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Consolation and New Year’s resolutions

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Over the past month or so, I’ve woken up several times in the middle of the night with a sudden panic that I’ve left Foxy outside in the cold. I sit up straight and call her name, scared to death that she is [morbid alert] frozen to death out in the yard. And each time, I’m relieved to find that she’s right there by the bed. Of course she is.

My lifelong propensity towards anxiety paired with a winter that’s already more extreme than the entirety of the 2015-2016 season is doing dismal things to my brain. It’s not so much the temperature as it is the wind chill, and it isn’t so much the wind chill as it is the darkness.

Winter in Minnesota, man. Only the strong survive.

But regardless of how I feel about the weather, I find myself living in Minneapolis for my second January. Take four degrees and subtract them from zero, and that’s the temperature at this very minute – and it doesn’t even seem all that unreasonable, given the stiff and hypothermic potential. My survival strategy is to just keep living – and in January, I’ve decided that life will be made up of only two things: working, and running on the treadmill.

It happens to all of us at the start of every new year, doesn’t it? Making resolutions, resolving to re-solve what we’ve deemed wrong about our lives. As usual, I’ve decided that the root of all that’s wrong with my life is not, in fact, my fallen nature, but the circumference of my thighs. My re-solution? To run.

To run a freaking marathon.

Ha. That was actually my New Year’s resolution – to run 26.2 miles, twice as far as I’ve ever run, twice as far as I’ve ever wanted to run. Annieeeeeee. Why must your goals always be so extreme??

But since then, some thoughts.

First, last week I listened as a wonderful dinner companion shared about the Ignatian method of discernment called Examen, a prayer-fueled mindfulness that involves the idea of consolation and desolation. Each night, one is to review the events of the day and pinpoint the moments that were consoling (life-giving, inspiring, connecting) and the ones that were desolating (draining, despairing, isolating); in other words, consolation is movement toward God, and desolation is movement away.

As patterns begin to emerge, the idea is to orient one’s life toward consolation as a way forward. It’s not about making the “right” concrete decisions or checking items off a list, it’s about moving toward the things that stir us up and send us out, strong, tender, and present.

A few days later, I listened to an episode of Steve Wiens’s podcast in which he makes the case for “change that actually changes you.” So much of what he said parallels the idea of Examen. You should listen to the full episode, but for now, I’ll share the simple daily prayer offered by Steve at the end: “God, I want to experience life in all of its fullness today. Please lead me there.”

Do you feel how different this way of life is from our crazy New Year’s resolutions, those hard-hitting, full throttle plans that we think are going to turn our sorry ass luck around?

At the Christmas dinner table, I told my sister-in-law Ashley that I am thinking about training for a marathon, but that I’m nervous that if I commit to it and say it out loud that I won’t actually be able to do it and then I’ll be a total garbage person failure. She said, “I guess that you’d need to know that the process of reaching the goal would be just as worthwhile as achieving the goal itself.”

This morning at the gym, I ran for 45 minutes while staring at a poster in front of the treadmill that said, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” That’s a preposterous notion, really, since we can and do fail all the time. So I changed it in my mind to, “What would you do if you knew you might fail, but you’d kind of like to give it a shot anyway?”

Here’s the truth about today: I’m glad I ran for those 45 minutes. I feel awesome. That run felt like consolation. I want more of that feeling.

Here’s another thing that’s true: I was not well in 2016. The quiet stress I experienced during the first half of the year wreaked havoc on the second, health-wise. I had an eye infection that lasted for two months. I got shingles. My body harbored infection, I was sick over and over again, and I couldn’t sleep. But in November, when I started getting back into running after years of not running, I started to feel better. The beginning of 2017 finds me quite well, physically. I credit much of this to running, which is reason enough to keep doing it.

I don’t know if I’ll run a marathon this year. But at the risk of feeling stupid later, I’ll say it anyway: I’m going to try. I’m going to follow this training plan day by day, as far as I can take it, and give it everything I’ve got.

Maybe it will result in the torturous achievement of running 26.2 miles all at once, or maybe I’ll find that running 26.2 miles via multiple runs spread out over a week is a pretty cool accomplishment, too. Last week, my new friend Barnabas said something like, “What if running 15 miles 10 times is just as big an achievement as running 26.2 once?” I like that. When we drop our rigid expectations, the world opens up to us (the most Oprah thing I’ve ever said); success can take so many different forms.

