The Shapes and Spaces of Love

The Shapes and Spaces of Love

Love changes us, or at least it does me.

Being loved has changed me. It’s helped me recognize who I am and dive deeper into who I’m meant to be. Seeing myself as capable of inspiring love, regardless of how life may get in the way, has been profound.

It’s impossible to quantify, but sometimes it feels like loving has changed me even more.

Loving someone makes room in my heart for them, a space that grows to accommodate and welcome a particular person. And the thing is, that’s not a generic space – it’s a space uniquely shaped to who they are. Other things get adjusted and changed to make room as the space takes shape.

And it goes beyond the person themselves.

I notice things I would have missed before. I ask different questions – of myself as well as of the world. I’m continually inspired to try to see things through a different perspective that is not my own.

And in the process, how I see changes. What I see changes, and how I understand it. I’m stretched and grow into – not someone else – but someone who is both a broader and a deeper me. I become more myself in ways I never imagined, and I find things in myself I never knew were there. I love that journey (even while it’s scary as anything).

Venturing into love is always stepping out into the unknown. It will always show us things we didn’t know about ourselves and the world. And all those things won’t be pretty.

I’ve discovered things within myself I’ve wanted to look away from and forget, but love means facing them and dealing with them, as hard as that may be. I’ve encountered things in our world, things that wound and shape others, things that should never be. But love doesn’t look away. Love steps up and steps in closer to embrace it all.

Kiss the demons and name their lies.

But I also discover profound beauty, both in myself and others. Strength, kindness, generosity of spirit, courage, forgiveness, hope, longing. Minds that are dreaming a better world and turning those dreams into reality.

Love is always an adventure. If you’re in it for an outcome you already have all the architectural drawings for? Well…then you’re in love with an idea that’s dead. Life is always changing – growing and fading and creating something new along the way.

Love creates shapes and spaces that weren’t there before. It recreates our lives and it recreates the world. We can enter and embrace that with wonder or with fear (mostly we can’t help but have a mix of both).

But if we can let the wonder win out…the possibilities of the journey are glorious.

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The Art of Riding the Wave

The Art of Riding the Wave

I have a secret ambition to be a beach bum – a Sea Doo rental shack with a hammock in back. Living with the rhythm of the waves and the sun and the seasons.

It’s completely unrealistic. I love the beach, but that would never be enough for me. I’d get restless and antsy for something new all too quickly, for something that mattered.

But there’s still something there that draws me. It’s the reason I have a collection of surfing movies – mostly documentaries. The waves and the sun and the laid back thing are all part of the appeal, but it’s more than that.

There’s something that connects with me about the predictable unpredictability of life.

We plan. We read the tides, the rhythms of the waves, the seasons, and our own capabilities. But in the end, we have to dive in and just ride the wave we catch, and this – now – is the only moment we have to catch it.

We’ll never control the wave, but we can learn the art of dancing with it. Learn to feel the water and how to meet it. Sometimes we will wipe out, overwhelmed by something impossible to plan for.

But sometimes…sometimes we get it just right, and the curl of the wave comes at just the right place, and it propels us to greatness, to something beyond what we could ever do on our own.

There are tides to learn, and seasons, and reefs just below the surface to beware of. But the ocean will always be the ocean, and it will always surprise us.

I’ve never actually been surfing. I’ve never had the chance, and odds are I’d be terrible at it. But there’s a reason I love those documentaries, that dream.

Planning is important – you’re not going to get far if you show up without a board or with a sprained ankle. You need to know the beach and what’s below the surface and how the waves brake. And never surf alone, without someone to know if something goes wrong.

But at some point you’ve got to stop planning and just ride the wave.

Life, as consistent and unpredictable as the ocean, will never fail to surprise. And all the planning in the world won’t teach you how to improvise with the waves.

I planned for a long time. I planned for waves that never came and for wipeouts I couldn’t control. And I learned something from all that planning and observing.

But that’s nothing compared to what I’ve learned since I dove in and started trying to catch some waves.

Messing Up

Messing Up

I’ve messed up the past couple of weeks.

I messed up in a relationship. I let what I wanted blind me to where someone else was and what they needed. I didn’t mean to, but I did, and I messed up.

I also messed up a story I told at an open mic. I’m new to this storytelling thing, and it’s scary. But I want to learn to do the stories and the people in them justice. I tried winging a story I’ve been thinking about, and I got something important out of place and messed it up.

I’m sure there’s plenty of other things I messed up this week. And I’m guessing you probably did, too.

But something has shifted for me.

This week, when I messed up, I didn’t freeze and I didn’t hide. I owned it.

We talked about what happened, and I’m figuring out what moving forward and growing looks like.

I kept telling the story, and when I got to the end, people were still with me.

I used to be so afraid of messing up, of getting something wrong. If I’m honest, I still am sometimes.

But now, I’m more afraid of getting frozen there. I want to keep living, as messy as that is. Because as much as I mess up, good things keep happening and good gifts keep coming.

Don’t misunderstand, there are real consequences to messing up, consequences I have to own up to and live with. And sometimes they’re pretty devastating.

But I’m learning, and living.

