Between Spaces

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Anxiety settled in during May, and I weathered a rough couple of weeks. Hence, the silence in this space. I don’t publish when I’m struggling to keep my head afloat. The clouds have lifted, for which I’m so deeply grateful I could click my heels like a leprechaun.

Still, I hate dwelling in the state of “between” things, the space where I’m not where I was and not yet where I want to be. I want to be at a final destination, in a settled place. I want stability in my grasp for an extended time. I want more than just bread for today. I forget there’s no guarantees in life. All I hold is this moment. I can’t fast-forward, rewind, or pause. Continue reading

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Remembering Pippin Cat

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On our honeymoon over ten years ago, I told J that I wanted to look at cats when we got back home. Our lease permitted them, and now that our lives seemed settled, I wanted a pet. So, the day after our honeymoon, while J went to work, I headed to the humane society to check out cats.

Looking didn’t last long. I saw Pippin, or rather Malone as he was called then. Our eyes met. We bonded. Boom. I fell in love with him. We snuggled. We played. I put a hold on him, and dragged J kicking and screaming to meet him later that day.

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Tasty Thursday: Travel Picks

J and I took a road trip this past summer: Wilmington, NC to Charlotte, NC to Asheville, NC to Nashville, TN. Yup, that’s right. We went to both Asheville, NC and Nashville, TN. Random trip, but we had loads of fun. If you’re scratching your head about logistics since we live in Minnesota, we flew into Charlotte at the start of the trip, rented a car, and then flew from Nashville back to Minnesota.

One of my favorite parts of traveling is sampling different restaurants and flavors. We have a multi-tiered approach to restaurant hunting: searching online for best places in a city to eat, wandering around neighborhoods and popping in to places that just look fun, and asking locals for recommendations. When it comes to asking locals, that’s usually something J does. I recognize the value; I’m just on the shy side, so that part is a little more awkward and painful for me. As a result, I avoid that one.

Here’s a few of our favorite meals from the first part of the trip. Nashville picks will show up in another post, since we had loads of memorable food moments there — particularly ones where I took pictures.

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On Saturday, J and I went hiking up at a park on the Mississippi, and took a bunch of pictures. I’ll post some later. It’s the time of winter that I dislike the most: the brown melting snow and slushly, oil slick puddles everywhere. It’s dreary, without the pristine gleam of fresh snow to perk things up.

But, I did find the park beautiful in its starkness. The trees are barren. The grasses were dried up golden sticks in sharp contrast to the white-gray of the snow and the ice blue sky. But, I did notice something new this time. Winter provides an opportunity to notice things that you wouldn’t normally be able to see. That same dreary barrenness clears up distractions and hiding places.

As we were hiking, we noticed an small island in the Mississippi with a bunch of tall trees devoid of leaves. The trees were filled with large nests, probably hawk or eagle. And during the summer, we wouldn’t be able to see this, as the tree leaves would hide all these bird homes. The sight of all the nests towering in the trees was beautiful, again due to the starkness. At the same time though, they looked like a scene out of a Dr. Seuss book.

Journal Excerpt from September 8, 2008

This morning, I gathered up my courage and left my hotel room alone. J’s taking park tours for his conference all day, so I’m on my own for sight-seeing in Portland today. i walked from Broadway to Burnside, and made right at 9th Avenue. And I wonder as I walk, why is it that the strangers that I pass today are more terrifying than strangers in my own city (although at times I fear them too)? I’m reminded of Jim Brandenburg’s words about dominance and submission in the wolf kingdom from White Wolf: Living with an Arctic Legend. He writes,

Dominance and submission are communicated largely through body language. In any given exchange, the dominant animal tends to appear cocky and aloof. He or she stands tall, with ears pricked forward and tail held relatively high, filled with an unmistakable confidence. The submissive animal, on the other hand, seems to slump as close to the ground as possible, almost as if seeking refuge in the earth. The tail curls between the legs, the ears are tucked back, and there is an expression on the face that seems to say, “Like me, please–or if that’s not possible, at least don’t bite.”

And as I walk I avert my eyes from those I pass, and sort of crouch further into myself. I myself am inwardly pleading, please, please don’t hurt me. Please don’t talk to me. I don’t like that I do this, but I do it nonetheless. And I have not had a traumatizing experience to legitimize this fear.

When I first graduated from college, I remember the idea of people being made in the image of God became of significant importance to me. And acknowledging this image in people became a way of recognizing personhood and loving people. Now, my first thought of people is not the image of God in them. But rather that they may injure me, rob me, or heaven forbid, ask me for money. (Which I’m horrified by this trend in my thoughts. But it is there nevertheless.)

