This is the day

Four years ago I traveled to India with my friend Beth.  We bumped and wound our way across the oceans and lands to Kolkata.  And for a few weeks we worked side-by-side with the sisters of Missionaries of Charity, offering love and daily blessings to the suffering.  Most mornings we got up at 5am to go to chapel at the Mother House, followed by breakfast and chai with the volunteers and sisters.  At the end of this morning ritual, we collectively prayed:

Dear Lord, the great Healer, I kneel before you,
Since every good and perfect gift must come from you.
I pray give skill to my hands, clear vision to my mind, kindness and meekness to my heart.
Give me singleness of purpose, strength to life up a part of the burden of my suffering fellow men,
And a true realization of the privilege that is mine.
Take from my heart all guile and worldliness that with the simple faith of a child - I may rely on you.

I am remembering this prayer today, as I leave for Africa with my brother.
And as we inaugurate our 44th President.
And as we recognize the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr.

May you be inspired to live brighter and fuller, with a truer and more humble sense of self and our fellow man, as the incomplete creatures that we are.

I hope to write from Africa.  But in the land of breathtaking beauty and savage poverty, who knows.
Until then.


It comes in handy

Hi, all.  And a very good Sunday to you.

I went into this week with my head down, eyes focused, armed with coffee and Luna protein bars, knowing it would take an extraordinary amount of determination and an extensive use of iCal to make it to this very Sunday in one piece.  And here we are.  So thankful for a sabbath weekend.

I'm not sure I've really talked to anyone outside of work folk and my parents.  This past week was something of a web of old job/new job and everything in between - which meant my alarm was going off at 3:45am or 6:30am depending on the day.  Which is not confusing for the body at all.  I spent the last two nights staying in, watching old Barbra Streisand movies, in bed by ten o'clock.  

Then there is the fact that I leave for Africa in ONE WEEK.  I am feeling strangely chill about this trip.  I am not unexcited or unenthusiastic, I'm simply not stressed about it at all.  Maybe I should be.  I carry a trait that I am incredibly thankful for:  the ability to maintain a sense of calm in stressful situations.  I wish I knew how to put this on my resume, because I think maybe this is a marketable attribute.  It comes in handy when you are crammed on a train with one million other people who do not speak English or being questioned by the police in Portuguese.

The flipside of that is I am so guilty of over-thinking almost everything.  This makes me an incredibly poor decision-maker.  Every time my friend Tricia and I go out to breakfast, it is preceded by days of messages back and forth over where to go.  And then, what time!  Good gracious, the decisions.  So, I'm thankful that I haven't had much time or energy to think about Africa, or my new job.  Maybe that means I go into it all rather unprepared or unorganized, but maybe that's okay.  For now.

This question popped up on my TED Big Questions yesterday:
"How are your expectations affecting your experiences?"

I had to think about that for a while.  In general, I'd say my expectations of the world, family, friends, myself (even a meal for Pete's sake!) are too high.  I expect the world of, well, the world.  Unfortunately, more times than not, I am setting myself up for disappointment.  And then those moments, those experiences that are totally spot-on, that match or exceed my expectations, are burned in my memory forever.  I'm thankful for those.  And sorry and sad that so many times I think in a dream, when the truth is, I live in a real world of humans and machines, faults and failures, and almosts.

I don't want to lose my sense of hope and conviction, because I'm not sure what the world is without them. But I am trying to level my expectancy.  So that, hopefully, my experiences will outshine my expectations.

I've been hearing a lot lately about folks who have been deeply and profoundly unhappy.  Folks who are dealing with a very serious bout of depression.  I hardly know what to say to them.  I have never known such deep-seated despair, and it is not something you can pretend to know.  But every time I hear of someone who is experiencing this weight and woe and loss, I think of Job and his friends.  It says that when they saw Job they could hardly recognize him.  "Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights.  No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was."  

I was thinking about this yesterday while I was running: the weary and worn, the afflicted, and what it is to be present with them in their suffering.  I was also listening to an episode of Radiolab, interestingly enough, on Bliss.  The episode began with this incredible audio clip from a video by Norwegian adventurer Aleksander Gamme.  He had captured a perfect moment, an experience of pure joy, on the last leg of a three month trek in the Antarctic when he discovered something he had stashed under the ice at the start of his journey:

A double pack of Cheese Doodles!  A bar of milk chocolate!  Mentos!  On a three month journey through the Antarctic, when you are cold and hungry and tired, this is bliss.  

Aleksander says, "When did you shout the last time you were so happy?" 

