Monday, September 30, 2013

Thoughtful Tuesday: I feel empty, which is not the same thing as depressed.

Sometimes I feel empty--

As if someone uncapped me in the night and everything that had flavor ran out, spilling to the floor.

I'm not depressed or exhausted or stressed or anymore broken than I am on a full day. I'm just empty, without anything to bubble to the top, without anything to overflow and frolic. Without.

Without within myself.

But I don't say anything. I don't try to explain the nothing that's inside of me. Because it's nothing. And when I say there's nothing wrong, I couldn't be more accurate. But still, I'm empty, and that's not really right, either.

Explaining it would only make the void more devoid. Others would try to stuff it full of words and help and things that aren't made to go there.

And I know I'm like a beach in the starlight, the tide going out and out and out. And, as on the beach, it won't always be night, and time will fill me up again.

Time will bring the tide back in.

In the waiting, the moon still shines and waxes and wanes. In the waiting, the sea still churns and yearns and crashes and sings. In the waiting, the sand still gleams.

In the waiting, I'm still me.

In the empty, I'm a human sea.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Taking the Flat-Landers to the Top of the World

My brother and his girlfriend just visited for a few days. I asked him what they wanted to do; he said they wanted to hike. They're from Louisiana-- where I'm originally from as well--and you don't get good hiking in the flat, marshy land of the mother country. . . er. . . mother state? I proposed a short, fairly easy hike that's nearby. It's about 3/4 mile to a viewpoint that overlooks a gorge and waterfall. My brother said no, he wanted to do McAfee Knob because he'd seen pictures of it on my Facebook.

I've lived in the mountains going on nine years now, and we do a fair amount of hiking. This summer, Tucker and I hiked a lot with a some friends. Two women and three kids, and we can tackle a trail like nobody's business. We have to slow ourselves down to take in the scenery, because we've finished trails and said, "Wait. We're done? What happened to the hike?"

The five of us hiked McAfee Knob in early August. It's about 3.9 miles up and 3.9 miles down. Surprisingly, it's the down that really gets you. It's the down that made us avid hikers sore and caused three of my toenails to turn black. It's the down that risks your ankles and makes you wonder whether the view was worth all the work. (It is.)

It was a tough hike for the flat-landers--especially my brother's girlfriend--but they made it to the cliffs. They made it to the top of the world.

Here are some highlights from our adventure.

Early in the hike, my brother proved two things:

1. Flat-lander or no, he could still scale a pretty decent rock.

2. Good shoes overcome a lot. My Wal-mart hiking books were clearly not made for climbing. I didn't learn this until I was halfway up this rock face and sliding rapidly back down. This is a picture of me calling "QUICK! Take the picture now, I'm coming down!"

My brother is taunting me with his $130 running shoes that were BOSS on this hike.

 After a few hours of hiking, a couple hundred (or thousand) stone steps, and the sighting of dozens of squirrels, one shrew, and a bee, we made it to the top.

 My brother broke through the tree line and stood on the cliffs. "It's worth it," he called back to his girlfriend. I think the jury's still out on whether she agreed with him.

The flat-landers posed for a picture on one of the most photographed spots in Virginia. Please notice they wore all black. In the woods. During hunting season. "We're like hiking ninjas," my brother said. "We're giving the impression that we just came out here to rob people."

Then my brother took a pic of me. I'm actually a bit afraid of heights, but when I'm on the cliffs, I seem to forget that. I think it's the hiking high. A quick truck up 3.9 miles causes endorphins to do something to your brain. You become . . . not quite invincible, but something more than you were when you took the first step at the trail head. Looking at the pictures and remembering this later, I usually image all types of terrible things that could cause a person to toss over the edge.

We explored the cliffs for a few minutes. Meaning we walked across narrow cliff ledges like the one pictured to the right. It's not quite as daunting as it looks in that picture. The narrowest point of rock outcropping is still around 3-feet wide, I'd guess. Still, not the perfect walking path for someone with my history of stumbling, right?

