You Snooze, Maybe You Don’t Lose

I missed it.

Fifteen years ago, a friend and I trekked in the beautiful snow white Sierras toward Tamarack Ridge alongside a group of experienced snow campers. We were wearing snowshoes, and it was the earliest of Spring. The plan was to camp in tents overnight. Secretly, as a rookie snow camper and likely not going to repeat the experience, I was most excited about enjoying the view from the ridge at sunrise the next morning.

As we neared the campsite, my cheeks ached from beaming with crinkled eyes while observing the snow covered pines along the way, each cluster of needles blanketed by thick miniature piles of white. Our snowshoes crunched beneath us, leaving deep prints to mark our arrival before anyone else since the last snowfall. This is what what life is all about, I confirmed to myself. Clean, crisp air…blue skies overhead, good friends…the exertion of the mild hike pumping the blood joyfully through my veins, as it should.

By the time we reached the ridge, the sun was about to set, so our guides began shoveling a deep trench of about 3 or 4 feet which would serve as our “kitchen”. Meanwhile, the rest of us pitched our tents and pulled on more layers of protection in anticipation for the evening’s chill. I remember wishing I’d done a little more research on the best socks for such an adventure, as my feet were already cold.

Later we gathered together to share a meal under the crystal clear night sky, and brilliant show-stopping stars slowly arrived on their stage of indigo deep. My eyes were glued to their mysterious blinks and twinkles as I ate my simple dinner of chicken and potatoes wrapped in foil. Glad, I was, for a hot, decent meal—but nature is nature, and when you’re not really starving it can be the most stunning force of attraction.

Soon enough it was time to climb into our tents and snuggle deep inside sleeping bags meant for colder weather. Again, I thought of my lack of consumer knowledge as I wished my bag insulated me better than the cellophane that it felt like. However, my socks and sleeping bag were warm enough that I wasn’t in danger. Between my excitement of the coming sunrise among the heavenly snow scene surrounding me and rubbing my feet together trying to warm them, I slept a little.

Until my head flew up when I heard the zip of my tent, whereupon my friend had come to check on me. I lay my head down again, burying it under my pillow like a bear cub to its mother and mumbled something about me getting up in a minute. But my brain caught up with my eyes as it belatedly processed the view behind his shadow. A flash of blue.

I shot up, a rogue rocket bumping her head on the dome of nylon and polyester. Pulling on my glasses, I squinted into the aquamarine eyes of my traitor friend. For I was as mad at him as I was at myself. He did not come by to wake me up, to see the blend of indigo meet gold, to hear the night creatures salute the day creatures as each respectively retreated and appeared.

But neither had I woke myself up. The morning had already begun without me. My lack of speech went unnoticed as he happily chattered from the tent’s zipper that he didn’t want to disturb my sleep, but oh what a glorious morning it had been for him admiring the view from the ridge of night turned to day.

In a move quite unlike my normal character, I hushed him mid-sentence as I hastily zipped up the tent fast as I could, nearly catching the head on his hair in my haste. He on the outside, me on the inside, all I could hear now was the other campers talking yards away and the disappointment in my heart—my very soul—in not seeing what I had come to see. I huffed a few times while I stared at the thin, burnt orange walls of my shelter.

My soul thrives on the fantastic, intriguing beauty of the earth and too little do I see, hear, smell, touch, and taste of it. Encased in four walls of occupational obligation on a regular basis, sadly it’s not every day I go snow camping or see a sunrise…or even see a sunset for that matter.

So when given the opportunity, it’s a rare spectacular thing for me to explore and experience the wonder of nature. To inhale the scented redwoods, to experience rain in sunlight even as the fire warms…to walk along cold sandy beaches with white foam being birthed from translucent ocean waves…those are extraordinary memories. And this one I missed.

But I am in charge of me, and I could have set an alarm. I mean, I was not the early riser back then, and even though now I love to wake up in the morning early it is still quite the battle. So even as I heard his sturdy Timberlands back away in confusion, I knew I could not be mad at him. I’d never even mentioned my sunrise ambitions. I could only be mad at me. I tried to console myself by taking note that the sun “truly” rises in the East, anyway…right?

