40 Days of Story: Let’s wander, wonder together!

You fabulous friends…

 

I can’t resist inviting you on a 40-day adventure with me. Let’s call it a road trip of head + heart.

 

Forty days to be curious about our own stories–to wander around them, be in wonder of them, and make our home in the story we most desire.

 

Here’s my less than secret aim: May each of us find the story we most need to invigorate us to become more of who we are, and perhaps even bring us back to life again.

 

The format is simple. Each day I will pose a question that invites you to reflect on your own story. I am mainly working from a screenplay story structure. But as you know, few real life stories get sorted in 120 minutes. So there’s that. Expect mess.

 

The adventure can be as epic–or cinéma vérité -as you need it to be.  But let’s do this!

 

Here’s Day #1: What’s the story you most want to wake up to? 

 

Hint: We live our lives smack in the middle of 100 stories–often not even knowing it. So, what’s the one story you want to pay attention to during this season?

Let’s get at it this way:

 

Conflict drives a story. Desire defines it.

 

What do you desire to desire?

 

Perhaps it’s clear. You want to fight to make your marriage work, but even as that thought flashes you feel scared or cynical or exhausted by it. So maybe it doesn’t feel so clear. Or maybe you want to learn to paint, share more of your ideas at work, start to write again or learn to talk with your teenager?

 

As we begin this journey, it can be hard to name the one story out of the hundred we want to not only give our attention to but also our hopes. But great stories always entail great risks.

 

I’ll tell you this. These 40-days of story feel risky for me already. I’ve carved out a career of chasing and crafting other people’s stories. And I love it! I am made for it, good at it, dedicated to it. But here’s my confession: I often feel clumsy–utterly ill-equipped–to share mine. So, I want to pay attention to that.

 

But if I’m even more candid, there’s something else. I long to know and be known, love and be loved in deeper ways in this season.

 

And that’s the magic of story. You want one thing. And there ends up being something deeper behind it. But that’s for another day…when we talk about external and internal quest.

 

As I leave you on this Ash Wednesday, I can’t resist noting these 40 Days happen to be during Lent. You may or may not have any context to that. But it’s a nod to Jesus wandering in the wilderness for 40 days, and it ends as the epic of epics. His is a divine and earthy story of deep desire, crazy conflict, and ultimate choice. Life. Death. Resurrection.

 

It’s transformation. And that is at the heart of all stories.

 

So, let’s get to our beginning question one last way: What do you want to have transformed? Or, how do YOU want to be transformed?

 

That’s your story. Now tell me about it…if you dare.

What’s the soundtrack of your life, right now?

Take a moment.

 

Is there a song playing in your head? Maybe you have music coursing through your headphones at the moment or perhaps Starbucks has a particularly decent playlist going. Forget all that.

 

If you could say to your friend, your lover, your boss: Listen to this. This is my life, right now. What song would you play?

 

I have spent the past ten minutes flipping through my music library. I scoured my old school Over the Rhine and Ella Fitzgerald collections. I headed to Mumford and Sons. Is it Awake My Soul? Not quite. I have been playing Camila Cabello’s Havana on repeat for weeks as I’ve worked to finish a short documentary series on Cuba.

 

But the soundtrack of my life, right now?

 

If I asked you, “How are you really?” what song would you play me?

 

I’d play you Hymn for the Weekend by Coldplay. Definitely. I just needed time to discover—and remember—how I am really.

 

I listened to this song on repeat during a flight to Havana this summer. It was suppose to be the last shoot of that documentary series. I hadn’t slept for days in preparation for it. I was scared. I was sad. Those two emotions aren’t my norm nor my intimates.

 

But as I listened to that song, I entrusted myself to the hope in it…to the God of Hope in it. The shoot was a bit of a disaster up until the end. Nonetheless, the series has had a miraculous rescue. It’s better than I imagined.

 

Now the words of the song are a part of me. Yes, that’s me. Right now.

 

Oh, angel sent from up above
You know you make my world light up
When I was down, when I was hurt
You came to lift me up
Life is a drink and love’s a drug
Oh now I think I must be miles up
When I was a river dried up
You came to rain a flood

 

I feel buoyed by hope. I’m so grateful for the God of Hope’s rescue. And during such a tough recent season, I realized several friends have helped me live into this soundtrack…they’ve helped make it mine. What a gift!

