Sometimes, it’s okay to be sad

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It’s been a sad week in America.

I read the news of what happened in Charlottesville a week ago. It cut like a shard of ice, burned in my gut and ached in my chest. It hurts. The thought of the hatred and people living in our country knowing that they’re hated like that hurts.

A few days later, learning about the vandalism of the Holocaust Memorial hurts.

Two days after that, hearing of immigrants in our region affected by this horrible atmosphere and seeing swastika graffiti hurts.

But I guess things like this should hurt. And I’m okay with that.

Like clockwork, the actual events of Charlottesville and what they mean for millions of people gave way to all sorts ink being spilled over topics that ultimately shift the focus away from the real tragedy. And I get it; it’s easier to envision this all being about two extremist groups fighting each other than it is to feel the pain of real people being hated because of the body they were born into. It’s easier to focus on an idea like media bias than it is to contemplate the fact that people in our country are still willing to commit violence or even murder because of others’ skin colors. It’s easier to turn a horrible event into political rantings than it is to imagine your own friend being killed by white supremacists. We like to shift the focus away because we really can’t bear the topic.

Resentment and cynicism are powerful anesthetics. They dull pain better than anything else I know. But sometimes, the pain demands to be felt. Sometimes the only way through the pain is to lean into it rather than lean away from it. That leaning into it is where courage is born, where empathy is forged. Where we begin to see hope for the problem that we may have missed by fleeing to lesser problems.

I remember hearing about a German man who began to create memorial stones for individuals killed in the Holocaust. He would make a gold brick for each victim and place it at the house they used to live in, the location they were most likely captured from. How difficult such a process would be: to see the individual names, the actual homes, to begin to fathom the horrible atrocity committed by people from your own country. It would be so much easier to not think about it, to focus on the issues at the sidelines of the Holocaust, to question the sources from where modern people have learned about it. But that’s not what this man did. He leaned into the pain, and by doing so thousands of people can understand in more human terms something most of us read about in history.

There’s something incredibly human about taking on the pain of someone else. It’s an equalizer in a way; a reminder that we all fear and love and hope for essentially the same things. That behind the tribalism and the politicization lies real, breathing people.

I don’t believe in drowning in despair, but I don’t think we should be afraid to lament. And this time, that’s what I’m doing. I’m just feeling it for what it is.

Because sometimes, it’s okay to be sad.

 

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

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Taking the Plunge

 

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I sat on the shore in the sunshine, haze finally lifted after a humid week, waves leaping, and nothing to do but soak. Soak it all in.

In the distance, I watched my siblings decked in their swimsuits, standing near the edge of the cold, splashing water. They waited, watched, and then leaped in, screaming and swimming to shore only to jump back in a few moments later. They braved the cold, the waves. They took the plunge.

It seems all around me that the winds are shifting. The wheel is turning, bringing us from a time of haze to a time of taking plunges. So many dear family members and friends seem in a place where life is moving up: new freedoms, new jobs, new life plans, new marriages, new education plans…it’s the time for courage, the time for jumps. It’s a wonderful time to be alive.

I also feel at a turning point, a trailhead. I’ve spent a while looking at where I came from, looking back at the road I no longer wanted to be on. No longer could be on. I looked back to see what went wrong, to know who I was not and what I did not believe, could not support. It’s a crucial step, but standing looking back forever is not the place to live. Living can only be done in the present. In the moving forward.

And so now I find myself at the trailhead, shoes on my feet, air in my lungs, heart prepared for the journey. It’s an exciting leap, a hopeful bound. I can walk as far as I want to, wherever I want to. I can choose what to add to my pack and what to throw out. Where to camp for the night and when to keep going. The feeling of possibility is as thick and sweet as the July air. Who knows the adventures ahead!

Stephen observed the other day that that it feels like we’re at the end of a long chapter. Yes, yes it does. And some things, some forms of ourselves are dying with the end of that chapter. And I think that’s as it should be. But with the new beginning we are being reborn for something better.

