soul

Wide Open Spaces

When we moved back to the midwest eight months ago we'd hardly dragged our stuff in the door before the whole world disappeared into a blanket of snow, and the temperatures plummeted to double-digits below zero. Friends from our former home in California began texting and calling with questions like: Are you okay? Are you snowed in? Is -30° actually survivable? No question, it has been an adjustment, but the midwest has been good for my soul.

That's a hard thing to express. When I try and talk about it I find that most people, even the ones who live here (maybe even especially them), stare at me with one of those stares people give when they suddenly realize the person they're speaking with is dangerously unhinged—that overly-calm, expressionless expression, the one that's supposed to give the appearance of being unruffled even as they slowly reach into their bag for their pepper spray. No sudden movements.

But I really do love it here.

In the winter the streets go quiet in the heaviest storms. Suddenly, everything is whitewashed, and there's only the sound of snow lightly settling on everything. The next morning the snow covers every meadow and tree limb, and it sparkles like someone scattered piles of diamonds over everything. Spring is something you experience with anticipation unmatched by anything save Christmas morning as a child. Today, as summer begins a long farewell there are wildflowers in bloom everywhere you look. The cicadas buzz lazily all afternoon. The country roads are littered with four-way stops because the corn is so high you can't see the car coming from the right or left until they've almost t-boned you. There are mornings when you wake to the rumble of thunder and evenings when the fireflies bob in the moonlight.  Fall is on it's way with the smell of wet leaves and colorful canopies bending over every street. And there are average, ordinary days when you go for a walk and the sky is so big that it takes your breath away.

But there aren't any mountains. No ocean. There are bugs and humidity, biting cold, and stifling heat.

I still love it. One of the things I've learned about myself recently is just how important place is to me. The environment in which I work and play has a profound effect on how I do... everything. And I'm not just talking about a little sunshine lifting my mood. No, it's far deeper. My best work comes out of me when the gloom is thick and the rain is falling. The smell of clover makes me want to write stories of my childhood. The crispness of an afternoon that isn't cold but has a bit of a bite to it gives me chills of a different kind, making me want to go to parties, light bonfires, and throw leaves in the air.

Place becomes a part of me. Or to use a tired phrase, it gets under my skin.

So returning to this place, the place that first got under my skin, the environment that had a part in making me who I am, has been surprisingly powerful.

The other day we went to a wedding. The venue was nestled in the middle of acres and acres of gently rolling hills, and white wooden fencing. A little river threaded through it all, and the smell of the wildflowers along its banks hung heavy in the humid air.

Between the ceremony and reception we had a little time to simply socialize and sip at cold cocktails. Our little ones took to exploring since neither of these activities held much promise for them. I watched them as they ran back and forth, forwards and backwards, through a wide open space of emerald green grass. In their wedding-best they ran away from us until they were tiny dots like the little wildflowers that speckled the grass under the distant trees. And then they'd run back, laughing and tumbling and squealing.

As I watched them I took a deep breath and murmured a quiet thank you prayer. This is what I'd missed. Moments like this were soul-shaping for me as a child, and I see the potential for them to be soul-shaping for my children. They didn't have that opportunity where we were before. They didn't have these wide open spaces. I didn't have them. I missed them.

When I am down, when I am stressed, when I am afraid, unsure, insecure, and all the other depths into which my mind and heart sometimes step, the best thing I can do is to go outside and find some wide open space. Just look and breathe.

Wide open spaces are my reset button. And we all need those from time to time.

I'm also an introvert and a homebody, so I often have to drag myself there. I have to work to get there. I could stay inside all day seeing no one and easily convince myself that's what's best. But I drag myself into wide open spaces. I roll myself out of bed, stretch my sore muscles, and run in them. I take an evening walk in them. I drive through them. Sometimes I stop the car, get out, and simply stand at the edge of them.

And now they're all around me, ready for the long-look-taking and scent-filled breathing of them.

I've learned to stop taking them for granted.

What about you? What's the thing that you know is good for you that you still have to make yourself do?  What's your reset button?

Go do it.

Thirst

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I’m feeling the weight of melancholy today. I woke up with it hanging around my neck, weighing down my eyes, scattered on the floor, splashed on the walls, hazing up the air around me. It’s not new. Maybe it’s the curse of the creative person, or maybe it’s the curse of all those who live under the fall. I don’t know. But it snuck up on me. I stood in the bathroom staring at my face in the mirror, seeing only the scenarios playing out in my head.

A handful of emails I’ve marked as unread in my inbox, all of them asking difficult questions for which I don’t have the answers. A mental list of projects and ideas and thoughts to jot down, all with little boxes absent of check-marks. A sick wife who will single-handedly juggle two kids for most of the day. And this sort of crushing feeling that I’m far behind in a race I didn’t know I was running.

(Sigh.)

Blink it away. Shrug it off. Hum a tune, and push it to the edges. Save it for a rainy day.

That’s what I’d normally do. But today I’m looking it in the eye. I want to see it for what it is.

I have had good days lately. Good weeks and months, really. A long stretch of good work and seeing God work. A good look at who I am, and who God is and hearing his voice. In fact, of late I have experienced an intimacy with God and a regularity of hearing his voice that is brand new territory for me. So this morning should probably come as no surprise.

A few months ago I started drinking more water, a result of one of the silly pacts I make with myself on a regular basis.

Wake up without hitting snooze. Ride my bike instead of driving. Eat more green things. Read more books Read a book. Seriously…any…book.

Some I follow through with, and some I don’t. But I have been drinking more water. I’ve discovered that the strange byproduct to consuming the amount of water that I really should be, is that I’m more thirsty. (Or maybe not more thirsty, exactly, but more regularly in want of water.)

I used to be able to go for hours—half a day even—without water and then suddenly think, “Ooh, I should probably drink something. Maybe a Coke!” Terrible, I know.

Now I can be completely lost in whatever is in front of me, but as my throat goes dry and my eyes get heavy I suddenly realize that I haven’t had anything to drink in the last hour. My body knows what I need before my mind takes notice.

Rather than acting as a preventative to thirst, drinking more has actually made me more thirsty, more desiring of what is good for me.

Lately I have been drinking deeply of God’s presence and his word and his work in my life. And I think this morning’s melancholy is a case of my soul knowing what I need before my mind has taken notice. I’ve been drinking more, and I’m getting thirsty faster.

Maybe I shouldn’t try to shake this thing off. Maybe I should heed the thirst of my soul and go get a glass.