Grabbing my fleece beanie in one hand, I tugged the tent zipper down with the other.

“Wait!” I called. The others, holding steaming cups of coffee in blue freckled tin mugs, turned to look. My cheeks warmed with the realization that I was, indeed, the last one up.

My sidekick smiled at me, my rudeness forgiven in a glance, and nodded toward the ridge’s drop off.

“Let me show you.”

I followed his footsteps to get closer to what my eyes were already drinking in. Where the ridge ended, and sky and view of valley should have been, a puffy blanket of white tricked me into thinking the snow we stood upon extended further out, as far as the eye could see.

Above was only sky, the color of the blue gingham pinafore Dorothy wore in The Wizard of Oz. The sun shone mid-sky, already tempting the snow around us to rest a little softer. All of this I saw at once, and all of this caught my breath, suspended and eager, ready to dance with the air the minute I exhaled again. It was like I imagined heaven to be.

For a few more silent moments I felt with my eyes, and then turned and looked at my nature-loving pal who grinned back at me in understanding. Not saying a word, we sat in tandem right where we were, a few feet apart, each feeling more alive than ever because of the shivery white beneath our snow pants.

Leaving that day, I stayed in contented silence for most of the peaceful trail back to the parking lot. Instead of grinning like the day before, I smiled soft while humming worship tunes. Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, Open the eyes of my heart…I want to see You. The realization hit me that sometimes when I miss the things I set out to do, it’s not all opportunity lost. Sometimes even better memories come along.

Actually, that’s pretty much guaranteed. All I have to do is shut off the disappointment and open my eyes to what is around me. Not only that, but it gives me a hopeful eagerness toward the future of still catching a snowy sunrise…someday. And that inspires more hope within me, of which I can never get enough of.

At least that’s what I learned that beautiful morning.

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Broccoli Bird

My breath…I can feel it finally returning from a few weeks lost. Caught up, it was, in excitement and self-doubt—too impatient to go deep and swell, too busy to give clarity as it ought to do.  It takes wistful, eclectic Celtic music on a chilly Sunday afternoon to find the rhythm of the air which enters and leaves my lungs, peaceful and long. Staring up at the timid sunlight stripes at the tops of the windows, I pause to be thankful for this solitary moment.

Away from the music, outside, the wind chimes are right on cue to begin their daily two o’clock performance. It makes me wonder about the silky black cat who loiters frequently in our flowerbeds.

As I walk on bare feet from the couch to the back door, I think about the next chapter I’m about to read in a book recommended over at Higher Purpose WritersBird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I’ve peeked ahead to see the next chapter is called “Broccoli”. In the middle of that thought, I rub the bottoms of my feet on the cold hard floor to somehow warm them. On days like these, they miss carpet.

Do I really want to read several pages who introduce themselves as “Broccoli”? The tree-like vegetable is something I simply tolerate out of necessity. Thinking on necessities, I turn the knob on the door leading to the backyard, curious about the cat….believing that after I check on him, I will need water and chocolate. My mind nags that only one of those is truly a necessity, but I don’t have the heart to choose a winner. It will have to be both today. My eyelashes touch the blinds as I spy midnight fur on wood.

Yes! My mind both celebrates and decides at once. Yes, the black cat lounges in the tangled tanbark yet again. The corners of my smile lift higher at the evidence of that small joy. A furry creature is good news, because life itself is always welcome here. Even though we are not cat lovers. His head swivels quickly at the first sound of the door cracking open, only a bit, just enough to peer out with both of my hazel eyes and the tip of my nose. I breathe in cold afternoon sunshine.