The winds have shifted over the sea, the haze has lifted, and into the waves we plunge.

Yes, love is important

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This week marks our second wedding anniversary. I’m not going to offer a long reflection since we have places to be (who wouldn’t want to celebrate your anniversary by running a five-mile race and watching Wonder Woman?), but one thing I did want to say for the occasion: love is important.

I know I’m getting no prize for such a well-worn idea. But guys, the importance of love can’t be stressed enough.

When I met Stephen, what stood out to me above all things was the way he cared about people, and the way that we loved me.

The way he wanted to know me for who I was and appreciated what he did know about me.

The way he loved (and loves) my introspective, independent self who gets fascinated by ideas and can write about them for hours.

The way he adored all those tendencies and quirks that made me me, and still encourages me to celebrate them and grow in them.

Except for my parents’ golden piece of advice I grew up with (find someone who loves you as much as Dad loves Mom), most of the advice I heard when it came to relationships was about compatibility. Find someone who shares the same thoughts and values as you, create this checklist with all your non-negotiables, etc. Perhaps there’s a place for a little bit of that, but no amount of compatibility can replace choosing to see and love someone for who they really are.

When Stephen and I met, I don’t know that we would have described ourselves as “compatible.” We had different views on things, different backgrounds, different opinions. But you know what? That was okay. And the truth we discovered is that no amount of shared beliefs can replace genuine love for one another. No number of checklists will prepare you for discovering how amazing, unique, and nuanced your partner is. No amount of living civilly with one another will replace going out of your way to see the best in each other and treat each other with ample love and respect.

No matter how compatible you hope to be with someone else, you’re guaranteed areas where you’ll differ. There will be things you disagree on, even bigger things. No matter how perfectly your partner fills all the ideals you were hoping for, there will be areas where they disappoint you.

Those things are inevitable. But love? Love isn’t inevitable. You have the choice to cultivate it, to commit to it. And you have the choice not to. At the end of the day, you’ll either decide that going out of your way to love is important or you won’t.

I don’t believe in a love that’s some whimsical, random force, coming and going without warning. If we’re commanded to love, which I believe we are, then it must be something we have some control over. It’s something we can practice. It’s something we can cultivate.

And so, I’m going to close off this little reflection with a thought: if you value someone in your life (not just a romantic partner), then go out of your way to love them this week. If there are things you admire about them, then tell them. If you haven’t been acting or speaking with utmost kindness and respect to someone around you, then apologize and change that. If there’s something you can do to make someone’s day, then do it.

Because love is important. So let’s reflect that.

On Leaving the Group

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Alone.

Let that word hang in the air for a moment, the concept filling your mind: who you are, just you, with nobody else to define or validate you.

What does it spark?

For most of us, alone evokes an emotional response. For some it is peaceful, for some refreshing. But for many, this concept is less than positive at best, and downright fear-inducing at worst.

Every year around this time I grow nostalgic. Summer was when I began by journey of studying abroad in Scotland. You’ll find a lot about that on this blog, and if my pen continues to wander back to this subject it is only because of how much that time meant to me, then and now. I won’t forget the feeling of settling into the never-quite-comfortable chair at the Chippewa Valley airport, my family on the other side of the glass, and being overcome with one feeling: this was it. I was alone, truly, facing three months in a new continent with nobody that I knew and (at the beginning) only my thoughts to accompany me.

It was an intriguing moment, certainly not anything I had experienced before. Part of me felt compelled to seize my phone or laptop and gather some sense of all the people who were not beside me. Part of me knew not to do that but to soak in the moment for what it was. And yet another part of my mind began to replay echoes of concerns I had gathered from people before my journey:

It’s such a long time.

You won’t know anybody there.

What if you have no community?

What if there aren’t people you can trust?

What if you change?

