Tag Archives: T.S. Eliot

Stillness to Dancing

T.S. EliotJust a few months ago, I wrote about my experience with depression.

Crippling, life-stealing depression.

I wrote how I was choosing to serve God whether or not I ever found healing or relief from depression. How I was choosing to be faithful—or at least trying to be.

I shared my experience of the low, the tough, the vulnerable. And then I was silent, on the blog at least.

So today I want to share a follow up. I want to share a story of healing and joy and gratitude.

I’ve been reluctant to write this post. I don’t want my healing to sound cliché. I don’t want to prescribe a how-to formula for overcoming depression because I know it doesn’t work like that. I don’t want to jinx it.

But somehow I’ve come out on the other side and I can’t help but rejoice. I can’t help but share.

I think of my favorite T.S. Eliot quote, “So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

Today I am dancing and I don’t quite know why. Like Allie of Hyperbole and a Half bursting into hysteric belly laughs at a lone kernel of corn, it doesn’t make any sense.

For me it started not with a piece of corn, but at the Sea of Galilee, overlooking the waves that Peter once braved.

Sea of Galilee

God spoke to me that day. He declared inner peace over my soul. He declared me healed and free.

I can’t explain how I heard Him or why I believed that I would be free. I just knew He broke something FREE in me that day. Free from bitterness and wallowing and the chains of depression.

I felt the healing work deep in my soul, deep in my bones. So much so that I couldn’t help but dance.

Dance?! On the shore of the Sea of Galilee? Alone. Ear buds in. Eyes closed. Hips swaying and hands raised.

Like a lunatic. Like someone crazy for Jesus and the healing power he brings.

I didn’t feel the healing yet. I hadn’t experienced it yet. But I knew it was time to start dancing over my graves of depression and burnout and disappointment.

Dancing became a sign of faithfulness. A way to declare victory before the war was even over.

I danced in worship. I danced my praise. I danced for the grace and redemption and renewal I hadn’t yet experienced.

Nothing else mattered but setting my heart and my body to praising the God who promised to heal me. To love me. To bind my wounds.

As I danced, I prayed the chains would be broken. I prayed that my freedom would bring freedom to others.

And when the songs were over, my body stilled, I opened my eyes and turned to see a Korean tour group sitting just a few feet behind me, staring at the girl swaying to the music in her earphones, in her head, in her heart.

And I didn’t care. I was being healed. I am being healed.

Since then joy has found a way to creep in. Little bit by little bit. I began to experience joy in my new grad school classes. Joy at caring for the daily needs of a 94-year-old woman with advanced dementia and one heck of witch cackle laugh. Joy in meeting with my favorite girlfriends on earth to chat and pray and cry and laugh together. Joy in just being.New Kitten!

Today I have a lot to delight in– a new boyfriend and a new kitten for starters (!!). It’s taken work, though, don’t get me wrong. I’ve worked hard in counseling, finding the right medication, admitting that I need help. I’ve prayed and prayed. I’ve recommitted to taking care of myself.

But the healing started that day at the Sea of Galilee. When God whispered something to me, calling me to deep inner peace, silencing my striving like Jesus once silenced the very waves that crashed before me. He declared freedom in me that day.

And I danced it. I hope I am dancing it still.

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T.S. Tuesday: Lessons from Life as a Gringa

“It is not necessarily those lands which are the most fertile or most favored in climate that seem to me the happiest, but those in which a long struggle of adaptation between man and his environment has brought out the best qualities of both.”  T.S. Eliot

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I’ve been living in a foreign country for ten months, and I haven’t found my new home to provide the most fertile ground for deep, lasting friendship and personal growth. I haven’t found it to be, as Eliot suggests, a favored climate for the fruiting of my best qualities. In fact, many days I feel like moving abroad has brought out my worst traits, unearthing my shiest, most insecure, unwelcoming roots.

Ten months is hardly a long struggle and I’m not nearly as well-adapted as I thought I’d be by now, but I have learned a few things along the way.

For starters, tolerance. Not tolerance meaning anything goes, although some days it does feel like that when cat calls and butt grabs in the streets are shrugged off with a sigh and a “that’s Guatemala for you.” But I mean tolerance in the sense that I’m learning that it really, really in the grand scheme of things doesn’t matter whether the people I associate with wear the trendiest clothes or went to the most prestigious schools or use the right amount of snark and hipster references in their Facebook posts.

I’m learning that everyone has value and something to offer. Enough with the cheese, you’re probably thinking right now. That sounds like something you learn in kindergarten. You’re right, I’m sure I did learn it in kindergarten.

People matter. All kinds of people matter. No matter their age or race or language or cultural or educational background.

