Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Look of Devastation

A few months ago, Hurricane Irene blew in, causing major flooding on the street where my family and I live. The water came up the street in a matter of hours, rising onto the first floors in almost all the homes on the street before succeeding. The destruction was extensive- foundations collapsed, mold moved in, and many things were destroyed. In the aftermath, we were labeled as victims of the hurricane in the radio in and in the news.

I updated Facebook a few times after the hurricane with pictures of the gaping hole in the side of our house, as well as the water damage, and the garbage piles that littered the street. But those pictures were a minimal representation of what flood damage looks like. The water on the street, and the lines it leaves on the walls when it's gone- those are things that everyone expects to see. But they are not the true pictures of what the devastation of a flood looks like.

The real pictures of devastation look like this:

The wedding pictures, laid on tables, and in the driveways, and on the lawn, their colors bleeding together as their owners try to separate them in hopes they will dry, before all of them are destroyed.

Red condemnation notices scattered among the doors of the street.

The box of baby clothes, shoes, books, toys, and furniture, strewn on the top of the garbage pile, as the mother of a ten year old walks away, trying not to think about the memories she doesn't have anymore.

A shut-in's son, returning to the home where just days before, his mother was evacuated by boat, crying about how she'd lived in the house her entire life, to collect the last of her belongings to bring them to her in the nursing home where she now lives.

The do not enter signs placed at the top of the street, to keep scavengers and rubberneckers, curious to see what people have been through.

Month by Month contracts that the people sign, waiting on insurance to fix their homes, hoping that they'll only be out of their homes for a short time, even though they've already been out of them for weeks.

Large green and yellow dumpsters, being parked in front of houses where work is being done, filled to the brim with carpeting, furniture, and memories.

These are the pictures that I remember after the flood- not the actual water, but that which it left behind.

Don't worry though- there's more.

Because even though these are the pictures of devastation, they aren't the only pictures. No story only has one side. These images may be a clear representation of the victimization that we've been labeled with- but they aren't a clear representation of the people who live on my street.

When I think of these people, I see a picture of all the neighbors, people who have never gotten to know each other or spent any time together, huddled tightly, talking about how their rebuilding is going, and how they can help each other.

I see the baker down the street leaving boxes of muffins on the front porches of those who moved back in to their homes after a long night at work, just in time for breakfast.

I see the couple down the street, returning to a depressing home to find that their dog, who they thought had drowned, is alive and waiting for them to come home.

I see laundry baskets with detergent, bleach, toothbrushes, cereal, and other basics being left outside people's homes by local businesses who want to help out. And I see the stores in the area offering discounts for anyone whose been affected, from the little local shops to big stores that sell home furnishings. And I see those things being shared among the people they've been given to according to the needs of those around them- not just their own.

I see a woman who has lived down the street from me for the last fourteen years, whose name I didn't even know, sitting with my family at thanksgiving, telling us about working on Fulton Street on 911. I see her and her husband, with sons the same age as my sisters and I, going from strangers to friends during a holiday that has already meant a lot to my family. And I see the joy in all of us as we share turkey and stuffing, laughing and joking, knowing that tomorrow means more work on the house, but tonight is all about celebrating life and returning to traditions.

I see my father, this very afternoon, finishing the installation and painting of the new front door, yellow and white splotches on his work shirt as he puts in the finishing touches- the new lock- on the entrance that seemed so far away only a few weeks ago. There is pride on his face as we all stand back to admire his handy work, and the beauty of the door is not only in it's design, but in it's symbolism.

I don't know if you can see these pictures as well as I can. Next time, I'll have a camera, and all this will make a lot more sense. But for right now, let me explain this- we have been categorized, from those initial pictures, as victims. But we are not victims- we are survivors. We are the latter pictures, the people who are taking charge after the storm and making the changes.

The flood is over. The devastation was intense, but we've come out of it. And these pictures of rebuilding are placeholders for the pictures of the new lives that will come to be, sooner rather than later. Because survivors rebuild, recreate, and remember.

No water can wash that away.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Meeting the Past (for the future)

“You have to know the past to understand the present.”
Carl Sagan

Every single person comes from somewhere. There is some story, some tapestry of intricate details that makes up who you see- whether or not those details are apparent, they are there. As time moves, events occur, some within our control, and some outside of it. You may know this novel concept as something called "the past." 