You see, for the preceding few years I had belonged to a tight-knit group where people didn’t really do things on their own. Not the big things, anyway. Most people didn’t just pick up and leave the country unless it was to experience an international branch of the same organization; people didn’t just move after college to a city far away because they found a good job there, at least not to a city where there weren’t already friends, family, or a sister church. People didn’t just start a lifestyle that looked notably different than the rest of the other group members. And so when it came time for me to jet off for the summer by myself, the well-wishes I received before my journey were laced with a thread of fear: because acting alone was something to be feared.

It’s been three years since my alone-journey, and I came out unscathed. But I came out changed (though I guess for some that’s almost worse). It was the single most invigorating and growing time I had had in my life, and was the only time when I had serious opportunity to consider who I really was. Who was Rae? Outside of her hometown, community, family, group of friends, college…as an individual, who was she really?

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I had a great conversation with a friend where he shared a concept that greatly intrigued me: your greatest strength is usually also your greatest weakness. For example, the one who is passionate will encourage many and hurt many, the one who is kind will love greatly and be taken advantage of, etc. The key is to recognize your tendencies and handle them with wisdom. I’ve seen this strength-weakness pairing to be true not only in myself, on the individual level, but also on the broader scale of humanity. My personal theory (currently—personal theories are subject to change) is that the need to belong and experience love is both humanity’s greatest gift and greatest problem. At its best, this need forms the basis for friendships, marriages, communities, etc. Conversely, the need to belong and be loved is also at the root of terrorism, gang activity, cults, prejudice of all kinds, political polarization…I could go on.

The need for love and belonging is obviously crucial to the human experience. No matter how vulnerable it makes you feel to admit it, it is not something you can just shrug off as not applying to you. The need for love is indispensable to what it means to be human.

And people will do anything to get it.

When I really asked myself who I was, that need to belong was there. Having social connections is not the enemy; living without them would be vastly unhealthy. But elevating them to the status of ultimately defining who you are is also unhealthy, yet it is far too easy to do. The human need for a group of “people like me” is so deep-rooted that it changes who you perceive as being “like me.” Filling the need for love by throwing yourself into a prewritten lifestyle or ideology in order to surround yourself with people that think and speak and live exactly like you do is not the way to find belonging. Because once you get yourself into that kind of dynamic, getting out is harder than it seems.

In that kind of dynamic, your thoughts begin to change as they go through a filter of what your community thinks is right and what your community doesn’t agree with.

In that kind of dynamic, awakening to a desire to do something different with your life is extremely hard, as changing what makes you similar to those of your tribe can mean losing that tribe.

In that kind of dynamic, people feeling or acting “hurt” when you think and live differently than they have is expected manipulation.

In that kind of dynamic, vowing unconditional loyalty to a group means sacrificing your own unique personality, perspective, thoughts and dreams on the altar of the group.

And absolutely none of it is worth it. Because none of it is real love.

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I came to realize a lot of this while I was in Scotland, mostly due to my own experiences but also supplemented by a social psychology course I took (specifically it was on the psychology of terrorism and war – if you want a sample of the research and theories I would check out this dissertation, if not for the whole article then for chapter four’s discussion of basic social psychology theories). What I saw in my times of traveling alone, meeting new friends at school, researching questions I had, exploring in a new continent, was not the echoes of fear I heard while waiting in that airport. It was the affirmation that who I was as an individual, unique person was good, and that contrary to the previous three years, I did not need the involvement in that tight-knit group to be happy and connected. In fact, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, I was thriving.

I was thriving because I had the freedom to grow as Rae, a one-of-a-kind creation, not an individual manifestation of a type.

I was thriving because I was surrounded by people who loved and accepted me for who I was, and saw my thoughts, opinions, and goals not as things to be amended but things to be celebrated.

I was thriving because no other human was trying to recreate me in their own image.

I was thriving because the need for belonging can really only be filled when you feel the fear of showing your true self and do it anyway.

Even though I had made some of my dearest friends and memories through that group, I knew I could be a lot truer to myself without it. And so, I drastically cut back my involvement when I came back to the U.S. And eventually I left.

