God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well. ~Voltaire
I was thinking today about your life, Dad. About what it was like to be you – a prairie kid at heart with a constant longing for the big wide open, an appreciation for the lovely and simple things, a love of companionship, an ethical drive for professional success, financial prowess without excess, and a desire to be involved and lead. How did all these characteristics come about? In your daughter’s eyes, you were always that way. What was it like for you to marry and have children and watch those children grow and learn as you yourself continued to grow and learn and become the leader that you were? It’s funny to think that I always saw you at the same ageless age in real-time and even now in my memories.
By the time you were my age now, you were in the upper echelons of the United States government. You rubbed elbows with diplomats and made your way through the great halls of government in our nation’s capital. You testified before Congress and people scheduled conferences for you! You developed plans that would be reviewed by the president of United States! You were idolized by a daughter who loved the sounds of her heels clicking on the marble floors of the monumental Interior Department building when she came to visit your historic office from time to time. Quite the change of scenery for the long-ago little boy from the dot of a town in the northeast corner of Montana.
That you were my age now in this memory floors me and puts my own life into a very different perspective. I am more in awe of you now knowing just how hard you must have worked, how much sleep you must have lost… You navigated life amid the same challenges and far greater ones than I have faced – and did it so well. I took for granted just how blessed I was to have the family I did and the experiences that you and Mom provided for us. It wasn’t easy or pretty at times – I feel a bit ashamed now looking back at the temper tantrums you put up with. I have a new respect for the difficult decisions you had to make – whether to uproot our family – yet again – whether this change was the right change. Once the decision was made though, you always moved forward with optimism, appreciation, and faith. I hope you know you made the right decision every time. My life is so much richer today for the decisions you made, even though sometimes they made me cry.
I still see you as my hero, a cowboy at heart, an executive of the land we love, and best of all – my father and the very best kind of friend. Thank you for opening my eyes to the world beyond me. I wish you were here with me now, giving me your grounded optimistic perspective through which to see and live. I love you more than words can ever say and miss you more with each passing day.
In the melody of the morning I’m told that’s where I’ll find you – and from time to time I do When your absence doesn’t seem grander than your love And yes, When I glimpse a pair of white socks in sandals or black loafers, I am reminded of your stylish stubbornness I smile to think you once only wore cowboy boots or shiny brown brogues. Well-meaning friends tell me that you are always with me – in a way you never could be before And while I know you are there Guiding my ways, filling my thoughts, inspiring a little common sense, leading me down paths of uncertainty with a sureness in my step It’s just not the same. You were there for so much of my life – watching me grow and learn – with your strong arms, confident smile, sternly spoken but loving truths, and forgiving ever-loving heart. The woman I became still needs – still longs for – your strong embrace, your reassuring smile, your wisdom, your understanding. Your always handy toothpicks. Your love. I didn’t get the chance to show you the culmination of your work. I didn’t get to show you how that twinkle in your eye you always told me I was finally let her own light shine. I promise I will never stop listening for you I promise I will always see you In the whisper of the night In the melody of the morning I’m told that’s where I’ll find you – and from time to time I do When your absence doesn’t seem grander than your love and light shines from within me. I miss you, Dad, and love you more and more – as the days between us grow. 89 years old today! Jan 28, 1932 – Apr 29, 2017 What a mark you made on this world and my life.
I cannot put into words how much this morning’s run, my first since Christmas Day, meant to me. Recovering from a foot injury has been a long, miserable, mentally debilitating road for this life-long runner. For three months I tried telling myself I didn’t need to run and that I could do other things to find release. That my body would thank me years from now if I quit running because injuries would be far less likely to happen. That I could see and capture beauty better at a slower pace. But none of those mind games kept the anxiety, restlessness, and sadness that can so easily make a home in me at bay. I felt like a shadow of myself. I may sound physically irresponsible – but any injury that comes from running is nothing compared to the strength and solace it brings to my spirit.
When I run, my body becomes one with the road and my mind moves into meditation. The journey I take is far more than a few neighborhood blocks and a country road or two. Running takes me through the twists and turns of my mind. I explore the potholes that trip me up and I run through them. I feel the heart break that threatens to stop my heart’s beating and I outpace it. I thrill at the glimmer of hope that is the sunrise at mile 6 – that warms the coldness this world can bring and melts away the stiffness and rigidity that I allow to rule my days. Running reminds me that I can always do better next time but right now I am doing ok – even great – and I am stronger than I appear or give myself credit for.
Thank you, God, for healing me (though you took an awfully long time!!) so I can once again find and heal myself.
How exquisite your love, O God! How eager we are to run under your wings, You’re a fountain of cascading light, and you open our eyes to light.
A few moments later, all the stresses of the day began to dissipate. Not unlike the musky scent wafting in the cold evening air alerting me to the presence of deer – they too finding their own blessed sanctuary in the growing calm and quiet of the night.
