Friday, October 30, 2015

Be Still, and Know that I am God


Be still, and know that I am God.

   I struggle with understanding what that means, sometimes.  I know you exist in my heart of hearts.  There is no question.  you mean more than that.  "God."  That word is capitalized.  Not "a god."  Just "God."  The great I AM.
   I am still, at the edge of this pond.  Quiet.  Listening for you.  I see where the Native Americans understood god to be Nature: nature is neither good, nor bad, it just is.  The trees can be nothing other than themselves.  It is not so with humans.  We can be whoever we choose to act as.  Therefore, I see why we seek that which is honest and true and unchanging . . . because we are not.  I see why so many of us run to the woods when we seek clarity; it is the clearest place, free from the burdens of pleasing society. free from the realization that you will let someone down.  You will falter.  It is here that we can gaze upon simple existence, and, for a time, escape the inevitability of the marred human life.
   It is here that the hole we have dug ourselves into, or are hiding in, or are trying to escape from, levels out and for a time disappears.  But.  It is also here that the reasons behind that hole being there become inescapable.  When faced with the honesty, the unashamed truth of nature, one cannot hide from the honesty of one's own life.
   My heart is unclothed in the woods.  I can cry, I can grin.  I can wring my hands in sorrow, or worry, or guilt, or anxiety here without fear of judgement by the honest trees or squirrels.  Even so, I come face to face with my own hypocrisy, my own dishonesty, my own imperfections.  That is me.  I cannot escape myself.

Be still, and know that I am God.

   The trees, in their honesty, cannot be here solely by disorderly, unknown, entropic chance.  If so, how does the forest work so much like a well oiled machine?  Ecologists recognize not merely a tree, or a stand of trees, but a system.  A system which they simultaneously affect and are affected by.  It is an interesting observation that the system did well on its own until imperfect humans began to alter it; as if we know, better than a tree, how to be a tree.  And yet, here we are, acting upon the land, as it is our duty.  In a sense, our mere existence necessitated our caretaking of this land, as a means of counteracting our own effect on it.  Funny cycle, that.
   It is indeed a testament to the power which keeps nature here, that even our best efforts cannot affect nature wholly.  It stands stalwart, though we may rail against it.

Be still, and know that I am God.

Be still, here in this landscape, and know that in spite of your own best--if imperfect--efforts, you are still loved.  You are still presented with the honesty of nature to reveal your faults, to comfort your soul, and to give you hope.  Hope that one day, when you stop trying, and just be my creation, you too, can stand stalwart in my presence and live, and know that you are loved.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Village

"It takes a village to raise a child."

Everyone has heard this saying, and everyone probably agrees.  I still want to talk about it...so just grin and bear the trite beginning, because I think there's some new goodness to be found in it.

I have a 16 month old godson.  He's the greatest.  He's happy-go-lucky and smart.  Everyone who meets him instantly loves him.  His parents are part of my "village" here in college, so we do many social events together.  They bring FJ with them often, which no one minds because he's already one of us, even at such a young age.  But it has really hit me at the last couple of events he's attended, that it doesn't matter where he is, he is always being looked after by everyone.  It's not just his parents that are trailing him around, it's everyone.  Whoever we meet or spend time with happily becomes part of the FJ "monitoring," not that he needs much, he's a fairly independent kid.

For instance, on Saturday night I had roughly 20 people in my house, and every time I saw FJ he was talking to or being held by someone else.  He "read" to people, he helped people grill, he helped them plug or unplug their various cell phones, and he definitely helped cook and eat all the food possible.  Not only does his parents bringing him to things enhance his social skills, it also gives them a chance to be blessed with an assurance that they aren't solely responsible for chasing after him.

Everyone helps, because he's one of us and we love him.

I'd like to suggest that it doesn't' only take a village to raise a child...it takes a village to just be.

This is where I insert another trite saying about how "I don't know who I'd be without my friends," but I legitimately mean it.  I have made many mistakes, taken wrong turns, fumbled through conflicts, but I manage to come through it by the grace of God and the love of my friends and family (those things are not mutually exclusive).  If it was just me out here in this Post-modern world, I wouldn't be able to pull through what I have already overcome.  It takes a village for emotional support, yes, but also sometimes just to make dinner come together.

Saturday was an Oktoberfest party.  I planned out pretzel bites, various dips, pumpernickel, potato salad, potato pancakes, chicken schnitzel, pork schnitzel, sauerkraut, bratwursts, kielbasa, two types of cheese strudel, apple pie, and black forest cake.  One cannot do that alone, especially if the food is going to taste good and be fresh.  I had wonderful friends bake the desserts and other baked goods, as my oven is temperamental and bakes unevenly.  
But I thought with careful planning I'd be able to handle the rest alone.

Wrong.

Thank the good Lord I had two amazing helpers ALL DAY Saturday, who were graciously at my beck and call.  They stood alongside me in the kitchen washing, peeling, slicing, dicing, tenderizing, boiling, mixing, whipping (as in, just with a whisk!), cleaning, organizing, and keeping me sane with simultaneously deep and hilarious conversation.

By 45 minutes before go-time we thought we had it handled...then a breaker went...in the kitchen.

The fridge, water heater, stove, and all the kitchen outlets went down.  We had 10 pounds of raw chicken and pork in sitting in the dead fridge waiting to be breaded and deep fried.  After much breaker flipping, nothing happened, and guests began arriving.  I was in full panic-mode.  But again, thank God I was surrounded by people who rose to the occasion.
Some of them moved the deep-fryer into the living room and began a relay system: a breader in the kitchen, a runner, and a fry cook.
Someone else managed to get the circuits working again.  Another guest started frying the potato pancakes without being asked: he just took it over.  It all came together: hot, fresh, delicious, authentic, and 100% a group effort.

