Falling Upward

Okay, so it’s not orange, but this is Florida’s fall all the same.

It’s officially fall, so what better time than now, to “fall upward.” This is the title of a Richard Rohr book I’m reading. I highlighted nearly everything in it. I plan to host a book study to dig further into his words. But for today, here are a few colorful nuggets to ponder:

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Far too many people just keep doing repair work on the container itself and never “throw their nets into the deep” (John 21:6) to bring in the huge catch that awaits them. (page one)

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Unless you build your first house well, you will never leave it. To build your house well is, ironically, to be nudged beyond its doors. (page twenty-three)

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Japanese communities created a communal ritual whereby a soldier was publicly thanked and praised effusively for his service to the people. After this was done at great length, an elder would stand and announce with authority something to this effect: “The war is now over! The community needs you to let go of what has served you and served us well up to now. The community needs you to return as a man, a citizen, and something beyond a soldier.” In our men’s work, we call this process discharging your loyal soldier. Western people are a ritual starved people, and in this are different than most of human history. (page forty-four)

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It has been said that 90 percent of people seem to live 90 percent of their lives on cruise control, which is to be unconscious. (page ninety, ironically)

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The common word for this inner abiding place of the Spirit, which is also a place of longing, has usually been the word soul. We have our soul already–we do not get it by any purification process or by joining any group or from the hands of a bishop. The end is already planted in us at the beginning, and it gnaws away at us until we get there freely and consciously. The most a Bishop or sacrament can do is to “fan (this awareness) into flame” (2 Timothy 1:6), and sometimes it does. But sometimes great love and great suffering are even bigger fans for this much-needed flame. (page ninety-one)

Living in Discomfort

Image from cnn.com.

“There is no practical or compelling reason to leave one’s present comfort zone in life. Why should you or would you? Frankly, none of us do unless and until we have to. The invitation probably has to be unexpected and unsought. If we seek spiritual heroism ourselves, the old ego is just back in control under a new name. There would not really be any change at all, but only disguise. Just bogus ‘self-improvement’ on our own terms.” –Richard Rohr

I’m reading Father Rohr’s book, Falling Upward, a Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. There’s little that I haven’t underlined. I suppose when the invitation to leave one’s comfort zone is “unexpected and unsought,” things from within challenge things in the exterior. The two halves of life, as Rohr explains, are not confined to chronology. A child suffering with cancer for example, can move into a “second half,” while an elderly person can be stalled in the “first half.” 

I had no intentions of bringing Hurricane Dorian into my writing today, but I suppose, with it still out there, it managed to make landfall in my mind. Heavy sigh. 

So, I’ll just go with it. 

Have you ever felt like life’s circumstances are like a slow, unpredictable Dorian storm? Enough already, right? Not to say I understand the tragedy Bahamians now face; but living on Florida’s east coast, I understand pre-hurricane angst and the desire to decisively know a storm’s magnitude and path. Please tell me how much this is going to hurt and for how long, so I can just maybe control the outcome. Yet, even with sophisticated technology, our meteorologists still can’t make predictions with 100 percent accuracy. As much as we want to know, we just are not all-knowing. 

Falling Upward somehow seems relevant in Florida’s current weather forecasts as I ponder order and disorder and the known and unknown. If it’s not a hurricane, it’s a fire, a tornado, a mud slide; or maybe an earthquake, dust storm, or flood. Although I mean this literally, I of course, mean this metaphorically too. Life is painful. In the end, I’m reminded (at least for today) that life isn’t necessarily about nailing a clear path, but perhaps discovering a little bit more of myself, a second-half self, in life’s unpredictable and sometimes uncomfortable path. 

Expo Sneak Peak

My relaunch exhibition is approaching quickly, in eight weeks to be almost exact; so, I thought I’d provide some sneak peaks heading into the event. I will be showcasing two collections of short stories accompanied by black-and-white photography. Today I’ll leave you with the overview for Collection #1: I Am Momentous Living: better self. better world.

These short stories and images explore the meaning of words through the experiences of uniquely diverse individuals. They’re not meant for comparison to one’s own story. But rather, they are meant for contemplation, exploration, and expansion. 

Surrender: Michelle Chira-Carlton.
One weekend Michelle spontaneously packed a small suitcase and headed to Orlando International Airport, having no idea of her destination. She unplugged from technology, engaged with people, and walked thirteen miles her first day.
It was her intentional practice to plan nothing more than staying present in each moment.
–photo by Dylan Baker

Control: Clark Ketcham. There’s comfort in orderly outcomes where calculated decisions reap desired results, like hard work plus honesty equals some version of the proverbial American Dream. But what happens when control is not an option? When hard work and honesty end with something outside of our control, like a debilitating disease?

