Out of the Ashes (the growth of a seed)

When a forest is burned, what grows back often does not resemble what was lost. The searing flames cut away the old, they leave the soil barren and empty. But in this emptiness a miracle takes place; something new is given a chance to live. The seeds that had remained buried and dormant for so long are granted the space they need to struggle for the light. It may be months before you see them peek out from the wreckage, but they always emerge. Humans are more similar to the forests than we ever dare admit.
It is an inevitable reality that we all must walk through the flames; it is the price we pay to truly live. Often times the person who emerges from the fire is far different than the one who stepped into it. Six months ago I was shattered. I stumbled through my days wondering how the world could still turn even though it had cracked. And yet now, the first green sprouts are beginning to bloom.

There is pain in the loss, in the knowledge of what can no longer be. But there is a power too, when you realize that the worst has happened and you are still alive. You find a new purpose to fill your empty spaces, you pay tribute to the person you were before, and you learn to love the one you are rebuilding. It is not an easy process to grow a forest again on scorched land. It takes patience and kindness in a world that doesn’t always foster those two ideals.

When you find yourself lost in that barren landscape, one question echoes through the emptiness: what will you allow to grow in that broken place? This is the distinction between us and the forests we love- we get a choice to foster and cultivate what is left when the world changes us.

Give yourself permission to grow again, do not clutch the arid landscape of your life before. This is perhaps the hardest thing you will ever have to do; to acknowledge your pain and the way it has transformed you, to forgive, and to take the first steps towards healing. It will take time; all beautiful things do. But you are worth it, your journey is not done.

You have to feel it- everything, though there are days you may think you will break under the pressure of it all. The only way to grow is to let those rains wash over you. If you fight it, tuck it away, run from it- the pain will only make you hard and bitter to the world. But opening up to it will transform you.

Often those who have been through the worst that the world can offer are the ones who show the deepest kindness and compassion. These are the ones who will willingly step back into the flames carrying buckets of water to create a path for those still lost in the fire. These are the ones who took their broken pieces and patched them together with gold; they respect and acknowledge their damage, and are made all the more beautiful for it. Growth is not easy; it will be the greatest struggle of your life. But give yourself permission to do it anyway.

I struggled for a long time. It took me six months to realize that I was angry with myself for things I could not control. It took me half a year to acknowledge that I wasn’t willing to let myself heal, that I didn’t think I deserved it. I was carrying around so much grief, and I didn’t know what to do with it all. But you see, grief is really just love overflowing. I needed a place to put it. So I decided to start with me.

I sat down and wrote myself a letter. I acknowledged my pain, why I was so angry. And I forgave myself. I was finally ready to take that step. And then I did the thing that had scared for half a year: I gave myself permission to continue on with my life. I won’t say that I ‘let go’ of what happened or that I ‘moved on’ because I don’t think that’s always possible. I didn’t want to move on because that felt like forgetting; and that is something I won’t ever be okay with. But I acknowledged that these broken fragments are pieces of me that will always be here. I am a kinder person for them. The journey is only just beginning, and it takes effort every single day to keep growing, to show myself love and kindness, to remind myself that I deserve both. I was burned to the ground, but I survived; and now it is time embrace the girl who was strong enough to grow from the ashes.

Weeds and flowers (the dandelion is stronger than the rose)

We tend to demean the the things that harbor an inner strength we will never be able to touch. We look down on those who remind us that being broken does not mean being defeated, or that being unorthodox does not mean being unwanted. We sneer at the strength of those who do not bend to our will, those brave souls who will never allow the crashing waves to erode them. After all, a dandelion can grow through the cracks in the pavement, and yet we snidely call it a weed.

Did you know that the only difference between a weed and a flower is intention? A weed is something you did not plan- it sprung up of its own accord without apology or permission. A flower, however, was wanted, planted, cared for and nurtured; it was intentionally cultivated. I find it strange that we give such a negative term to these brave little blooms who brazenly display their strength and resilience.

I think I would rather be a dandelion than a rose; in many ways I think that perhaps I already am. I am not conventionally beautiful, no, I have never been guilty of that crime. Nor do I make up for my lack in grace with my winning charm- I am awkward, uncoordinated, too quiet, too loud, too anxious, too serious, too silly, too much of a dreamer, too much of a realist; too much of this and too little of that. And yet here I am, still standing, probably where you didn’t want me to be.