I don’t regret the time and experiences I had before going to Scotland. Being spared the involvement would’ve meant being spared learning fathoms about myself and never encountering the training ground for the fight for freedom I want to engage my life in. But I am glad that my involvement was for a time and not a permanent lifestyle, and that hewn in the wild, independent, freedom-seeking land of Scotland was my own awakening to the liberation that so many hearts have yet to experience. I am glad I made my choice.

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You also have a choice in how you will choose to live. How you will choose to belong.

You have the choice to assimilate to what your group expects of you, and you have the choice not to.

You have the choice to build a future that matches what your friends are doing, and you have the choice not to.

You have the choice to make changes to your present to live the future you envision.

If you’re afraid of making changes, afraid of what others around you will think of you, then feel that fear. It’s normal.

But don’t let it stop you.

I’m not saying that things will work out perfectly—you run the risk of being scrutinized, rejected. That’s the cost you will have to weigh. The further you venture into the wilderness of discovery, the fewer people you may find beside you.* This is not a call to shove people away or be unkind, or assume people aren’t interested in your new journey and hide it. But know that even in your most heartfelt seeking of the right path for you, you can’t force or inspire everyone to come along with you.

That’s okay. And you will survive.

But through it all you may discover, as I did, that there are people who will love you for you. Who you can feel you really belong with, without having to change or disguise who you are. Who you can really bond with, even if they would have never fit into your former “in-group.” Who give you the freedom to be yourself, and thereby, the freedom to grow. Perhaps you don’t know them yet. Perhaps you do. But to feel really loved and known, not for who people think you are but for who you really are, you have to be that real you first. You have to take the chance.

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I miss a lot of things about my time abroad. Such an experience can’t be replicated, and the sadness of that specific journey’s finality still aches at times. But in a sense the journey I began in that vinyl chair hasn’t ended, because it was the start of a change in me that I am still living today.

I am happy to be in the place I am now, and more importantly, to be the person I am now.

Long live Scotland, the brave.

All my heart,

Rae

*Credit to David Hayward, The Liberation of Sophia

 

Have you ever left a group that was difficult to leave? What did you learn from the process? Have you found a new group that’s a better fit for you?

 

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Hey readers!
Please take the time to read this amazing piece of writing by my husband, Stephen. Living deliberately and authentically is a mission we set out on while backpacking Europe a year and a half ago, and I hope these words will inspire and encourage you in your own life journey. ❤

Not With Haste

You.

Yes, I mean you, and I want you to just think about you. It’s an uncomfortable topic, I know. We aren’t supposed to think about ourselves. There are so many other people and other problems in the world to think about. Wouldn’t it be selfish to focus on the topic of: you?

No.

Let me back up a bit. I was sitting on a picnic table by the boat docks of Grand Marais, taking a break from volunteer painting at a folk craft school. It was sunny, and warm for a Lake Superior April day, and very beautiful. I could see why some young people come up here for a summer or even 10 months at a time as interns, for the chance to live and work with so many amazing people and ancient crafts. Interesting life choice.

And then it hit me: Why are the lives of many…

View original post 1,388 more words

Dear Artists: The world needs you

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Dear Artist,

To have a creative soul is to be a boundary between two worlds. It is to glimpse the radiance of eternity, the food of inspiration, and bring it back to heal this existence.

It is a baffling life.

I am an artist. Some element in the fabric of my being constantly searches and hopes for glimpses of the world of inspiration and wonder. It pulls me to beauty and mystery with a never-ending tug, and through the medium of writing I try to put what I discover there into words that might make sense to someone else. Being an artist looks like different things to different people, but to me it is more than the production of work; it is a way of thinking that is driven by the need for inspiration and creation.

It is being unable to peel myself from the frosty ground when a million stars and galaxies shine above me.

It is hearing a piece of music so complex and evocative I forget about existing in the present world and must be a part of something else.

It is becoming so encapsulated in a fantasy story that it shakes the core of who I am with an inspiration, joy, and yearning more powerful than anything else I’ve felt.