Enough: Doris Tomljenovich. When Doris was four, her six-year-old sister died from complications with measles. Doris was close to her older sister, but at that age, she doesn’t necessarily remember grieving. What she does remember is feeling like she no longer was enough, that she couldn’t fill the unfillable hole left from her sister’s passing. Now at eighty-five, Doris’ life has proven to be more than enough. 

Gritty: Nicole Cordova. After aging out of foster care, Nicole was determined not to allow her past to define who she is today and to not fall victim to any of the many discouraging foster care statistics. However, as a young adult and pre-med student, she now understands why the stats are what they are.  

Growth: Vern Seward. Before the Peace Corps, Vern was adjusting to retirement from Lockheed Martin. He had plenty to do, lots of places to be, and close friends. But something seemed missing.

Life: Alan and Leslie Chambers. How does one stay in a heterosexual marriage in the throes of gay tendencies while remaining grounded in self and interdependence with spouse? And how does one do this with the added pressure of staying the course of a highly public and controversial profession that creates opportunities for faith-based and LGBTQ communities to enter into healthy dialogue? 

Stars: Shoshanna Ravede and family. Shoshana was born with chromosome 16 deletion, a disorder that causes mental and physical delays. When she joined Girls on the Run, a program that teaches life skills and character development through noncompetitive running, she walked with ankle braces and no more than one mile. Ten weeks later, linking arms with her teammates, she finished the end-of-the-season celebratory 5K, walking 3.1 miles free of braces. Her family has been behind her every step of the way. 

Vision: Bobby Blackmon. When Bobby’s eyesight suddenly left him at age five, he was watching his neighbor’s chickens through the window. Bobby describes that frightening experience as, “The day the chickens disappeared.” Now in his 40s, Bobby is a fulltime motivational speaker, poet, recording artist and author whose message focuses on positive transformation.  

Awaken Your Mermaid

There’s a mermaid half marathon Nov. 24. I want to run it because it involves mermaids, but I’ve been hem hawing about it. My running has always been inconsistent. I like running. But I don’t.

I love signing up for Fun Runs though, and immersing myself in all the positive energy. So when Track Shack included an 8-week 5K and a 13-week Half Marathon training plan in its latest Start Line publication, I thought, if I am going to conquer the Mermaid Half, then I really should start thinking about training for it. Ugh. That means I have to start running more than my hit-or-miss 20-minute treadmill running in my air conditioned gym. That means I have to sweat. That means this mermaid needs to get her tail moving.

But then I was thinking, why do a mermaid half by myself? It’s time to rally my mermaid troops and swim this thing together. It will be fun. And magical. And deeply invigorating. And those who don’t want to conquer the half, can conquer the Fountain of Youth 5K. We will be in this thing together regardless of the chosen distance.

So here’s my first rally cry. Who’s up for a mermaid run? I might even have a special mermaid logo to plaster on ourselves for such an occasion. And…drum roll please…we can add sparkles!!!

And in case you didn’t know, mermaids remind us that we each have a beautiful free spirit deep within us.

So’s who’s up for swimming…I mean running (or walking if you choose)? Let’s end the year moving our tails and have fun doing it. Let me know if you’re in.

Check out the details here.

Words to Live By

“I was quickly reminded of the many facets of fences:
white picket, wrought iron, wood, and chain link to name just a few.”

I pay attention to words more than ever. Not because I know them well. On the contrary. But because little words trip us up in big ways. 

Take the word “fence” for example. I once used this word in a story, only to confuse a fellow writer. She, having grown up in New York City, didn’t understand my fence. From the perspective of my rural upbringing, I had assumed my readers would visualize barbed wire corralling livestock. I was quickly reminded of the many facets of fences: white picket, wrought iron, wood, and chain link to name just a few. 

The word “respect” is another example, and one that gets thrown around a lot. We all want it. We award it sparingly. But how do we define respect? It wasn’t until midlife that I realized the ambiguity of this word, a word that supposedly anchors marriage vows and corporate values.

And how about the word “problem?” In mathematics, formulaic solutions solve problems. They’re expected and meant to be answered. They’re not necessarily viewed as negative like with life’s subjective, angst-ridden tribulations, as in “Houston, we have a problem.” In one arena, problems are welcomed. In another, we prefer they go away, 

Multiple factors, such as experiences, education, gender, ethnicity, culture, and age, play into our preconceived ideas about words and ultimately how well we communicate. Sometimes better communication simply begins with better words.  