I am not sure who decided that those little yellow buds and delicate wishers were a nuisance instead of something to be celebrated. Surely it was not I; this little girl who proudly plucked and presented the bouquet of sunshine for my mother. Surely it was not her; this woman who would carefully put them in a vase in our kitchen for everyone to see. Perhaps it was those few souls who feared the things that did not need them; a rose will need your guiding hand, your love and attention. But not the dandelion, no, it only needs a little patch to call it’s own and to be left to it’s own devices.

I tend to discover the most beauty in the things I could not plan for, the moments that sprout up unannounced and unexpected into my life. There is no edge of anticipation to taint them, no expectation to warrant disappointment. My favorite moments in life were ‘dandelion’ moments; unexpected, perhaps occasionally unwanted, and yet they brought color to a drab world. My writing is like a dandelion- these words that color my soul, though they were not planned, not thought out, not properly executed. They were not the career that I had spent years attempting to cultivate. They simply existed, always right there, surviving when nothing else could.

Paper Wings and Winding Roots (be brave, my dear)

We are told to be brave, to leap without a safety net and teach ourselves to fly. And yet we are warned of Icarus, whose waxen wings melted when he soared too close to the sun. We are told to hold onto our roots and bury them deeply in the Earth, lest we forget where we come from. And yet we are warned against rigidity, and how those afraid to move will never get anywhere. We are taught to be all things, to reach for every moment this world has to offer. But we are warned be realistic and understand that dreams do not come true for all. We are taught to be everything and nothing, to break the mold, but be a cog in the wheel. It is no wonder it takes us so long to figure out if we are birds or trees, both or neither. We wander this world in search of answers and new questions. We wait for the lightning strike that will sizzle in our soul, sparking within us a fury and direction, a passion we cannot contain, showing us a path hidden amongst the stars- a path made only for us.

Can I let you in on a little secret? I don’t think there is one- a road to follow, stepping stones that will lead us forward, illuminating the path ahead. I think we were made to be wanderers, to dance in the fields as well as the skies, to climb the trees and swim in the lakes- we take two steps forward, one step back, spin in a circle, run a mile, fall and rise, rise and fall. There is a beauty in the chaos, a mystery in the motions. We are not meant to follow paths, we are wild at heart, no matter how hard we try to pretend otherwise.

As humans we like order, we like consistency; we like to point at our destination on a map and trace the road that will get us there. We have far too much faith in this system. We built cities in grid patterns, installed lights two by two to illuminate the paths we made while blotting out the stars above. We search for the recipe to perfect happiness, read books by people who found their own as we scan for the secret ingredient we could steal to find ourselves on that same peak, all the while ignoring the desperate plea from our own heart. We ignore who we are to fit into the mold of who we are supposed to be. We ignore the wild, unmanaged forests until we need an escape, a way to get back to nature, a way to rediscover our souls. So why do we insist on ‘finding our path’ when paths were never in our nature?

We are wanderers, searching for the illusive fluttering beauty known as happiness. We are adventurers, praying to uncover a well of passion and hope within ourselves. We are birds, soaring the skies and daring the sun to melt our wings. We are trees burrowing deeper as the storms rage around us, trying us knock us down to size. We are everything, we are nothing, we are stardust and promises.

I’ve spent forever searching for a meaning, taking classes, finding a good job, buying books, saving money for a house, for a car, for a vacation. Planning and planning and planning to see the world, but ignoring the wonders in my own backyard. Step by step I dutifully followed the road they promised would lead me to a good life. The scenerery changed, but my heart did not, my soul was tired as I plodded along, bored with the directions given to me, exhausted with the life I found myself in.

Perhaps what I need is to stop searching, to stop looking for the path that never existed. Perhaps I need to learn what wandering feels like, to tear up the map I’ve been trying to draw and truly look around this place I have discovered. It is not perfect, in fact, it is far from it- but I’ve learned that imperfections are the things I am most drawn to. I want chaos and the beauty of mother nature. I want to wander and throw caution to the wind. I want to dig into the Earth, swim in the seas and soar through the clouds. I want to soak up every story ever told and hear my own words ringing in the voice of another. I want it all, I want nothing. I want roots, wings, and maybe some gills. I don’t want paths and trails, I want stardust and promises.

