Cultivating My Spirit

Life on the Rapids

Years ago I took a road trip with a friend. Up to that point we would have said that we knew each other very well.  We had planned to drive across the southwest on a tour that was to last a week or so. We were sick of each other inside of 24 hours. Within 3 days we were seeking separation – she went her way, I went mine, we met up for a major celebration then went home.

She was a different person on the road – out of her comfort zone, coming against road blocks and unexpected detours. As well as I thought I knew her, I really didn’t know her at all. And vice versa. There’s a softness about me that people comment on all the time. A sweetness. An easy-going spirit. It usually leads people to think they can take advantage of me, manipulate me, control me. You know, generally be the wolf to my Little Red Riding Hood and try to devour me. They soon find, after some expended energy and headaches, that sweet softness surrounds an iron core. I’m not easily shaken. Nor am I easily led astray. I’m focused. I’m committed and I’m loyal. Above all that I’m an honest, faithful person of integrity. Dealing with me any other way reflects poorly upon you.

That road trip was a life lesson. I immediately decided that should I ever get to the point of marriage my groom-to-be and I would take a pre-wedding road trip. The purpose: to see how different he would be towards me when life just came at him. No time for rehearsals, no hiding, no do-overs. Just committing to a course and doing what you know. Being true to yourself and acting on faith. How and where would his faith lead him? And how eagerly and willingly would I follow?

Some time ago, my pastor said during a teaching on marriage, “Marriage isn’t about the person, it’s about the commitment.” Periodically, I meditate on that. I didn’t get it at first. Why wouldn’t it be about the person you marry? Why would the commitment be more important? Well, the commitment is key. When two people are committed to a course of action, nothing can really stop them. And if God is there between them, they’re guaranteed success.

“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”  ~ Matthew 18:19-20 

I went whitewater rafting for the first time a few weeks ago. We were in the water for about four hours, and traveled 12 miles down river. They did a brief orientation. We had to pick our raft team, appoint someone captain, put someone in charge of our two buckets, and generally be ready to work together. I went with someone I’ve had limited social interaction with and we met up with two couples there that weren’t part of a group. The six of us became a team. We discussed our history with the activity (two of us had never rafted, the others ranged from limited to experienced.), we discussed our objectives – stay in raft and enjoy ourselves. From the first stroke we operated in unison.

Within ten minutes we watched a raft go in circles for quite a while. They were literally rowing in a circle in one spot on the water. The only way to do that is when the left is rowing in the opposite direction from the right. After the second or third circle you would’ve thought they would’ve stopped to discuss strategy or something.

On another raft, a guy jumped or fell into the water. His friends rowed on and made him chase the raft for while.

On yet another raft I heard a wife snapping hard on her husband (assuming they were married, girlfriends are somewhat milder in their word choice). I don’t remember her words, but she took an exception to him needing more help from her to steer the raft clear of the rocks.

Many, if not all, of the rafts rode up on large rocks at some point. We rode up on several. In orientation, we were told that for every minute we stayed on a rock (stagnant, not moving forward), we would fall ten to fifteen minutes behind the group.  We didn’t stay on any rock for a minute.  As soon as we crashed onto one, we all went into action. And it wasn’t the experienced rafters directing the “rock dismounts”, it was the other newbie. From a distance we could see other rafts landing on rocks like they were Plymouth, the rafters showed very little interest or enthusiasm in getting off of them.  One person worked to get the raft off while the others sat and looked at them.

We saw one raft almost sink after spending five to ten minutes partially on a rock. I just wondered how they managing to nearly destroy a raft. Luckily, the submerged portion of the raft came back above water after some more maneuvering.

All this to say, many people, some of whom apparently knew each other very well didn’t do to well together in this high stress, high energy activity.

Life to me is like those rapids, it comes at you fast, you don’t know what’s ahead, you know you’re going to hit some hard spots but you don’t know how you’re going to get through them until you get to them. You’re afraid of falling or getting in over your head, but when you do exactly that, you realize it’s not too deep to stand, you’re more resilient than you thought and helping hands are all around you. You have your quiet sun-dappled spots of peace and tranquility and your roaring, fast-paced movement when you can only react from knowledge and instinct. You come as an individual and you join up with others to maximize your experience and your enjoyment. That’s life – you never know what you’re going to get until you open yourself to receive. Sometimes that means letting go of what you already know. .. What you’re used to… Stepping out of your comfort zone.