I’ve known it all my life, but I’ve really lived it here in Guatemala as I’ve interacted with and I’ve learned from and met people so different from me.

It’s also what’s been hard–feeling out-of-place. These ten months have been a lesson in humility. There are very few moments when I’m out and about that I don’t feel strange or uncomfortable or downright stupid. But I think (I hope) this experience is molding me, shaping me to be more accepting of others, more tolerant of what I used to see as irks and flaws, more open to simply being with people, in the moment, with no judgment and no expectations.

I’ve stumbled into trouble, for sure. I have difficulty discerning, as a guest in this country, when I’m supposed to just go with the flow and when I’m allowed to take a stand and set my own boundaries. When I’m allowed to say no. I’m sure I could write a whole book on how not to live the cross-cultural life, but that’s another discussion.

In this country where I’m daily schooled in grammar and syntax by people with a third grade education and all of my preconceived ideas of male attractiveness have been thrown out the window as tiny men with spiky gelled hair and tight jeans with sequins on the rear end  take home all the women, I’m constantly challenged to look past the external. To look past the prejudices I didn’t even know I had.

I’ve also erred on the other extreme, forgetting I have anything to offer. Sometimes I  forget my own God-given gifts and talents. I forget I can give and serve and love and encourage, but that’s another discussion, too.

I’ve become so accustomed to butchered, choppy English and my own broken Spanish that I spent a good five minutes indignantly cursing spellcheck when it “mistakenly” told me “liders” was not an equally viable spelling of “leaders” in the English language, and I don’t even hear the syntactical error when someone asks me “You have boyfriend?” or confesses to me “I am hang over.”

I just go with the flow and answer “No” and “You shouldn’t have drank so much last night.”

If there’s any level of understanding or connection, it’s good enough for me.

Isn’t that how it should always be? Shouldn’t understanding always matter more than the exact words used or the dress or education of the person who spoke them?

I think of how I pick apart the words of authors I read or the movies I watch. Or the things my friends and family say. I think of how smug and snarky and downright judgmental I can be of people back home–of their words or their dress or their upbringing. When I’m in my comfort zone. When I, warranted or not, feel like I’m in a position to judge.

I used to constantly size up the people around me. Am I prettier, smarter, more exciting? If I deemed myself to be, then my pride was bolstered and I’d continue on my merry way. If I didn’t measure up, jealousy, envy, and self-loathing would take hold, gripping me in green.

But here in a foreign country, I am learning in a deep and meaningful (and hopefully lasting) way to look for connection before comparison.

Perhaps it’s just my survival skills kicking in, aching for connection at any level.

Perhaps it’s easier because the comparison seems especially futile or comical. No matter what jeans I wear or how skinny I get or what job title I rock with whatever innovative and socially-conscious new company, here, I am still just the gringa, the foreigner, the canchita. All the striving and the exercising and the Pinterest-browsing or even the Spanish learning and cross-cultural immersion won’t change that.

But connection will.

If I have a real conversation with someone, albeit linguistically limited, that is when I become someone more than just a gringa and the someone I am talking to becomes more than just the tortilla lady or salsa instructor or a guy I met at the gym.

On my end, at least.

Where my own dark judgments used to lurk, gratitude is growing. I rejoice at the small bonds of understanding, and for new milestones like exchanging books with new friends, laughing over silly pop songs that get stuck in our heads, and praying together, in Spanish, in English, in Spanglish.

Here, the gift of unlikely friendship springs up when I least expect it. Even in my shiest, my most insecure, my most unwelcoming moments, connections form. And I am learning to cherish these both improbable and probably temporary friendships. I am growing in grace for myself and others. And I am rejoicing as the fruit of kindness sprouts around me and within my own heart as I learn to connect and adapt in this land where I struggle.

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Yo no sé mañana

This last week I submitted an application to participate in a faith and writing conference at the end of September, which meant that instead of writing new content to share with you wonderful people, I was sifting through hundreds of posts and tens of thousands of words for the perfect 2,000 words to offer as my writing sample. *

I love rereading old journals, little notes I’ve written to myself over the years, and notes of encouragement from others, but I find I rarely reread my blog posts.  It’s just not as fun to cozy up with my laptop as it is to unfurl a battered, well-loved journal sprawled with hopes and dreams and rants and prayers.

But these posts are the same, a chronicle of my hopes and dreams and rants and prayers.

It was good for my soul to look back at the ways God has gifted me with words— not in the I’m-so-talented sense of that phrase, but in that sense that each blog post, each reflection, each whisper of words He’s given me to record and reflect on has been nothing but gift.