It is trying to gather all of these sights, sounds, and feelings into words, music, or art that will touch our world with a dash of the wild, colorful mind.

As an artist, it is not that inspiration and creativity are small pieces of your life; they are your life. You crave them like water. It is in a life of artistry that you are the most alive. The most you.

I have been lucky to find a home where I can thrive as an artist. My community is not only surrounded by natural beauty but full of people who encourage and inspire the creative life. It is a real joy, but if you are an artist, you know that feeling at home in your creative self can be hard.

You know that to much of the world, your creative passion and connection with beauty is considered frivolous, even vain. You get asked about your hobbies and then your “real” job, as if where you make the most money is where you most exist.

You see people dividing the world into thinkers and feelers, as if everyone has either a knack for reason and rationality or connectivity and nurturing. And while you want to be both intelligent and caring, you’re more likely to be found in your favorite spot of the house writing, composing, painting than studying logic or handing out hugs. The way you process the world is more a third category, which is to say, without a category.

You know that some people question imagination, even artistry. Perhaps you’re like me and have been exposed to religious groups that see nonreligious music, works of writing, or art as a waste of time. Sometimes such a fear of the material exists that it can be hard to admit feeling more spiritually connected in an art museum than in a church with stark walls and bland music. But for the creative soul, beauty is not a distractor. Beauty is a healer.

And the world needs it.

The world needs you.

You see, when you’re feeling doubtful, or out of place in an information-filled, academic world, know that the creative works you spend your time on are worth it.

It’s worth it to bring beauty into a world torn apart by ugliness.

It’s worth it to write that song or that poem that will bring someone comfort in a hard time.

It’s worth it to know that your real job as an artist is a job of healing.

There’s a reason we have art therapy and music therapy: works of creativity change lives.

So we the writers, the composers, the musicians, the designers, the actors, the potters, the painters, the dancers, the photographers, the poets, the filmmakers, the sculptors, the gardeners, the craftsmen…let’s light up this world with all we’ve got. Let’s fill it with beauty, with enchantment, with wonder.

Artist, your life has an amazing purpose. And you are who you are with the talents you have to fulfill that purpose.

Love,

Rae

 

No More Comparisons: Choosing You Over Perfection

Dear Reader,

This last year has been rough for me in many ways. A lot of long-term aches have bubbled up and festered in sickening ways. Nothing that you let fester can do you any good. But I’m going to talk about one particular infection that I believe to be a top killer of growth and happiness: making comparisons.

Not going to lie, this has been really bad for me lately. To give you a story as an example, here’s something that resurfaced in my life this last week. I had a talk with my husband about a strange fact about myself that I hadn’t really admitted before:

I have a fear of sleepovers.

If that made you laugh a little, that’s fine. The sentence makes me smile, too. It sounds weird, but after doing some googling I learned that this is a pretty common fear. While I may not have been able to realize or articulate it before, ever since I was a child the mention of a sleepover would suddenly cause sweaty palms, a tight chest, a knot in my stomach, and, occasionally, nausea.

I remember being six or seven and sitting on our swingset outside, anticipating going to my friend’s house to sleep over that night. The longer I sat the more ill I felt, until eventually I was certain that I had suddenly caught the flu.

I remember being so excited about finally going to summer camp, until the day finally came and I became so anxious that I threw up.

I remember the feeling of relief that friends would want to come over to my house so I wouldn’t have to go to theirs.

In and of itself, this anxiety isn’t the worst. It’s limited to specific events, usually subsides greatly once I’m at a friend’s house (and realize it’s not actually that bad), and disappears completely once said event is over. But it wasn’t ever the fear alone that was the real problem; it was the nasty thoughts that came along with it.

Why can’t you just let loose like those other girls?

Why do you have to be so childish when none of your friends are?

When will you just grow up and learn to cope with this? Everyone else has.

Your anxiety will be such a drag when everyone else is having fun.

