Somewhere in Between

We are always in the process of becoming.  At least I am speaking of myself. It sometimes occurs to me that other people may be quite content being who they are and are satisfied with what they do. Everyday, like the buttons on a VCR player (remember those?), life is lived on basically four functions: Play, Pause, Stop, Rewind. Sometimes I wish I could be that way.

“You are very complex,” my bride reminds me, usually with a sigh. Being the Optimist, I belive there must be a compliment in there somewhere. Don’t get me wrong, I am not unhappy with who I am. I love my life. I just want more.

Growing up in northern Ohio, it is a common occurence in early autumn to see the sky filled with Canadian Geese flying in perfect V-shaped formation, like attacking fighter jets, honking merrily as they migrate south. A lot of birds migrate from Ohio. Some follow landmarks learned from watching the old birds before them. Other types of birds use a “compass”– the Earth’s magnetic field, stellar constellations, and the sun, which I find to be very cool indeed.

The easy answer on WHY they fly south, is because they know there is a South they need to get to.  Some internal mechanism placed within their DNA alerts them- It is about to get freakin’ cold around here, and if you wanna eat, you better get going to another place. This ,of course ,was built inside them by the Creator who planned all of creation with such precision, baffling the intellect of well, really smart people.

An internal mechanism or compass is inside all of us, I believe. Not one to “fly south”- although that happens to a lot of  Ohioians in winter- but to continue a process of change and development. To unfold. Sort of like a flower that leans into the heat and light of the Sun. Or perhaps more accurate, a metamorphosis, like a wormy caterpillar turning into a beautiful Monarch butterfly once released from its chrysalis. For several years I felt this internal mechanism alerting me that change was coming.

I am now in the place Somewhere in Between where I have been, and where I am going. Like a trapese artist released from the sure hold on one swing, twirling in a disoriented manner through thin air as he hopes to have a safe landing on the next swing. It’s in the In-between place that you let everything go. And it is certainly disorienting. But in the In-between, you are committed to the journey. Imagine a guy on the trapese who refused to let go of his grip on the familiar. He swings free for awhile, then just hangs like a wet shirt held to a rope with clothes pins. My Dad’s favorite saying to me after,”What were you thinking?” was, “Hang in there!“.  Well, I was tired of hanging in there, so I let go. And now I am Somewhere in Between.

So what am I after? What do I pursue in this place of The Journey? Where do I go from here? There is something I am discovering about the In-between place: You must release all your options and forget about Outcomes. You must relinquish control of the life you planned to discover the life you were meant to have. Trust. Trust your instincts. Trust your Creator. Trust the Process you are in. Trust the people who are entering your life in this season. Refuse to allow self preservation to rule your choices. Swing free through the air!

So if I could put into words this longing in my heart, I would say the first thing I desire is Intimacy. A deep intimacy with a wild God and with others. It is easy to build internal structures to monitor the flow of “safe and unsafe” people in and out of your life. Without realizing it, those structures  become walls restricting the freedom of your own spirit. I am wanting to become a person who is full of Love and  has an overflowing capacity to love. I am sure of it, I believe.

I have discovered that Loving God means loving others more; which means giving more of myself away; which means discovering how selfish I really am. I am uncomfortable with that. But there is a South to fly to.

Second, I know there is a Significant Mission to accomplish with my remaining years. This is more than a job: it’s an overflow of Who you I am Becoming and the message being written along the way. I am refusing the attempt to discover, “What Color is your Parachute” in this season.  My desire is to discover my Creator’s Eternal Purpose for me and leave a legacy, if that is possible. Like one pebble tossed into the calm waters of a pond, I want to make a small splash into time and create many subsequent ripples.

Finally, I just want to enjoy this Life Journey. There is deep joy in being content with your lot in life based on the deeper reality of God’s love expressed through Jesus Christ. We collect a lot of emotional baggage over the years that we were never meant to carry. There is a simple joy found in the discovery that we are not responsible for other people’s happiness. Each person is reponsible to go on that journey for themselves.

There is a lot of beauty to enjoy. If our eyes are only on ourselves and our shortcomings, we cannot absorb into our soul all that there is to discover. I want to share that beauty through the lens of my camera, my words and my very life when possible.

Somewhere in Between, although disorienting, is still a place.  So as painful, difficult, exhilarating and wonderful as it is, I want to journey through this season fully awake. And although I feel like that guy on the trapeze spinning through the air,(not really because I am uncomfortable with heights),  I believe there is something on the other side waiting for me when I reach.

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One Fine Day

Fragrant smoke wafted from the backyard grill like incense. It filled the air with anticipation as we arrived at our friends’ home to celebrate America’s birthday on the Fourth of July.

Holidays, especially in the summer, are a time to break away from routines and drink deeply of the sweet nectar of life. If you are fortunate to have a few good friends, you are blessed in many ways. Love, laughter and connection allow light to enter the soul like a camera’s shutter opening the aperture, imprinting an image on exposed film. Memories that will last forever. A reminder what is truly important.

