make your home in the wetlands

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Getting off the bus this morning I was greeted by fierce wind and pelting rain. Huddling under the hood of my down jacket I tried to find some measure of warmth while rushing down the hill and across the river in the city. Soon my earlier effort of drying my hair before leaving the house was completely undone and it whipped in drenched cords across my face. I am sure the bogs were delighted with a new thick layer of moisture soaking into their spongy layers but I was not. Ireland can really be a wet land. In the city all the moisture just follows gravity down the streets and into the drains or canals but outside of it, the wetlands flourish.

When I was growing up the wetlands never seemed like exotic ecosystems. Who would want to visit to a marsh, a bog or a swamp when there were oceans, forests and mountains to explore? This was probably the reason a friend and I chose them as one of our high school biology projects one year – they were the unexpected place, the useless ground, the visually abhorrent in our part of the world. As I learned about how wetlands purify our water, ward off flooding and provide habitat for so much life, my opinion began to change. I began to explore areas saturated in water as if they were the hosts of some of the most intricate and delicate forms of life, vital to our world.

Over Christmas while visiting my family in Canada, I was able to travel through parts of Oregon and Washington. On our way home we stopped at the Mount St. Helen’s Visitor Centre. The top is blown off the volcanic mountain from its eruption in 1980. My parents remember the moment their tent walls sucked in and an the explosion filled the air from where they were staying near Vancouver, 400km away. This winter it sat as a silent white novelty to the landscape, framed by the trees and the glassy ice surfaces of the wetlands. My attention was drawn to the plants softly floating beneath the layers of intricately designed ice. This was the area where people thrived before modern conveniences allowed us to choose a home with the best view. Life came from these waters. Safety came from these waters. Sustainability came from these waters. The mountain peak wasn’t the place to go if you wanted to thrive.

I don’t know about you, but I find it really easy to see the very few people who fit on top of the mountain peek of success and hear the message we’ve convinced ourselves of: this could be you if only you … (worked hard enough, didn’t eat, didn’t sleep, prayed to all gods at once, prayed to no god at all). But then I look around me at the real heroes I admire. They move about their days with a passionate focus of giving someone a lift who doesn’t have a car, making lunch for people who others don’t think are important, cultivating the plot of land that belongs to them and making preserves from the fruit of their labour. They live in the wetlands, the places teaming with life, seemingly a little less adventurous and yet sustainable for far more people than the mountain top.

For as much as we all long for the beach, the forest and the mountain top, if only for just a holiday, perhaps it is time to intentionally make our home in the wetlands.

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caught up in this white-out, called peace

PeaceThe world goes silent as streets and gardens and fields are insulated under a thick layer of white. The first intricate clusters of snowflakes bring promise of silence, of a sort of temporary peace on earth where sounds are muffled into the pockets of air reserved to capture and hold all indication of chaos.

I dream of snow.

It is a white duvet of purity that slows down the speed of life, halting us in this moment, this place, these four walls. At the moment when movement becomes impossible, it presents a blank canvas of possibility. The world looks perfect draped in robes of glistening diamante of temporary splendor. A reverent hush subdues the noise of silence in the immediate settling of it. It is peace come to earth.

I dream of peace.

It is a hush whispering over the soul. Chaos is caught up between its particles and, for once, we are stilled and silenced long enough to really see the beauty of this present moment without removing us from it. It is gentle as it falls in a storm where white is all you see, purity is what you see. Gone are the thoughts that have set up false expectations wrapped in cheap, brightly coloured plastic. Gone are the images of everything we do not have, cannot have. Satisfaction is found here in our present relationships, in what we have and the warmth we share.

Welcome the peace. Invite it to come. Do not fear it. Let it bring promise of possibility. Let it still you.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.

Isaiah 9:6-7

 

walk around like the good work of art you are

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Imagine a world where art took in a breath and came to life. Imagine it walking through the streets stirring up questions about existence, about purpose, about possibilities. It would congregate where shadows gather, lighting up dark allies that strike fear.