 

And it’s got me thinking. We actually can help others own a better soundtrack for their lives. Right now.

 

Today, I can encourage a friend…perhaps even a stranger…to have a better soundtrack…one full of comfort or courage, grace or sultry love. Amazing.

 

So, cheers to that!

 

I’d love to hear what your soundtrack is, right now. And please do share if someone has helped make yours better…or you’ve done that for another recently.

 

I must admit, I’ve recently fallen head over heals for Hafiz. Here’s a little of his soundtrack.

 

I am

A hole in a flute

That the Christ’s breath moves through—

Listen to this Music.

–Hafiz, The Gift translated by Daniel Ladinsky

 

Good

Poetry

Makes the universe admit a

Secret:

“I am

Really just a tambourine,

Grab hold,

Play me

Against your warm

Thigh.” –Hafiz, The Gift translated by Daniel Ladinsky

 

May music infuse your very being today. And may it be a dance party that welcomes others in.

 

3 Ways to Live to the Hilt + Embrace Rest in 2018

As we set out on the adventure of 2018, let’s make sure we know where our favorite rest stops are along the way. We’ll likely have no idea what kind of energy, sacrifice, and effort we’ll need to expend this year, but we can think about ways that are sure to refresh us.

 

Here are three ways I plan to replenish en route. I encourage you to identify and embrace yours this year.

 

REST STOP #1: BE MORE PRESENT

 

I admit it. I am more and more distractible. Being surrounded by screens and bombarded with notifications my brain has become itchy. So, I’ve decided to do two things this year: 1) give myself screen-free breaks and 2) savor screen-free time with friends.

 

Give myself screen-free breaks. When I’ve needed a break from work, I’ve taken a few minutes to scroll through IG or FB, listen to NPR or even play a couple of rounds of solitaire on my phone. The change has been minimally helpful but rarely rejuvenating.

 

I go from my laptop to my phone and back again…seeing, hearing, interacting nonstop. That’s what an engaged individual in the 21st does, right? Yet, more and more evidence shows that our brains need boredom. We need time without external input so we have space to internally process our world—daydream, problem-solve, create and synthesize our memories.

 

Here’s an article on the link between boredom and creativity: https://qz.com/1020976/the-scientific-link-between-boredom-and-creativity/

 

I’ve schedule two five-minute screen-free breaks a day. It’s such a small act, but I’m excited to reclaim a little boredom…and gain more creativity this year.

 

Savor screen-free time with friends. I recently visited several friends in Colorado. I noticed such a difference in the quality of connection when I had my phone out of sight. Whether it was snow-shoeing, being in a hot-tub or staying in a yurt, laughter multiplied and time felt elongated being in these offline settings with dear friends. It reminded me how important shared play and adventures are, even as an adult (or…especially as an adult).

 

Here are a couple of my favorite quotes and invitations to be more present:

 

For Presence

by John O’Donohue

Awaken to the mystery of being here

and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence

Have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.

Receive encouragement when new frontiers beckon.

Respond to the call of your gift and the courage to

follow its path.

Let the flame of anger free you of all falsity.

May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame.

May anxiety never linger about you.

May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul.

Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek

no attention.

Be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.

May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven

around the heart of wonder.

To Bless The Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, Pg 42

 

“Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”― Jim Elliot

 

AND, YOU?

 

When do you feel most present—most present to others, to God, to yourself? Are there places or people that invite you to a deeper sense of rest? How might you invest more time this year with those people and in those places?

 

I’d love to hear about that and any practices you have to cultivate presence. Do share!

 

REST STOP #2: COMMIT TO WONDER

 

The more I breathe the air of the Information Age and move about in a world where IRL has be identified, I need wonder. I need more and more wonder.

 

Surprise me with a small, generous gesture. Give me beauty and grandeur to recalibrate my soul.

 

Let’s get out of the office, the house, the shopping mall for five-minutes and look up together. Find figures in the clouds. Spot a hawk. Hear the sky tell us a story. I need that. I want that.