(But I really am going to try for a marathon.)

I hope 2017 finds you experiencing life in all its fullness and moving toward consolation, New Year’s resolutions or none. And if you’re dying for a getaway, please come visit me in Minneapolis. I have a brand new furnace.

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Annie recommends

Monday, March 9th, 2015

The past several weeks have been so full. I’ve had multiple work trips (Minneapolis, San Francisco, Anaheim), three humongous work events, houseguests, family visits, and a particular emotional roller coaster that’s still unfolding.

With each close friend that I confide in, I realize that my heart is hoping more and more for a certain outcome, and how disappointed I’ll be if it doesn’t happen. But what’s the alternative? Not hoping at all? Novocain to the heart? We were never meant for dull souls. As a friend said to me last week, “Sometimes it’s good for us – getting our hopes up.” And so I hope, and I wait, and trust that whatever the outcome, I’ll make it through because I’ve been through worse.

I’ll tell you if it happens. And I’ll probably tell you if it doesn’t.

In any case, there are all sorts of other people saying and doing things worth sharing. So here are some of my top picks.

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I recently met Nashville singer-songwriter and all around superstar Annalise Emerick, and heard her play a song that I capital L LOVE. Listen to “Patti Smith.”

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Do you know about Kara Tippetts? Her widely read blog is chronicling her last days on this earth – and just about every post makes me want to throw my computer across the room, it’s so unfair. Just six years older than me and one hour south, Kara is dying of cancer. Just yesterday, I watched the trailer for a documentary about her life and imminent death, and openly wept in my kitchen. Will we ever understand why some families are dealt the short stick?

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My very favorite podcast, On Being with Krista Tippett, is a conversation about faith, religion, psychology, race, art, science, and ethics (my very broad summation), and I can’t get enough of it. I’ve recently been going back and re-listening to some of my favorite episodes, and ran across one that is so encouraging and life-giving, I want to pass it along. What happens when you get a Jewish rabbi, a Christian bishop, a Muslim scholar, and the Dalai Lama in the same room for a conversation? I cannot recommend this program enough.

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My friend Hilary Oliver (she looks like Gwyneth Paltrow, and also you should read her blog) recently shared a quote that stopped me in my tracks. To live like this!

“In boldly setting out toward ends, one risks disappointments;
But one also obtains unhoped-for results;
Caution condemns to mediocrity.”
-Simone de Beauvoir

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That’s all for today. Until we meet again, remember to be like Ariel (“I want more…”), Belle (“I want adventure in the great wide somewhere…”) and when it comes to hope, fine, Pocahontas (“How high will the sycamore grow? If you cut it down, then you’ll never know”).

The speck on a speck

Monday, February 24th, 2014

I’ve heard it said that there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on all the beaches of this planet. And while we obviously can’t count either (trust me, I’ve done some very official Internet Research), I think that the point is that the universe is startlingly, overwhelmingly, mind-bogglingly gigantic – which makes me feel tiny. Smaller than tiny, actually. Indefinitely small. Infinitesimal.

In this knowledge, human beings shouldn’t matter; compared to the rest of creation, we should be negligible. There’s a hole in the bottom of the sea, and we’re the speck on a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck on the wart on the frog on the bump on the log therein. To make matters worse, just as the universe is constantly expanding into cold and infinite darkness, stars burning out into corpses along the way, we’re all racing toward death at a breakneck speed.

In case you’d forgotten, none of us are making it out of here alive. We are small, tenuous, and frail. It’s enough to make a girl despair – because does any of this, this world, this living, even matter?

Do I matter?

But then I remember that my nose can smell chocolate chip cookies, and my tongue can taste them. I think of the sky before a summer rainstorm, clouds the shade of polished steel, my eyes receptive to the hues. Sunlight hits the skin and warms it. On lucky nights, I can hear owls high in the trees of Jefferson Park, even if I can’t see them. We experience life in color. We encounter the world by way of our five senses, and we are constantly receiving through them. It didn’t have to be this way, but it is.

Doesn’t this feel generous?