Will he come closer today? My breath holds, just like it has for weeks. Waiting, anxious, excited all at once. Like with the writing. We stare each other down….one heartbeat, two…my hope floats as the third and fourth beat pulse silently between us. His yellow green eyes so like mine are fascinated with something in me. He stretches his arms and legs out slowly, eyes still glued to mine—a small victory, as it is a clue that he grows more comfortable near our home. Maybe he is a she. Maybe someday we’ll make introductions. Mike and I would like that. Even if he is cat.

Before my veins pulse for a fifth time, he-she sprints to the intersecting boards where four properties meet. With one swift leap, he is up and over the other side of the fence heading to the place we assume is where he calls home. Today, though, he stops a moment and bends his neck to look backward at me one more time. He stares. I don’t cower. My turf…but I plead with my eyes for him to stay. To add a little mischief and laughter to our forsaken backyard now that Amber has gone. With a slow blink, he reassures me he’ll return. I wave small, hopeful, and pivot back to face Bird by Bird waiting on the arm of my reading chair.

Yes to the broccoli, too, then. Because just like the hope that someday I will pet that cat and be close enough to hear him purr, I want to learn more about writers and how they think. What works and what doesn’t. If I am like them. And with each word, the author draws me in to a sense of familiar and home. She’s already had me whispering yes to her sentence that says “Writing can be a desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong.”

Hand on the door, pulling it closed, I recall my jaw dropping—like that moment when you realize there’s a surprise birthday party going on and you belatedly realize the party is for you—when on the fifteenth page I read, misty-eyed as it hit me, “Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth.” 

And so, as this adventure of carving out time to write for some kind of meaningful purpose sometimes has me breathless with many emotions, defeat will not be one of them. I’ll even read about broccoli, if need be. As I leave this page to go dive into another, I can’t help but be thankful for music, which leads me to nature, which leads me to cats, which leads me back to learning, which leads me back to writing.

Time, patience…perseverance. Breath.

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Sing Anyway

Some people sing so beautifully that it causes others to stop in their tracks with wonder. I’m not one of those people. There were clues along the way. For example, I vaguely recall my little brothers asking me to stop singing in the car during weekends at Dad’s. At the time, I thought optimistically that it was because the radio took precedence. However, things started to become clear when I joined the college choir as a rookie, eager to raise my voice in song with others because it just felt so good to sing.

On the first day, when it came time for introductions and to share with each other what part we sing, I said to the group that I didn’t know. Soprano, alto? I had no idea.

“I have no idea”, the choir director teased in a Minnie Mouse voice in front of the small class. We all laughed.

My feelings weren’t hurt, but some of the curious looks I got when we all started singing were hints that I was out of my element.  After that experience, I decided to hide my voice in the ginormous choir at my church on special occasions, like Father’s Day. I just wanted to sing, and maybe this would be a better opportunity to sing where no one would notice. Well, maybe no one noticed, but I struggled. My throat fought against the imaginary boa constrictor which had taken up residence around my neck. Now I was just overthinking it.

So I thought perhaps the best thing to do if I was going to seriously try to improve was take a voice class. Oh, that was painful. My vocal stylings were akin to nails on a chalkboard as I stood alone in front of my classmates, knees shaking, trying to make something beautiful out of something obviously broken…their glances creeping towards the mid-century modern windows as if looking for an escape from my interesting performance of Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s The Willow Song gone wrong.

When I got married, my husband gently confirmed my suspicions without even saying a word. I started to notice he’d stealthily do pretty much anything to avoid my singing. On days I just couldn’t help myself and start to belt out tunes in the kitchen while doing dishes, I noticed the volume would go up significantly on the TV in the next room. At first he dropped those kind of subtle hints, but now that I have accepted I am vocally challenged we laugh about it together and he literally just begs me to stop. Therefore, I sing even louder. In his face.

Part patriotic respect, part golden opportunity, my students and I sing a song every day after the flag salute. It’s the best moment of the day. We’re mostly off key, all of us, and as a musician who plays the bassoon and clarinet I could help them improve their singing (at least, I think I could) but I don’t. I don’t because they are happy and in love with singing and they don’t really care that they don’t sound perfect, so that is good enough for me. Plus we have to move on to the math lesson. I notice some days their little heads will swivel around with eyes wide as saucers when I really tank the “rockets red glare” part, but they’re so sweet that they don’t say a word about it. They don’t even laugh at me.