Life is Better with Clean Teeth

Ahhh, the feeling of super clean teeth free from barnacle build-up. That’s how I feel this week after Monday’s dental appointment. 

By the time my six-month cleaning comes around, tartar takes over my front lower teeth, driving me nuts. I am religious about brushing three times a day, but I floss only semi-regularly. Needless to say, my dental hygienist always finds plenty to chisel away.

I can’t help but relate my little teeth-cleaning saga to emotional health. I think it’s just good practice to regularly check in with trusted others to prevent internal buildup of disheartening stuff that, if left unattended, could later require a lot of chiseling. 

Here’s to clean teeth and happy smiles!

The Land of Oblivion

When we enter an airport, something happens. Perhaps the “something” has to do with leaving behind a mundane existence to enter into something more exciting or more important. Regardless of what the “something” is or what is behind the “something,” we enter into the land of oblivion.

You know what I’m talking about. Someone disembarks the airplane and stops. Meanwhile all the other passengers bottleneck behind him/her.

Or you’re trying to walk on one of those moving conveyor floors (which I love!), but travelers with big, bulky luggage trap you behind their immobile bodies. Your speedy pace, which you were quite invigorated by, comes to a sudden and frustrating halt––conveyor belt etiquette clearly ignored.

And you can actually be on a photo shoot at Orlando International Airport, directing photos of your subject, when tourists enter into the photo shoot and ask said subject if she can take photos of them. Not just one photo, but multiple photos from multiple angles. Meanwhile, your hired photographer patiently waits his turn.

Oblivion.

Be aware because it attacks when you least expect it, most especially at an airport.

Get the picture?

On from Pride Month and into Another Month

Pride Month has passed, a distinction that honors the 1969 uprising in Greenwich Village when police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar.

According to Britannica.com, “In the early morning hours of Saturday, June 28, 1969, nine policemen entered the Stonewall Inn, arrested the employees for selling alcohol without a license, roughed up many of its patrons, cleared the bar, and—in accordance with a New York criminal statute that authorized the arrest of anyone not wearing at least three articles of gender-appropriate clothing—took several people into custody. It was the third such raid on Greenwich Village gay bars in a short period.”

Instead of scattering, people outside the bar began to “jeer at and jostle the police and then threw bottles and debris.” The policemen barricaded themselves inside the bar while some 400 people rioted and eventually set fire to the bar. Police reinforcements arrived in time to extinguish the flames and eventually dispersed the crowd.

I remember my dad asking me in the ’80s what I thought about homosexuality. I was in college and was thrilled he was interested in my opinion. I said something to the affect of, “I don’t understand it, but I embrace the people.” Today, I still land here, not understanding much more, but knowing I love the gay people in my life simply because they’re human.

Interviewing Alan and Leslie Chambers on June 19, ironically the 6th anniversary of the closing of Exodus International. Photo taken by Dylan Baker

I’m working on a story about Alan and Leslie Chambers that will be displayed with nine other stories in a fall exhibit called, “I am Momentous Living.” These short stories and black-and-white images will explore the meaning of words through the experiences of uniquely diverse individuals. Their stories are not meant for comparison to one’s own story. But rather, they are meant for contemplation, exploration, and expansion.  Alan, who confesses to having gay tendencies but chooses a heterosexual life, is the former president of Exodus, an organization that was known for, among other things, as trying to “pray away the gay.” Alan stepped down as president and closed Exodus’ doors in 2013, believing more harm was being done than good, and giving a public apology covered by mainstream media that created quite the stir. Today, Alan, with Leslie’s support, creates opportunities for the LGBTQ and religious communities to come together in constructive dialogue believing those efforts build bridges with healthier outcomes. Alan and Leslie are often scrutinized, but have grown to be okay with that, as they remain focused on, “Love God. Love people.”

As we move on from Pride Month and into another month, I join with Alan and Leslie in saying that love is a great place to stay focused…with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our minds, with all our strength.

Nine Signs of a Healthy Relationship

Recently, a brochure caught my eye: “9 Signs of a Healthy Relationship,” written by Carol Rawleigh and published by Journeyworks. The words “communication” and “respect” were printed above the headline. I speak of the importance of both these words in my book, Momentous Living; and thus, I couldn’t help but pick up the brochure and read it. It was so well done that I thought I’d share it for contemplation or perhaps conversation with a teen or young adult in your life.

Number One: You can be yourself!

You can express yourself honestly. You can be different from one another and enjoy those differences. Your partner appreciates you for who you are. You are glad to have your partner’s support, but don’t need approval.