“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself.” – Soren Kierkegaard
As I put my ponderings to paper, we are, unbelievably, more than halfway through the first month of the new year. More a date on the calendar than the reality of our lives and the world, the new year heralds a time of change, transition, and closure. Perhaps more so this year than any other new year I can remember, (I have had 49 of them and I still have not perfected the art of change) there was a universally felt glee with which we kicked 2020 to the curb and slammed the door on it for good measure. Some have gone as far as to refer to the cataclysmic, destructive, really bad dream that was 2020 half-jokingly as THE Apocalypse. And did so without realizing how right they were! The original definition of apocalypse – as one of my New Testament professors, Bart Ehrman, explains: is a disclosure or revelation of great knowledge. In religious and occult concepts, an apocalypse usually discloses something very important that was hidden or provides “A vision of heavenly secrets that can make sense of earthly realities.”
As I sit here with a little more than two weeks of distance from the year past (and in 2020 and apparently 2021, A LOT happens in two weeks) I dare say that the events and circumstances of 2020 were indeed great revealers; not just on global, national, political, and social levels but personally as well. 2020 gave me glimpses of truth that helped me start to make sense of my own reality. Solitary confinement does wonders for engaging in the practices of self-reflection and self-rejection if you spend too much time in that “fun” house of mirrors. But it also provided a safe environment for soul searching and soul pruning – which when you are truly honest with yourself can be a particularly challenging and painful process. 2020 revealed how necessary deep and intentional reflection is and how difficult it is to sort through those revelations, both internal and external, to discern a truthful and positive way forward.
The unhappy person is never present to themself because they always live in the past or the future. – Soren Kierkegaard, Danish poet, author, philosopher, and theologian.
I don’t know about you, but I found myself spending a lot of my time this past year longing for the time before – the time before the pandemic, before things fell apart, before I said yes, before I said no, before Mom and Dad died, before I graduated kindergarten, insert your own past tense here. When present times are difficult the past is a much more inviting place to reside – and with each passing day, the past becomes longer and more encompassing just as the future grows dim. In the comfort of the past, you have seen it all and you know how to make it through each day. You are, in fact, living proof of that certainty, you tell yourself. And those days of yore seem so much brighter and clearer too, don’t they? The unknown before us does not feel too inviting. There are too many ifs, too many chances to fail, too many chances to be hurt again; the days ahead are just too unsettling compared to the days of before that you know.
And yet, those happy times that kept coming back to me over and over again this past year weren’t making me happy. On the contrary, they just made the present seem more depressing and the days ahead even more obscure. Truth: You cannot remember the future. Keep trying and you will not have one.
“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” ~ Jeremiah 6:16
Kierkegaard said that the more a man can forget, the greater the number of metamorphoses which his life can undergo; the more he can remember, the more divine his life becomes. My 2020 reflections helped me realize that I survived life. I know that sounds obvious from a 30,000-foot perspective, but when you are in the thick of things it is sometimes easy to forget that you survived that very past you long for.
The past I long for is what brought me to the moment I am in. Yes! At some point in my life, I had dreams and I chose to pursue them.
It was my dream for what could be that brought me to the point where I am today – searching in longing for the dreams I once had – or better – daring to dream the dreams I did that set me on the journey to today. When I was dreaming, my eyes, ears, and heart were open to the world around me, discovering things I had not known before and feeling safe despite the uncertainties that come with the unknown being discovered. Where did I get that feeling of security that allowed me to even dare to dream and where did it go?
In the fierce light of now, I find myself grounded in a reality more real than the illusions of what I dreamed of – searching for the hopeful, faith-filled, purpose-driven, and truly happy person I once was. My circumstances in 2020 exposed my fear of change, fear of losing control, my inability to trust, and my low opinion of myself. The dreamer I once was has since given too much power to the voices of the world to determine if I am admired, successful, attractive, courageous, and valued enough to be loved, to be worthy, to matter – to deserve to dream. The conditional nature of the world’s approval keeps me in a constant state of doing – trying and failing and trying again only to fail again because the conditions always change – the goalposts keep moving. I will never be enough by the world’s standards – and the keyword here is BE. I am so busy doing that I have lost my sense of being and with that, my ability to dream. I forget that from my first breath to the core of my being, I was and am someone’s beloved. I was beloved in those rose-hued days long ago and I am beloved in the messiness of right now – without any doing on my part. Not a single condition is attached to this belovedness – the only strings attached are the apron strings of God. And with God, I am free to dream.
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” – Psalm 139: 13-14
With God I do not have to be afraid, I do not have to grasp for and hold onto the only life I know, unwilling to change. With God, I do not have to believe in the ways of the world. With God, I can dream of tomorrow.
As Father Michael Marsh, of St Philip’s Episcopal Church in Uvalde, TX wrote recently, “Dreams come to us. We go on searches.”
Dreams urge us to go where we have never gone before and do what we’ve never done before. We can only search for what is already familiar and known – something we have lost or the life we used to have.
2020 served as a mirror for me to see the dilemma I have put myself in – stuck in my search for the way things used to be rather than how they might be; searching for what can never be again – instead of dreaming for what God has in store for me next. A hard reflection to find myself in at the moment – but it has given me a positive goal to work towards in 2021.
I will close with two guiding principles that will guide me through the uncertain days of dreaming ahead:
“I know not the way God leads me, but well do I know my Guide.” – Martin Luther
“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” – C.S. Lewis
Perhaps you might want to do some dreaming in 2021. Dream of a life yet to be revealed and trust that it is possible. Let go. Get up and go in faith. Dream! Dare to dream! Happier days are ahead.