All Right All Right There’s a Land

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all right all right there’s a land
where forgetting where forgetting weighs
gently upon worlds unnamed
there the head we shush it the head is mute
and one knows but one knows nothing
the song of dead mouths dies
on the shore it made its voyage
there is nothing to mourn

my loneliness I know it oh well I know it badly
I have the time is what I tell myself I have time
but what time famished bone the time of the dog
of a sky incessantly paling my grain of sky
of the climbing ray ocellate trembling
of microns of years of darkness

you want me to go from A to B I cannot
I cannot come out I’m in a traceless land
yes yes it’s a fine thing you’ve got there a mighty fine thing
what is that ask me no more questions
spiral dust of instants what is this the same
the calm the love the hate the calm the calm

-Samuel Beckett, bon bon il est une pays

The Quiet Life

photograph retrieved from tumblr.com, faking-glory

photograph retrieved from tumblr.com, faking-glory

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.

-1 Thessolonians 4:11

I never liked the sounds of living a “quiet life” until I learned what it meant.

Quiet life. It sounded to me like silence, a suppression of opinion, decoration, opposition. It looked like a barefooted young person sitting crisscross in the center of a rugless hardwood floor, with a mattress shoved under the window, a couple library books stacked on a stool of a nightstand, and a cup of water glistening on the windowsill. It sounded like restriction—the ability to have that piece of candy but refusing it because pleasure was an accessory. Recognized accomplishments seemed out of the question, because it sounded like the quiet life allowed the essential and nothing more. It seemed stripped down past the point of comfort, bearing the expectation that you look around that room, at your remaining belongings, at your lack of experience and believe, this is enough. It is enough to make unglamorous wages at a standardized job and go home to minimalism.

Saints and hippies and meditative beings practiced living quiet lives, and because I had a fascination with perfect peace, the concept of a living a quiet life became glorified while remaining secretly unappealing.

Why was it secretly unappealing? Because the inside of me was cluttered, and my messy, artistic environment reflected that. Because I liked Christmas gifts. Because I liked things. Because I had expensive taste. Because I liked to create—stories and drawings and clothing out of plastic grocery bags and an air hockey table made out of construction paper—and wanted those special, yet flimsy, materialistic things to mean something. Because I wanted a big wedding. Because I believed I was supposed to accomplish something great. Because I was a complex person that desired a full life.

And, I’ll be honest—I wanted to be recognized. I would have happily given the glory to God, yes; but I was also after proof of self-value, thinking it might lie in an accomplishment instead of Him.

In late elementary school, I was deeply curious as to what the purpose of an earthly life was if the things we made and did and said during that time had the potential to be destroyed or forgotten. There seemed something selfish about pleasure that came from earthly things and something pointless about the temporary—which, admittedly, seemed to apply to everything.

At twenty-one, I understand now that this earthly life is, in fact, important—and that my doubt had derived from trying to measure life by the temporary instead of the permanent. By what is remembered in catalogs and documentaries by generations to come instead of what is remembered by God Himself. By what can be destroyed, rather than that which cannot.

What I was getting wrong all along is that the quiet life is, in fact, about substance. The difference lies in where that substance is located: internally, or strictly externally? It has little to do with materialistic minimalism or excess. It had a lot more to do with spiritualistic simplicity.

It is said heaven can be experienced on earth. My childhood creations may have been flimsy, but what they brought—joy or laughter or insight—are everlasting spiritual entities. Pleasure born of pure intent and unique talent may produce objects of fleeting existence, but that which they bring within that time is not unimportant. And I realized that God’s creations—us—are temporary on an earthly level as well. Flimsy. Easily broken by the roll of truck, the shot of a gun, the heat of infection or a tick of time. But the eternal things which store up for ourselves here and what we experience in richness on earth is purposeful, and though temporary in a timely sense, perfectly permanent.

We use our gifts to create gifts. Gifts breed gifts, and because of this, the abundance of this life becomes obvious if we choose to recognize and experience them. God delights in our delight.