We celebrated. I don’t think I was celebrating America’s birthday. That thought was far from my mind. We celebrated… being together. Not in an organized or rehearsed sort of way, but free and spontaneous. The way life happens. Floating in the swimming pool was refreshing on such a hot day. Watching the ladies being tossed in as they protested was amusing. And little girls with big smiles and mispronounced words brightened each moment like a sparkler. Just celebrating.

Great times. Special moments we want to last forever. Moments we didn’t really expect to impress us so much at the time.  Like ghosts from the past, memories visit from deep places of our heart in a future time. As John Eldredge wrote when explaining such moments which we wish would last, “Are they not moments of love, moments of joy? Simple moments of rest and quiet when all seems to be well. Something in your heart says, Finally – it has come. This is what I was made for.”

The firepit crackled and flames danced from the logs as we carefully balanced our marshmallows on the end of sticks, trying to achieve the perfect texture of sweet gooeyness. With gentle precision, the fluffy sponge was laid upon a square of chocolate then pressed between two sheets of graham cracker. A sticky sweet mess. There is no clean way to eat smores. To thoroughly enjoy, you must give yourself permission to be a mess. Children have no problem with this and it is the way life should be lived.

Later that evening, in the flickering light of tiki torches, I shared a moment with the woman who has been commited to love and to cherish me these many years. Leaning back in an Adirondack chair on our deck, under a canopy of stars, while our neighbors lit up the sky with fireworks, I became overwhelmed by the love of God. “He made this moment for us,”  I heard myself say in a whisper.

I believe God’s love is extravagant. All of creation, and moments of love and laughter reveal His heart toward us. He gave us the ablilty to enjoy pleasure, then He blesses us in many ways. Like divine “text messages”, He sends His love to us throughout our days.

It has been a few months since that One Fine Day. It also has now become another day in what we know as “the good ole days back then”.  New memories are created as we travel through time. Each moment unwraps like the Present that it is.  Today could be another,  One Fine Day.

Sweet Nectar

My camera was ready.  Poised like a hunter patiently stalking his prey, I was going to get that perfect shot this morning.  The two hummingbirds flitted and flirted with the hanging feeder containing the sweet red nectar they craved. They seem to come every morning during my time of refection. This time, camera was in  hand. I stood there, ready. About 20 minutes went by. My camera kept shutting off on its own, tired of waiting, I guess. The birds didn’t come back and I didn’t get the shot.  Not yet, at least.

So I went back to reflection- about hummingbirds and faith. I am increasingly aware that The Holy Spirit somehow dwells within me. I know this because I commune with Him there. We have these talks. Why do you make some people so annoying? Why didn’t you design me with bigger muscles or with teeth that didn’t ache?  Well, as we learn to receive from our spirits, we learn to be Spirit-led. We also learn how to live our lives by faith and the World of God‘s Kingdom begins to influence our world. Very cool.

Faith, the substance (sweetness) of the unseen realm of God’s world comes to us as the scripture reminds us, by hearing. This, of course, implies communion, or as my elusive hummingbird friends, drawing upon the sweet nectar of Heaven. It’s the listening heart, in the moment, that draws upon deposits of faith. I can feel when I am doing this.

When I go long periods of time without drawing Heaven’s nectar, I get grumpy, and in my opinion, which may be a shared opinion, I get weird. My flesh begins to feel curious appetites and my thoughts begin to imagine negative things.  I am going to starve to death and end up wanting to eat my running shoes to survive. Or I withdraw. Like a troll, living in isolation under a bridge, I want to be alone. No love to share. I space out.

Then the morning comes and I wait. Like that hummingbird, I go to my Source. I sit quietly and draw from the spirit. A verse of scripture or words of another jump off the page. I know when the Spirit is speaking to me. Then it  happens, life-given power and encouragement from Heaven begins to pour through me. I drink somehow and feel invigorated. Like 160 mg of caffeine pumping through my veins after slurping down a Monster Drink, I feel energy of Love pulsate through my spirit. It changes everything.

Faith helps us see from Heaven’s perspective. I find myself wanting to love people. That’s right, for no reason, just because.  Sort of like Scrooge right after he realized he wasn’t a goner after the 3rd spirit left him in a feverish sweat. And my perspective changes. I feel like nothing is impossible. If God is for me, then who can be against me? Someone would be a darn fool to be against God or against one of God’s kids!

Tomorrow is another day and I will wait again. With camera in hand, I am going to get that perfect shot!

An Incurable Optimist

I am generally an Optimist – a glass half full kind of guy. Not only do I see the glass half full, if one is sitting around I will drink its content without being sure whether it’s solution for soaking contact lenses or sour milk left from a previous meal. I am not sure if this is a gift or a dysfunction, but for the most part, I see the world as a positive place, and most people are really pretty good at their core. (I know some of my religious friends would argue than all men are sinful at their core. To this I would agree theologically, but I hold to the fact that we had Original Glory before Original Sin. Why else would there be a Fall of Man? Anyway, that is fodder for another blog)

An Optimist, as one person said, is a man who when treed by a lion, he enjoys the view. I have been treed by a few lions. The kind on two legs who back you into corners, threatening to devour every last shred of dignity. Of course, I see the good in them. So when I came home from a church business meeting, bleeding from tattered flesh, my comment, “Well, they just didn’t quite see things my way, we’ll work through it. They are great guys!” This, of course continues until Mutiny on the Bounty. Enjoy the view.

