Then eventually, so do the memories of that pain, until the wrong choice is just that much easier to make again.

Jesus told a parable that I had trouble fully grasping for many years, but it came to mind recently and finally made some sense to me.  And don’t check out on me here – even if you’re not a Christian, Jesus still spoke with great wisdom and insight into the human heart.

When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first…” (‭Matthew‬ ‭12‬:‭43-45‬ NIV)

Whether or not you believe in “impure spirits”, this can still apply.  Think of them as symbolic of your bad habits and destructive tendencies, and you get the point.  Basically, we kick them out.  We clean ourselves up.  But they come back stronger than ever, and we’re worse off than we were before.

That was the part that always confused me.  After they were gone, the person cleaned up.  Why, then, would they be able to come back in?

Then it hit me.  The house was clean, but it was empty.  The trouble and its resulting miseries were gone.  Life was good.  Life was comfortable.  And therein was the danger.  The problems may have been gone, but nothing had taken their place.

I find a clean house to have a very calming effect.  It is peaceful, but if it’s also empty, the peace is eventually overtaken by loneliness.  It’s too quiet.  There is a sense of isolation that begins to infect the mind and the heart, and when the mind and the heart begin to wander, our actions quickly follow.

Compounding this problem is the fact that once the pain began to fade, no other deterrent had taken its place.  No security system was installed, no new locks on the doors and windows, no fence erected, and no motion sensing lights.

You’d think after getting all of that Trouble out of their house, this person would be hyper-vigilant, and take extra precautions to protect him(or her)self.  Not the case.

Maybe the person was in denial. Maybe they kept telling themselves that Trouble was a random, freak occurrence and won’t happen again.

Maybe the person was an escapist.  They didn’t want to face what had happened, so busied themselves with any number of distractions.

Maybe the person hated change.  They found their comfort and security in the familiarity of their surroundings and were afraid to chance them, even though they were unsafe.

And so the person left the clean house empty and unprotected. They justified themselves, or passed blame, or made excuses.  It’s not necessary, I’ll know better next time.  It’s because so-and-so left the door unlocked, there was nothing I could do about that.  I’m too busy to make all these changes.  I can’t afford it.  I don’t want the house to look like a fortress.  Etc, etc, and so on.

In reality, the cleaned-up house looks vastly improved to most passerbys, who are so happy to see all the progress being made.  But for Trouble, it is still an easy target.  And because it is cleaned up and emptied out there is room for Trouble’s buddies too.

I enjoy analogies because they allow me to examine the problem without looking straight on at the real problem.  It’s time to move away from the analogy.  It’s also time to move away from the “they” and “we”.  Time to get real.  This is about me, myself, and I.

Obviously this is not about an actual house.  It’s about my heart, mind, soul, and spirit – the non-physical aspect of myself.

As I read this parable and thought about its meaning, I began to see my problem more clearly.  I don’t mind cleaning up on the surface, but when it comes to doing the hard work of facing and attempting to fix my weaknesses, I mind very much.

I deny the problem.  I refuse to face it.  I feel threatened and frightened by the idea of change, so I do what’s easy and familiar and avoid any hard work.  Then I justify it.  I pass blame.  I make excuses.  It’s not necessary, I’ll know better than to make that mistake the next time.  It’s because so-and-so did what they did to me; I was a victim and there was nothing I could do about it.  I’m too busy to work on myself.  I can’t afford therapy.  I don’t want to look like a fortress.  Etc, etc, and so on.

And each time Trouble comes back, it comes back stronger.  The pain is worse and the consequences reach farther and deeper than the last time.

I was confronted with a painful consequence today still lingering from an old bad choice, and as I felt that familiar guilt and regret and sorrow stirring in the pit of my stomach, a thought crossed my mind.  How much more pain do I have to cause to myself and others before I am willing to fill up my empty spaces and start working on strengthening my many weaknesses?  What will it take?  Is this guilt and regret and sorrow enough, or will it take more?

I wish I could state with confidence that I have learned my lesson once and for all, and will never make such bad choices again, but that would be a lie.  The only thing I can state with confidence right now, is if I had the chance to give back my free will I’d take it.  But I can’t.  I will continue to face a multitude of choices every day, from the mediocre and mundane to the potentially life altering, and everything in between.

What I am starting to realize is that if I want to make the right choices down the road I can’t wait until I get there.  By that time it’ll be too late.  If I want to avoid repeating past mistakes in the future, I have to fix myself in the present, and not making that choice today will have untold consequences in the future.