Friday, October 28, 2011

When You Feel Like Quitting

"Who is this coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved?" (Song of Songs 8:5)

* * * * *

Sometimes a broken heart speaks in a whisper, sometimes through muffled cries, and sometimes through loud demands.

Tonight my broken heart cried out with perfect clarity: "Encourage me!" So I tried to do just that.

In true 2011 style, I googled that exact request, and the Internet answered back.

I landed on a site that had a video about Derek Redmond--an Olympic athlete who suffered a terrible disappointment during his 400-meter race.

Just 150 yards in (less than half-way through), he tore his hamstring and fell to the ground in pain.

In the midst of his agony and defeat, Derek made a courageous decision.

He rose to his feet and began hobbling along the track, determined to finish the race.

Suddenly, an older man emerged on the field. It was Derek's father.

He put his son's arm around his neck. The young runner sobbed, leaned in, and buried his head in his papa's chest.

The two of them slowly walked the track together. Derek was in obvious pain, yet he continued to move forward.

And Derek finished the race that day.

The footage I watched is accompanied by a song (now playing on my blog) that was an anthem to me 7 years ago during a very pivotal time in my life. As soon as it began, my broken heart breathed deeply and gave up the tears it has been holding back all day.

I needed to hear that anthem again. And I needed to be reminded of this:

The journey through the Unknown isn't about speed--it's not a race--but it is important to finish.

Even if I am tempted to turn back and run the other way, even if I feel like I can't hack it in the tough terrain, and even if I trip and fall, there's always Someone here to walk alongside me so I can keep going... until my time here is done.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tempted



Jesus was tempted when He was out in the wilderness--alone--in unfamiliar territory. And yet, He was right where He was supposed to be.

* * * * *

I jumped out of a plane, landed in the Great Unknown, embraced the Silence as my traveling companion... and yet I feel stuck.

My journey thus far has been about forward movement. Writing about it using colorful metaphors has helped me to view this process through the lens of adventure.

But today I want to stop moving and camp out right where I am. I feel battle-worn and I'm craving a taste of the familiar.

It's in moments like these that I am tempted.

I am confronted with a barrage of rationalizations about why I should pack up my stuff and start heading in the opposite direction--back to the Land Where I Came From: the land of denial, complacency and half-awake living.

I want to believe that instead of putting more and more distance between me and that familiar territory, I should start inching my way back toward it--in the hopes that the "me" I have discovered in the Great Unknown will somehow follow me back to that Land.

I try to convince myself that I've journeyed far enough into the Great Unknown to have learned the lessons the terrain has to teach me; so I can say "Been there, done that, got the T-shirt" and call it a day.

"I'm wiser now," I tell myself, "I can go back; this time it'll be different."

This kind of thinking, by the way, is precisely how I stayed in the Land Where I Came From for so long. I'd dip my toe into the river on the outskirts of the Great Unknown with the confidence that I didn't need to journey any farther in for my life to really change. I figured I could cling to security and comfort and still grow to my full stature.

The wiser part of me knew that none of that was true. There are no shortcuts to healing, to growing, to making lasting change. And the good stuff takes time. There's no way around it.

* * * * *

The Unknown has peaks and valleys. The peaks are higher and the valleys are lower here than they were in the Land Where I Came From. Or maybe it just seems that way because I'm paying more attention to where I'm at. Maybe I've just learned how to see through the fog.

I've been on some peaks recently. From that vantage point I could see the beauty that's ahead--beauty like I have never seen before: lush, verdant forests and meadows filled with wildflowers of every variety. The sight of it was inspiring and exhilarating.

But when I dip back down into the valleys, it's hard to remember that there is anything else ahead except for more valleys. Instead of feeling propelled by the beauty that's waiting for me down the road, I feel overwhelmed by the prospect of how much further I may have to go to actually get there.

Inspiration gives way to exhaustion and I don't want to take another step.

Except I'm not going to stop.

All the signs are pointing me further into the Unknown. It's teeming with life. But I want to leave a marker here because I know every sojourner faces the same temptation--to camp out or to head back toward "home"--at some point in their journey into the Unknown.

I'm putting my signpost in the ground to stir the hearts of other troubled travelers who will pass this point and feel like giving up, giving in, packing up and heading back to the Land where they came from.

Instead, I hope they'll stop, look up, read these words and courageously continue to move in deeper still.

Today I'm that traveler. I need the signpost more than anyone else. I am reading these words and tuning my ears to my wiser part that has spoken but been ignored for way too many years.

I'm tempted to go back. But I'm not giving in.




Monday, October 10, 2011

Shhh....


The great unknown is full of hidden treasures. The tricky thing is you have to venture deeper--uncomfortably farther--in if you want to claim them as your own.

Once I faced this reality, and knew I'd be living here for awhile, I decided to lighten my load--empty out my pack--so I can last here for the long haul.

One of the first things that had to go was the Noise. Even though we'd grown accustomed to being together, I knew I couldn't travel with it anymore.

To my surprise, as soon as I kicked it out, something else showed up in its place.

At first it was a relief to have another traveling companion. The Noise had been taking up so much space that my pack felt EMPTY without it. I was thankful for the Silence.