We were born for abundance. God loves giving. Sometimes His gifts are material, necessary for earthly life or simply to make it better. A gift is more about the way it makes us feel and smile and sing and the way we use it than the novel or possessive aspect. Sometimes His gifts are simple and direct in form: an opportunity, an inexplicable swell of joy, a friend who knocked on your door just in time.

Abundance might not always look like what we expect. In fact, it might like look a near-empty room, a low paycheck, a less-than-thrilling job, even an unmet desire. But I believe it’s 100% possible to live an outrageously obnoxious life regardless of how much or how little you have. I believe the same for the quiet life.

Living a quiet life doesn’t always equate to living in silence, beneath the surface, or under the radar. You can, believe it or not, be the president of the United States and choose a quiet life. It’s less about what you have and more about what you do with what you have. Less about what you’re known for and more about what you know to be true. It’s about living purely for intimate purposes than to please the masses, whether your life has an audience of twenty-two or twenty-two million.

The quiet life is now appealing to me. Why? Because it doesn’t mean I have to be quiet. It doesn’t mean I can’t strive to become a successful writer. It doesn’t mean I have to sell all my things and donate the money, ignore an RSVP to a high-end New Year’s party that requires a fancy dress, or clam up and stop posting my thoughts on this blog. It just means my motivations to do these things are driven with permanency in mind, instead of the temporary.

My life is arranged differently now. Even the way my environment looks has changed. Before moving to my new apartment, I got rid of things that don’t matter, as well as things that did matter but would be better off mattering to someone else instead. I’m practicing mindfulness. Everything is cleaner on the outside because I’m cleaner on the inside.

In An Instant

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We open windows to each but we live alone in the house of the heart. Perhaps we must….all hearts finally are bruised and scarred, scored and torn, repaired by time and will, patched by force of character, yet fragile and rickety forevermore, no matter how ferocious the defense and how many bricks you bring to the wall. You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman’s second glance, a child’s apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words, “I have something to tell you,” a cat with a broken spine dragging itself into the forest to die, the brush of your mother’s paper ancient hand in the thicket of your hair, the memory of your father’s voice early in the morning echoing from the kitchen where he is making pancakes for his children.

-Brian Doyle, Joyas Valardores

Ten Ways to Train Your Brain

I recently read a fascinating article in Time magazine titled “The Science of Bouncing Back,” where the author, Mandy Oaklander, explored the characteristic of resilience.

“Forget the old adage that you won’t know what you’re made of until you’re tested,” states the article. “The latest science shows that if you train your brain, how you act under pressure can, in large part, be up to you.”

Resilience is all about how a person reacts in the midst of stressful situations. Whether that be getting fired from a job, experiencing the loss of a loved one or serving in combat situations, stress comes in all shapes and sizes, as does one’s ability to deal with them.

Science shows that some people are more naturally equipped than others. Navy SEALs, for example, are a group the word “resilience” is often tied to, and for good reason.

“In a series of brain-imaging experiments on resilient Navy SEALs, [scientific director and president of the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Okla Martin] Paulus showed the SEALs a color cue that signaled they were about to see an emotional picture,” Oaklander wrote. “Paulus saw that their brains anticipated the emotion more quickly than the average brain, letting them jump nimbly between different types of emotions.”

The top characteristics resilient people share include optimism, emotional control, mindfulness and positive response to failure, according to psychologists.

Essentially, big-picture strength is the result of small reactions. And though it’s true some are simply born better equipped to effectively handle discomfort, studies show that taking certain measures can quiet the brain’s fear receptors in favor of a more pliable, constructive connection.

“Just like working your biceps or your abs, say experts, training your brain can build up strength in the right places–and at the right times–too,” wrote Oaklander.

It’s all about the brain. The article states that the neural pathways that regulate fear are strengthened the more you use them, just like a muscle. Through mindful conditioning, however, different pathways are reinforced and strengthen instead, resulting in a “new response to stress.”

Oaklander wrote: “The most compelling new research about resilience focuses on mindfulness–an area in which most people would do well to improve, since people spend 47% of their days thinking about things other than what they’re actually doing, a 2010 Harvard study found.”

