Life

hope blooms

Hope. That (damn) thing with feathers. I see it in the trees coming back to life after a long winter. I see it in the clear blue sky after unending days of grey. I see it in springtime more than anytime. Hope.

The man wasn’t even speaking directly to me, but the words I heard him say bounced around the walls of my heart as though they were meant for me alone. “May your dreams be greater than your memories.” Even now, I can feel my chest constricting and my breath shallowing all over again. Because I’ve lived the last decade of my life with the very real sense that my greatest days are behind me.

I had dreams in my former life. All kinds of them. And when I lost everything, I lost not just my dreams but also, seemingly, my ability to have them. Even while I’ve embraced this new life of mine back on American soil, dreaming—hoping—remains elusive.

My realism and pragmatism seem to war against the notion of hope. I *want* dreams that outweigh my memories. I’m just not sure how to get there...

So I look and I listen and I feel. I pay more attention to the flowers at my feet, the budding trees above my head, the whimsical chatter of the birds, the blue skies and popcorn clouds, the wind rustling through my hair...

I watch springtime as it blooms hope all around me, and maybe—just maybe—also in my heart.

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twenty years

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Twenty years ago today, I moved to South Africa with a couple of overweight suitcases, $200 in my pocket, and a heart-cocktail of naïvety, faith, passion, and foolishness. I was only 19.

Thirteen years later, I moved back Stateside with even heavier baggage (both literal and proverbial), more debt than cash, and a heart-cocktail that had been diluted by life and loss and longing.

Even with all the complicated layers and conflicting emotions, Africa will always be my first love. I met her when I was just 15, and, in that way that only she can do, she swept me off my feet and stole my heart. She was my high school sweetheart, and she holds both the bests and the worsts of my life in the years we spent together.

Twenty years. How is that even possible? Two decades seem to have slipped through my fingers like the Kalahari sand...

My present life looks so different than the one I lived on African soil. It confounds me, really. Many who know me now didn’t know me then, which only widens the chasm I often feel exists between my former and current lives. And yet, I know, it’s all one. One life. One incongruently interconnected and magnificent life. It confounds me, really.

No matter how long I’ve lived Stateside, this day still feels beautifully and painfully significant to me. And so I stop to honor it. To embrace it. To celebrate and grieve it.

Happy Africaversary, love. Twenty years is worth dancing and crying over. So let’s do a little of both, shall we?

when badassery looks mostly like vulnerability

I knew badassery wouldn't be easy. (I’m not that naïve.) But I expected it to at least come with a side dish of quiet accomplishment. Or, at the very least, a small serving of relief in simply knowing I did the right thing.  

Instead, my badassery was served with heaping portions of risk and vulnerability and uncertainty. 

There were no grand moments of heroism. No victory marches. No Wonder-Woman stances to commemorate an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. 

No, this wasn't a year of bold triumph. It was a hard-fought twelve months of standing up, speaking out, making hard choices, and putting my heart on the line. My badassery looked like trying and trusting and hoping yet again, even when I didn’t want to and even when my experiences told me I knew better. It looked like saying difficult things, fighting to be seen, taking chances in work and relationships and heart. 

I knew badassery meant doing those things without guarantee of a positive outcome. But, unknowingly, I still half-expected that there would be one—not every time, but surely more often than not, right? Isn’t that the reward for the risk?

No...

What I learned is this: The reward for risk is merely the risk itself.  

The point isn’t the outcome, even though that’s what motivates the risk to begin with. The point is simply the willingness (and, I dare say, the courage) to roll the dice and take a chance. 

That alone is the victory. 

Though, I assure you, it doesn’t feel like one. There’s nothing glamorous or stately about this kind of “win”. It certainly doesn’t feel good. It's disappointing, exhausting, frustrating, painful….

I’m not “owed” a break simply because I’ve risked repeatedly or tried so hard or been through so much or any other reason I can come up with. And that is a bitter pill to swallow. 

So the big, character-shaping decision is whether or not to keep climbing back into the ring. 

And all I can do is sigh wearily, and shake my head, and mutter the words, What other choice do I have?

you found me

"What's your favorite song of theirs?"

I'd been crushing on this older couple sitting in front of me at The Fray concert, hoping that I'm still going to shows at their age. So I love that the gentleman turned around and asked me that. I didn't even need to think about my answer.

"You Found Me."

The man glances over at his wife with a grin on his face. His eyes light up as he turns back to me. "Can I ask why?"

I give them the cliff notes version: I was a missionary in South Africa, married for ten years. My ex-husband had multiple affairs and ultimately left me for another woman. I tell him that this song came out right after I returned Stateside for counseling, broken and devastated.

"It was the only thing I could listen to, and I played it on repeat for weeks on end. It gave me permission to be honest and carried me through the most difficult season of my life. "

He squeezes my arm, lifts his face God-ward, and quotes some of the lyrics. "Where were you?!" I nod in agreement.

He shakes his head, squeezes my arm again, and says with a compassionate smile, "I understand that completely." And then, "Would it be okay for me to tell Isaac this?"

Wait. Isaac? As in the lead singer of The Fray? The gentleman sees my puzzled look and explains. "He's my son-in-law. And I know it would mean a lot to him to hear your story."

My eyes instantly fill with tears as I start nodding. "Of course. I would really appreciate you telling him the impact his song had on my life."

His wife speaks up, her face pure kindness. "Isaac has come a long way since he wrote that. He's a different person today; his faith is different. I can tell it's the same for you. You've come a long way."

I agree wholeheartedly. "And my faith is different."

Fast forward thirty minutes. As I hear the distinctive piano notes, tears start to fall...

Where were you
When everything was falling apart?
All my days
Were spent by the telephone
That never rang
And all I needed was a call
That never came ...

Lost and insecure
You found me, you found me
Lyin’ on the floor
Surrounded, surrounded
Why’d you have to wait?
Where were you? Where were you?
Just a little late
You found me, you found me
— You Found Me, by The Fray

I can't keep myself from weeping.

Snot-nose, running mascara, and all... I cannot keep it together. And I don't even care. 

Seeing The Fray, hearing that song, talking with Isaac's in-laws... This—THIS—is a picture of redemption my heart will hold forever.

goodbye someday

I get it. I do.

I understand why lifelong, loyal fans would be irritated by the droves of us who suddenly donned hats and joined in on the "Go Cubs Go" chants. "Bandwagon fans," they say with a frustrated sigh. And I get it.

But I also understand something else: that the Cubs' story is *our* story. It's the visual, tangible reminder to hold on, to never give up, to believe in something against all odds no matter how long it takes.

When 108 years of drought finally end, for a split second moment we all believe that our own seemingly-century-long struggles will eventually end as well. So we join in this moment to celebrate a victory hard-earned and to remind our hearts to hope, even when it feels like nothing more than a four-letter word.

Call me a bandwagon fan if you want, I won't mind. Because I know that right now... the Cubs are all of us.