I can think of many romantic ballads in which the singer expresses a lack of concern about a persons past. The Backstreet Boys made a lot money with the simple chorus of "I don't care who you are, where you're from, what you did, as long as you love me." The idea that love nullifies the past is appealing to many, as most people's pasts are a mix of good and bad, incredible and humiliating. And let's be honest- we are much more concerned with the negatives than the positives. 

Sometimes I think about the future, and who I will choose to spend my life with. I wonder about the guy that will become my husband, and what he is doing even now. While I'm in no rush to meet him, no rush to be married, I still wonder. Because I know that he too will have a past, and that he will have things that he will want to hide. Once upon a time, I fancied myself the kind of person who could ignore a persons past, live in the moment, and base all my opinions, and love, on that. 

But time has made me a little wiser, and I've come to a conclusion- I don't want to meet someone whose past I ignore. Our pasts meet us in the present- they help to shape us into who we become. Our reactions to things that have happened to us form who we become. The events that we choose, and the ones that just happen to us- they all have an impact on us. We may not see it at the moment, but these things are shaping who we will one day be. Which means that whoever he is, his past is shaping him even as I write this. 

And it's not just the romantic aspect. I want my friends to be able to have pasts too. I never want someone to feel like they have to hide what's made them who they are from me. Instead, I want to be the kind of person who hears someone's past, and understands how it has, and is, affecting them. I want to get to know people moving towards a future, but to understand why they have the certain quirks and qualities that make them unique. Because when we know one another based on who we've been, we know one another. 

By the way, the inverse is true too. I want people to know who I am based on what I've done and been through. Just now, I am learning how to open up to people about things that I have been through. It's a scary process, but it's kind of wonderful. Suddenly I feel secure in knowing that I can share who I am through what I've been through. And I'm learning that when I share my secrets, they become less scary, and I have less of a need to hide them.

Don't think that this means that I'll share everything from now on. I still think a little discernment is a good thing. But I want to be able to get close to people, and the only way it's going to happen is when there is mutual sharing going on. 

So I have a new kind of idea, at least one that is new to me; let's all get to know each other, let's stop ignoring the past, and let's get to know each other through understanding what shapes us. I am committed to learning it about others. And I hope there will be some that want to know it about me. 

One day I'll re-write the love song: "I want to know who you are, where you're from, what you've done, and that's why I love you." 

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Ambition of Desire

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.”

-Albert Einstein

Hope is a funny concept. Try describing it to someone if you don't believe me. Hope is this idea that no matter how dire, drastic, unfortunate, unhappy, ridiculous, or depressing a situation may be, there is a way out- a bridge back into normalcy or something better. Hope is not a matter of extremes- it is used in all contests, from the child who wishes for an outlandish gift for the holidays, to a family waiting for a missing member to return from their unknown whereabouts.

Hope is not an emotion, but it is also not a concept we need to lean. No one has to teach us to hope. But we have the ability to hold on to it or to release it at will. Sometimes hope is more than we can bear to have, but in others, it's the only thing that gets us through.

Do you see it? Hope is the kind of thing that can easily confuse.

I have hoped for many things in my young life. I have hoped for things that have come to pass- I hoped for friendships that have become real, for accomplishments that have come to pass, for bunk beds as a child and then for those same beds to disappear and for a room all to myself as a college student. I've hoped for healing for both myself and others, and I've seen it happen, many times in many ways.

I've also been known to drop hope when it's not working out. It's one of those utility relationships for me- "dear hope, you aren't really doing what I need you to right now. I'm kind of over you. Sorry- love, me". When it gets hard to hang on, because things are turning really ugly, I let it go- I'm really not willing to put in the effort.

But tonight, the air is overflowing with evening frost, and hope is seeping out with the chill. And it's not the usual kind of hope that comes in with despair or desire at their strong points- I am not feeling either of these at the moment. Instead it is a hope for things that are coming- I can smell then coming in on the wind. Whatever is around the corner is gonna be fantastic, incredible, and real.

And I can't help but thinking that if the hope is this strong intros moment of serene life, i can't help but wonder what I've missed out on by giving up in the past. I've always come
out alright in the end, but maybe it all could have been better if I'd held on a little longer.

My hope in the little things, I realize tonight, is reflective of a greater hope, a bigger one. My hope in the Messiah and all that He has promised me drives my very soul to understand such a crazy concept in the first place. It's a feeling I never want to part with again. It's so palpable tonight, it's all but walking besides me into the future, whatever it may be.