Seriously, do everyone else a favor and don’t even go.

You suck.

And they festered.

As I got older I learned to enjoy sleepovers more, but usually only with close, trusted friends or family. For all other slumber parties, I became skilled at coming up with other plans and conflicts and reasons I couldn’t go. But even as I stopped caring about missing out on a party, my nasty thoughts remained the same.

Why can’t you just have fun like your other friends?

Seriously, you’re 23. Why should this still be a thing when it is for no one else?

Nobody really wants you there anyway. You won’t contribute to the fun like other people will.

I bet people wish I could just be normal like all our other friends.

You still suck.

While these kinds of thoughts come and go like lightning, dwelling on them can seriously be one of the worst things that you can do for yourself. I know it is for me. These thoughts that have long accompanied my anxiety have outlasted any fear I ever felt, and still affect how I see myself today.

We all have things about ourselves that we don’t particularly like. We look at the seeming success of people around us and berate ourselves for falling short of that. Especially in the world of social media, where we put our most beautiful, successful, and insightful selves forward, it can be so easy to look through a page of fabulous photos, stories, and thoughts and then look back at yourself and think What am I doing wrong?

Why can’t I get as good of a time as that runner?

Why can’t I look as good as that friend?

Why don’t I have as brilliant of thoughts like that person always shares?

Why don’t I have a fairy-tale story like that couple?

Why is my life just not as good as it was in the past?

You guys, these comparisons are worthless and are stopping you from growing as the one-of-a-kind character that you are.

Like me, these thoughts and feelings might go back years. But they don’t have to continue for years to come. Our thoughts affect our reality. But what we perceive as real can be quite different from what is actually real.

First off, all those friends you so admire probably aren’t as fabulous as you make them out to be. Sure, our lives are full of truly wonderful people, but nobody’s life is perfect, and everyone has battles to fight that you aren’t seeing. Wishing to be like someone else isn’t ridding you of your flaws; it’s only wishing you had different ones. We need to be careful to not idealize the real, complex people in our lives and assume that always being in their shoes would be better.

Second, you have a unique story and direction that your life is headed in. Your shortcomings are part of that, but so are your strengths and talents. Ignoring them and wishing you were on a different journey is only stunting your progress. Focus on where you are now to cultivate the things that are going right for you and tend to the things that aren’t.

Thirdly, to be happy, it’s more important to be you than it is to be perfect. Imperfections aren’t the enemy. But dwelling on them and refusing to accept these parts of yourself is. We can thrive as we are without having to pretend to be someone else or hiding the less flattering aspects of our personalities. It’s when we learn to accept that we are unique, and lovable in our uniqueness, that we will find contentment.

St. Paul wrote that those who engage in “comparing themselves among themselves are not wise” (2 Cor. 10:12). I write this post so that we may grow in eradicating these thoughts of comparison that hold us back.

Likewise, I hope that we as people can learn to be more comfortable with ourselves and sharing not just the airbrushed, edited versions of us but the truth of who we really are. In fact, being open with sharing your imperfections can be one of the best ways of learning to cope with them, and learning to accept our friends for who they are. I write about less-than-happy things like anxiety and bad thoughts because I don’t want to be just another blogger who looks like she has it all together. I want my writing to speak honesty, to show that I’m someone who’s learning and growing through these things just like anyone else.

Reader, whatever it is you’re struggling with, whatever there is about yourself that you wish would change, I pray you won’t let it hold you back. Don’t fall into the trap of wishing yourself away. Instead, I hope you continue confidently on your unique journey while I continue on mine.

Peace always,

Rae

Early March Thoughts

Hey everyone,

Here’s a little window into the random things I’ve been thinking about lately, accompanied by pieces of art from our local gallery that rocks my world whenever I need a place to drink tea and get lost in art.

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First, I thought I’d start off by mentioning that my lovely and thoughtful husband has joined the WordPress world! Stephen’s new blog is Not With Haste, and I’d definitely recommend checking it out.