And, the power of the brain was illustrated in the experience of Vietnam POWs:

“[They told doctors] Southwick and Charney that with only two resources–free time and their minds–they were able to do remarkable things they couldn’t do before; one developed a knack for multiplying huge numbers in his head, while another built a house in his imagination (and then later, on solid ground).

‘It said to us that there’s enormous untapped capacity of the human brain,’ Charney says.”

TIME listed ten practices said to improve resilience, as listed below.

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Expert Tips for Resilience:

1. Develop a core set of beliefs that nothing can shake.

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When we map our beliefs, a truth solidifies inside us. This might be found in religious or spiritual practices or simply a personal moral code. Not only does identifying these beliefs lead to sorted priorities and easy decision-making, but it also develops a strength that defines us.

2. Try to find meaning in whatever stressful or traumatic thing has happened.

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Often, explanations bring a strange sort of peace. If we are able to analyze the situation and identify the root of our state, we have something to learn from and move forward with. If explanations are slippery, elusive, then look back at recommendation #1: what are your beliefs? The explanation may lie in them.

3. Try to maintain a positive outlook.

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I once had a friend say, “Think of everything else in your life that is stable.”

It’s the easiest thing in the world to focus on one broken thing and forget about the many other gifts that are still standing. But remembering the reality of the matter–that this will pass–lends a hand to the bigger, brighter picture.

4. Take cues from someone who is especially resilient.

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We all have that person that comes to mind when we are feeling weak. For me, it’s my grandmother who passed away before I was born. She never played the victim, and she never allowed her condition to dictate who she was or how she treated others.

Figure out who that person is for you, and consult them if you are able. It’s likely they’ll have words of advice and support to share.

5. Don’t run from the things that scare you; face them.

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The cliche most popularly delivered from parents to their children might deserve to be reemphasized.

Facing one’s fears challenges the neural pathways that result in fear, and usually, an instinctive aversion to whatever unpleasant experience that’s facing you. By tackling the issue head-on, you’re speeding up a difficult and inevitable process, while refining your confidence in knowing you did dealt with something scary, and can do it again.

6. Be quick to reach out for support when things go haywire.

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Navy SEALs, the most experimentally-proven examples of resilience in modern times, are also surrounded by a close-knit community they like to call brothers. Throughout BUD/S, the intense training course that determines whether or not militants earn a spot in this brotherhood, teamwork and reliance on your partner is reiterated over and over again. Abandonment of your partner is unacceptable.

Strength is often misinterpretation as something an individual finds and utilizes on their own. But anyone who says they accomplished anything by themselves is lying.

Drop your pride and seek the support of others.

7. Learn new things as often as you can.

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The more experienced and knowledgeable you are, the more confident and comfortable you will feel tackling new tasks and challenges.

Read. Talk to people who are younger and more lighthearted than you, peers who are going through similar things as you, elderly people who are more wise than you. Become an expert on something interesting. Learn how to shoot a gun. Find a new recipe to try. Accept an invitation to go dancing, even if you don’t know the steps.

Choosing your own challenges will better prepare you for the challenges you don’t choose.

8. Find an exercise regimen you’ll stick to.

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Not only does exercise release endorphins that act like booster shots for your mood; it is also shown that strengthening the body is closely linked to a healthy, clear mind.

Those who see and feel results procured from forcing themselves through strenuous physical challenges tend to believe themselves capable of handling strenuous situations. And, because exercise registers as stress to the body and the body has learned to cope with that stress, the body and mind are better conditioned to deal with other antagonisms just as efficiently.

Taking care of your body is worth it. Find a way to move that you enjoy.

9. Don’t beat yourself up or dwell on the past.

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What’s the point? What’s done is done. If your past performance or behavior doesn’t agree with the standards you set for yourself, make present changes and/or amends and move forward.