It's humbling.
I had a grand plan to have everything done precisely by 7pm, when people were supposed to arrive.  I had friends show up early ready to help, and I had friends that were problem solvers when I was too absorbed with how this was not working out the way I had envisioned.

The rest of the evening was filled with glorious laughter, great food, conversation, dancing, and such a love among everyone that it was palpable in the air.  Mind you, this wasn't a village who'd known each other for decades.  Some of us had only known each other for 2 years, or 2 minutes.

But between the food, the kid, and the compassion for one another, what we experienced that night was something special.
It was a beautiful reminder that who we are is defined, yes, by what we do, but also with whom we do it.  I am who I am because of the influences in my life, for better of for worse.  Okay, just for the better. ;)

FJ will become who he is because of who he's with, and how they treat him.

I think if he's with this village, he'll turn out pretty okay.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Vulnerablility

I am the strong one.

That is a self-imposed title.  But if I look at my life, look at those I know and love, everyone else has something bigger going on than I do.  I'm not going to air laundry here, but that's just how it is.

Well, until this big thing happened in my own life.  But I've spent a while making myself be strong for everyone else, being the one who has it together so that if someone needs to talk to me, they can without fear of my interjections with my own sagas.  I've spent long enough that sometimes I'm not sure I know how to be broken anymore...I'm not sure I know how to let myself...be vulnerable.

Don't misunderstand, I haven't been burned by someone, well, ever.  Maybe once, but that blame isn't totally on the other party.  To be honest, I've probably done my share of the burning; I think my mission to be "strong" became a spirit of "I don't need anyone," somewhere along the line.
Pro-tip: those two are not the same.  They can sometimes feel the same, when you're the one emoting, but...I can bet they don't feel the same to everyone else.

So now here I am.  Broken, tired, and weak.  But the wrinkle is that currently, it's the inner layer that's broken.  Like a burned-out light bulb: you look at it, you shake it and you can hear the burnt filament, but the outer glass is fine.  A cursory glance probably won't tell you it's broken.

In my heart of hearts, I know I need to be totally broken to be rebuilt.  Yes, I get it.  Break me down to the raw building blocks, then put me back together.  But I've spent so long willing my blocks together, they are not falling down easily.  They haven't fallen down yet, not all of them, anyway.  I know how,  I guess.  The very thing (me) holding myself together is the thing that needs to let me go.
Ever tried that?  I've got news for you if you haven't: it ain't easy.  It's not fun.  It takes a whole lot of courage to go toddler-mode and knock those blocks down.  And frankly, I'm not feeling very child-like.

But as for me, I am poor and needy;
    may the Lord think of me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
   you are my God, do not delay.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Zugunruhe

October is only six days old, and yet it feels like an old friend greeting me with open arms.  With it comes orange leaves, crisp breezes, and Oktoberfest--Okay, so let's forgive the fact that the M√ľnchen festival is over...and just pretend that Oktoberfest actually happens in October--
Thoughts of that festival always bring me back to my own roots: Wien, Kaffee, topfenstrudel, sauerkraut, and so forth.  Thus awakens my adventuring spirit.  Crisp air, good food...these things are hard to experience inside an office.

I want to go to Vienna again!  The Alps!  I want to see the Rockies in the fall!  Big Sur! Yosemite! Colorado Springs!  Albuquerque!  Flagstaff! Boundary Waters! Black Hills! North Woods!  Everywhere!  Let me go!  Let me see new things, experience change! Oh to be a bird on the annual migration, able to cross the country and land someplace new, yet familiar!

I have found that often August and September are a mad rush of change, excitement, and preparation for October.  That is not to say that activity slows in October, it just settles into a familiar bustle.  The months preceding this one are hectic and jumbled: crammed full of planning, moving, new clothes, new books, new goals...You get restless.  You get tired of the way things are.  You yearn for a new place, a new space, a new season.  You re-arrange the living room.  You run off on a weekend excursion.  You get new art, maybe on your body, maybe for your house.  You make plans: some to keep, some to forget.  You rearrange the furniture...again.

Ecologists have a word for this in the animal kingdom.  It's Zugunruhe.



You see it in animals as they prepare to take off across the landscape.  They prepare for the change.  They get excited.  They bustle around.  They stay up later.  They eat more.  They make small moves out and about.  If they had clothes, they'd pack.  And unpack.  And repack.
The thing to notice about zugunruhe, is that it's not just a restlessness.  It's an excited preparation to make a change.  It's a readying of the body to embark on a journey.  It's purposeful restlessness.
This concept in itself is remarkable, given that the animals affected have such delicate metabolisms.

Even hummingbirds go through this.  Hummingbirds!  Tiny winged creatures that are perpetually hours away from starving to death!  They undertake this heightened activity, this restless preparation for the Big Change.

If they go through this every year, and make it, so can I.

What I have..it's not just wanderlust.  It's premeditation of an adventure that I know will lead to...well...if I knew, it wouldn't be a change, would it?  It's a great restlessness in my spirit that tells me it's time for a change for the better.  To move.  To take a risk.  To learn a new thing.  To see a new place.  To break that habit.  To make a change.

Have you felt that?  Have you had such a burden on your soul that things need to change?  It's inescapable.  It works its way into your dreams, your conversations, your quiet meditations.  It's October, and it's time.