 

This year I’ve committed myself to a few ways of chasing wonder.

Nature. I crave motion in the great outdoors. Admittedly, I go stir-crazy without it. But it’s not simply that. My thoughts tend to get crisper, my prayers more honest and my heart more at rest when I’m in nature. So, I’m trying to get time outside five days a week…no matter how cold it is (burrr).

Children. There are few things on earth like the laughter of children. While I’m not a mom (though have longed to be), children have a way of grounding me in wonder…whether it’s chasing them, or spinning them around, or hearing about their day. I’m so grateful for friends who have welcomed me into the lives of their children. I’m committed to showing up to that invitation—and all the contagious laughter that goes with it—as much as I can this year.

 

Reflection. I’m trying to end each day with a couple of moments to reflect on where I experienced wonder and also how I experienced disruption. This helps me remember wonder—and pause again to give thanks. I’ve also added a practice of noting any conflict or frustration. The hope is to try to deal with and release each day’s disruption to make more room for tomorrow’s wonder.

 

Here are a couple of quotes from two people well acquainted with wonder:

 

“I have one talent, and that is the capacity to be tremendously surprised, surprised at life, at ideas. This is to me the supreme Hasidic imperative: Don’t be old. Don’t be stale.” ― Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

“The multiplicity of forms! The hummingbird,

the fox, the raven, the sparrow hawk, the

otter, the dragonfly, the water lily! And

on and on. It must be a great disappointment

to God if we are not dazzled at least ten

times a day.” — Mary Oliver, Good Morning

 

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

 

When\where\with whom do you tend to experience wonder? When was the last time you were so lost in beauty, laughter or reverie that you simultaneously lost self-awareness and yet felt fully yourself?

 

REST STOP #3: GROWING IN GRATITUDE

 

To me, gratitude is like Golden Hour. It softens, beautifies and can even magically transform situations.

I’m trying to start every day with “Thank you.” “Thank you” whispered to God. “Thank you” written out in my journal pages. “Thank you” said when reading Scripture and making my coffee. “Thank you” texts to dear friends and those I go on dates with, even if they’re one-date-dates. “Thank you” to cashiers and kind kids and people in traffic. And I find when I start my day off with “Thank you” the gratitude tends flow more naturally the rest of the day.

 

And, when I’m disappointed, frustrated or angry with someone…or myself, I am attempting to pause first. Before I rant and react, I try to think about my appreciation for that person…or myself. It’s not that disappointment, frustration and anger aren’t valid emotions to have but they’re not as good at illuminating an entire scene as gratitude (that Golden Hour).

 

Here are a few odes to thankfulness:

 

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” —G. K. Chesterton

 

“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” —Zig Ziglar

 

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” —Oprah Winfrey

“Bless the notebook that I always carry in

my pocket.

And the pen.

Bless the words with which I try to say

what I see, think, or feel.

With gratitude for the grace of the earth.

The expected and the exception, both.

For all the hours I have been given to

be in this world.”

Mary Oliver, Good Morning

 

WHAT ARE YOUR REST STOPS?

 

Perhaps you too find gratitude to invigorate you as well. Maybe you have different ways of thinking about it, practicing it, expressing it. I’d love to hear. I’d also enjoy finding out what other ways you plan to refresh yourself this year.

 

Whatever ways you chose to re-energize en route, may rest, joy and meaning mark your 2018. Cheers to life abundantly. May you live it to the hilt!

Do Whatever. Part Three of Advent-Epiphany: Befriending Action as You Wait

Is there something you still desire?

 

No matter how many times you put it on your New Year’s Resolutions list, you set it as a goal or even whisper it as a prayer another year goes by and you’re reminded you don’t have enough control in the world to make it happen.

 

Desire > control = can suck.

 

I ask you if you have a long-running longing not to depress you but rather to encourage you. Embedded in desire is hope. But it can leave us with this question: how do we take action when we’re waiting on things not fully in our control?

 

During the past couple of years I have found myself living in the epicenter of that question. I’d like to share a snatch of my story and invite you to reflect on yours, and then together explore the story of Mary as we come to the close of our Advent/Epiphany series.

