Waking Up Earley

Thoughts, Ideas and Inspiration by Melissa Earley

Category: strength

Paddling My Way Back to Sanity

Last week as my news feed swirled with reactions to the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, the speeding up of climate change, and the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, I felt like I was reading the first chapter of a dystopian novel. Is this what it’s like to hover at the beginning of the end of the world? My chest tightened and my head felt heavy, as if someone had opened my skull and poured in concrete.

And then, scrolling through Facebook, I saw an ad for a used kayak. A red one. I imagined myself gliding through the water, surrounded by the sounds of rustling trees, birdsong and humming insects.  I realized I hadn’t gone kayaking all summer. So I went. I rented a kayak (a red one) at Busse Lake. I paddled by resting ducks and cormorants drying their wings in the setting sun. I admired the regal posture of an egret and noticed the yellows and oranges of changing leaves. I breathed in the stillness of the glassy lake and let it quiet my soul.

When I got back in my car the world was still a mess. Nothing had changed. Except me. I felt renewed, recharged, at peace. There is work to be done. We need to address the pressing concerns of our time. But not at the expense of joy. Sabbath is much more than a day of the week. Sabbath is God’s gift of time when we set aside our worry and our work to enjoy all that God has made. In Sabbath time we practice trusting that God’s love for us does not rely on our accomplishments and that our future is in God’s hands.

Desert Landscape

I can see forever from the top of the South Rim Trail at Big Bend National Park. I’m reminded of the first time I snorkeled in the ocean. When I put my face in the water and opened my eyes the expanse, unstopped by pool walls, startled me so much I had to swim back to where I could stand and get my bearings.

Here, forever stretches not just in terms of geography but also in terms of time. I’m accustomed to trying to imagine what the landscape looked like before the subdivisions and Starbucks and Midas Muffler shops chewed up the prairie where my hometown Parker, Colorado now is. I tell people that I remember when Highlands Ranch, a large suburb of Denver, was a real ranch, with actual deer and antelope playing among the cattle. Here, in the desert corner of southwest Texas, my imagination stretches back to prehistoric times when this area was a muggy swamp populated by dinosaurs.

Everywhere I hike national park posted signs remind me to stay on the trail, that the ecosystem here is fragile. And it is. But this place is also timeless, enduring. It has survived to be home to the bravoceratops and the mountain lion, the gryposaurus and the javelina. This place has adjusted to climate changes and accommodated new species. People are like that – both easily broken and infinitely resilient.

Life changes us. There are the cataclysmic events of death, divorce, and trauma. The seismic shifts of falling in love and new vocational calls.  And there’s the seemingly inconsequential events that shape us — the sarcastic joke that makes us wince, the bid for friendship that is never answered, the affirmation of a talent we haven’t yet explored. These moments are like the steady stream of the Rio Grande that carves a canyon in desert rock. There are things that change us forever. And we persist.

Mountains Beyond Mountains

“The mountain isn’t going to get any smaller,” I said as I got out of bed on Friday morning to go the local Y. I said it again Saturday evening when I exchanged my glass of wine for a work out. I said it each time I climbed onto the stair climber. Each time I did planks, and lunges and squats. Bonnie Raitt and I gave ‘em something to talk about. Aretha and I demanded R.E.S.P.E.C.T. I had the eye of the tiger. I was in a musical montage worthy of a Rocky movie.

I am preparing for a major hike this summer. I’ll be part of a guided trek up Mt. Shuksan and the Sulphide Glacier. It will include carrying a 45-50lb. pack on the hike to base camp, an 8-10 hour summit day round trip hike, and a short stretch of technical climbing. The last time I did something this physically challenging I climbed Long’s Peak. I was 19 years old! I’ll be 48 when I do this trek. I don’t mind being the last in my group to make it to the top. I just don’t want to be pathetic.

***

“Every time we reached the top of a mountain I hoped it would be our last. But there was always another mountain,” the roughly 9 year old Syrian girl told the camera about her flight from Syria.

I was at an event to raise awareness and money for refugees, specifically refugees from Syria. The organizers had turned Sunday school rooms into different stations along a Syrian refugee’s journey. The movie I was watching showed the arrival of Syrian refugees in Lesbos, Greece. The girl being interviewed told about her trip in a leaky boat with icy water at her feet, all her possessions being thrown overboard.  She repeated how cold she was. She spoke of how far they had to walk and the mountains they had to climb.

“Dye mon, gen mon,” is a Haitian proverb that means, “Beyond the mountains more mountains.” Beyond this struggle, this challenge, this trial there is another struggle, challenge, trial.

***

I thought of the Syrian girl Monday morning when I did the stair climber. And again Tuesday afternoon during my work out. I am both grateful and embarrassed that my privilege connects me to her. I get to choose to climb mountains. I hope my trip will be life changing. I don’t need it to be life saving.