Hopes for Another Year (birthday wishes)

Today was my 29th birthday. Gulp. That’s right, my friends, the 365-day countdown to a new decade begins right now. I feel like I should be veering towards an end-of-twenties crisis (like I did last year), but I didn’t. I kept waiting for it, for that slight tinge of panic as I have that sudden realization of my inevitable mortality- but it never came. Nope, instead I enjoyed my delicious mimosa(s), I wandered around a historic mansion (which led to some awesome new story ideas), traipsed through a shady part of town to see an old garden, and ate lots and lots of chocolate while hanging out with my fur babies listening to the rain outside.

Every year I blow out the candles and make the same wish. It is the same one I make when I see a shooting star. I have never told a soul what it is, out of some odd superstition that never really left me when I grew up. I won’t say the exact wish, because I still feel a bit of loyalty to the childhood version of me that would cross her heart and promise herself that she would never tell. But I will tell you that it had to do with happiness, with contentment, with finding that spark of strength within yourself. It was an abstract dream about a world in which I wasn’t always the person that I undoubtedly was. This year I will be retiring that old wish, putting it away in a dusty box along with the old dreams I outgrew. That’s because at 28, I finally figured out how to make my wish come true all by myself.

It’s true that my life is not at all where I expected it to be at this stage. But its also true that I’ve been through more than I could have imagined at this point in my life, I am a different person than I was when I drew up the picture of what my life would be like in my 20s. And I’m okay with that. I’ve always taken the scenic route, following the long road home; so it isn’t really a surprise that it took me this long to start figuring my life out. 28 was a big year of growth and change for me. I had to do a lot of soul searching, I had to face a lot of fears and crack my heart open over and over again to bleed out the poisons I had given sanctuary to. I had to embrace the people that lift me up, and step back from those that held me down. I had to sacrifice, I had to be selfless. I had to be a calm voice of reason when my world was upside down. I had to be brave, I had to acknowledge when I was weak. I had to invest in myself. I had to proudly claim who I am as a person and tell the world that I was worth it. I had to start living the life that I always talked about. 28 was a hard year, but it is also the year I have been most thankful for. I took root and grew towards the sun. And I’m not done yet.

29 will be no different. Changes will be constantly on the horizon, my life will continue to shift and morph into something that I may not recognize in a year. But I’m so excited for this new adventure. I have so many hopes for this coming year; perhaps that’s why it doesn’t scare me, getting older- because I see so much more waiting for me up ahead. I’m not just aging, I’m still growing.

This year I dream of finishing my first degree (at the very least I should be really close by the time I hit 30). I dream of finding a new house that I can call my own. I dream of focusing on this blog and my writing in general. I have been so scared of truly investing in my writing, and I think I need to do this for myself. I need one year of being brave and daring with my words, tossing my stories out into the world to do as they wish. I am so sick of hiding from who I am, from shrugging off my writing. I am ready to own it- like it or hate it, at least it will finally be out there. I dream of taking a trip to somewhere I have never been. I dream of being healthier with my lifestyle. I dream of perhaps finally marrying the man I’ve been in love with since I was a young, idealistic 20-year-old girl. I dream of reading more books and living more stories. I dream of another year full of growth and changes. It’s time to pull together an ‘end of 20s’ bucket list to inspire me for the next year.

Cheers to one more trip around the sun, my friends. Getting older doesn’t have to mean you are aging. Growing up doesn’t always mean growing old. The best way to remind yourself that your life is worth loving is to actually live it. I’m not going to let myself down this year.

New Year, New Promise, and Welcome Back

I missed this place, I missed writing on these blank pages, I missed talking to all of you. I miss reading all of your words and finding a connection in the infinite digital cosmos we have here. It’s been far too long, my dear friends. It feels good to be back. I hope 2018 finds you all well and full of hope for the coming year.

This past fall I decided to finally plunge headfirst into something that scared me- that’s why I wasn’t here as often. Life has been so busy and full, I was trying to keep myself from being too overwhelmed. Although in hindsight, I missed this too damn much. I decided to go back to school after nearly a decade of talking about it. The stars aligned, I was so sick of spinning my wheels, I had a little bit of money saved up and I was finally ready to leap into it. I was terrified- I work full time and decided to take classes full time in the evenings as well. I learned very quickly that you are always capable of so much more than you ever realized. I did it- every single day was planned and regimented, every waking moment had a schedule attached to it- but I did it. I walked away from my first quarter with all A’s and an unhealthy addiction to energy drinks.