What an amazing thing.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Even Ideas

“The mysteries of the seen and the unseen are all known, if the mind is kept centered and balanced.”
Sri Guru Granth Sahib 

I once dreamt about a daytime that overstayed it's welcome. The sun refused to go down, even as the hours got later and later. The weather was beautiful, the grass was green, and the sky was a warm and inviting blue.

But the world was chaos.

Friday morning, walking to the bus, I had a little bit of de ja vu. The sun was taking it's time to get it's wonderful colors into place, and for just a moment, I thought about a world in which the sun gave up on rising. And rather than feeling harried, I felt sad.

Imagine a world that is shrouded with darkness. Imagine if the only lights were those of our man made gadgets- if all walks were moonlit, if the sky stayed colored only dark blue, or sometimes black. Imagine a world where sunlit showers did not exist, where mornings were measured only by hours. Are you feeling the loss as heavily as I am?

And now flip it. Imagine the opposite. If you really think it through, you may be discouraged to find that a day with no nightfall is just as sad. Consider what it would be like to always have the light pressing on you. To never feel the natural rest that darkness brings. The stars would be a thing of the past. The comfort of evening would be a memory.

And sunrises and sunsets? A dream of an old world.
In life, we are given these balances. Many things we experience come in pairs, like night and day. We don't think about those things as balancing each other, but instead, we tend to choose the one that we feel better suits us, and we wish for it all the time.

But we forget that the balances stop us from drowning in the things we love. Those opposites give us rest from the things we love. They give us a chance to discover things we may fall in love with too. They cut the monotony of a static world short, and they give us a hope, even in the longest periods of sameness, for change.

The sun finally did appear that morning, and for that I am grateful. And when the sun went down that night, I was grateful too. For my life has these balances. They are what makes the world have the greatest and highest moments, because without the lows, the highs would be the static status of life. I think we would be so bored to live in a world without these opposites.

So I celebrate night, and I celebrate day. And all the other things that give life it's even flow. It's a life worth living. 

And for at least the moment, with all these even thoughts, I feel centered.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Extreme (Internal) Makeover

"I want to be beautiful, make you stand in awe, look inside my heart, and be amazed." 
-Bethany Dillion

What do you want to look like?

As a woman in America in 2011, I feel like this question is the highlight of so many conversations I have been involved in. In our mall, my co-workers and I are often floored by the appearances of young woman (and men, believe it or not) who walk through our doors. The images that they project are often too mature for their ages, and sometimes give behavioral implications that tare hard to escape from. Certain dress codes are often indicative of certain lifestyle patterns. And this group of people who really aren't old enough to have made the decisions about what paths they will follow are already projecting them for everyone to see.

For a long time I was overly troubled with what I look like. I was not an exception to the self-consciousness that today's society feeds on. There was a time in my life when I chose not to acknowledge or embrace it. Then another time when I got overly involved in my looks. And I learned a very interesting lesson in those times.

No matter what I looked like, the people who mattered still perceived me the same way.

Don't misunderstand. I am not so naive as to believe that we are not stereotyped and considered within the first moments of meeting someone as their eyes focus onto us. But those initial judgements do not rule the thoughts of the people who I want to know. And those first impression looks, while sometimes they may be good, and while other times may not have been so good, have rarely hindered me from connecting with someone that I wanted to know.

But I am still concerned with looks today. Not the outward ones- the inward ones.

I know what I want my life to look like. I want to be the kind of person who is warm and welcoming to those in need. I want to be funny, and make people feel good about themselves at the same time. I want to be capable of letting things roll of my shoulders and of being centered by the very Messiah who has given me the desire to be anything at all.

I need an internal make-over. These are the looks that matter.

I want the traits that people see to be the kind of person who is seen and perceived not by clothes or shoes or make up, but by the heart. I want people to know me by my actions, my mindsets, my openness. Which means that there are things that I need to learn to change. Because while I know what I want to look like, my internal mirror is shaking it's head gently and revealing things that need to change for me to look the way I want to.

Because these are the perceptions that make me, and share my life, and my savior in me. And if they aren't right, then I certainly do not look my best.

 It is a hard lesson to learn that people who truly dislike you do not dislike you because of your outward picture. Indeed, while it may hinder them from getting to know you, it is not the be all, end all. I'm not suggesting we all stop showering and start donning burlap sacks- instead, I am suggesting that while we should be ourselves, even in our dress codes, and be appropriate, that true dislike comes not from the outside appearance, but the perceptions of the inside.