And beyond what we see, taste, touch, hear, and smell, there’s even more. The rhinoceros is actually a thing. Photosynthesis works. Crack open a spaghetti squash and the flesh falls apart into tiny strands. If corn kernels are heated to the right temperature, they explode into soft, edible puffs. Whales sing. Words, invisible and intangible, have the power to heal or destroy. Yawns are contagious. Babies laugh; we all laugh. When we’re sad, tears fill our eyes.

This world is full of beauty and sorrow, and I don’t know which you’re experiencing today – but I’m combatting the numbness that often feels so easy. I am struck with the miracle of what it means to be alive, even on a so-called “normal” Monday. We may be small and our lives may be fleeting, but the gifts of this life are extravagant and lavish, and none of this is an accident.

Labor Day

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

I don’t feel much like getting up from this bed. My legs are stretched out in front of me and crossed at the ankles, left over right, giving me a good view of my newly pedicured toes. I broke one of them a few years ago – stubbed it on my couch, the one I bought brand new – and it still juts high above the other four, like an adobe hill out of the desert, the kind that gutsy kids use as a bike ramp.

It’s been years since I’ve ridden a bike, even though the Trek I got for my 14th birthday is currently crammed into the mudroom of my house, the front wheel turned perpendicular to the rest of the frame, blocking the doorway. I step over it whenever I go into the backyard, which is infrequent now that Toad is gone. I keep thinking I should put air in these tires. I should ride to work. Or I could try to sell it. Homeowners can always use extra cash.

It stresses me out, money. It always has. When I was a kid, I would pull the dollar bills out of my piggy bank and count them, splaying them across my bedspread, the ones together, the fives. Then I would walk across the hallway to the laundry room, set up the ironing board, and turn the iron to low. The literal smoothening of my money somehow translated, and when the stack of bills was crisp and orderly, so was my spirit – at least, so I thought.

Last night in a church pew, I wrote my September budget on a Post-It note. I had not been to church in – months? It must be. And already, the rhythm of the service felt unfamiliar. Do we really stand for this long? Funny, I went to church nearly every Sunday for 30 years, but take me out for just a few months and all of a sudden attending feels new.

I like it when things feel new and fresh. I also like it when things feel familiar and routine. This desire for both roots and wings is a tug-of-war, and I’m right in the middle of it, and I don’t know if I’ll be pulled to one side or the other or just torn in half.

They – three different friends now – say that they think I’m “on the verge.” Of what, they don’t really know, and it would be silly to speculate. But I feel it, too – the sense that something is almost. I wonder if it will feel like roots or like wings.

So I pray. I think that prayer is important – not so much because I think God will do what I ask, but because it reminds me that I’m not him. Not so much because God is a shelter from the storm, but because I hope he’ll stand out in the rain with me. Not so much because it leads to the absence of pain, but to the presence of love.

Tethered

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

For the past couple of days, I’ve been feeling a bit untethered.

I can see how one might define the word “untethered” as freedom – no constraints, no confinement, nobody puts Baby in a corner – and that is a valid interpretation. But that’s not what I’ve been feeling. To me this week, “untethered” has meant disconnection, detachment, a balloon in the wind, tossed around and longing for an anchor.

“Religion” isn’t a very popular word these days – and in a culture that has come to associate religion with dogma and hypocrisy, how could it be? “I’m not religious – but I am spiritual” is a common sentiment, because we are desperate to believe in what we know to be beautiful and mysterious, but we don’t want the baggage and guilt that come along with religion.

But I once heard that the word “religion” comes from the same Latin root as the word “ligament”: re- (again) + ligare (to bind). In its most authentic form, religion is about connection. Like a ligament, my God rebinds what was otherwise detached.

I may feel untethered, but my spirit is grounded and my hearts is secure. I belong to a bigger whole. And like so many other things I am learning these days, I’m writing it down to remember it’s true.

Favorite Christmas present, and Stuck giveaway winner

Friday, December 28th, 2012

I’ve been in Kansas City with my family all week. Everyone is here: parents, siblings, nephews, future brother-in-law, 3 dogs, and all of the cookies in the world. Tomorrow, I load into a Subaru Forester with Becca and Michael, Gabe and Toad, Becca’s wedding dress, their wedding decorations, and all of our Christmas loot, and drive west back across Kansas for 9 hours to Denver. Heaven help us.

