Heart-Musts: #1-10

This is a time when I am restricted from a lot of the things I feel my heart must do. The things I love or the things I hope to some day experience have to be put on hold due to social distancing and the recommendation to stay home as much as possible. In some ways, nothing’s changed in this regard too much…quarantine or not, my job would keep me away from my wanderlust anyway, at least until summer.

To keep my heart entertained, I’ve started a list things I feel I must do when the opportunity comes once again. This is not an exhausted list. As long as the quarantine lasts, I will come back and add to it. It’s a dreamy catalog of happiness sought and joy remembered…continued from all the heart-musts I hope to do—some never done before, some hopefully repeated. There really are no rules….just the things God has put on my heart to someday experience with wonder. I thank Him for that.

  1. Gaze at the stars from the summit of a mountain
  2. Attend an outdoor concert while sitting on the lawn
  3. Watch a sudden downpour of heavy rain from the inside of a car
  4. Share an evening with the fireflies
  5. Drive from the the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean
  6. Sing along at a dueling piano bar (I have a terrible voice, but what does it matter?)
  7. Drink a huge cafe mocha at Red House Cafe in Pacific Grove on a foggy coastal morning (in a real mug or whatever they call it)
  8. See the northern lights—will this ever happen?
  9. Return to the Isle of Skye
  10. Visit the New York Public Library

Will I really do these things? Or see some of these things again? I hope so. So far, the northern lights and fireflies have been elusive…I must be looking in all the wrong places. But in the meantime, it’s nice to dream.

What are some of your heart-musts?

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Photo by Pixabay by Pexels

Let Go of Worrying About What Others Think of You

Our thoughts are strong and powerful. More than we even realize. We don’t often enough give them credit. I’ve been told I think too deeply. That can be good and bad, depending on the thoughts. I love much, and I worry much.

I’m working on the worrying, and I have to say I’ve improved…but still it creeps in now and then when I least suspect it. Used to be, I’d worry about my health. To the point of distraction.

These days, I’ve been worrying too much about what people think. Always trying to predict how they’ll react…from every angle.

So it made me wonder how you are. Do you worry about what others think of you? Of your actions, words, decisions…I could go on and on.

I’m not up to writing today because I’m feeling under the weather, but I was thinking on this worrying what other people think thing and when I opened my medicine cabinet tonight a note I had taped inside caught my eye.

It seemed just the thing to share with you, in case you spend too much time worrying about what others think of you, too. Let’s not let that rob our joy. There are too many other good things to think on, too many spectacular wonders and life-giving thoughts we could focus on.

So from my little medicine cabinet to your heart, here is a list of reminders I wrote down a few years ago after listening to a podcast of Trish Blackwell’s. Her podcast is called The Confidence Podcast, and her book Insecurity Detox is one of my favorite books. My notes here are from her podcast episode #262: 5 Simple Ways to Stop Caring What Other People Think.

The statements below from the show are what I wrote down to tape inside my medicine cabinet to remind myself of how important it is to remember that I need to focus on knowing my worth for who I am, instead of trying to base it on who I think I should be in order to please everyone else. For a list in it’s entirety and to listen to the podcast, you can click here.

  • I am loved and I have value.
  • It’s okay for people to disagree with me or not like me…
  • God made me as I am, and has given me a story…
  • People liking me or not liking me has nothing to do with my value…
  • I choose to spend my emotional and mental energy on things that bring me joy….

Simple, yet profound. If you find yourself stuck in that worry cycle, too, I hope this is helpful for you to remember, as well.

While I continue to rest now, I’ll be spending my energy on dreaming of the glorious lavender fields under a pink sky in the Cotswolds of England. Because that is one of many things that will bring me joy. What do you think on that brings you joy?

Sweet dreams to you.

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Photo by David Bartus from Pexels

Make Room for Joy

I know you had a rough day today. You’ve been trying so hard to stay positive, and that takes a lot of energy. Sometimes we get determined, though, to retreat our little turtle heads inside of our little turtle shells, and no matter how much knocking goes on to try to get us to come out, we just. don’t. want to—-Right? I’ve had days like that, too.

But I can’t to go to sleep tonight until I share with you this…

It will pass, that heavy thing. Some way, somehow…it will.

That great big world out there is waiting patiently for you to discover its brilliance once again. Those cotton candy clouds and that radiant shining sun that you loved to watch? They’ll be there for you when you’re ready.