Today I’m particularly thankful for a post that I wrote awhile back reflecting on a chunk of T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Journey of the Magi. I hope that maybe it will resonate with you, too.

“Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.” 

I wrote,

“I’m struck by the line “But there was no information, and so we continued.” Not “and yet” or “but” we continued. No, “and so.” There was no information, AND SO we continued.

That is not my usual response. On all my metaphorical camel clad pilgrimages, the darkness and the silence and the lack of clues and INFORMATION is a sign of failure, of defeat. A signal to turn back. To search harder. To turn the running streams and water-mills and old white horses into a divine code that gestures to my success or my defeat.

I don’t often think to just keep going. To walk anyway. To trust anyway. To  the Magnificent Star that first drew me out of my comfortable quarters so many distant miles back.

And so the Magi continue. And guess what, they arrive–“not a moment too soon.”

They arrive. We will arrive. I will arrive.

The darkness will end. The search for information will be satisfied with relationship, with a meeting of the Messiah.

I ask today for the courage to walk anyway. To trust anyway. To not be discouraged by the lack of information, but to rejoice in the hope of Who I will find.

And so I continue.”

I can’t help but think how apropos this post is today. With only two months until I hit my year mark of living abroad and have to decide—yet again—what the heck I want to do with my life based off of a startling lack of information and certainty, it’s a good challenge to be present, to be here, to continue, even when I don’t know what the future holds.

I don’t know where I’ll be living in two months. I don’t know what kind of job I want to look for back in the States. I don’t know if the Bible study I started here in Guatemala will grow deep enough roots in the next two months to continue in my absence. I don’t know if some incredible job opportunity or relationship opportunity or some other dazzling opportunity will be dangled in front of me that will convince me stay here in Guate longer than I had planned.

I don’t know where I’ll be living in two months.

And so I continue investing in the community I have here while staying connected to friends back home.

I don’t know what kind of job I want to look for back in the States.

 And so I continue to give my best to the job I have here now.

I don’t know if the Bible study I started here in Guatemala will grow deep enough roots in the next two months to continue in my absence.

And so I continue praying for growth and connection. I continue inviting new people. I continue showing up every Friday night even when I want to give up or my Spanish feels inadequate or I’d rather go to pizza with my friends. 

I don’t know if some incredible job opportunity or relationship opportunity or some other dazzling prospect will be dangled in front of me that will convince me stay here in Guate longer than I had planned.

And so I continue to pray and seek guidance. I continue to look for ways to give and serve and be here now.

If there’s anything that being in a foreign country has taught me, it’s that I don’t know a lot of things—or words or phrases or cultural subtleties. But I can continue anyways. I can find meaning anyways. I can find God anyways.

There’s a really popular song here in Guatemala called “Yo no sé mañana,” meaning basically, “I don’t know about tomorrow.”

And today it really, really feels like I don’t know about tomorrow. I don’t know what the next two months or the next two years will hold.

And so I continue. And I hope you will, too.

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**I also had the pleasure of hosting two friends from San Diego, which filled my usual writing time with volcano hiking, crepe eating, Youtube video watching and general merriment making. Thanks for visiting, Frank and Kellie!

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T.S. Tuesday: A Taste of Home

“Home is where one starts from.” East Coker, Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot

photo (5)This week I had a taste of home. My family, complete with corny dad jokes, freckles, and an abundance of luggage, visited me here in Guatemala. And. it. was. so. GOOD.

Home for me is not a place, but people. The people who have seen all of my ugly and love me anyways. The people who laugh and cry and share life with me. 

And I was gifted with the opportunity to share a week with four of these people, the people who carry my heart, and give them a taste of the beautiful city and country where I’m learning to make a new home.

We laughed, we cried, we ate tortillas, we haggled and we got ripped off. I got to be a tourist in my own town and was pleasantly surprised to see how much I’ve learned and grown in the past nine months. But mostly, we had a heck of a lot of fun. We laughed at my dad attempting to speak Spanish (to his defense, he studied French in high school). We hobbled over the cobblestones of Antigua. We just so happened to run into ten of my closest friends around town. We bought art from my friend, Joel, handmade boots from my friend, Elio, and chocolate from my friend, Pablo. We hiked, a lot. We hiked to the top of the Cross, to the office where I work, to a magnificent lakeside getaway carved into the side of a cliff at Lake Atitlan. We kayaked across the smooth as glass water to splash upon a lakeside worship service and baptism. We dipped in a hot tub heated with a wood stove. We rode in the back of pick up truck with 15 Guatemalans and sped across the lake in a water taxi regrettably named, Titanic. We were welcomed into the home of my friends and coworkers. We almost witnessed my brother knock down a tiny salsa instructor in one fell swoop because he was dancing “too sexy” with me.