I really don’t understand it, my voice. It’s like I was born from a family of hummingbirds, meeping and chirping away, unable to get it just right. I played in bands and orchestras for almost twenty years, so how come I just can’t seem to sing beautifully? It’s a puzzle. And over time, I’ve finally decided this:

I can’t care.

I can’t care anymore if I don’t sing well, because usually it is God I am singing to. He listens. And God doesn’t make mistakes. For some reason, He made my voice my own curious little thing to the ears on earth. But to Him, I imagine He loves my voice. How could He not? He loves yours, too.

Psalm 139:13-14 says “For You have formed my inward parts; You have covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.” And then it goes on to say in verse 17, “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!”.

Marvelous and precious. That’s what we are to the Lord. I’d reckon our voices are not excluded in that. No matter what they sound like. He formed us just as we are. So, let’s come to Him in song just as we are. Wherever we are. His opinion is all that matters anyway. I’ve decided that, as Martina McBride’s song celebrates, I’ll just sing Anyway. (I love watching this video of a woman signing the lyrics of that Anyway song.)

Each of us has our own unique individual voice. Voices that are lovely to the One who designed them to be so. Let’s be unabashed with our outpouring of joy. Let’s allow ourselves comfort in sorrow with song, if that’s what suits us. It would be tragic to deny ourselves this thing just for the sake of worrying what others think.

So that’s why I’m just not going to mind anymore if no one likes my voice. It will take courage, yes. I’ll likely have to shut my eyes sometimes as I sing to block everyone out; I may have to take deep breaths to bolster my heart. But the feeling of singing, for me, is such a happy feeling and brings such solace that it’s worth the risk of being out of harmony with others. At least in this small thing.

“Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;

Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.”

-Psalm 98:4

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Fear

To reach that spectacular, beautifully rugged land’s end, I needed to cross that blustery bridge. It was the summer of 2015, and my husband and I stood on the rocky soil of County Antrim, Ireland. The smiles of the people waiting in line for their turn were like lifelines to me. Tourists who had already made their way over the popular Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge waved across to all gleefully, eager to share their joy at reaching a point of the Emerald Isle that would have been treacherous any other way—if not for the bridge made of simple wood planks and intricate knots of thick, trusty rope.

I wasn’t so sure that rope was so trusty.

Shortly after we returned to our home in California, I turned on the computer in our home office and immediately discovered my husband had changed the desktop wallpaper. It was a picture of me on that bridge. I was confused. Why not a picture of the two of us from some other photo op on that trip? Usually, our desktop wallpaper was something of us together, or of our beloved dog, Amber.

I called out my question to him from where I knew he could hear me in the living room. It was quiet for a bit, and then I heard the muffled sound of his feet brushing across the carpet as he made his way to the room.

“I know how hard that was for you,” he replied quietly from the doorway.

I felt my heart swell with love for this man.

“I know how hard it was.”

Although our trip to Ireland that year was overall an amazing experience, it seemed like I was trapped into facing one battle after the other. Instead of being excited to fly across the Atlantic, I would wake up in the middle of the night with my heart racing in fear of our upcoming flight. Instead of every moment thrilling to the luscious green land all around me, at times I struggled to catch my breath. Instead of marveling at the natural wonder of the hexagonal columns at the Giant’s Causeway, I trembled in near panic as we walked along dirt paths next to cliff walls…certain they would crumble down on top of us at any moment. The odds of that happening were extremely slim.

The fear I struggled with is a distant memory now, but at the time that gruesome pest was taking all the fun out of an extraordinary trip. And my worrying over every little thing was draining the strength out of my mind and spirit.