Sometimes we feel imprisoned by what we feel we can’t do, but we are not prisoners. We have so much to be thankful for…a roof, water, heat, technology, books, memories…the ability to breathe. Even for those who may not have a backyard or a window to open, even for those who may not be able to go for a walk…nothing can incarcerate the imagination…nothing can snatch hope away…unless we let it.

Don’t let it. 

Create! Innovate! Choose to look for the good. You have a mind that can be original and smart, so use it. Look around and see all that is there for you. Look, and see the gifts you’ve been given. Give in to gratitude, and hang on tightly to hope.

Hope does not disappoint.

Unless you let it disappoint you.

Don’t let  it. 

You are stronger than that. You can do hard things. We can have our moments of sadness, and we will have journeys with grief riding along in our pockets. There’s room for that. But Joy is where the power lies, so let’s make even more room for that.

Hold on.

And I’m going to knock on that shell just one more time to say…watch Some Good News. 🙂 It just might help turn that frown upside down.

 

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Nope, Not Gonna Do It

My goal was never to reach the top. I had only two goals when I hiked the trail up to the renowned granite jewel called Half Dome. It became clear to me about a half hour from starting the trek that they were a) don’t cry and b) don’t faint.

I really had no idea what I was getting into when I volunteered to spend a day hiking with my friends to the top of that silver peak. “Sure,” I said. “Sounds like fun!”

Just to make certain I could hold my own, my grand plan was to go to my gym, GB3 Fitness, to spend some time on the StairMaster one week prior to our sunrise meet up in Yosemite Valley. I was sure this would be all the prep I needed.

Half Dome is 8,839 ft above sea level. It’s about 17 miles round trip. It has an elevation gain of a little under 5,000 ft. from Yosemite Valley (imagine the height of nearly 3 Empire State Buildings). It’s a 10-12 hour hike, which is considered “steep, but moderate”, and there is a cable segment for the last 400 feet. Meaning, the cables there on either side so you have something to hold onto because there’s a chance you could fall and die. People have, actually. But I didn’t know any of these facts prior to my experience. I was just happy to go along with my friends. I must not have been paying attention to the details when we discussed it. I’ve been known to do that.

The day of the hike arrived. What I thought would be a fun day in the rugged outdoors turned into a prayer for mercy. I literally—sometimes even out loud—prayed my way up nearly the entire 5,000 foot elevation climb. Oh. my. goodness.

The thing was, I couldn’t quit even if I wanted to. There was no turning back. There were four of us, and you just don’t say in the middle of the forest that you’re going to turn around and go wait in the car while the rest of your friends hike up and down Half Dome for 10-12 hours. I had too much pride to ever turn around.

We had started on the trail head at sunrise and didn’t return to the parking lot following the hike until after the sun set that night. We only stopped for a very quick lunch break. Also, it was imperative that we continue on so that we wouldn’t be forced to turn around in the afternoon if we didn’t make it to the cables in time.

Around that time in my life, I had been memorizing the book of James in the bible. In the very first chapter of James is the verse, Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” I was glad to have those words imprinted in my brain, because those were the words that ultimately pushed me up that mountain. When I wasn’t praying that my out-of-shape lungs wouldn’t give out, I was saying that verse over and over as if it would give me strength. And it did. 

My other three friends were in much better shape than I, and had more hiking experience than I had. I’m not even sure how I ended up there with them, actually, but when all is said and done it’s one of the most memorable experiences of my life. And the thing is, I didn’t go to the top.

I didn’t go all the way to the top of Half Dome.

After hours and hours of hiking we finally made it to the cables section, but I decided to take a rest on a rock and enjoy the view right from where I was. I looked up at that granite dome, I looked on both sides of the thick cables bolted into the side of the dome, looked at the smooth slope of the rock…and I just decided, “Nope, not gonna do it.”

But even though I had come so far and most people would think it was not worthy of a triumph, in that moment I was super proud of myself for even making it that far. It was good enough for me. To proudly watch my friends ascend the last 400 feet, to watch all the hikers around me ecstatic and tired from their journey, to feel the powerful winds rushing past my face….that was enough.

You know, so many people compare themselves to others and feel not enough because they didn’t accomplish the same things or the “best” things or the “greatest” things. But what about your best or greatest thing? Doesn’t that count for something?

The fact that I, a young woman who had been overweight her whole life….whose “P.E.” for most of her school years was band…who grew up eating fast food and who found it painful to run…the fact that I was standing nearly 400 feet from the peak of Half Dome after hiking uphill for 5-6 hours and made it without crying or needing medical help (okay, maybe I did cry a little) and knew there was another toe-bruising 5-6 hours back down hill in the dark….that is a feat in itself!