This is my favorite Christmas present I received:

That, my friends, is the Gregory Sage 55. If you wake up one day and I’m gone, you’ll know it’s because I loaded it with everything I need to keep myself alive and just… walked away. Because someday, that is what I fully intend on using it for.

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And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Thank you to all who entered the Stuck giveaway! It’s an amazing study, and if you’re looking for a soul-filling challenge, Jennie Allen has good stuff. I’m excited to check out Chase and Anything, as well.

There could only be one winner, so I used my trusty pal RANDOM.ORG to pull a number. Multiple comments from the same person counted as one entry.

And the winner is:

8! Leah Van Hoozer!

Leah, I’ll send you an email to get your mailing address. Congratulations!

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Maybe I’ll write a 2012 recap before 2013 – my Google Reader tells me that recap posts are all the rage this time of year. If I don’t, though, suffice it to say that 2012 stretched me in ways I didn’t know I needed to be stretched (and, to be honest, I still don’t WANT to be stretched). I have worked really, really hard in all sorts of ways. Someone recently asked me if I was happy, and I said no.

But you know me – I’d be miserable if I was happy. SMILEY FACE.

What I do know is that I love the people in my world, and while faith does not come easily for me, I’m hanging on for dear life. I hope that 2012 has seen you hanging in there, too.

Stuck

Friday, December 21st, 2012

When I turned 30, I had the sinking realization that no one was going to fix me.

I had long harbored the belief – although perhaps not consciously – that someday, something was going to shift, and I would no longer be broken/sad/angry/afraid/lonely/insecure/what-have-you. Believing that someday things would change somehow made it easier to accept that today, I was still stuck.

I continued to allow myself to be stuck in the (shoddy) confidence that the elusive and undefined someday was coming.

But when the calendar turned to a new decade, I realized that I was struggling with the same things I struggled with at 14 and 19 and 23 and 28. I realized that in certain areas of my life, there was no movement. I realized that I was stuck – and that no one was going to dig me out, even if they tried.

Because oh, they have tried. Parents and friends and boyfriends and mentors – they have all meant well, and genuinely cared, and offered both words of truth and tangible acts to attempt to loosen me from the muck and mire. But I’ve been like a Chevy sunken to the axles: desperately, impossibly stuck.

A trusted person recently observed to me, “I see a war happening over your heart.” And I believe her. Feel free to disagree, but I believe that about all of our hearts – that there is good and there is evil, and they both want us desperately. Now, I believe that good wants us much, much more than evil ever could – but evil is insidious and conniving, and if the devil can’t have our souls, he’ll settle for our lives. He’ll do everything he can to keep us bound and gagged, to keep us from being a force for good – to keep us stuck.

Right around my 30th birthday, I got an email from Thomas Nelson Publishers asking if I would be willing to review a women’s bible study. Now, you guys. Confession time: I’m not big on bible studies. I just haven’t really done many (pastor’s kid failure). Thomas Nelson asking me to review a bible study was the equivalent of the MLB wanting my thoughts on the statistics of, I don’t know, BUNTING. (Although remember when I was so sporty and wrote this?)

But the name of the study caught my eye, and so I said yes. A few days later, Jennie Allen’s Stuck arrived on my doorstep.

This DVD-based study was so meaningful to me. It helped me pinpoint some of the areas I struggle with being stuck in: brokenness, anger, discontentment, fear, sadness. Jennie’s conversational teaching and storytelling made the 8 DVD sessions completely engaging (I want to know her in real life). And while I can’t say that I’m now completely “unstuck,” I know that addressing these topics head-on has given me language and tools to MOVE.

God wants our hearts, and is fighting for them. I truly believe this. And I’m happy to say that he is helping me get free, even in the smallest of ways.

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Thomas Nelson gave me an extra study kit to give away to a reader, so if you’re interested, leave a comment saying you’d like to be entered for a chance to win. The curriculum includes an 8 session DVD, study guide, leader’s guide, and conversation cards for group discussion. While I believe that the lessons apply to both men and women, Jennie created the study for women – so all you burly men, feel free to enter, although you have been warned.

A winner will be chosen via good ol’ RANDOM.ORG on Friday, December 28th.

A sense of home

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

My grandma has lived in the same house for 57 years.  Fifty-seven.