I can’t remember when I first heard that failure is part of success. It’s pretty ubiquitous. But that came with a parallel lesson that everything mattered, that every choice and decision had consequences that could affect the rest of my life (if not eternity).

I’m not sure I don’t still believe that, but I certainly see it differently. It’s those choices and consequences that make up a life. That’s what actually living looks like.

I know people who are haunted by lost opportunities and dreams, marriages that ended, careers gone. But I see other opportunities opened up for them, new possibilities, hard won strength. And I’m awed by the possibilities of their lives.

I’m learning to see my own life the same way. Everything that ends isn’t a failure, and trying and failing doesn’t make me a failure. My feelings have had a hard time catching up with what I know, but they’re starting to come around.

There’s something I’m far more afraid of these days than failing or messing up or getting it wrong – and that’s not trying.

There’s so much more, so much to explore and learn and grow into. And sometimes I’m going to get it wrong, but I’m going to deal with it and keep trying anyway.

I may mess up, but I don’t want to miss a thing.

Rescuing Gratitude

Rescuing Gratitude

Gratitude is a funny thing. For many of us, it’s foundation is obligation.

The bank teller handed you a lollipop – “What do you say?”

In the days after your birthday – “Have you written your grandmother that thank you note yet?”

There was an edge of guilt in the reminders, even while parents who loved us were trying to build good habits in us. At its worst, the obligation to be grateful extended to something unintentionally abusive – the expectation to be thankful for things that were forced upon us, even if sometimes “for our own good.”

There’s a lot to rescue gratitude from.

For me, it’s had to be rescued from the misuse of the biblical injunction to “be thankful in everything, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Combined in good faith with Romans 8:28 (“And we know that all things work together for good to them who love God and are called according to his purpose.”), this command to be thankful resulted in an all too toxic approach to life.

Your daddy died? Be thankful.

Your child has cancer? Be thankful.

Your marriage is miserable? Be thankful.

You lost your job? Be thankful.

You long for a partner and yet remain single? Be thankful.

You’re being bullied in school? Be thankful.

Your friends are moving on and leaving you behind? Be thankful.

We learn that grieving is bad, and even worse, that we must name evil as an illusion – it is merely good in disguise. This kind of gratitude demands we be unfaithful to our own hearts, a “death to self” of the entirely wrong kind.

True gratitude need not be forced. It is a right and natural response to good things, good gifts. To love itself, in all its forms.

Which doesn’t mean discipline is not involved, but it’s not a discipline of learning to force thankfulness. It is the discipline of noticing, of seeing, of being open to being surprised.

There are many things I want, good gifts I long for that are delayed or denied. That is real and I have learned to make space in my heart to grieve them. But that doesn’t mean I cannot be grateful for other things too. The sunshine streaming through an eastern window in the morning. The Lake in all its moods. A smile of greeting from a stranger and their dog. The warm welcome of a friend. The finicky coziness of a persnickety cat. A song that puts words to my pain and longing. An unexpected hope.

These are gifts. They may not be the ones I was looking for, but if I learn to keep my eyes and heart open to them, they can draw forth gratefulness. 

And learning that openness has shaped and changed me. It has grown patience in me – not much, but exponentially more than I started with! I have learned not to just wait for the gifts I want, but to go looking for them with my eyes open for unexpected treasures along the way.

It has made me realize that sometimes the unexpected treasure is worth more than what I knew to look for.

It has taught me to be open to being surprised. My imagination for goodness continues to be expanded and stretched.

It has taught me that both hope and disappointment are alike adventures. Enter into one and you will always find the other. And there is always more.

It has taught me that I do not have to stop walking, stop moving forward, to grieve. That, in fact, grieving is itself a way of moving forward – if I find myself stuck in sorrow or anger, I am no longer actually grieving, and there is work to be done.

And as long as I am moving forward, I can be surprised into gratitude.

Lent and Messy Hope

Lent and Messy Hope

I walked home from Ash Wednesday service tonight in a gentle, soft snow. It belied the many ways my life has felt battered by the not-so-gentle over the past several weeks.

I went to a service at a church I’ve never been to, one just two blocks from my home, and I almost didn’t go. I wasn’t so sure I needed to and I was tired. And no one would know me if I went or miss me if I didn’t.

But sometime maybe that’s what we need.

The moment I stepped through the door I started to cry. Through the incense and the processions and the prayers and the bells and the readings I cried. My body knew something I didn’t yet, and it knew I needed that space to…grieve? to hurt? to be confused?

Maybe just to cry.

And I received the cross of ashes on my forehead – that sign of all the deaths we bear and carry with us.

And I stayed and I ate the bread and drank the wine – bread and wine that are signs of a living body that transcends death.

I can’t understand that, but I know I needed it.

Lent is a season of hope.

Lent doesn’t simply tell us that human life is full of evil and death and failure and betrayal and messing up and hurting each other.

Lent recognizing the broken things, the things that make us heartsick and heartbroken, and then goes on to tell us there is also healing and life and goodness and giving and love.

They aren’t often easy to get to and we get hurt and hurt each other along the way. Elbows and knees and words and struggles are sharp and awkward and we don’t always know what to do with them.

But this Lent, I think I need to leave space for crying and hoping. In all their messiness together. I’m not sure there’s any real substance to hope without some crying, too.