 

So, here’s a snapshot of my story: three years ago my little world in Colorado got utterly upturned when the company I worked for had sudden layoffs. I had moved out to Fort Collins only a couple of years prior, yet my roots had gone down swift and deep. I had discovered a land that taught my heart to rest, and a people who showed me home. But with the type of work I do I couldn’t find a way to stay.

 

As I waited to find a new job and still dreamt of a family of my own (husband and mothering in some form), I took a bold action–one bolder than I even knew at the time. I shoved all my belongings into a storage unit and set out to bear witness to stories of others who too were taking action even in the midst of limited control (i.e., Syrian and Iraqi refugees as well as Cuban entrepreneurs).

Note, I thought I was just packing this storage unit for a summer.

Before I share more, I’m curious if there’s been a time in your life when you did something that felt bold, perhaps even surprising? Maybe you took a new job that would stretch you, went on a trip that would expand you, embraced a relationship that would grow you, or started a creative project that would expose and extend you. How was that?

 

Why did you act? Why did you risk it?

 

One of the things I love most about Scripture is that it’s riddled with people taking bold (and sometimes awkward) action. Jesus’ earliest days on earth are chocked full of encounters with people moving through the mysterious with courageous action.

 

During this Advent and Epiphany season we’ve looked at Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna doing this. Now, to Mary’s story.

 

Mary, a teenager living in Palestine, gets accosted by the angel Gabriel and told she will be the mother of the Messiah…while she’s still a virgin. So wild, right?

 

Two things strike me about Mary’s response to this surprising plotline God had up His sleeve.

 

  1. When invited into an epic adventure, Mary says, “I’m in.”

 

She responds to the angel Gabriel’s audacious announcement this way:

 

Mary (deciding in her heart): “Here I am, the Lord’s humble servant. As you have said, let it be done to me.” Luke 1:38

 

  1. Mary responds from an intimate understanding of God’s good character and her own people’s plight.

 

Who knows the thousand conversations Mary had with friends and family and her fiancé Joseph after the Spirit impregnates her (did I mention…so wild, right?).

 

What we are privy to is an encounter with her cousin Elizabeth. When Elizabeth says, “You are blessed of all of women and the child you have will be blessed” Mary responds with a poetic song.

 

It’s reminiscent of Hannah’s poetic response centuries before[1]. Mary had been immersed in the Scripture and had embodied the waiting of her people. The poetic prayer, likely is in the form of a song (The Magnificat), has spiritual, social and political imagery. Mary celebrates God for being a mighty Liberator, flipping the script of those who had been waiting long with little control. God was ushering in the Great Reversals: the humble would be elevated; the poor would be made rich; those waiting would finally receive extravagantly.

 

Here’s Mary’s song:

 

Mary: My soul lifts up the Lord!

My spirit celebrates God, my Liberator!

For though I’m God’s humble servant,

God has noticed me.

Now and forever,

I will be considered blessed by all generations.

For the Mighty One has done great things for me;

holy is God’s name!

From generation to generation,

God’s loving kindness endures

for those who revere Him.

God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds.

The proud in mind and heart,

God has sent away in disarray.

The rulers from their high positions of power,

God has brought down low.

And those who were humble and lowly,
God has elevated with dignity.

The hungry—God has filled with fine food.
The rich—God has dismissed with nothing in their hands.

To Israel, God’s servant,

God has given help,
As promised to our ancestors,
remembering Abraham and his descendants in mercy forever. Luke 1:47-55

 

Mary had a sense of how God acted because she had an intimate understanding of who God was. And she was willing to embrace whatever adventure He invited her into.

 

In those early days of Jesus’ birth Mary encountered shepherds, wise men, Simon, Anna and a heavenly host of angels all rejoicing in the coming of the Messiah, the birth of Jesus, her son.

 

She treasured this in her heart.

 

Then…years passed, decades accumulated. Three decades of her treasuring the words of promise, the hope of the Great Reversal…and nothing.

 

Mary did all the messy work of mothering this Messiah as she waited and waited. She had seen Jesus image God’s character and love, but then came a time she wanted to see action.