I rarely carry cash because in a debit card society, I don’t often need it. Yesterday, when I was approached by strangers asking for change, I felt a sense of shame when I have none. I say with blushing face, quickened step and a pat on my pockets– that I have no change. Because I carry none. I’m always afraid I’m saying no to Jesus. Today I think, why is it worse to say no to Jesus (who doesn’t actually need the money or food) than to a living person in need? This logic no longer makes sense to me. And after being hit up for money so many times the day before, I no longer want to carry cash. I plot ahead to harden my heart. I feel shame, but can’t truly sacrifice for another. This is ironic, and truly hypocritical of me–especially as I’m appalled by our country’s every-man-out-for-himself attitude. Yet when it’s my turn to pitch in, I balk. How convenient. For today, I’m at least comforted by being honest about the situation.

I found myself horrified by the sheer number of homeless in Portland. After reading all these wonderful things about the city, its gardens, transit and “green living”–the number of homeless I encountered was staggering. Particularly the number of young adults who are homeless and begging. I am still shocked and disheartened. Why the youth are more staggering than older men and women, I am not sure. Maybe it’s because I still see myself in their eyes but for some quirk of fate?

J and I sleep in an expensive hotel in the heart of downtown. In the park, just behind our hotel, three homeless men are still sleeping as I walk past. They are figures hunched over on granite park steps, two in shades of grey, and one in a navy blue sweatshirt. As I pass another shaded park bench, the shadows of the trees feel heavy and weighted. Shadows shouldn’t be oppressive, and yet they are. By the elephant statue another man sleeps on orange blanket. The same park I thought was amazing yesterday in the glittering afternoon sun, now seems filled with hopelessness, darkness and despair. Does eighteen hours make such a difference? Apparently. I walk no more than five blocks to the bakery, and in that time I see at least ten people who have spent the night outside. This dichotomy of sleeping in luxury while others go without a place to sleep just a block away troubles me. And I have no answer for it.

I tell myself as I walk, that if anyone asks for help, I’ll invite them to Pearl Bakery with me. I’ll treat to pastries and coffee and eat my breakfast with them and chat. I take a deep breath and take up my courage.

And no one asks me. I feel strangely bereft. Alas, I have not overcome; I have not really stretched myself. I am still all mental talk. No action. I comfort myself with the thought, maybe tomorrow. Maybe. And perhaps the better goal would be to invite someone before they asked.

Excerpt from my journal from August 3, 2008

Last night after eating late, I laid in our hotel bed with the lights out and the fire going. I’d left the windows open so I could hear the waves of Lake Superior crashing against the rocks outside our room. I tried to just be still and listen to the waves.

I learned that I am not much better than a puppy in terms of attention span. I’d take a calming breath and relax. I’d be so focused on the waves I could feel them washing over me, not just hear them. Then I’d start wondering what J was doing in the other room.

“No, listen to the waves,” I’d tell myself. Then, wiggle my arms. “Relax. Be still.” Breathe in, and release the air on a deep sigh. Then, scrunch my toes. Move my arm to the the side. And start over again. Think about the wedding we just came from in Bismarck. Start again. Wonder about what book I’m going to read next. Back to the beginning. Wiggle my toes under the blanket. Try to relax again.

Through all the stops and starts and losing focus, I found I could only hear the waves if they had my complete attention. Otherwise, they became just white noise in the background. The minute I moved or thought of something other than the waves, the sound of them disappeared. Hearing for me is the hardest sense to control; I’m too often busy thinking or absorbed in something to process sounds. They may as well not exist. I can’t decide if this absorption is a gift or curse.

I have no clue how to focus on just one thing. When I am absorbed, I usually have some sort of background noise, a book that I’m reading, and the creative force in me processing that book and turning it into something about me that I can use or learn, the sights outside of the books, and whatever else I may be worrying over. And I can never turn my thoughts completely off. I’m mystified by the idea of not thinking anything; I wish I knew how that could come about, short of dying. I tell myself that I thrive on this over-stimulation. But lately, I’m wondering if that’s a lie.

And I also found it is physically impossible for me to be still. J even laughs because my toes are always wriggling; particuarly when I’m reading or contemplating something. To try and keep from moving my toes is completely uncomfortable for me, bordering on painful even. Even now as I write my toes are wriggling and my ankles twirling. I can’t write apart from this movement.

Lately the phrase ,”Be still and know that I am God,” has popped up again and again like a mole in one of those whack-a-mole arcade games. And I’m hopeless to actually smack the mole, and just be still. Neither my attention span, nor my physicality permits me this opportunity. And that I find simultaneously humbling and sad….and exceedingly frustrating. As I think this verse might actually be key to having a healthy soul.