Number Two: You feel free to…

Spend time apart, enjoy other friends, be with your family, stay true to your own values, speak your honest opinion, keep up with the activities and interests that are important to you.

Number Three: Your partner hears what you say.

Your partner shows interest in you by taking the time to listen. Your partner looks at you when you talk and lets you finish. Your partner accepts your feelings, ideas and opinions as your own. When one of you is upset, you feel safe enough to talk things out in a respectful manner.

Number Four: You can agree to disagree. (I would add, on things that are not of utmost importance. In my opinion, things such as the wellness of self or others should not be jeopardized by agreeing to disagree.)

You can each give a little to come to an agreement or take turns making decisions. If you have a disagreement, you talk it out and don’t let anger build up.

Number Five: Your partner respects your boundaries.

You can say: “I can’t be with you every minute.” “Don’t tease me in that way.” “I don’t want to have sex.” “I can’t make a decision right now. I need time to think.” With your partner, you feel connected not controlled.

Number Six: You are honest with each other.

You build trust by being honest and kind, even if the truth is disappointing. For example: “I forgot. You’re right to be upset. I’m sorry.” Or, “I like you but I’m not sure how serious I want to be. Let’s take our time and see how things work out.” Your partner is responsible for his or her own behavior and doesn’t blame others.

Number Seven: You have fun together.

You can relax, laugh and enjoy every day simple things together. For example, you enjoy a walk to a park or a cookout with family. Being quiet together is ok too. You don’t feel you have to talk or be busy every minute.

Number Eight: Your partner uses language that lifts you up.

Words that: Encourage: “I believe you can do it!” Notice: “I like how you are patient with your grandmother.” Respect: “I’ll put on these earphones so you can read.” Appreciate: “Thank you for helping out.” Invite: “Would you like to go to the festival tomorrow?” Point out the positive: “You have a great smile!”

Number Nine: You take your time to get to know each other.

You spend time together talking about what each of you values and cares about. You talk about where you think your relationship might go and how it might be different in a month or year. You accept that we all grow and change–and relationships do to.

Six Daily Principles I Learned from Finishing a 50K

The year I turned 50, I completed a 50K having never run a marathon. I like to call this experience “my 31 miles of introspection.” It was hard. Daunting. Sweltering hot. I made the decision to conquer this feat to achieve a goal during a season that lacked structure and seemingly no clear direction, while also sweating out impurities (aka stress) and proving something to myself (and maybe to a few select others). I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing what I did in the manner in which I did it; but for me, a 50K finish taught me six daily principles: 

  1. Explore. Learn. Grow. I’m often amazed at the things my sons do and when I ask, “How did you learn that?” They inevitably say, “YouTube” or “a podcast.” In our tech world, knowledge is at our fingertips. I didn’t have any idea how to tackle a 50K, but a more experienced runner online did. I printed his plan and followed it. In our Information Age, there are no excuses for excuses.  
  2. Be a goal getter. Prioritize what you need to accomplish every day. And do it. If you don’t achieve your daily goals, reset yourself and move on. I couldn’t always make my training happen. In fact, I missed two important long runs. But because I had a plan with an end in mind, I was able to adjust and continue forward.
  3. Add fun and accountability. Reward yourself for small successes and find your tribe. Meaningful incentives and comradery of community can rally you through the lows, making for a happier, healthier, and more exhilarating experience. 
  4. Reduce the big BUTS. “I could have done better, BUT it was too hot…BUT my clothes were chafing…BUT I was thirsty…” BUT. BUT. BUT. We don’t have to run to feel the weight of big BUTS. Life is full of them. Rid yourself of the ones you can. Figure out how to manage the ones you can’t. Speaking of…
  5. Focus on the cans. Not the cannots. Why use limited energy and time on things beyond your control? Instead, ask, “What can I do in this situation?” And then do it. I had no control over the heat race day. I could however, hydrate, fuel as needed, and adjust my pace. 
  6. Take one day/task/step at a time. I’ve heard successful entrepreneurs say that in the beginning they didn’t know what they were doing, so they focused on what was in front of them and did that. In other words, they took what was overwhelming and broke it down into manageable steps. They stayed in the now. Quite literally, that’s how I finished a 50K. Although I knew where the finish was, I couldn’t focus on it because it was too far away. I set my sights on overcoming one mile at a time. 

People have told me, “I hate running. I could never run a 50K.” I don’t always enjoy running either. Right now, in fact, I spend my time at the gym and riding my bike. Signing up for a 50K had nothing to do with running. Rather, it had everything to do with entering into something bigger than myself and learning how to persevere and ultimately overcome––principles I apply every single day. 

What’s your 50K?