Some might say, “You only had another 400 feet to go!!!You should’ve gone for it.” And I’d say this:

I have no regrets about it. None.

When I got up to the point where I stayed behind, I was completely content. Something in my heart knew to stop and enjoy the view right from where I was. So I did.

Life is like that, too. It’s good to be ambitious, but there is also a place for being satisfied with what you already have. Others may surpass you, but that doesn’t make you any less valuable or unable to experience joy in the space you are at the moment. We are able to do hard things, but we should also be able to sit back and enjoy the view now and then.

For the rest of my life, I will remember Half Dome with fondness. I hiked with some awesome salt of the earth people. I persevered like I never had before. The crunch of the pine needles. The cleanest of air. Count it all joy. The sweat glistening from my brow. The way the Clif bar tasted when we finally took a rest, as if I were dining at Morton’s. The gorgeous view from the almost top. So good. So, so good enough. Yep. No regrets.

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Music: It Makes Us Feel Better

What’s your song? What tune do you go to when your heart is troubled, or when you need to dig deep to find some joy?

By last Wednesday I’d been sheltering in place for about 10 days, and up until then I had been pretty positive about it. I was looking on the bright side, finding humor on Facebook in an unprecedented situation, and I felt that as long as I took precautions I would likely be okay and not get the novel coronavirus.

On Wednesday afternoon, however, I had to go to the doctor for a follow up to discuss the results from a bunch of lab tests and a couple of scans I had taken four to six weeks ago. From November to early February, I’d been coughing non-stop. I had lost a lot of sleep, I was exhausted, and my lungs had been constricted in a scary way. It got to the point where, by January, I needed a couple of breathing treatments and had begun using a rescue inhaler regularly in addition to some other medicines that treat asthma.

I didn’t grow up with asthma. This was all new to me, so I had lived through the winter of 2019-20 more frightened than I cared to admit to myself. Each night for weeks, I would remind myself that God tells us to not be afraid. So I would shove my fear from my mind before attempting to sleep, and focus on other things. Tired as I was, I was able to rest in the peace of knowing that Jesus was there to pray to and that He would shelter me with His love.

A few years back, this would not have been the scenario. For several years in my thirties, I suffered greatly from anxiety. I feared death, and I hated not being in control of things. My husband and I love to travel, but I battled with my anxiety constantly while flying in airplanes, being in teeny tiny hundred-year-old hotel rooms in the U.K., or finding myself in a car where we were driving on the opposite side of the road that we were used to in the United States. My anxiety consumed me and pretty much robbed my joy for way too long. It was like having an extra roommate we had to deal with, the kind who wouldn’t pay rent and demanded squatter’s rights until you figured out a way to kick him out.

Anxiety is real and often comes with a physical response. If you’ve ever experienced it, then you know what I mean. You feel as if you are in a tunnel, and your imagination runs wild with all the what-if scenarios…you think worst-case for every possible situation. There were times during those years when friends or my husband would have to help me breathe through a panic attack. There were nights when I would pace the living room floor, or need to open the front door to walk outside and look at the stars and breath the cold night air just to calm my fears.

I was able to do my job and do it well, and I acted like nothing was the matter. But night time was the worst, once the day’s activities were over and the house would get quiet. Lots of time then to start thinking and wondering. And worrying.

It was the worst of times. It is something I vow to never ever go back to, now that I feel I have conquered the anxiety.

Ironically, those are the years when I paid little attention to music, one of my first loves.

As a young girl, I found that I could escape in three things: books, Jesus, and music. As a musician, music became a part of my daily life. When I began teaching full-time after college and moved to a small town, the music faded away. Coincidentally, my anxiety was born. But I have to wonder if that is a coincidence after all.

Music is so powerful, and right now as we are all sheltering in place…as we sit in our homes or walk or ride bikes outdoors six feet apart from each other, I’ve noticed that music is making a come back.

It’s always been around…from a distance. For decades, we’ve turned the stations on our car radios as we drive and we may turn up the tunes in our homes as we clean house or get ready in the morning, but in this time of quarantine music has reminded us that it has the power to lift our worried frowns into smiles and ease the frustration of having nowhere to go.

The first time I noticed people were turning to music for comfort was when someone shared a Facebook post of neighbors in a city in Italy who were singing in unison from their windows one evening. They couldn’t leave their homes, but they found a way to be united and bring each other joy.

Once our town was told to shelter in place, I began seeing on Facebook hundreds of ways people were getting creative while they were home-bound. Lots of art and home projects, but the thing I’m seeing the most is how music is being shared. Regular citizens are recording themselves at home, celebrity musicians are taking requests through Instagram and Facebook, professional and collegiate musicians are finding ways to collaborate remotely and produce some really beautiful works that are uplifting and that help to ease our minds, and even get us up and dancing.

