Beyond Room 119


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Christmas in August

Today felt like Christmas.

From waking up early, watching the sun rise with anticipation building of what was to come, to an abundance of presents, each one bringing a new smile to my face and a stronger appreciation of all the blessings in my life.

The biggest difference between this morning and Christmas (weather aside, I suppose) is that instead of physical presents, I received the gift of presence. You see, I met up with my entire running crew this morning for a long run. Since I’ve moved a month and a half ago, I’ve seen different folks here and there, but this was my first time joining on a weekend run with everyone, and in a word, it was wonderful. The group has changed a lot – between the old folks and the new, there might be more members than there are feet in a mile – but everything that initially attracted me to this group is still there. And more than any other group than I’ve ever been a part of, it feels like home. There were so many people that I wanted to connect with and catch up with that I simply didn’t have enough miles to do it all.

I know that in time, the relationships will shift subtly. It’s much different to go from seeing someone two or three times a week to twice a month. When the threads that weave your lives together are strong enough, though, face-time doesn’t necessarily matter. It’s nice, sure, but not always necessary. I know I’ll miss out on knowing some of the day-to-day details and updates, but I also know that I can chat with any of them and start with something as simple as, “What’s been going on?” and I know we’ll pick up from there, wherever that may be, and those have been some of the best conversations I’ve had.

I’ve quickly learned that no two seasons are alike, with new faces, experiences, goals, injuries, and group dynamics creating something new each time. One of my friends likes to call our group a vegetable stew. We each bring something different and unique to the pot. One is no more important than the other, and there is always room for a new vegetable or a different seasoning. What’s most important is that when it’s all mixed together, something fabulous is created. It won’t be the same each time you make it, but in a sense, that’s the very beauty of it. Lives change, people come and go, experiences are shared, and ultimately, living and loving through all these changes is what this life is about. Today’s just one of those days where I’m reminded of this that much more, and it’s one where I’m counting my blessings for having found people who help me to live my life with more purpose, drive, warmth, and love.

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Letting go

Part of my morning routine is a devotional called Living Faith. Different contributors will take a verse from the day’s readings and write a paragraph or two related to it, creating a small nugget of food for thought that’s usually digested between bits of oatmeal and sips of coffee. A few weeks ago, Fr. Kenneth Grabner reflected on Jesus’ words, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24), and wrote:

This process of letting go goes on throughout our entire life. Sometimes it’s painful, but dying, or letting go, is the key to opening up to deeper experiences. Unless the grain of wheat dies, it won’t bear fruit.

We see this happen everywhere in the world around us. Pruning a rose bush ensures that it grows back with even more buds and beauty. Hair that has split ends only grows in a healthy way once those ends are chopped off. When my mint plant looked terribly sunburnt and dead, I had to completely trim her back, and she now has a number of bright young shoots, ready to share their fresh scent with the world.

Growth is painful. This, we know. Sometimes we have to embrace obstacles to be able to overcome them. This, too, is a well-established fact, though that doesn’t make execution easy.

But letting go? This can be a harder concept for us to grasp. To let go of an idea, a desire, or a person requires sacrifice, wisdom, and self-awareness. To let go means we care deeply – otherwise, we would be casting it aside without concern – but that something else may be more important.

We’re called to let go on a frequent basis. As the school bells begin to ring and the leaves start to change, we let go of the peaceful, fun days of summer breezes and beach trips. When we change jobs, we let go of the convenience and comfort of being established and secure. When we wake up on a Monday morning and get ready for work, we have to surrender the relaxing weekend mornings and sense of leisure to driving through traffic and meeting deadlines. Sometimes it can be hard to do. We don’t want to go to work one morning, or we’d rather continue to wear shorts and flip flops, and continue to do so in blind defiance.

It’s painful to let go. The key, then, is to frame it in that larger context. Why is this the right choice? How will this open me up to a deeper experience? What good will ultimately come from this pain?