Fear begins to pitch its tent in the streets around me. It sells its fortune-telling trinkets from stalls glittering in dark omens on every street corner, computer and smart phone. Fight, flight or freeze – natural responses, normal responses, survival responses.

But I want to respond differently. I don’t want to be afraid. It muddies the waters and stifles out life. It steals away joy and cauterizes contentment. I want to be beauty. I want to be art. I want to speak to these streets and shout, “It doesn’t have to be this way!”

In the beginning God created a sculpture from the earth, a work of art intended to live. I don’t particularly care about the techniques he used or how long it took him. The result was beautiful. And then he breathed into it. And it lived, perfectly, for a while until diluting the breath of God with toxic pride.

Fear came. Death came. Hatred came.

That is what we were made to be. Living works of art with the breath of God in us. We still can be, but it’s a little harder than before. We have to seek out his life in us. We have to pull down the bricks we’ve built around our hearts to keep us safe and let love in. Love will change us. It will pull back our shoulders and set our spines straight. It will clear our muddied thoughts and replace them with wisdom. It will seek and destroy lesions of bitterness that are slowly killing us.

We have a choice, this choice: stand at the stalls of fear, hide in self-preservation or light up the darkness. We cannot do more than one. Want to go on a walk with me?

I want to add to the beauty to tell a better story. I want to shine with the light that’s burning up inside. And this is grace, an invitation to be beautiful. ~ Sara Groves

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exercising creativity

IMG_4954Most of us look at aspects of our lives and world, wishing they could be different in some way. It feels impossible that it could ever get better. We need creativity. We need to think uniquely and usefully so we stop doing the same thing in the same way, getting the same results over and over again.

According to people who study these sorts of things, ‘creativity’ is a relatively new addition to conversation. For the purpose of study and measurement, it is commonly defined as something that is both unique and useful. Creative thinkers help us tease out new solutions and new futures in the midst of existing problems. They inspire us to see the world differently than before. For me, I am increasingly convinced about the importance of providing an environment that encourages the development of creativity in communities. For creativity to have an impact, I am realising two incredibly important pillars that need to be in place.

The opportunity to think differently. We’re not talking about a pseudo individuality here. This is the genuine appreciation for difference. Giving people the opportunity to think differently means that my way might not be the best (or right) way. It is the opposite of conformity of thought and action. It is not limited to one alternate, but many. For someone who sews, creativity is exercised in anything from choosing the colours for a project, to creating a whole new pattern, to sewing a zipper in with a different method. Creativity won’t make sense if you haven’t been given the opportunity to think differently. If you haven’t been given that opportunity in a very long time, you can give it a workout, like a muscle. Go back to the colouring books and, instead of painting the sky blue, change the colours of your whole picture to look a little less realistic. Pick up an object and try to come up with 20 different uses for it other than what it is intended for. Take an autumn leaf off the ground and take a minute to run your fingers over the top, edges and bottom. Look at it up close. Look at it from a distance. See it differently than you have before. Feel it differently than you have before. Visit an artist or an art museum and try to see through their eyes. Let wonder and curiousity back into your life.

The opportunity for skill development. Language is one of the first things we learn as children. Babies experiment with sounds, playing with them as they roll off the tongue until they form into words, sentences and stories. Spoken language becomes a skill that is accessible by the majority of people in the world. Is it any wonder that music, poetry and storytelling are found in every culture in the world? Language and its development shapes the way we view and interpret the world around us. As language changes, we change. As we change, language changes. Language is our first and foremost skill to use creatively. What new ways can we use it to bring meaning to our lives? To become someone who sews (clothes, blankets, curtains, cushions, tents …) there are a few necessary requirements: knowledge of fabric and its care, a needle, thread and knowledge of construction technique. Of course, you also have to have fabric to learn with, not just the knowledge of it. Without these, you will never be able to exercise creativity with fabric. You will only be a dreamer who imagines possibilities. This is the difference between thinking uniquely and thinking creatively. With only skill development, you will create the same thing over and over again. This is the difference between being skilled and being creative.

I like to start where I am, with what I have in my hands. What opportunities have I been given already with the knowledge and materials I have in my hands? Then I begin to think about the many different ways I could use them. Most of my ideas are really rubbish and need to be disregarded. This isn’t failure; this is pruning. Eventually, I will stumble upon something really good that helps me create something beautiful.