Just when I thought I couldn’t take anymore something happened, something that shook me to my core. My dad got hurt the day after Thanksgiving while hanging Christmas lights. We beat the ambulance to the hospital and watched him get wheeled out on a stretcher, pale as a ghost. We heard the call for an emergency surgical trauma team over the speakers in the ER and wondered if it was for him. They put us in a separate waiting room before telling us what his condition was. I remember sitting there wide eyed and counting the tissue boxes piled up on every end table- 12. He had fallen from his second story balcony while putting up Christmas lights. By the time the ambulance made it to him his lung capacity was down to 20% and he was making peace with his maker. I met the doctor that sliced a hole in his chest and put a tube into his lung when he was reaching the point where he nearly stopped breathing. In spite of everything, we were lucky. He broke five ribs, punctured his lung, broke his collarbone into five pieces, cracked his scapula and fractured his spine in three places. But he was alive and, miraculously, he wasn’t paralyzed. We were lucky. Three days in the ICU, nine days in the hospital, a month of in-home care provided mainly by myself with a little bit of help from siblings, two trips to the emergency room, a plethora of doctor visits, and a long road ahead of him, but he is alive and he can walk.

It’s a strange thing to see your parent walk for the first time after an accident that nearly left them in a wheelchair. There’s an odd sense of pride that kept me wondering if he had felt the same way when I took my first steps. It’s an odd moment when you take care of a parent that once took care of you, when you learn the struggles and frustrations that come with care work. It’s a terrifying moment when you realize how easily life can change, how little control you have over the things that happen to you and the people that you love. It’s a liberating feeling when you decide to use these dark moments to inspire you to be better and to live more fully.

2017 taught me many lessons. My family had far too many ‘almosts.’ We almost lost my childhood home to a fire, we almost lost my cousin to the Las Vegas shooting, we almost lost my dad. With every single ‘almost’ we were reminded that there is still hope that comes with every lesson. There is no time to wait to tell someone that you care, spend quality time with a person you love, read that book on your wishlist, go back to school, chase that dream- if all you have is right now, then you need to make ‘right now’ count. That is what I am taking with me into 2018. A hope and a promise that this is the year I won’t hold back.

I don’t want to wait until I am ‘less busy’ to write. I don’t want to wait until I’m done with school before I start climbing towards my other goals. I don’t want to take tomorrow for granted anymore. So here I am, doing something that I love simply because I love it, not because I’ll get anything else out of it.

To all of you, I hope you don’t take this new year for granted. I hope you feel the world so very deeply. I hope you laugh and cry, fall in love with others and yourself all over again. I hope you push hard, fight for what matters to you, strive to reach your goals. I hope you find more than you did a year ago. It won’t be a perfect year, you will face challenges and struggles that you never expected, but I hope you find something beautiful in each of them. In 2018 I will be looking for hope and living a life that I can be proud of if I don’t get to see another sunrise. I want to be excited about the life I have lived, not just the one I am striving for. Happy new year, my beautiful friends, it’s good to see you all again.

Falling for Change

September is officially here, ushering in the prospect of change that I have been so desperate for. I carry the excited hope in my heart: fall is just around the corner. It’s hard to believe right now; we are in the midst of yet another 100+ degree heatwave. Our forests are dry as a bone, and instead of our usual rain, I have ash falling from the sky into my backyard. The forest fires are raging and we are getting desperate for our summer to come to a close.

I tend to change with the seasons; following an internal rhythm that dances through my veins. I get anxious when I try to fight it, when I become too complacent, too comfortable in my skin. My restless spirit begins to pace; it feels like my soul itself will break through my skin if I don’t do something new. And so I must heed the song of the Pied Piper playing music in my heart, I have no choice.

Some decisions are reckless and poorly thought out; like when I couldn’t stand catching my long hair on everything, so I convinced my fiancĂ© to chop off three inches with kitchen scissors as we stood on the back patio. I simply couldn’t wait a moment longer; I was frustrated and just done with it all. It felt amazing, actually. He did a good job. That was the first change. As it turns out, it was a bit symbolic. I’ve always been one of those people who is all or nothing, zero or a hundred; I’m in or I’m out. Well, my friends, I’ve glanced at the cards, and I am all in.