His first post was about his word for the year, remember. Both Stephen and I have a deep-rooted desire to live life intentionally; to pursue a full, truthful living far beyond merely existing. I’ve been encouraged a lot this week by the joint work of our words, see and remember, and how together they grow the kind of deep living we ache for. If we don’t remember the gifts and beauty of the past they can’t leave a lasting mark on our present. And if we don’t look closely and see the richness of the present, we will be left with nothing to remember. But if we both see what’s around us and remember what’s gone before, we awaken to fathoms of life, love, and grace waiting to be harvested.

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March has had an unstable start. The weather jumps from inviting to biting every other day, while life indoors has been just as variable. We’ve had surprise visits, friends’ happy news, and long-awaited answers to prayer right alongside learning and chewing on some hard and sad things. Life moves along with its many colors, sometimes blending together in confusing, interesting, yet nonetheless beautiful patterns. It all comes rolled together, and part of living is feeling it all.

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Working at a school has been at once challenging and refreshing. The views and take on life that kids have is so inspiring. Man, do they have insight! I don’t think kids can learn from adults half as much as adults can learn from kids sometimes. The students in my class express such hope and belief unmuddied by adult realism and social expectations. It’s a shame most of us lose that, but it’s incredibly hopeful to see it alive and thriving in these young lights.

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One of my friends expressed a strong desire to throw his phone in the lake. I can relate. Our ability to stay in touch with people far away can be nice, but the distraction from the near and present too greatly affects our thinking and engagement in the life right outside our door.

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Lent is underway, and I’m not really sure what that means to me yet except I’m looking forward to this time of reflection, reconciliation, and spiritual refreshment.

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“You know you are gigantic as the things that you adore.”

Peace,

Rae

Nature Helps

Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life. Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” -Rachel Carson

Dear Reader,

This last weekend was Grand Marais’s Wintering Festival, a time where the community gathers together to celebrate the longest season of the year. For those who, like me, have had lifelong overdoses of winter grumbling, seeing the people come together in excitement to celebrate the love of this snowy season was so refreshing. With impeccable timing the first winter storm of the year decided to arrive last weekend too, bringing a fresh new covering to the woods and hills. Walking at twilight through the silent forest paths and observing the snow’s ethereal glow in the dusky light brings a peace and wonder to eradicate all traces of the day’s troubles. Winter is a magical season in the northland.

The Rachel Carson quote I shared was one I heard on Saturday at a presentation by Dave and Amy Freeman, a couple who spent an entire year exploring the Boundary Waters to appreciate the wilderness and raise awareness about proposed sulfide-ore copper mines near the Boundary Waters, which would contaminate its lakes and rivers. Their stories and photos were remarkable, but what stood out most to me was the peace and reverence with which they spoke about their experiences. A short walk in the woods or a quarter hour spent on Superior’s shores brings such refreshment—how much would a year in the wilderness change the way one views and responds to things, the pace of life, or the focus on what’s important.

Though I don’t have a whole year to spend in the wilderness, I’m trying to gather little bits of nature’s healing during this month: a glimpse of sea, a flash of stars, a short jaunt among the trees. During this time of transitioning, getting our bearings, and planning our next steps, being surrounded by such beauty and silence as there is here has been most enriching and vitalizing. Even though life feels stuck in almosts right now—almost settled, almost home, almost at peace, almost happy—there is comfort in knowing that just as night will give way to morning, so this time of almosts will give way to a time of fullness. And just as the hills and lake and rocks stand strong and constant, so can a constant trust and serenity be found even when everything else seems to be changing.