We need creative people. We need them in our businesses, in our governments, in our schools, in our communities, in our churches and in our homes.

How can you think differently today? What angles haven’t you considered? What opportunities for skill development are available to you? How can you give courage to someone to think differently today? What skill can you pass on to them? Let’s be creative people together.

spotting talent

2015-08-01 11.19.48-1Lawrence’s strong back shimmers in the evening light as water sloshes over it. I take a step back to get my city shoes out of the way while Jane rubs her horse down, prepping him for the show the next day. After knowing Jane for 11 years I finally made it to the Glens of Antrim to visit her in her home, surrounded by some of her favourite things. How unlike the chaotic field of tents and rambunctious urban teenagers that were our common passion.

Blueberry pancakes set us up the next morning before I climb aboard the gigantic horse hotel on wheels, along with Lawrence and Jane’s team for the horse show – her dedicated mum and dad, and Nikki … who seemed to be as much of a younger sister in the family as the groom. Just east of Belfast Jane pulls us into a relatively empty field that is roped off into sections. Following orders, I place two lawn chairs in their usual spot, right in front of the vehicle for front row seats.

2015-08-01 09.12.39Now this is no Calgary Stampede right here – it is much more dignified than that. Helmets, riding jackets and jodhpurs replace stetsons, cotton plaid and denim. Women outnumber men. Draft, Hunter, Cob, Connemara and Riding Horses are groomed with precision according to their class. For Lawrence it was a lot of hair off the top, two wide lines drawn on his rump prepped with pigs oil, and sharks teeth to finish the look off. The black nail varnish on his hooves is already beginning to wear off from its unappreciated application the day before.

2015-08-01 13.32.46“That is a beautiful horse,” each of my hosts would say now and again as horses and riders circled in front of us.

It was that day I began to understand these shows were not about primping a horse and displaying it as if in some sort of beauty pageant. They are about owners “spotting talent” in a horse at a young age, training it, grooming it and giving it a future career with someone else. You have to pour heart and soul into an animal, knowing you will have to let it go. It takes cost and risk for very little return. After a bad fall (her father made sure to tell me that it was no fault of her own), Jane recovered from a broken back in her early 20s. This was only several years after wining Supreme Champion at the Dublin Horse Show in the RDS – the win of wins! Her first question was about when she could ride again.

Even after a lot of work to get a horse to a show, there is no guarantee for a win. I can’t say that I’m too much of a fan of the subjective nature of judging at this event … both during the competition and after. Horse and rider are all under scrutiny from a hundred pairs of eyes.

2015-08-01 13.36.54-1By the time Jane’s event was over, the field was full of people, horses, pet dogs and gigantic vehicles. The dark clouds gave up their rain as we climbed into the shelter of our vehicle and reversed out to head home. My own brief attempt at cowgirl-turned-proper-horse-rider-with-the-english-saddle was a bit of a bust that afternoon and reminder that there is a long way to go before I could live the particular fantasy where I am the heroine in a Louis L’Amour book. But this is where Jane thrives and dreams.

As we walked under canopies of lush, green forest surrounding Glenarm Castle the following morning, we shared mutual inspiration for the starting of great things that grow from existing talents that we gave time to develop alongside our professional and spiritual lives. It just so happens that we are both in a place where these realities have collided with enough ferocity that the sparks have jumped, igniting opportunity. In our respective areas we are “spotting talent” – taking raw material and beginning to forge something new from inherent possibility.

the no regrets pact

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If you were to live today with no regrets, what would you do? This isn’t the sort of question that gives you time to make a bucket list of everything you want to do before you die. It is a decision maker based on what is within reach here, right now.

According to Erikson’s stages of development, we shouldn’t really be thinking about the value of our lives and the impact we make in our world around us until we hit at least 40 … and spend the rest of our lives making sure we leave a meaningful legacy for someone within our spheres of influence, however big or small those may be. Maslow figured that the ability to think beyond ourselves and give to others altruistically, spiritually, is the pinnacle of development. But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if there was a way to choose to hijack these lines of development?