 

 

 

 

Wisdom to Know the Difference

pen and paper

The complaints of what was wrong with my life had begun as lament, a holy practice of prayer and honest soul-baring speech before God. I worried my grievances like prayer beads. But now the protest had turned into whining. Even I was sick of listening to myself.

I needed a makeover of the Self. I needed to repent – turn and go a new direction. I was desperate for conversion. That day’s journal entry reads: I am ready to recreate my life.

Hubris, really, to think I would recreate my life. That’s the work of God, I had always been taught. But God seemed to have fallen asleep at the switch so I was taking control. I did what I learned from my mother. I made a list.

Three lists actually:

What I am happy with
What I have to accept
What I want to change

I was full of the self-loathing that comes from failure and rejection. It was divine gift that made me start where I did. My list of what I was happy with wasn’t a complete accounting of those things for which I am grateful, simply a list of the parts of my life and personality that helped me be someone I liked being around:

flexibility and creativity of my job
living close to where I work
my friendships
that I like my family
that I read novels
my sense of humor
Mandy [my dog]
How I am when I travel – curious

I had overheard myself enough to know that some of my complaints were about things I could not change:

I am 46
I am divorced
My job won’t make me wealthy

No amount of railing would change the fact that my body is no longer 25 years old. I have shaped my life by decisions that cannot be undecided. I do not get a do-over. I will never again be who I was. It was not resignation I felt. It was grace. If I couldn’t do anything about the items on this list, maybe I could stop clutching it so tightly, checking it so often. There wasn’t something important written there I would forget to do. I could put it down.

My present is shaped by my past but not bound by it. There are things I can change.

the amount of stuff I own
my disorganization and messiness
amount of time I spend in front of screens
procrastination
be in better shape
be less concerned with what others thing of me
more open to others and new friendships – less “boundaried”

Like most lists of resolutions, many of these have gone largely unaddressed but that doesn’t bother me too much. The final three are reshaping the contours of my life. I am particularly tickled by the last one. I had forgotten it was on the list. It is becoming the most important.

 

 

 

 

 

Bitch Wings

(Liz gave me permission to write about “Bitch Wings.”  She read this post and approved of it going public.  I am so grateful to her and her family for sharing this part of their life with me. )

I learned about “bitch wings” from Liz. We were standing in a hospital waiting room after Liz’s husband had died. The representatives of the organization that would harvest Frederic’s organs had given Liz a lovely quilted keepsake box as a memento. Her cousin said, “That was a bitch wings moment.”

“Bitch wings” are what women get when we put our hands on our hips, push back our shoulders, take a strong stance and are ready to take on the world. I learned from Liz that bitch wings come in handy when interrogating teenagers about what was happening in the basement. Her young adult children laughed about how their mom stared down their friends, hands on hips, eyes locked.

Bitch wings can say, don’t mess with me. And, I’ll carry you on my back for a mile. For 100 miles. Through mud. In the hail.

The previous days had been excruciating. The paramedics had rushed Frederic to the hospital after Liz found him. What followed was intubation, neurological tests, moments of hope that were dashed with the words “reflexive movement, not intentional movement.” There was the family conference with the neurologists who advised more time and more tests. Liz sat up in her chair and the wings came out. Would more time on the ventilator help Frederic’s brain recover? Would it help him speak again, or help him know them? She didn’t flinch when the answers came. So if more time will not help him heal we know what he would have wanted. He wouldn’t want to be like this. Not even for one more day.

Bitch wings make a woman fierce and brave and vulnerable and strong.

It was bitch wings that drove Liz to lift Frederic’s body when she saw it hanging from the rope in their basement and it was her wings that let her let him go.

Those wings gave Liz the courage to say out loud that Frederic had died by suicide, to confront him as he lay in his hospital bed with the pain he had caused her and their children. And those same wings stroked his cheek with a lover’s touch and whispered to him about the goodness of their life together.

On bitch wings Liz flew into the face of God, “You abandoned him. You abandoned me.” And she wrapped those wings around herself and her beloved as she gave him into the care of the Holy. With those wings she pulls her children and her friends close in a tight embrace.

Liz is moving soon to California to try on a new life. She isn’t done grieving, but she is willing to try flying in new directions.

Anyone can have bitch wings if she is willing to be strong instead of sweet. Though they make her terrifying, they are not armor. They send her into fire for those she loves.

 

By Mara,  Liz's daughter  "I find so much emotion in the pose, yet I know she will stand up proud and strong again.  You can see that glorious strength in her."  -Liz

By Mara, Liz’s daughter
“I find so much emotion in the pose, yet I know she will stand up proud and strong again. You can see that glorious strength in her.”
-Liz

 

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