She spent the entirety of her marriage there.  She raised her children there, from infancy to adulthood.  Her kids, her grandkids, and her great-grandkids have eaten in that same kitchen, swam in that same pool, and sat on that same front porch.  She has attended the same church, shopped at the same grocery stores, seen the same neighborly faces, and driven the same streets for a lifetime.

I recently sat down and made a list of how many times I have moved.  In the 12 years since I left my hometown of Montrose, Colorado, I have moved 18 times.  The longest I have lived in any one place is 2 years (a studio apartment in Seattle); almost all of my tenures have been less than a year.  A total of 13 scattered months have been spent with no address at all, squatting with friends or family for short fragments of time, all of my possessions boxed up in basements, garages, or storage units.  I am on my fourth set of friends, with countless other relationships far-flung around the world like a constellation.

Perhaps this is the norm for my generation, but at this point, the concept of home barely rings a bell.  I don’t know where my home is.  But I know that I crave it with every ounce of my being.

Last night, I went to Red Rocks for the first time ever, and heard James Taylor play “Carolina in My Mind.”  Before he began, he told the audience that he wrote the song in 1968 in London.  There he was, recording overseas, with the accolades and attention of some of his heroes (two of the Beatles, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, are actually featured on the track); by all worldly standards, he had reached “success.”  But even with his accomplishments, he explained, he had been so homesick – and that prompted him to write and record this song that so many of us now know and love.

Old or young, famous or not famous, home calls to all of us.

My grandma has lived in the same house for 57 years – but we know that her time here on earth is winding down.  Even for one with a very strong sense of home, she can’t stay.  What an ache.

But I believe that our true Home is more than just a spot on a map.  It’s more than geography and more than circumstance and more than time.  It’s where my grandma is headed, and it’s what James Taylor sings about, and it’s what my own heart longs for.  It’s absolute familiarity and comfort and permanence, a lack of insecurity and an abundance of joy – and it’s closer than we think.

In the meantime, while I’m in this life on earth, I am thankful for little reminders of Home: a cup of coffee in whatever house I wake up in, a flawed but precious lineage, and the songs of James Taylor.

After the fire

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

If you hadn’t heard, Colorado is burning.  There are at least a dozen separate fires racing across the state, some in very close proximity to major cities.  In Colorado Springs alone, 32,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. 

The images are astounding: smoke billowing from hillsides, flames licking the sky, familiar landmarks in the path of the blaze.  I hear about the “thousands of acres” that are on fire, and it’s hard to comprehend just how large an area we’re dealing with, or how long it may take to get it under control; the High Park Fire west of Fort Collins has been burning for 18 days.  Depending on which way the wind is blowing, Denver has often been enveloped in a haze.

For as stunning and alarming as the fire itself is, as I scroll through photo slideshows online, I’m more taken with the images of the aftermath: barren hillsides, burned-out tree trunks, quiet devastation.  After being ravaged, a small amount of clean-up can be done – but then, the only thing left to do is wait: for new growth, for new life, for a new season. 

And waiting can be so hard.

I’m in a season of waiting right now.  It’s tough, because my culture has conditioned me to expect quick results and instant relief – but I’ve weathered enough to know that this just can’t be the case all of the time.  If you’ve gone through a fire, it takes a long time to rebuild.

The last time I was in Nashville, I saw my friend Brynn Sanchez.  If you don’t know Brynn, you’re missing out, because she is one of the top humans on the planet.  She told me about singer/songwriter Audrey Assad, and later sent me one of her tracks.  Since then, “Show Me” has played at least 3 times a day – early in the morning, driving home from work, before bed.  As one who struggles with the concept of prayer (which is another post entirely), this song has been my heartbeat.

“Bring me back to life – but not before you show me how to die.”

My heart breaks for my state, and for the people whose homes have burned.  I am so sad for the death of dreams, and I feel for their long road ahead.

But I hope for redemption of what has been lost.

Things will feel better one day.  Things will BE better one day.  New life is on its way.  It just takes time.

After Easter

Monday, April 9th, 2012

“So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute.  Love the Lord.  Love the world… Love someone who does not deserve it… Give your approval to all you cannot understand… Ask the questions that have no answers… Be joyful though you have considered all the facts… Practice resurrection.”

-Wendell Berry, from Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front