Here's an odd fact: I can't be trusted to carry laundry down the basement steps without falling, but you strap me into a pair of hiking boots and put me on some rocks, and I tend to do fairly well. My brother responded to this observation with, "In your defense, your steps are terrible."  (We live in a four-story A-frame, counting the basement, and there are a lot of narrow, steep staircases. This may not be a house we can grow old in. . . )

My brother, on the other hand, may or may not have fared as well on the rocks.

We texted this picture to my mother with the caption "When Sam almost fell."  She knows us both too well. Her response was:

"I hope this was staged."

And then, we gathered our bags and our empty water bottles and our nearly full bladders and we hiked down. On the way down, we did battle with a snake.

But that's another tale for another post.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Faithful Friday: Am I wrong for thinking Jesus probably got frustrated?

Yesterday we had one of those family moments when everyone hit the frustration wall, so all little things become more than they are.

The straw-breaking episode included the need to sign up for a school software program with no instructions, three tired people, and a printer. Printers are jerks--I don't even think I need to explain the situation further for everyone to understand.

Everything culminated into a moment of serious frustration and I pretty much said "No. I'm done. Please leave me. Go to bed. My batteries are dead. Plug me in and try again tomorrow."

And then I felt incredibly guilty, because that's not a great way to send your kid to bed or thank your husband for giving up the office so you could have a new workspace and battling the jerk printer on your behalf.

But I started thinking. Do you think Jesus ever got frustrated? I mean, he was dealing with a lot more than a printer and a band program. There were people following him all the time, demanding that he heal them, feed them, teach them. And his helpers weren't always that great. Were there times Jesus looked at the disciples and said, "I'm done. My batteries are dead. Plug me in and try again tomorrow?"

I know there are people that probably gasp at the thought. Jesus was perfect, right? That was the entire point: God sent his Son to be the perfect atonement for our sins, because we could not.

But can you seriously tell me that Jesus never looked at Peter and said, "No, Peter. Just . . . stop. I'm done. We'll try again tomorrow"? Have you read the stories about Peter in the gospels? It had to happen at least once, right?

Except I think Jesus probably handled it a lot better than I ever do. In fact, he probably didn't say, "Peter, just be quiet and let me think a minute" or "You guys just get in this boat and leave me alone for a few minutes, because I've had about all I can handle."

Oh. Wait. Except for that one time he did do that. He probably didn't say that part about having all he can handle. But he did put the disciples in the boat and shoo them off for a while. You should probably check out the original story in Matthew 13 & 14, but here's the gist of what happened:

Jesus heard that his cousin had been killed, so he planned to go off with his close friends--the disciples--and be alone for a while. But word got out, and crowds met him where he was going. Thousands of them. And it was a remote place, and most people didn't bring anything to eat. The disciples asked Jesus to send the crowds away to get food, but Jesus told the disciples to feed them instead.

At this point, the disciples are all shrugging and hands up in the air, because there isn't enough food to feed 5,000 people. There's only this one boy with a few fish and some bread. "It's impossible, Jesus," they say, even though they know he did that thing with the water and wine.

And Jesus has to walk his disciples through another faith-building moment, and they feed the 5,000 people, and then the crowd wants to make Jesus an earthly king. As if he doesn't have enough on his plate, right? He just wanted to be alone for a moment to grieve, and here he is teaching the disciples and feeding the multitudes and avoiding earthly plans because he knows where he is in God's plan.

It had to be frustrating. Even for Jesus.

But he doesn't lash out with hurtful words or slam pots around in the kitchen baskets of bread around on the hillside. He also doesn't sigh deeply, put on a forlorn countenance, and push ahead with the work. Because he recognizes the need for some alone time with God.

Jesus simply puts the disciples in a boat and says he'll join them on the other side of the water. He sends the well-fed crowd away, probably telling them there will be another day. And then, he goes up on the mountain alone. In the quiet of the evening, he prays. He spends time with God. He refills his batteries. He gets ready to try again tomorrow.

So, I think the answer is yes, probably Jesus got frustrated and tired and hit the wall where he was done for the day. That doesn't make him less perfect--yes, he's God. But he was also a man. The fact that he experienced the time of exhaustion and frustration we all experience just means we now know what to do when we're hitting the frustration wall: Find the quiet place and spend some time recharging our batteries with God.

Now I just have to remember that when I'm getting close to the wall . . .