10. Recognize what makes you uniquely strong, and own it.

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Tapping into what you already have and taking advantage of your unique gifts, talents, abilities, experiences and strengths is the most logical first step toward figuring out who you are and what you can accomplish. What might be easy for you may be difficult for someone else. Appreciate that. Harnessing your strengths and your weaknesses will help you understand yourself, and the deeper you understand yourself, the more sturdy and whole you will feel in the face of struggle.

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Information and list from Time magazine’s “The Science of Bouncing Back” by Mandy Oaklander. 

Commentary following each bullet-point is mine.

Photographs retrieved from Tumblr blog titled vintage-image. Artist unknown.

Eighty Miles an Hour

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Happiness was just outside my window
I thought it’d crash blowing eighty miles an hour
But happiness—a little more like knocking
On your door, and you just let it in

Happiness feels a lot like sorrow
Let it be, you can’t make it come or go
But you are gone—not for good but for now
And gone for now feels a lot like gone for good

Happiness is a firecracker sitting on my headboard
Happiness was never meant to hold
Be careful child, light the fuse and get away
‘Cause happiness throws a shower of sparks

Happiness damn near destroys you
Breaks your faith to pieces on the floor
So you tell yourself, “That’s enough for now.”
Happiness has a violent roar

Happiness is like the old man told me
Look for it, and you’ll never find it all
But let it go, live your life and leave it
Then one day, you’ll wake up and she’ll be home.

Happiness” by Isaac Slade, Joseph King, David Welsh and Benjamin Wysocki

The Speech I Didn’t Give

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~JUNE 5, 2015~

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There are several pictures of the three of us like this. Me on one side, Holly on the other–two towers book-ending petite Kira in the middle.

Sitting on a trolley underneath jungle-green trees in full. Standing beside a bronze statue in Spokane. Birthday parties. Logos graduation.

With eighteen years of friendship comes countless opportunities to snap a photo of that particular time, that particular day. The times we want, and don’t want, to remember. The moment we looked differently, smiled differently, than usual.

The things you can’t find in photographs.

As I dig through boxes of old Wal-Mart printouts and flip through tacky scrapbook pages I decorated at age twelve, scroll through Facebook albums and  swipe through the photographs on my phone, I am caught up in the memories that aren’t documented.

You can’t find us watching The Black Cauldron on Kira’s parents’ bed in the apartment they used to live in, or the three of us climbing a tree so tall it could’ve broken us. There is no record of us punching the wall in her room as we trained to be spies, or teasing Kira’s brother for looking like Aaron Carter with his hair dyed blond, or crawling under the stairs in their new home to eat pizza as the adults moved furniture. No one was out in the fields to snap a picture of the three of us hunting for Osama bin Laden at the old well, or seeking fresh water to clear the rainbow gasoline tracks left behind by farm equipment to clean the environment, or squishing through thick mud my mother had to wipe from our feet with wet rags. The few photographs taken while Isabelle was in the hospital show little girls distracted by the city and forget to show that the little girls were also sad.

There aren’t pictures of us cuddled close together on the bunks in Isabelle’s old room as Marnie read us Mandie mysteries with a different voice for each character, or writing songs and creating dances for our Christian pop band, or laughing so hard after a spaghetti dinner that Kira threw up. No one saw the fight that took place in our upstairs bathroom, when Kira said she’d wished she’d spent the night at Julianne’s instead. No one saw us laughing together a half hour later.

Pictures don’t show us waiting in line to see Harry Potter in IMAX, or making jewelry at Vacation Bible School. There is no proof of the three of us swimming at Blue Lagoon, or shopping for school clothes, or transporting from one house to the next as freshly licensed drivers. No one saw the tears over the phone, or the coffee shop dates, or the nightly walks and the sleepovers that lasted well into college.

But that’s okay. Those things happened and more, and the only three people who really need to remember is us.

This past Friday, June 5, 2015, Holly and I were in a wedding. It just so happened to be Kira’s.

Kira never thought she’d marry young, let alone marry someone after eight months of knowing the man, but if there’s anything the three of us solidly know it’s that things change instantly. The plans you have shatter. The people you know mean more or less to you than they did seconds ago. Things fall apart so new things can come together.