It was glorious.

I was reminded of the beauty all around me here and the beauty in the part of me that still aches for home.

But I am here. I am whole. The missing and the aching is a sign that I am whole, not that I am part, or less than. It is a testament to the goodness of the community I left and to which I will return. It’s rare, this type of community, the home I have with my real family and the “family” of friends and sisters who have welcomed me back in San Diego. And I long for it, ache for it with all of my being.

But I remind myself, I am here. I am whole. Today I am stopping to see the grace. What grace it is that I am here. That I’ve learned to navigate a new city and a new country. That I’m learning still how to love and connect and engage with people across cultures, with people who are very different from me.

And thankfulness rises.

In a town where I can’t make it to the park without greeting someone I know, but have an exceedingly short list of friends I could really count on when things get tough, it was a refresher for my soul to be with the people who have loved me for a long time and will continue to love me for a long time still. Thank you for the taste of home, of where I started from, and the reminder that ALL IS GRACE.

Here are some of my favorite photos from the trip:

In front of our cliffside hotel in Lake Atitlan, Casa del Mundo (pronounced Case-uh del Moonday by my dad)

In front of our cliffside hotel in Lake Atitlan, Casa del Mundo (pronounced Case-uh del Moonday by my dad)

Morning kayaking.

Morning kayaking.

Relaxing at Casa del Mundo.

Relaxing at Casa del Mundo.

My brother clambering into a pickup truck 'taxi.'

My mom and brother clambering into a pickup truck ‘taxi.’

The hotel hot tub. We had to make reservations and it took them 5 hours to fill it up and heat it up. That's a 'snorkel heater' in the tub; waterproof fireburning hot tub heater. Works great!

The hotel hot tub. We had to make reservations and it took them 5 hours to fill it up and heat it up. That’s a ‘snorkel heater’ in the tub; waterproof fireburning hot tub heater. Works great!

My brother and his girlfriend's pose with their caricature done by friend, Joel.

My brother and his girlfriend’s pose with their caricature done by friend, Joel.

Handmade boots!

Handmade boots!

Shopping!

Shopping!

Don’t you want to come visit, too?!

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T.S. Tuesday: Be Here

“Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.”

Burnt Norton, Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot

 

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Birds called in the distance as I panted my way up the hill, hiking one foot in front of the other to my favorite spot in Antigua, El Cerro de La Cruz. It’s my favorite because there are trees and the hill curves upward and it reminds me of the foothills of Northern California where I grew up, where I first learned to pray in the hushed quiet of a forest blanketed with pine needles and smelling of Christmas. A soft haze hung over the city and my lungs burned and my legs burned and my rear end will not be happy with me tomorrow (although hopefully the stair steps will yield some perky results in the long run.) And I can’t explain why, but it even looked like a better day.

A day when God would speak. A day when light would pour in to the lonely places and the sad places and the hum drum and homesick places.

A good friend of mine was just telling me that she misses doing things with people–active things like walking or dancing or making food. It’s one of the deepest ways she connects and she feels she doesn’t get enough of it.

And it got me to thinking about how I connect. Not just with people, but with God. And it made me miss the salt and the spray and the startling beauty of the cliffs where I used to run in San Diego. Where I would pound and pant and start to pray again after a very long time of silence.

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Somehow God always seemed to show up there, at the edge of the cliff, on the edge of the world, in my quiet morning workouts before the work day. He was in the lapping waves and vertical cliffs and smell of sulfur. He was in my lungs as I ran. He met me when I stopped.

I know I connect with God in nature, in movement, but I haven’t really done it here. Not in this town where the streets are ankle-twisting cobblestone and people say it’s not safe to run alone. Where the cat calls abound and I know women who’ve had their butts slapped and their dignity degraded on an afternoon jog.

But I’m sick of staying inside. I’m sick of treadmills and spraying down work out machines.

But more than that, I miss hearing God speak.

So today I ran up to the cross. Lungs burning and legs burning and heart wide awake.

And you know what? God spoke. I’ve been wrestling with the temptation to focus on the AFTER, to stew in my discontent. Lately I’ve let myself get bogged down in missing my friends and my life in San Diego. In missing my church and holding hands across the aisle to pray at the end of the service. In missing my routine and my car and the relationships that give my life such fullness, grace, and color.

I wrote it on Friday and it’s a daily surrender: Be here. Be present. Don’t miss this life here.

And as the birds called to one another and the haze began to lift and my labored breathing began to slow, I looked out at the city I have chosen to call home for now, and He whispered,

“Be here–because I am here.

And today didn’t just look like a better day. It was a better day.

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