Growing up, I used to hate pruning our rose bushes. Every fall, we would all go out to the front yard on a Saturday morning, Enya blasting out the windows from the ancient stereo system to the front yard. Pruning forty rose bushes that have been blooming all summer in all colors of the sunrise make for a surprisingly long morning – mom taking her garden clippers to the branches like a crazed barber, me trailing behind slowly as I gingerly picked up the thousands of fallen rose branches and blooms, the boys pulling weeds and trimming other plants. It was painful (fun fact: when you try to rush, thorns tend to make their way through garden gloves), exhausting, and simply put, not fun. Moreover, the garden always looked terrible after – dead, beaten, and destroyed.

And then, come March, or sometimes even February, it all began to change. The first bloom would peek out from among the dark leaves and tangle of branches, a spark of color coming down from heaven. And soon after, the rest of the bushes would fall into line and recreate the canvas of colors from the previous year, but always in a more glorious way. Letting go of my idea of what I wanted the garden to be and engaging in the difficult work required to bring a better vision to fruition later took hard work, self-discipline, and more than a little trust. But in doing so, space was created to let the roses shape their own future, which was always more perfect than I ever could imagine.

By expanding our vision beyond today, we make tomorrow’s dreams a reality. By knowing what future we’re striving towards, we make the path towards it clearer (though never easy). Ultimately, it’s in letting go of who we are that we become who we are meant to be.

It’s not easy, but the good things in life never are. As always, it’s up to us to choose what we want to pursue and who we want to become.

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Stages

Do you ever have those days where you just want to turn off your brain? When thoughts whirl around restlessly without ever really going anywhere? Where answers seem hard to find, when you finally realize that you don’t even know the questions?

For the most part, I think I have a solid perspective on life. I’ve worked hard to develop a greater understanding of myself, my role in the world at this moment, and an appreciation for what I’ve been given. Sure, I fail at this, quite a bit. But overall, I’d say I have a pretty good handle on what I think is important.

Which makes the moments of disquiet a bit more…well, disquieting when they happen. There have been a number of transitions in my life over the last few months, and it seemed like they all went well. Almost too well. And then, this week, something shifted. Or rather, everything remained exactly where it was, and my understanding of where I’m at shifted.

Things have felt off, without knowing exactly what “on” should mean.

Moments of silence, usually peaceful, have been full of brain chatter.

Focus has been harder to find.

There’s a theory relating to team formation that uses obnoxiously cute rhyming to make its point. It details team development as a process of four stages: forming, storming, norming, and performing. In the forming stage, everything is fine and dandy as the various members of the team are excited to be on board, starting this new venture. In the storming stage, personalities clash and conflicts arise as the team gets used to each other. The norming stage is where things start to calm down as the team acclimates, develops commitment to each other, and progress happens. Typically, the norming and storming stages play off each other for a while. When teams reach the performing stage, they’re synergized (which, according to my spell check, actually is a word), and the magic happens.

I feel like my life has gone from forming to norming to storming (which hopefully means performing ain’t too far behind). Transitions happened, adjustments were made fairly quickly, and all seemed just peachy. By settling into some pieces of life, though, I’ve had the space and time to delve more deeply into others and recognize pieces with which I’m not entirely content.

Which in itself, isn’t a bad thing. Actually, in my book, self-realization is always good. It’s only by realizing what we don’t like that we can then take action to change it. Yes, sometimes obstacles exist. This is life, not kindergarten. But if we’re wise, we can use that as momentum to overcome the barrier itself. As Marcus Aurelius said many moons ago, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” We always have the power to act and to effect change; we sometimes just need to remind ourselves of that. In a sense, the performing can’t be reached until the storming is encountered and navigated through. Otherwise, teams would stay at the norming stage for eternity.

And with that said, I think it’s also important to realize that sometimes, it’s perfectly acceptable to sit on one’s balcony on a fading summer evening and put on a rainstorm as background music because it matches what we might be feeling. We just need to remember that eventually, every storm runs out of rain.