Chase Guyer shattered Kira’s plans in the best way possible. And there aren’t any pictures of the day he yelled her name across the street to get her attention, but there are many pictures of the days following.

It seemed fitting that the guest book be replaced with Polaroid photos of their guests, hung on a zig-zagging line by clothespins. Pictures mean so much more than signatures on a page.

There are many, many pictures that show how much Kira and Chase are loved.

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One of the most special things about being a bridesmaid in Kira’s wedding was the fact that every girl standing next to me in a purple floor-length gown were the same friends Kira has had since childhood.

Holly, Abby, Sarah, Kendyl, Julianne–they were soccer jerseys and pajama parties and birthday cake. They are familiar names and faces. They are tied to Kira by their own unique threads, and never allowed the separation of place or age collapse the space between them.

There we were, with longer limbs and wiser minds and university transcripts. I doubt I’m the only one who found it surreal to be facing the dressing room mirror, sliding lipstick over my mouth with an expertise I wouldn’t have had ten years ago, when we played dress-up with old clothing and mother’s makeup.

I got the pleasure of swapping stories with these girls and laughing to tears in the days leading up to the wedding. It made the, How did we get here? realization sweeter, more special, than it would have been without.

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It’s difficult for a beautiful girl to look anything less, but I have to reiterate that Kira looked breathtakingly beautiful on her wedding day.

The sixties-style makeup, side-swept hair, and curve-hugging white dress with tiny buttons trailing down her spine and cinched with an ornate black belt was a solid mix of retro and rad and sexy elegance. But what I felt most secure in was her disposition. It was obvious that Chase’s presence in her life had brought to center stage the best parts of Kira, the sweet, strong, wise parts that those who loved her saw even when she didn’t.

I think when she looked in the mirror that day, she finally saw those things. I think she finally saw herself.

Photographs were taken all day, but like most best things, I don’t have a photograph of that. I wished I did, so that if she ever forgot, I could remind her.

And then I realize that Chase will be there to do that for the rest of her life, much better than a photograph ever could.

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I didn’t give a speech at the wedding, but if I had, I would’ve said this:

Make God the centerpiece of your marriage. Don’t panic when things aren’t perfect. Never stop adventuring or getting to know one another. Compromise when necessary and go to bed at the same time every night. Don’t stop pursuing one another just because the dating process is complete. Save money, but spend it, too. Don’t listen to anyone who says marriage is really hard. Don’t listen to anyone who says marriage is really easy. Know that love is a verb. Look at one another when the other person isn’t paying attention. Take heart. God is so, so good.

Kira and Chase, it is evident you are bold and love people well. I don’t just wish you the best–I see the best.

Growing Pains

photographer unknown

photographer unknown

Taking the easy way out has never been recommended. But how often have you been encouraged to ease your way into something? To approach a challenge slowly, wincing in anticipation, in hopes of accomplishing something great?

How many have tried this approach, and found it as mediocre as taking the easy way out?

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The most efficient way to grow is to attempt something hard. Not mildly challenging, not slightly uncomfortable, but hard. Hard enough that you might want to quit sometimes. Hard enough that there is the possibility of failure.

We give up long-term satisfaction because of present pain. Don’t do that. Failing and quitting are two different things. Trying and failing is honorable. Quitting to avoid failure is not.

Satisfaction is the reward of success.

You have to chuck your pride and be all in, all the time. You have to believe that 100% is enough, regardless of the result. Not all growth happens through suffering, but growth does require varying levels of sacrifice and tediousness and energy we have to dig deep to find if we want to reform our lives, our minds, our bodies, our spirits, and our hearts.

Extended periods of comfort equals laziness. It creates blind spots. Fortunately, we have a choice.

There is always something to better. There is always something to learn. It’s in our nature to seek development, and to cut that quest short discredits your abilities and stunts your potential.

It’s called growing pains for a reason. It’s going to hurt. It’s supposed to hurt, because without pain, you don’t move.