 

The moment comes when Mary has had enough. She’s at a wedding with her Messiah son and tragedy strikes. The wine runs out. It may seem like just a party foul, but in her day weddings were one of the most important events of a lifetime. Families’ reputations were tied to the success or failure of ones…for generations.

 

Here’s what plays out (told by John in chapter two of his Gospel).

 

“Mary: “The host stands on the brink of embarrassment; there are many guests, and there is no more wine.”

Jesus: “Dear woman, is it our problem they miscalculated when buying wine and inviting guests? My time has not arrived.”

But she turned to the servants.

Mary: “Do whatever my son tells you.” John 2:3-5

 

This is such an earthy interaction. Mary totally seems like the pushy Middle Eastern

mom. And Jesus seems like the reluctant and slightly apathetic son. You could easily read snippiness all into it.

 

But Mary knows Jesus’ character…and capacity. She knows her son is the mighty Liberator, the God of the Great Reversals. And Jesus acts. He not only responds, he acts extravagantly. He apparently turns over 100 gallons of water into the most exquisite wine. It’s beyond extravagant!

 

According to John’s Gospel, this is Jesus’ first miracle. This is the first time we see the Divine act like only the Divine can. And it comes after mother Mary implores Him to do so.

 

MOVING THROUGH THE MYSTERY WITH COURAGEOUS ACTION

 

I’m still mystified by the paradox of God’s Sovereignty and our agency. But what I take from Mary’s story is that when we get acquainted with God’s character we are better poised to respond to the adventures He invites us into and to initiate action…even in our waiting.

 

I’m learning that more and more.

 

This past week I was out in Colorado again. I visited dear friends, stayed in a yurt and did some epic snowshoeing. I felt so alive, so at home. While there I also stopped by my storage unit. Yes, my belongings are still there.

 

I’ve yet to establish a home again. However, I’ve had the opportunity to tell stories of refugees, direct a documentary series in Cuba, travel to over twenty countries, co-found a media company and as I’ve waited for a family of my own, I’ve been collected up into families across the States. My sense of family has expanded like never before. And even more so, I have gotten more acquainted with God’s character, more at home in Him, as I wait for things beyond my control.

 

Now to your story: remember that bold action you did sometime in your life? How did it stretch you? What did you discover about yourself? Did you discover something about God’s character? What was it?

 

This year I encourage you to do two things: 1) invest time getting better acquainted with the character of God, and 2) take bold action, even in the limitations of control.

 

Spiritual Practices

 

  1. Commit to listening/contemplating. How do you get to know God’s character as good and powerful?

 

It’s evident that Mary knew Scripture and it says she treasured the words of God’s people in her heart.

 

For me reading Scripture, journaling, being out in nature, conversing and praying with trusted friends, reading thoughtful books and listening to soulful music are vital ways to connect.

 

One of my favorite apps during this extended season of transition has been Pray As You Go. I highly recommend it. – https://www.pray-as-you-go.org

Go to Today’s Prayer for the 12 or so minutes of music, hear fabulous Jesuit Brits read you Scripture and ask contemplative questions. Such a gift!

 

I can’t resist mentioning, this summer I encountered fear of failure in such a potent way. I felt like it was going to take me down. I recently read through my journal from that time and saw how God was holding me through Scripture and His loving presence, even when everything in me felt like I was sinking. When we posture ourselves to listen to God, we may not always recognize God’s voice of love in the moment. But over time it becomes a part of our very being.

 

  1. Do whatever. As we grow more connected with God we often feel more liberated to act.

 

What actions do you hope to pursue this year?

 

Instead of New Year’s Resolutions, I name my years. I’ve decided 2018 is my Year of Abundance. There are three things I am asking/acting upon 1) To grow in my craft as a storyteller as well as leader of young storytellers. 2) To enter into a vibrant romantic relationship 3) To write.

 

I realize taking action on these three has the potential of exacting and awkward moments. But I can’t help but believe—like Mary—I’ve been invited into an epic adventure. And so have you.

 

Godspeed as you listen and act in 2018.

 

“May all that is unlived in you

Blossom into a future

Graced with love.” John O’Donohue

[1] 1 Samuel 2:1-10

 

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