When the Noise was around, the air was always filled with energy. It was a frantic energy, but it kept me busy--preoccupied--nonetheless.

The Silence has its own kind of energy. It's foreign to me and it takes some getting used to.

It didn't take long for me to grow uncomfortable with the Silence. I started to crave my old "friend" again. I needed something familiar in this totally new terrain. I started fantasizing about the Noise.

Even though I wasn't carrying it with me, the Noise knew me well enough to stay close by. Sensing when I was the weakest, the Noise would press up against me--trying to block my path--and taunt: "Are you bored yet? It's much more exciting with me around. Just let me in for a few minutes. You'll see, it'll be like old times..."

And the Silence would wait. I would feel its piercing gaze as it gently whispered: "It's your call. But it's the Noise or me. You can't have both. You have to choose."

When I first landed, I was easily swayed by the Noise--I'd shrug my shoulders and reassure myself: "Just a little bit of Noise won't hurt. I mean it's just so quiet here without it."

But it didn't take long to see that the Noise always brings its friends with it: Frenzy, Anxiety, Panic and Fear. It's a big party until they show up.

I'm happy to say it's been awhile since I've invited them back in. The Silence has been with me for a good, long stretch. It's teaching me things that I simply couldn't hear when the Noise was around.

The Noise never let me get in word edge-wise, and all the Silence does is listen. Most of the time as we travel along we are each happy saying nothing.

As our relationship has deepened, I'm talking more. I'm asking questions. It doesn't always answer right back--it's not not the way of The Silence--but just at the right time, it'll look me in the eyes and share something I've been longing to hear.

The Silence also has its own set of friends: Sadness, Pain, Hope and Peace. I've met them all before, but the Noise was boisterous and bullying when they were around, feeling threatened by their presence. "We don't need them," it'd convince me, "we're doing just fine on our own."

The Silence is gentle. Unlike the Noise, it has nothing to prove. It is patient and polite. It always asks for permission before it lets its friends in: "Sadness wants to come for a visit... Would that be alright?"

I'm learning to trust the Silence. And that means trusting what shows up with it. I don't look forward to the visits from Pain, but when the Silence asks to let it in, I know I'll be okay.

And if it weren't for the Silence, I'd have never known what it's like to travel this distance with Peace on my back.

The great unknown is full of hidden treasure. I'm traveling deeper--uncomfortably farther--in to claim them as my own.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Landing

We are all standing on the edge of it every day of our lives.

We brew coffee, check email, wash dishes, work, rest, sleep. We have days that go just as planned and days where nothing goes the way we want it to at all. But until an alarm sounds--a death, a disease, a diagnosis, a discovery, the thing that hurls us right into the middle of it--we live as if it doesn't exist.

IT is the great UNKNOWN.

Sounds scary, doesn't it?

It sounds scary because it's a place where we've never been. It's that area we've yet to explore.

I've done my best to pretend it wasn't there. I've tried to convince myself that it was a place I'd never travel to. A place that I didn't need to see. Leave it to other brave souls, I thought, that is not for me.

As it turns out my airborne travel, the free fall, landed me here: in the great unknown.

As soon as my feet hit the ground, I surveyed the land and--being true to my first instincts--immediately assessed the quickest way OUT.

To my left were soaring, jagged walls of rock. And I had no gear to climb them.

To my right were raging rapids. And I had no raft to ride them.

I panicked. I looked left and right again. Scrambled for a way OUT. I wanted out. Out!!

"Won't someone get me out of here?" I yelled--feeling immediately hoarse. "Anyone? Anyone? Isn't there anything anyone can do?"

And my voice echoed off the rocks and mingled with the whooshing of the waters.

So I cried out again. Frantic to be heard. To be rescued. To be anywhere but HERE.

And again my calls echoed and mingled and whooshed. And I waited. I waited for the answer.

Night came. And it seemed to last for days.

The sun did rise (it always does), but it faded behind the thick clouds that had gathered through the night.

And just when I thought the sun would shine and provide light and warmth and illuminate the way OUT, it began to rain. And I had no umbrella.

And the rain seemed to last for days.

The clouds did clear (they always do), and then night came.

When the sun rose again the next morning, my clothes were still damp from the day before.

The clouds returned and filled the sky again that day, but they were not as thick as they had been the day before. And for the first time since my landing, the sun shone brightly--just for a moment.

And in that brief moment of sunshine, my heart knew something. My heart knew that no one was going to come to my rescue. There really wasn't anything anyone could do.

But panic didn't strike. Peace came.

I knew then that I didn't need a rescue... I simply needed to go through.

Since that day, the day the sun broke through, I am still making my way through the unknown. I'm still surrounded by walls of rock and raging waters, and yes, it still rains. But I am learning to dance in the rain.

The unknown exists beyond the fringe of our comfort zones. It stands outside the borders of safe, easy, predictable and neat. It's a place we all have to visit.

If you've been here, then what I've described is familiar terrain. And if you haven't travelled here yet, allow me to reassure you of something.

Although it's not a place most choose to travel to, many have been here and many are journeying their way through. And though at times you will feel lonely, you don't need a rescue because you are never alone.