Sunday, December 20, 2015

Life, Love, and Choosing the Adventure

I've been living (back) in Illinois since June of 2013, when I returned from Peru, and am about to make another exciting life move: this time, to Colorado, a state I've always wanted to live in and am so excited I will now get to experience.

I can't wait to be inspired by nature, I can't wait to make experiencing nature part of my daily life. I can't wait to enjoy the awe and majesty of God in my physical surroundings, and to deepen my gratitude for the creative wonder and beauty of this world.

And yet- it's weird. It's always weird to leave, to transition; good-weird, nostalgic-weird, sometimes-sad-but-mostly-happy weird. It seems that when we are about to make a change or move into the unknown, we reflect: look back on things and see how the dots connected, how we got from 'here to there;' what we had to lose and what we wound up gaining; who we met to help us or change us; what self-constructed walls we had to break down in order to move and grow.
As I've been packing up my apartment (my first 'place of my own' ever), I remember what it was like to move everything into it, back in summer of 2013. I remember all the people who were in my life then- who no longer are now- and how the initial pain of losing some of them seemed unbearable. And I remember life without the people who I didn't quite know then- who I have been profoundly changed for the better by knowing. 

It makes me think of something I've learned the past two years, that the nature of life is such that things are taken away, and things are brought back in. That's how it will always go- losses and gains, and all for the best.

I remember the days I spent first exploring a creative life, when I was in a space of limbo: coming off the high of what has been my most impactful, life-changing experience yet- volunteering in Peru for three months- and wondering what next? in my life. 

Between the space of summer 2013 and April 2014, when I finally did get a new job, I had literally months of nothing to be but myself, and that changed me profoundly too. The high of travel and adventure is one thing, but the same sense of thrill and joy from everyday, regular life- I didn't know that was possible.

I have been reflecting on the days where I was starting to learn it: days of relying on saved money that I had from my corporate job from before I went to South America, days of having nothing but time to get up, do yoga, make breakfast, read in favorite chair by my window. I sought myself, and I sought God, and it changed everything.
These were days of re-calibrating my existence, of slowing down and experiencing things instead of jumping back into the rat race; days of being by myself and learning to like it, not just tolerate it; days of cultivating a love of painting: this little thing that has come to be a pretty big part of my life now.

Those were days of learning what it meant to be living

I will never forget the elation I felt, the pure joy of being so in love with life itself- not the things in life, or my job, or my money, or my stuff, or other people- but time. That invaluable, totally sacred, most important resource that any of us will ever be given. Having the time- which of course I had always had- but finally experiencing what it meant to use it well

There were days I moved so un-rushed through the world back then- without the artificial restraints of man-made worries like clocks, and time in the work day, and deadlines, and money- that it actually felt as though the physical place I'd lived in all my life was totally new, like the way you would experience an unfamiliar place on vacation. 

All seemed interesting because it hadn't gotten old yet, because I was learning what it meant not to talk about being present or to fantasize about being present, but to actually be present. To be, in there here and now: the hardest thing in the world to do, but which is always available for you.
And this was of course because I had changed, my perspective had changed- not the things around me. A sense of wonder came back into my life; the dull perspective of adulthood had been eradicated and life began to become about much, much more than I thought it was about. It was a shift in priorities, a re-assessment of what actually mattered.

I lived those months like a child in some ways: doing things with no expectation, doing them purely out of love; and like a retiree in other ways: actually finally doing 'those things we always say we'll get around to.' Reading more. Walking outside more. Cooking, running ,exercising. Learning to paint. Coffee dates with friends, connections with people. Filling life with experiences, not practices, or requirements, or things.

I had no excuses- and I was finally coming into a kind of emotional maturity that made me disinclined to make any up because it would have been easier. 

In hindsight, I was being prepared to understand what it would take not just to exist, but to live: to actually enjoy life- not quite the way they sell it to you, with a non-consequential sense of pleasure-seeking or the reckless approach of doing 'what I want, when I want,' but with the diligent stewardship of my time by listening to my purpose and committedly investing in that.
2014 brought great changes too- by Spring of that year I had a new job that was a perfect fit for who I was at the time: a person seeking growth, mentorship, community, and a job where I could be myself and allow the use of my gifts, personality, and who I was as a person to inform what I did at work everyday. I wanted my work life to be an extension of the new sense of goodness I had already found, not a hindrance to it. 

My career at Lululemon was the perfect thing at the perfect time, I can't say it any better than that. I grew and challenged myself in ways I never thought I could- or would want to. It was necessary for me on my journey to be in a work environment where I could walk through the door every day with a sense of fun about my job from both the people I worked with and the work that I did. 

Authenticity was possible there and I loved bringing that to my job too. It is rare to walk into work everyday and actually love it, to smile and be engaged with a real sense of light and joy. I met distinctly amazing people on a professional and personal level: whether at or through Lululemon, simply put, I met the people who would have the greatest impact on my life, who have become my truest friends on a soul-deep level. It is amazing how you can meet people and in two short years feel like you have known them forever.
I've looked back at this professional journey too in the past few weeks as I prepare to move away, and there is a bittersweetness to all of it: I felt a need for growth beyond being a part-time sales person at about the one year mark, but being a manager proved too demanding of my time and creative energy- and this was largely due to an increase in my creative world over the past year too.