I took a leap and started the process to get back into school; I stopped before finishing my degree a decade ago. It’s the decision I have always regretted, the one that makes my heart sink every time I think of it. I love my job, but I’m not living up to my potential, I’m not finding the fulfillment that I once did. The problem is, that I don’t really have the tools in my kit to make me competitive in the job market anymore. I grew too comfortable in my niche. It’s time to fix that. It’s time to do what I was meant to do with my life. I have to stop handing out excuses like they’re lollipops. It’s time to invest in my own future and do what needs to be done. I’m older now, I have the wisdom and motivation to do it the right way. It’s terrifying; I haven’t been in school for ten years. But that’s exactly why I need to go back. These regrets I carry; they’ve turned into monsters that hide under my bed and lurk in my closet. I will never be at peace until I turn on the light and confront them.

I’m learning to invest in myself again; to find the core of my personal dissatisfaction and face it head on. It’s painful to shine a light into all of your dark corners. It’s uncomfortable when you turn a critical eye on the choices you have made and recognize why you made them. But it’s necessary if you ever want to grow beyond the person you are today. I’ve found that I get lost in cyclical thinking; breaking these habits is hard, finding the right headspace for change is not meant to be easy. But it’s worth it. I’ve been lost in the usual patterns, treading water in my daily life. I’m not really sure what changed, but I just grew sick of it; all of it. Something inside snapped and I just couldn’t watch myself living the exact same day over and over again. I wasn’t happy with the way I was spending my time, I wasn’t happy with work, I wasn’t happy with my body. I just wasn’t happy. And I wanted to blame circumstances for it. I wanted to point the finger and rid myself of the guilt that was weighing me down. After all, it couldn’t be my fault. I wanted to be happy, it was the world that wasn’t letting me. There just wasn’t enough time in the day, I would say. The muse isn’t with me. I’m too tired to work out. Eating healthy is just so expensive and time consuming. My coworkers take too much time off and I’m burnt out picking up the slack. School is too expensive, it’s been too long, I don’t have time. I had an excuse for everything. And yet I knew that the real culprit was me; I was being lazy. I was depressed and would rather curl up into my rut instead searching for a way to climb out. I went into hibernation and didn’t notice. I made excuses and I let myself wallow in them. Because for a while it was easier. It was easier to stew in my melancholy than to change. I was accustomed to my complacency, it was the easy way out. Until it wasn’t.

My soul grew restless, I felt my heart pulling me towards change, willing me to do something, anything out of my routine. I couldn’t sit there complaining to myself anymore; my words were useless. So I got up, and I did something. I cut my hair, I applied to school, I started working out, I bought fresh groceries, I went and hiked through a cave with my two best friends. I started writing again.

The first few steps were the hardest; getting up to put on my workout clothes was tough, but when I felt the sweat on my arms, when my legs were shaking and my face was beet red; I felt amazing. Because doing something- even something painful- will always feel so much better than sitting there thinking about it. My tummy is still chubby, my muscles are still weak and my arms won’t be ready for tank tops anytime soon; but I’m doing something, I’m trying. And right now- that’s all I need to do.

The world is slowly changing, and I must follow. The leaves will soon wear their masks of bright colors, dressing up the trees in their season’s best. The air will grow cold, crisp and fresh, the morning frost will stain the grass a sparking white. The rain will come and wash away the scorched earth that this summer has wrought. The world will find the gentle peace that comes with the coming season, easing away from the ravenous passions of the last.

Change can be so beautiful when we are willing to embrace it. This is going to be a gorgeous year, built for new adventures, I can feel it in my blood, pounding through my veins, breathing life into my soul. I’m falling in love with this new life I’m creating, I’m falling in love with the season that has always helped me find myself again. I missed this old road, I feel enriched to have found it again.

May you find all that you are looking for, my friends. May you peer fearlessly into your own soul and find the road that will lead you where your heart belongs. This life we were gifted with; it is pointless if we stand here stagnant. Never be afraid of those winds of change. Never be afraid to travel down that road. Success or failure- it doesn’t matter- the point is that you walked that path, you found where it led, and you learned from it, simply because you dared to brave the risks of taking that chance. Embrace the change, enjoy the season; because none will ever be quite like this one.