So today, I am treating myself to a day of rest and relaxation inside my soul. All my worries can be dealt with in their time, but for the moment, I will focus on changing my heart to be peaceful with the peace that attracted me to the Lord in the first place. And this is just the beginning of making myself happy with my appearance- it may be a little challenging, but this is where it really matters. And in the end, I know that the Lord made me beautiful inside. Now it's time to let everyone else see it too.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Thoughts from Nature

This weekend, I was blessed enough to head out to a conference in PA and spend some time with my friends, with God, and with beautiful nature He has created.

More about it to come, but I thought I'd share this post I wrote while out there. It's a little long, but it comes full circle.

Hope you like it!

There is something about being alive that is truly wonderful. 
Before you jump to any conclusions about what I might be writing here, let me clarify a little- I don't mean just living- I mean alive. That feeling that we can only imagine Rose is feeling when she stands on the mast of the Titanic, the able bodied DiCaprio holding her tight while the wind flies through her air. Or the one that we know must be pouring out of Jekyll when he first discovers that he can actually split his personality, and that he may have just cured his father's insanity. Or even the one that we know that Elisha feels after  seeing his boss taken up to heaven in a blazing chariot. 
These moments are moments of being alive. 
I suppose it starts with the realization that we are breathing. That each gasp of air that fills our lungs is a gift and not a privilege. And then we go a step further and start to realize that each moment is also a gift. And then we start to realize that we are wasting a lot of gifts in misery, pain, sadness, and worst of all, apathy. 
I'm going to make a grammatical decision here and now. The opposite of joy is not sadness. It's apathy. Because joy is something that we feel even when our hearts are not always happy- we can be joyful in all kinds of times- times of heart break, times of happiness, times of wonderment, times of disillusionment, times of fitting in, and times when the entire world turns their backs on us, including those who were supposed to know us best. Because joy is a feeling of being alive even when these emotions are running into our veins on an extra strength drip. And the thing about being able to feel them is that it is also a gift. 
So let's come back to being alive then. Those moments mentioned above, they are all routed in joy. For Rose, it was joy in knowing that despite the turmoil churning in her spirit, she had a choice. She could choose to be in love, to leaver who she was behind forever. And for that moment while she stands, hair in the wind, love holding her up, she is free to let go and be real. Similar to Jekyll, who has given his entire life to find this cure. His bride-to-be is on the verge of leaving him behind, his funding is being cut off, his father is on his way to a certain death. And yet in the moment of discovery, his heart is freed from all that he knows is crumbling around him, and a hope has sprung inside him. 
Imagine, then, what our prophet friend must be feeling. Here is he, called to this position that pays nothing and makes people very unhappy. He is called to serve a God that he knows to be true, but whose reward system must have seemed a bit unbalanced and uncertain. But then! The moment of clarity! Watching Elijah being called home to the Lord in a Chariot of Fire, and realizing the truth in all that they worked for- it must have felt like Euphoria, even amongst the loss and fear that might have been circling through his heart. 
These moments are steeped in being alive. They are moments of joy. 
Have you gotten the idea here? Do you see my connection? I believe that being alive is experiencing the joy in life, no matter what is going on in your heart. I'm not saying that it isn't alright to be sad, or scared, or feel hurt or loss every now and then. But in all of these moments, if we let the pain rule everything, we will lose interest in that which makes us feel real. That which makes us feel alive.
I write today from a conference that I've been to only once before. The first time, I remember driving in with a friend of mine, looking at the beauty of the trees and leaves and grass and sky... and feeling nothing at all. The pain in my life, at that time, was too much for me, and I'd hid within it, cutting myself off from anything else I may have been wanting. And I'd lost the drive to appreciate anything else as a result. 
The next day, I went outside and sat down just to think. And I opened myself up, and let myself be cut by all that was hiding inside me. It was exceptionally painful, but you know what? It was also wonderful. I was free to take in the world around me. I was ready to let life resume. And after a while, all the bad stuff went away. I don't even remember what I was upset about or hurt by. But I remember the immense joy that came from removing it's hold on me, even today. 
I am alive today. I am joyful. All the pain that is in my heart will be only temporary. But this joy- this will last as long as my heart, and I, allow it.