While I was growing in my job I was growing personally too, becoming more creative, fueling my work with the new-found sense of wonder I had been cultivating since coming back from Peru, and painting became an undeniably necessary love, an un-ignorable passion that would lead me away from what was 'good' for me and towards what would be greater for me.

I also continued growing in the most important way of all: spiritually, in God. Really and truly committing to becoming the person- in grace, character, morality, love, and freedom- that the Lord desires of me that I had paid no real attention to before. The shift from 'always anxiously planning life' to trusting it; from being 'too smart for my own good' to being humble; from doing things to make life meaningful and successful to becoming something meaningful and successful myself through the Lord, this would be the greatest growth of all, the one that would really change everything.
I don't know if it would have been possible to honestly learn anything other than the awareness of God after a three month total surrender of everything I thought I was. In hindsight I see that going away to Peru was the catalyst that changed my perspective in both literal and supernatural ways- and not temporarily, but eternally. 

Something happens to you when you have to get up every day, and get dressed nice, and go earn a paycheck to buy a house and get more stuff- and that is that very arbitrarily, and quietly, perhaps without your noticing it, you place ultimate value on those things because they are what you happen to be working for- not because they are inherently valuable. You may even forget to value yourself in your constant pursuit of them.

They become your primary option. Before you know it you're living for them- but they aren't satisfying and they don't fulfill- and yet they turn into the foundation on which you build a family, a career, a sense of morality, or an entire life. Then perhaps when really valuable things are presented to you- beautiful things like love or God or adventure or freedom- you do not know how to take them because the things you thought you owned actually own you. 

And I reflect on this too as I get ready for change: what you choose to love determines who you are.
But something else happens to you when you have to get up every day, and for no pay, put your hair up and your tee shirt and shorts on; and you don't even think about appearance or image because it's more practical and safer to be inconspicuous than noticed; and you have to take a crowded bus down a dirt road to travel up a mountainside to teach children their ABCs in a small wooden building with no roof. You can't live for things anymore once you do that, and you can't honestly tell yourself that life is about you anymore, because your sense of you changes: not because you're thinking about it, but because you're seeing it, in real life. 

There is more to this whole experience than personal happiness, and until you learn not to 'demolish the self' or 'become less selfish,' but to actively love something more than you love yourself, your own happiness will elude you too.

You realize something important that God wants us all to realize, and that is that you are not more worthy than the next person (not your friend, not your neighbor, not your co-worker, not your spouse) of anything in any way. This is humbling news for the person who has never been anything but the center of their own universe (like me)- but it is also chain-breaking, freedom-inducing news, that you are here to help your fellow man; you are here to love one another without condition.

You are not here to have it all or to be entitled or to be the smartest, trendiest, most brilliant person in the room. You are to set your soul on fire for something other than yourself, and to conscientiously engage the lives of the people around you in whatever unique way God has gifted you to do so- but for God, not for you.
This, I learned, is love- and it begins and ends with how we relate to God, to Love itself. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Once I understood this, it became impossible to love others because of this or because of that. Love in our culture is messy and manipulative and strategic and emotional; it is up-and-down or wild and crazy or must be earned or proven. 

But Love from God is pure. It is character-driven, intentional, forgiving, creative, and a mature choice that we make daily with and for whoever the Lord puts in our life. It's not something we fall or drift into, it's something we pursue, and choose. This principle runs throughout everything we do in life: there are a lot of things I would not be doing now if I had not sought God when I came home from Peru; there are a lot of things I would not be thinking about at all if I were not first thinking about God. 

If you choose God each day- seek Him, concern yourself more with His opinion of you than others' opinions of you, try to act in the character of Christ and not your own self-protective human character- then you are in with the author of your story. You can't ever be lost, and you can't ever be worthless. You can't ever be sure of the future either, of course, but you can't do that anyway.

The things we fall into out of habit, we fall into out of habit. But the things we love are choices we have to make- many times requiring risk and always requiring honesty, vulnerability, and commitment. What we choose to love decides everything. If we don't choose to love, that decides everything too. 'Making no choice' is making a choice- the consequence of which is drifting.
And so the decision to move to Colorado. It comes down to seeing the nature of what it means to choose in spite of fear. 2015 was a year of lots of adventures: lots of choosing to buy experiences instead of things, and that commitment has inevitably lead to what's coming next (not that I know exactly what that will look like). I've learned that God sometimes holds you in a place you might very well like to move away from because He's trying to change something inside of you before you're allowed to take the next step. In your timing, you would be there already; but God is concerned with your heart: with who you are becoming, not where you are going. 

This seems challenging, but it is the only way to ensure growth. Life's ultimate mission is inner; it only manifests externally. The life you live is a reflection of what you carry in your heart.

It has taken me almost 28 years to learn, but you can at any time choose to stop carrying what hurts you and pick up what grows you. When you choose the Lord, there is something about the way you live- however challenging, however bittersweet at times; however heartbroken or disappointed or imperfect or hurt you may be- that shows the world something it would not see otherwise, and that is a person in love with life to an extent that seems impossible- but is not. 
"Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." 
-Fr. Pedro Arrupe


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