Waiting in the Wings (for the ones who pushed me to greatness)

In life we are constantly in search for our own accomplishments. We strive. We hustle, we push; we fail and we succeed. And yet so often we forget about all of the hands who were there to help us along the way; how many people stood in the background while we thundered through our moment of glory, basking in our own personal spotlight. Today I was so quickly reminded what a simple kind word or thoughtful gift could mean to someone in the midst of the struggle.

Nothing will bring you back to reality like bonking at a physical fitness challenge. I am currently participating in Ragnar Relay- as I mentioned yesterday; two vans, twelve people, two hundred (ish) miles in two days and one night. I didn’t train like I should have, and thus- it has been a challenge, to put it mildly. 

I was terrified when my teammate showed up to our exchange full of energy and good vibes, slapped that bracelet on my wrist and sent me on my way to run my very first leg. You see, even though you sign up with large teams and spend your days in the company of five other people- the actual act of running is pretty solitary. It’s you and the road, two feet stomping pavement as you follow the signs (and other runners) to that ellusive exchange zone. You get to take your magic slap bracelet and tap someone else to begin their own portion of the journey. 

My leg was at 11:00, the day was hot, the wind was scarce and the sun was set to extra strength. In the first part of my run one of the officers patrolling the course actually stopped to ask me if I was okay. After explaining that yes, I was, and my face just always gets that red when I’m running, I trundled on my merry way. But the problem was- my body wasn’t ready for this sudden jolt of activity. I was not physically prepared for the challenge I signed up for.

So I struggled, and I walked (a lot!). I pushed myself as hard as I could go as person after person passed me by (which is actually saying a lot because my speed walking if nothing to sneeze at). Every person who passed by called out words of encouragement; which made a big difference to me. They recognized my struggle (which can be embarrassing), but also acknowledged and appreciated the fact that I was still out there in pain, exhausted, sweating- and still putting one foot in front of the other at whatever pace I could muster.

There is a difference in the type of support that people offer you; the officer, who meant well, approached me as if he didn’t think I could do it, concerned for my safety he wanted to make sure I was okay. This is something I deeply appreciate, but his lack of confidence in my abilities forced me to question what I was doing there that much more. It took the winds out of my ebbing sails. And yet the other runners out there never once questioned my ability to be ranked amongst their numbers; they saw the exact same stuggle as that officer, but they approached me as if me finishing that leg was a guarantee. They had faith that I could do it because I wanted to do it. They had no hesitation when they offered me their simple unwavering support. 

And then there was the van of amazing women who completely changed the tone of my first leg. They had a runner on the road who was consistently near me, so they would pass me and see me as they waited for her. Instead of only caring for their own person, they paid attention to me as well. Even going so far as to pull over to ask me if I needed a little bit of water. This may not sound like much, but it was exactly what I needed at the perfect time. I was hitting a wall and wondering why the hell I had even signed up- and their words of encouragement a small gift of water completely changed my perspective. It reinvigorated my body and soul for the road that was still winding ahead of me. 

There are moments in our lives when we are the runner, and there are times when we are the cheerleaders. Both are vitally important. Just a small act of kindness, a tiny nod of encouragement can morph a struggle into a beautiful experience. Without the people on that road pushing me forward, the mental struggle I was waging could have easily changed my entire experience.

When you are standing on the sidelines in someone else’s story, never forget how important the supporting characters can be. Always offer a kind word; you never know if that will be the tipping point that will propel them to greatness. And when you are standing in the spotlight, carrying the show- don’t forget all of those people standing behind you who have helped you on your path. Don’t let them forget that they are a big part of the reason you are standing where you are.

So to everyone who yells out words of encouragement to friends and strangers alike; to all of you out there who rang your cowbells and cheered me on as I pushed past my own endurance- thank you. To the man with the rainbow shorts, long beard and no shirt- you made my day with your encouraging words and contagious enthusiasm. And to the ladies of the black and pink van who stopped to help a runner in need of both physical and emotional replenishment- thank you, I would not have had the same experience without you. You are truly inspiring, thank you for welcoming me to this amazing adventure.

Excited amazement that I actually survived my first leg- in the van on the way to support our next runner as he hit the road (and killed, by the way- shout out to Cody)