So by the time we arrived at the “car park” of the rope bridge, he looked over at me before we got out of the car. “Are you sure you want to do this?” I peered out the windshield and looked at the path which led to the ocean. I could barely see the bridge, but from this point it didn’t look quite as scary as I had imagined. “Yep,” I huffed with a tight smile. “Nope,” my heart shot back, the echoes of my discontent bouncing around my rib cage.

As we got closer to the line of tourists waiting to cross, however, my breath started to come out in hesitant, quivering bursts. I squeezed my eyes shut in an effort to quiet the evidence of my uncertainty. “Are you sure?” he checked again when he caught me staring down at the crashing sea 100 feet below.  (That’s the part you can’t really see in many pictures.)

“Yep.”

When we were next in line, I looked up at the young, fair-haired Irishman whose cheeks were red from being slapped by cold, wild coastal air. He was one of two workers there who were the gatekeepers, so to speak, supervising and limiting the number of bridge crossers. The three of us chit-chatted loudly over the roar of the waves while we waited, laughingly trading California and Irish stereotypes, and how he’s been meaning to make his first trip to the States to visit a friend in San Diego.

Finally, I looked into his friendly blue eyes—certain God had placed him there that day to comfort me with his quick camaraderie—and all of a sudden blurted, “I’m a little terrified, but I’m going to do this.” It had been the statement I’d repeated silently the whole way down the path up to this point. I was sick and tired of letting fear beat out my faith and trust. I said it over and over until I believed it.

The stranger’s kind smile gentled, and his eyes turned serious as they acknowledged my fear.  “Not to worry,” he said, his musical Irish accent calming me, “you’ll do just fine. Are you ready?” He had received the nod of permission for us to trek ahead from his partner across the way.

And so, step by step I worked my way across the bridge. The creaks of the rope swaying in the gusty wind invaded my ears, but the strength of the planks below my feet, my silent prayers, and my belief that I could squash this feeling of trepidation—because I chose to—upheld me and my courageous soul the whole way and back again. For the rest of the day, you couldn’t take the smile off my face if you tried. Even thinking back on it now, the memory girds my heart.

“I know how hard it was for you.” My husband’s answer whispered to me again.

Currently, I’ve chosen to focus on the truths of courage over the lies of fear…but I still have my moments of not believing I can do certain things. Even now, I have some goals that leave me shaking in my boots when I think too long on it. But the things I want to conquer don’t have to be achieved all at once. I believe that some day I will be able to scratch each one off the list, but I have to be patient with myself and give myself the grace to persevere—one step at a time, if need be.

There are some fears I’ve fled from and didn’t triumph. And yet, I won’t dwell on the ones from the past which I may not have the opportunity to face again. Instead, I’ll find new things to find victory in.  Whatever you may be facing, believe that you can declare yourself the victor. The feeling of accomplishment and relief…the burden of dread lifted…the surrender…it is so worth it. Will I ever bungee jump? Never will I ever. For me, today… in about 10 minutes, it’s going to be the pile of dishes in my sink that I will conquer. That mess seems impossible. But I believe I can tackle it, and so I will.

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Awaken

It was one of those mornings when I woke up wondering what day it was. After being completely exhausted all week long, I finally slept THAT well. Too well, because all I wanted to do was snuggle deeper into the covers and go back to dreaming. Work beckoned, however, and couldn’t be avoided. I thought to myself, “I’m going to throw on some jeans and wear yellow”.

Yellow is possibly the friendliest and most uplifting color in the world. It says hello to us through the daffodils and sunflowers. It greets us in the morning as the sun begins to rise. For me, it is a beautiful reminder of hope and perseverance.

Well, I didn’t have any yellow to wear that day, but then the sun began to shine…and I guess once in awhile that’s all it takes to feel that little zing of happiness begin to awaken. Sometimes just recalling the love Jesus has for us via little gifts like sunshine, flowers, and vivid colors of life is all we need to rise to meet the day. Each morning begins with hope. Hope and love. Know that you are loved, and then go have a terrific day.

“Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 

Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  -Romans 5:1-5 (NKJV)

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