I had this weird niggling thought in my head since I was a teenager that I would die between the ages of 26-28, mostly likely in a plane crash. A little morbid and a little weird? Absolutely! Oddly enough though, it never made me afraid. It pushed me to really live. Guess what? I’m still not dead.

No regrets living takes us places and gets us off the couch. It builds bridges with people. It accomplishes things. It gives us experiences and wisdom. It only has that healthy respect for fear. It is a courageous life. No regrets isn’t the ability to forgive yourself for not meeting the mark. It is the choice to do something that you won’t have to forgive yourself for.

Several weeks ago I had a friend over for dinner and we decided it was time to start a #noregretspact with each other. The best part is, we actually check in with each other: “How’s your #noregretspact?” It has challenged me to live like I used to live when I thought time was short – fully alive. The key to success? When there is a choice, make the courageous decision that you won’t regret tomorrow. For me, that might be getting out the door to Pilates, telling someone the good I see in them right there and then, swimming in the sea when it is still freezing cold, getting out of bed when I wake up (even if the alarm hasn’t gone off yet), saying “no” to that good thing I don’t actually have time for, having that conversation with God I don’t feel like having, answering emails in the morning, stopping to listen to someone, following through with something I told someone I’d do, taking a risk …

Right now, when you finish reading this, what will you choose to do?

#noregretspact

if god would only give up his archaic ways

Some days I’m not so sure about being on a team with God. First of all, he’s not as obviously visible and vocal as another human being. It can feel like I’m talking to myself: “Ok, God, if I understand correctly, I head this way and you head that way and then we will meet over here.” And trying to listen to him? Well, it sometimes sounds like this: “——————-.” Apparently he hasn’t read all the books about how our current culture operates. He might have a better understanding of how to function in society if he had. With that better understanding, maybe he’d fit in a little better. Maybe he could take all his strengths and even become as successful as Google – with all those unique qualities he has: being everywhere at the same time, knowing everything, being able to do whatever he likes (creative genius behind the concept of the world and all …).

But I signed up for his team a long time ago. I signed up for his team. He didn’t sign up for mine. In moments of complete clarity there is nothing I’d rather be doing.

We think we are so smart, so evolved, so ahead of every society that ever came before us. God is old, really old. He hasn’t quite caught up to the way we deal in information overload and fast-paced environments. He doesn’t know the way we communicate these days. If he did, he’d know we are an extremely intelligent people with hurting souls, and who really needs a soul (it’s like an appendix, perhaps it had a function once but might just cause us health issues if it doesn’t get removed). He should learn from us.

But then there is a dream that follows me like a shadow around the city, even on a cloudy day. In it there are children, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and neighbours laughing with each other in the streets coloured with trees and flowers instead of advertisements on abandoned beer cans. The empty shop fronts and derelict buildings are housing unique and bustling businesses that are birthed through the creativity of a community. Creased foreheads have been smoothed from peace and hunched shoulders of desperation are pulled back in hope. Heaven, it smells like heaven. It is a place to belong that stores up so much love that it comes up from the ground in springs of a playground on a hot day for everyone who passes by.

It is unrealistic. It is a fantasy world that we know couldn’t possibly exist because the world just does not work that way. And yet, as fast as I run and no matter where I hide, that dream stalks me, sneaks up on me and crouches in wait before crashing over me – in beauty, in life, in belonging, in the essence of the dream. Caught up and overwhelmed by the dream … that is where God speaks, reminding me that my role is not as complicated as I over-think it to be and his is far more complicated than I could ever imagine. He knows what he is doing. Do I know what I’m doing?

He has bigger dreams than me and has set into motion creative tides of change that have swept over our universe again and again. Should we both be visible and standing side by side I would only be noticeable if he made me noticeable. We aren’t playing together to win some sort of intellectually clever competition. We are playing to see whole communities bought back in hope. Perhaps it is us who haven’t caught up and he is way ahead, groaning over our archaic ways.

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong … Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God. ~ Ecclesiastes 5:1, 7

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