There’s something about music that hits so many of our emotions. It’s amazing to me how there are particular chords that can match my feelings of joy, sadness, confusion, and even anger. When we hear those chords put together in song, we may not even be having those certain feelings before we play the song, but as we listen it evokes those feelings from us as if we were listening to a story. Words are not even necessary. You just feel it.

So last Wednesday, when I came home from my doctor’s appointment I started having anxious thoughts because I had been out in public and at a medical facility, no less. My imagination was getting harder to reign in and, because of my former experience, I was able quickly recognize the signs that these were nothing but anxious thoughts trying to slither in. But I’ve been committed to not giving anxiety any power over me.

And one of my weapons to fight anxiety is music. The next night, I asked friends on Facebook to list the most beautiful song they could think of in that moment, and before going to sleep I listened to each one. Halfway through the first song, my mind was calmer. By the end of the last song, my breathing was steady and I felt contentment and strength.

So as I shut off the light, I left on some music—the six cello suites composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. If you haven’t heard them, they are six songs for an unaccompanied cello. Just the cello sings, a rhythmic and peaceful composition that helps me to tuck all my other thoughts away for the night.

I slept peacefully and woke up feeling rested.

That is just one example of the power of music and how it can suddenly take us on a journey that provides solace in our times of sadness and distress.

Find your song, friends. You will feel better for listening.

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Isle of Skye

Isle of Skye, I dream of you now,

As I labor to remember the gift of your freedom.

My soul is a weary traveler—

It wishes to be restored by your subtle splendor once more.

 

Remembering your Scottish air, so crisp and vibrant,

Gives life to my timid heart.

Cleaner than white cotton sheets left to dry in the breeze,

Fresh and comforting—

A temporary refuge that feels like home.

 

Your fierce night winds intrigue me…

I recall them with joy,

For they made me feel alive

While nestled warm inside, like a bear cub in her den,

As the windows battled against your strength—

Where grace & mercy let the night pass in stormy calm.

 

The sea, it surrounds you

While the cobalt waters sing to my soul.

The merry salt in the air, the abrupt silence…

The solitude and beauty that only the bravest can endure.

 

You are what I dream of, my escape…

The place where everything else falls away.

And it is just you and I—

Land and sea, wind and sun,

Finding friends along the way

To help us remember to laugh and run and live without fear.

 

The destination which I’ll carry in my heart forever;

The memory of you bolsters my hope.

Because, for a little while,

I was as close to the top of the world that I’ve ever been.

And perhaps we’ll meet again,

my beloved Isle of Skye.

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Arrival

At some point during the Autumn season, my memory makes an annual visit to the U.K. It’s usually when the temperatures finally start to drop, and I find myself staring unexpectedly at random yellow-tinted burnt umber treetops, dried and crisping while they contemplate the obligatory leap to the waiting ground below. A flurry of scenes from a single day are once again revived in my mind.

This happened to me last Saturday while I was sitting in a parking lot five thousand miles away from Leeds, the third largest city in England which sits on the fringe of the rolling green and cloud-shadowed Yorkshire moors and dales. Decades ago, I lived there during an academic year, an opportunity I can still hardly believe came true.

It always starts with the same remembrance of my arrival in Leeds in the Fall of 1999, or was it 1998? It must have been 1998 because the following Spring would have been ’99. That was when we took a quick trip over to Paris, and I remember my disappointment that the Eiffel Tower had been marred by a huge electronic marquee counting down to Y2K—scaffolding, green construction mesh, and all.

But back to Leeds.

I arrived on a gray and blustery day in early Fall. It was the kind of weather that perfectly brought to life all of my daydreams of the England I’d not met yet.  The little connecting flight that brought me from Heathrow dropped me off, and I battled the wind while walking across the tarmac carrying my backpack and my instrument.

Some kind British passengers on the plane had warned me that the location of the Leeds Airport on the top of hill would make the wind even worse than down in the city, but I smiled like a champion and trudged on. I was both deliriously tired from the long flight and tickled to finally be there.

Once inside the small airport, I tried to hide my grin from the jolly man who took an extra long time inspecting my bassoon at the security check. He hadn’t seen one before, he told me, as he picked it up and looked down the red maple bell joint like a kaleidoscope. He was suddenly a twinkly blue-eyed kid in a toy store.