One story I love about an Incurable Optimist – I don’t think it is a true story – is about a little boy and a pile of pony poop.  As the story goes, the parents of this boy tried to cure him of his incessant optimism. So they devised a plan to surprise him on his birthday with the prospect of a great gift, only to allow him to feel his disappoinment when his expectations are crushed, thus leveling out his viewing point. They lure him into the garage where there is a massive amount of horse manure. (ok, these parents are beginning to sound like sickos right now). The little optimist takes one look at the mountain of poop and dives in with a shriek of excitement, exclaiming, “If there is this much poop, there has to be a pony in there somewhere!!”

I can really understand that kid. Our friends invited us to the coast recently. Well, metaphorically, I went to that garage. We arrived in the middle of the night at a place called Lawson’s Landing,  described by most people as “funky”. It was a combination fishing community, campground and hideout for pirates. It is somewhere on Bodega Bay, famous of course for  being were Alfred Hitchcock filmed his creepy film, The Birds. (I believe some of those birds still exist.)

Anyway, we arrived in the middle of the night, partly because we couldn’t quite find it – even the GPS was confused. The other part was because the camper was shrouded in a deep misty fog which lingers most of the time, except maybe when it burns off about 2 p.m. but then rolls in again by 5 p.m. “Is this it??”, we asked incredulously as our car slowly crawled through the potholes. Ok, so we were imagining a pony. This was no pony, my friends.

The old camper, once pried open,  reeked of mildew and its mustiness caused my lungs to protest. I felt my bronchial passage tighten up as if to say, “No way is that fungus laced  air getting in here!”.  It had a rather nice “master bedroom” that you had to step up into, sort of like a loft… or maybe a tree house. The other “beds” were the kind that pull out from a couch… sort of like Transformers. The couch morphed into a lumpy “double bed” that would sleep two if  both were munchkins. The campground itself, looked like my uncle’s salvaging yard he owned when I was a kid. We called it a junk yard. It was a “salvaging yard” to him because he would extract parts from cars and resell them to people who would rather not buy new parts for old cars.

As our hearts began to sink, expecting something a little different from a “weekend at the coast” with our friends from California, the Incurable Optimist in me spoke up, “There is a pony in here somewhere!”It began with the locals.

“Here comes the mayor of Whoville now,” said the jovial, plump woman who reminded us of the “Unsinkable Molly Brown” character on the Titanic played by Kathy Bates. Just then this man in a golf cart appears from somewhere in the fog. We felt as if we stepped into a novel. Maybe a Charles Dickens or Hemingway story filled with colorful characters in strange places.  Each character was unique and seemed oblivious to the cold, misty fog. Life as usual for a hearty people.

“Hey, did you see the Ocean glowing on the way in?” Unsinkable Molly asked.  I do recall some kind of strange flickering light, thought maybe it was a fog light, or a UFO or something over the cliff. She proceeded to say things like “Plankton,” “phosphorous,” and “very rare occurance”. That’s all I needed to hear. It didin’t take long for the guys and I to scamper off in search of the “pony”.  A glowing ocean sounded very sweet… even in the middle of the night. We knew we wouldn’t be sleeping in the camper anyway.

We went off in search of the glowing ocean, shouldn’t be too difficult to find. Trying to make our way to the beach, we plodded through thick, scratchy beach grass and scuffled up tall mountains of sand through darkness so thick it felt mushy. The path was illumined by a downloaded flashlight app to our iphones. There we saw it, the glowing ocean! In the distant, the eerie blue glow rippled on each wave creating a surreal moment that left each one of us almost speechless.

Apparently, the phenomena of glowing foam was caused by the  bioluminescence in plankton that occurs when their bodies are disturbed. Bioluminescence, or a flash of light, is used to evade predators and acts as a defense mechanism. I suppose the sudden flash is supposed to freak out a predator and scare it away perhaps. I see optimism! When you are agitated, disturbed and ready to become someone’s dinner, it’s a time to shine the brightest! Look for the pony!

We stood on the beach that night, giving God praise for even more of His handiwork. Hidden gems everywhere. Acres of diamonds. There are too many beautiful moments that occur that reveal the miraculous. Pessimism, tends to focus on what is wrong, ugly, or lacking. Optimism tends to reframe a moment to focus in on what is right, beautiful or expansive. Gratitude expands our awareness. Optimists believe God is always good and the world is a beautiful place…. somewhere, somehow.

So when life’s circumstances give you a pile of crap, keep searching, there’s a pony in there somewhere!