If you want to find out more about the Freemans and their mission or learn about America’s most visited wilderness, I’d recommend checking out this link:

https://www.savetheboundarywaters.org/

All the best,

Rae

Welcome Home

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Dear Reader,

Following nearly two months away I am now home. Home in a quiet room of a colorful cabin bathed in November’s low-hanging sunlight and fenced in by thickets of birch and pine. After the maniacal streets of Kathmandu I can’t imagine anywhere more dissimilar to find myself. The clean air and deep silence are new sensations which I drink in like never before, each bursting with a freshness and healthiness that nears overwhelming. That somewhere so pure, so wholesome as the woods, the clear lake, or the bright sky can exist seems a miracle. Yet thousands of such miraculous gifts surround me every day, and I’m learning to stop and appreciate them all as little bits of living a fully present life.

In this little corner of the north woods we’re transitioning into the next phase of our lives. Several years of classes, travel, moving, starting jobs, quitting jobs, traveling, and moving some more is giving way to a time of less movement and more peace. This place feels like home, and I hope to call it home for a long time to come. The little cabin we are renting is the perfect host to welcome us into this new era, with plenty of lovable quirk and character. The maple floors creak with experience, the front porch greets me with that endearing musty, old-house smell, and I ponder its past in the boundary waters before being moved here to Grand Marais. It’s seen a lot, like we have, and seems a fitting location to begin a new phase of settling in, of healing, of slowing life down to cherish what needs to be treasured and cut what needs to go. I will write about these things in time and share my reflections from the northland as the days go on, but for now I will look back a bit and share a story from my time abroad.

I had every intention of continuing to write while in Nepal, but it seems third-world internet and WordPress don’t cooperate. Compounding that was the feeling a sore lack of inspiration and creative energy, and so I did not put a whole lot of words to paper in the first place. Perhaps I’ll return and give more accounts of our time abroad, once the dust settles. We’ll see. But for now I’ll content myself with this simple story that I hope not to forget.

It happened after some friends and I jumped on a decrepit bus to take the rough, pothole-ridden road across town. Thousands and thousands of people crowd the skinny dirt lanes, travelling here and there in the plume of dust and black smoke pouring out of every vehicle’s tailpipe. Some people smile and laugh, but most wear the careworn expression of constantly battling life in this nearly unlivable place.

On this particular day, our bus trip followed a huge thunderstorm, and the roads and alleys were transformed into giant pits of mud. I watched from the window as people tried to avoid the lakes in the sidewalks or utilize the fraction of road that was actually usable. We travelled along block after block of tiny shops, me starting to wonder if walking would be more efficient than putting up with this bus’s snail-like pace. As I looked out the window, searching for patience, the normal wall of buildings gave way to a recess resembling a miniature courtyard. This nook was piled high and packed tight with garbage: old wooden planks, broken pieces of metal, rotting furniture; all of it stacked haphazardly and staying in place by what I assumed to be a miracle. It would take days upon days to go through every piece stuffed into that space. Yet there was a certain order to it, and as the bus slowed I noticed a small, old man with a little twig broom in his hand.

He stood on a pathway of slate stepping stones that led into this great rubbish pile, steps that were surrounded on all sides by the deep mud of last night’s storm. As I watched, the man stooped over, took his broom and carefully swept off each stone step. I marveled. Why clean stones stuck in a mud pit that leads to a bunch of trash? I guess I don’t have an answer, and that’s fine. I don’t have to understand. But whatever the reason, to this diligent man the little set of steps mattered. And since they mattered, he was faithful in taking care of them. It didn’t bother him if others perceived his efforts as a lost cause or a waste of time. To him they were important, and they were in his care, and thanks to his faithfulness there is a set of fresh, clean stones in the middle of a chaotic city.

As small people in the middle of a wild world, we can’t change everything. There will be corruption, poverty, and darkness beyond our control. It’s heartbreaking, truly, but just because the problems of this world can daunt, overwhelm, and abound, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do. This man could have easily considered the little bit of property in his care a lost cause, but he didn’t. He could have stood complaining about everyone else’s messes, but he didn’t. He helped the little bit that he could, even if the rest of the world saw it as a waste of time, even if the rest of the world was letting what was entrusted to them fall apart.

And still today I’m thankful for that man. For his faithfulness, for his care, and for the well-loved set of stone steps.

Love,

Rae