The best part about my first day in England was that I was alone. The other student who would also be part of the exchange between our California university and the University of Leeds was not due to arrive until much later that evening. I was excited to meet England all by myself, and I just knew I would relish it.

So I gathered my things and found my way outside to a taxi stand where I was whisked away by a driver who said he had no idea where I was going. Just the sort of thing you want to hear when you arrive in a foreign country you’ve never been to, right?

We drove around for about forty-five minutes, me never truly believing he didn’t know where he was going. The cynic in me was sure he was just trying to get as much fare as he could. At the time, I did not realize how big the city really was.  He did seem earnest in his occasional stops along the way to ask for directions, and I just prayed confidently along the way. This was before cell phones were expected to be on us at all times like underwear.

Eventually, we made our way up Cumberland Road and drove through a massive arched pale stone entrance with black wrought iron gates boasting the residence hall’s name, Devonshire Hall, in white painted block letters. I immediately forgot all of my irritation on the matter of being ripped off and held my breath as we tentatively passed under the solid arch. This was it.

The taxi gurgled its way around the circular drive and made a final stop in front of wide stone steps stretching below a wall of aged glass doors. It took me awhile to find someone, anyone. Come to find out I was the first student to arrive because international students got settled in before the others.

I was given a key, mumbled goodbye to the taxi driver who charged too much, and hefted my suitcases one at a time up a few flights of stairs until I entered a door with my number on it. Finding myself boxed into a teeny space of about three feet by three feet, I encountered two more doors to choose from situated in adjacent corners. Pink doors.

Once in the right room, I looked all around me. The space was about as big as my bedroom had been at home. There was a sink along the wall which shared the door, a small wardrobe, a twin size bed, and a desk beneath the window. Someone had thoughtfully included a large single bookshelf over the bed and a reading chair in the corner.

Walking over to the window, I was delighted to find it was my favorite kind—the kind you have to crank to open. I peeked down from three stories to a vibrant green lawn and, in the corner, was a short ivy covered fence with a mysterious gate that left me wondering where it led to.

I smiled and took a breath. Then I immediately fell onto the bed and slept.

When I woke up, the shadows were long on the walls and the silence was deafening. The staff member who had given me my key said no other students would be here until the next day, at the earliest. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, sleeping in this massive hall all by myself. Yikes! I examined the deadbolt I had locked earlier. It was a pretty big lock, and quite modern despite the antiquity of the building, so I decided not to worry. Yet.

Realizing I was hungry and that the afternoon was waning, I began walking down Cumberland Road toward a small row of shops—the only shops that were in sight. It was a Sunday. Everything was closed. I was so enchanted by my surroundings that I didn’t even mind much. It was so very different from America…the textures and stone, the scents in the air…the compact cars and their skinny license plates with too many letters. I shivered inside of my black peacoat.

Resigned to the idea that I likely would not be eating that evening, I made my way back up the hill to Devonshire Hall. Along the way, the dry fallen leaves whirled around me and I found comfort in their percussive taps and scrapes on the roads and pavements. I let my fingertips dance lightly along the stones in the walls I passed as I walked. Such a sight took hold of the daydreaming part of my heart and all of a sudden I didn’t mind that I would be missing a meal. I was in England!

Halfway up the road, something furry suddenly wrapped around my leg. A sweet little gray striped kitten. She left my side and bounced up ahead, her little collared bell ringing daintily above the soft whistle of the wind. I don’t even really like cats much, but they always seem to be appearing. Like special friends meant just for me. The little cat sat and watched me make leisurely progress up the incline (no one had told me Leeds was hilly, and I was not in shape!) until the point where I was just within reach. Then she leaped up to the top of the dark, jaggedy stone wall over my shoulder and disappeared with a wave of her tail.

I stood still for a moment, waiting to see if she would return. When it became clear that she wouldn’t be coming back, I pivoted around taking in the sights around me. Cumberland Road seemed to be a residential street of sorts, save for the large church on the corner at the bottom of the road. Twilight was near, so I decided to get back to the hall.

I sighed and let in the reality of just how far away from home I was. I realized I hadn’t called my mom to let her know that I was safe and sound, so I made my way back to the giant stone arch of the hall and found a single iconic red telephone booth. The faraway sound of her voice chased away any whispers of loneliness trying to tempt me as the day’s end can sometimes do.

I don’t know that I ate after all. My memory is too foggy. But I will never forget the blustery weather, the sound of the leaves twirling about along the ground, the never ending taxi ride, the kitten…the view from my room. The way the trees arched over the road leading up to Devonshire Hall and reaching across, touching, creating a shelter from the rain.

I like to remember that day.

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