When I first heard the audio of Aleksander's discovery, I literally doubled over, laughing and smiling like a fool, trying to run and maintain a sense of decency.  When I got home, I immediately found the video and experienced it all over again.  I can't stop watching it.  The host of Radiolab mentions this moment in the video just after his initial Cheese Doodle discovery, when Aleksander pauses and looks out across the ice. Frozen in a state of disbelief and pure, unspeakable bliss.


Cheers to you

I know.  How did this happen?!  I can remember writing my first post of 2012 so vividly, how can we possibly have made our way to a new year already?!

We welcomed the new year with a breakfast fit for kings...orange brioche french toast and almond pancakes with fresh strawberries.  Undoubtedly, the first of many.

Just when I think I've got a handle on the rhythms and pulse of a year, the world moves on.  What a bugger.  I feel a little unprepared for a new year.  I also feel like I always say that.  Regardless, 2013 caught me by surprise.  The week between Christmas and New Year's seems to move faster every year.

I was just reading over my post from the start of last year: "Let the wild rumpus start!"  Sometimes I read over my old writing and wonder who wrote that - wishing I could be more like the girl who wrote it or hoping that time has changed me.  I feel the same way about ambition.  That word, ambition, always draws to mind Abraham Lincoln.  I can almost hear him saying, "Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition."  I get excited about ambition, zeal, having a sense of purpose.  It is what moves me through my days.  But sometimes that same eagerness overwhelms me, makes me regretful.  When I look back on my list of ambitions for 2012, I am mixed with both joy and sadness at what I accomplished and what I failed to realize, respectively.  I know that's not the point.  And I probably wrote that somewhere.  We humans seem to be unable to help holding our lives to that plumb line - comparing ourselves to one another, or our past and future selves.  

I have to stop myself.  Because you're right (whoever you are), that's not what it's all about.  It's about living a great story.  

There are a couple ideas I'd like to pull back from last year.  Things I'd like to be true for always.  And some new thoughts, a few things I'm holding in my memory for the year ahead.

1.  To thine own self be true.
I write about authenticity a lot.  But I think it's something incredibly relevant.  I think even when I am mean-spirited, impatient, judgmental, or discontent, that is not an expression of my truest self.  I admit to my imperfections, my failures, and my offenses - wrestling for grace and forgiveness everyday.  But I don't believe those acts are an utterance of my deepest, truest self, rather a vice on the being I was shaped from. There's that beautiful Hebrew word, timshel, "thou mayest." It speaks to the truth that we have been given a choice, that we have been enabled to move with grace.

2.  Make.
While in between jobs this fall, I found myself with heaps of time for art making.  There were all these images and ideas I didn't even realize had been stored within my being, calling out to be made.  So for several weeks there, I kept my papers and paints and newspaper and ideas strewn out in my makeshift studio (ahem, the dining room table).  Then I brought it all out into the sunlight for the world to see.  And they loved it.  I loved it.  And it was good.  Shortly after, a friend reminded me of this quote from Life of Pi.  It reminds me of why I do what I do, and why we must hold the imagination so tenderly.  "If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams."

3.  Make a sacrifice for the good of another.  Offer something of yourself to the world in exchange for nothing.
With all this craziness happening in the world, the violence and unexplainable tragedy, all this talk of money and cliffs and whats fair and right.  I have a hard time sorting it all out. Yet I know that God is a God of good things and of truth.  But I'm not always sure about fair.  My mom used to tell us that life's not always fair.  I'm not sure our goal should be fair.  I'm thinking what will get us all back to what we were created to be is something more like the pursuit of wholeness, light, and goodwill to men.  Let's be honest, it's the road less traveled and a rough one at that.  We're going to need each other's grace and forgiveness and heartening.

4.  Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

5.  As we pursue our own Personal Legends, when you wonder yet again what it's all for, remember this:
Sometimes it is enough to have seen the Pyramids.  Our lives are weighted by where we have been.

6.  Why don't you stop thinking and simply enjoy it?

7.  Also, a few things I'm looking forward to in this new year:  My sister is having a baby, and I'm ever so excited.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, my grandpa celebrates his 80th birthday this Sunday.  I am making a classic yellow butter cake with chocolate frosting - an oldie but a goodie for the oldie but goodie. Also, I'm set to travel with my brother to Uganda and Kenya at the end of this month, as an ambassador and story editor for Venture Corps - a non profit committed to empowering people to love the poor and marginalized, bringing wholeness and light into the lives of many.

That, friends, is what this rumpus is all about.