In 2005, on September 2nd to be exact, I arrived in New York City. I had a little less than one months’ worth of rent in my bank account after I paid my move-in fees. I had been unemployed for about a year prior to the move, had no savings, no job lined up and no family or friends to fall back on.

Why New York? Because I had always wanted to live here. But I kept putting it off. Milwaukee was safe. It was comfortable. It was what I knew. But I was miserable there. Any opportunity to leave was eagerly accepted. In 1997 I left for Phoenix. It didn’t work out; I went back to Milwaukee. In 1999 I studied in Paris for a semester. Had to go back to Milwaukee afterwards. In 2000 I worked on the road for year. Job ended, went back to Milwaukee. In 2001 I moved to Los Angeles with a friend. Couldn’t find lucrative work on a deadline, bussed back to Milwaukee. Milwaukee became the place I couldn’t escape no matter what.

One day in June 2005 the bulb went off: I was willing try everything else, but kept passing up trying what I really wanted. I had dreamed of New York City most of my life, yet I kept allowing myself to get waylaid and distracted. I allowed fear to control me – the fear of not being able to get back to Milwaukee if needed; the fear of not being able to afford life elsewhere; the fear of failing yet again. That one June day, I realized I wasn’t happy where I was because I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I asked myself: Where do I want to be more than anything? New York City was the hands-down-no-contest answer. I resolved in that moment that that’s where I was going to move as soon as I could scrape together the funds to go. No other criteria was needed because perfect situations had never come my way.

Within a month I was visiting a college friend in Manhattan to scout out opportunities and possibilities. I interviewed for a couple of jobs and found an apartment in the Bronx. The landlord held that apartment for me for over a month. He and his wife committed to working with me through my transition. (And they did.) With that assurance I went back to Milwaukee and announced my imminent move, I held a yard sale and a massive give-away. I was committing to my course and the best way for me to show commitment for my move to New York City was by eliminating a need to return to Milwaukee (other than to visit).

The first six months in New York City was one of the hardest periods in my life to date. It was such a dark period of self-doubt and doubting God. I was questioning that voice inside me that insisted I take such a leap of faith. I castigated myself for my foolishness and shortsightedness. I was wondering how God was going to show Himself and provide for me. I had gotten to such a low by late February 2006 that while sitting in Central Park one day I started observing the homeless people to see how they were coping with the cold. How many layers of clothing, what types of blankets? How big were their bags and carts? And I started mentally cataloging my belongings and deciding what I would take to the streets with me. People laugh when I talk about this, but that was my thought process. I actually laughed at myself when the one thing I decided would have to come with me was my blue velvet comforter with scrolled lavender cutouts. I thought I would for sure get into a couple of fights trying to keep that on the street! Anyway, even at that low point, I wasn’t thinking of giving up. I was thinking of a way to cope with impending homelessness – how would I wash and clean myself to go on interviews, how would I avoid freezing to death…. I truly believed that what was meant for my next stage in life was in New York City. And I was willing to go through whatever I had to go through in order to get the prize – whatever that turned out to be.

I went back to my apartment that evening (after sitting in the park) despondent because I didn’t have any money towards my March rent and no way of getting it. The next day I got a call for a job interview – long-term temp position at one of the top three banks in the country. Within two days I was being finger-printed and drug-tested. The next week I started work – it’s been an upward climb ever since. I profusely apologized to God for questioning His interest in and ability to provide for me!

There is no math that can work out how I survived the first six months in New York City. But I actively did what I knew to do –  odds and ends around the city to get to the next day, the next point, the next level.

Living life fully requires a sense of adventure, not the reckless-dare-devil-machismo foolishness, but fearless, exploratory eagerness to experience whatever comes your way.

If you’re unhappy with your life, ask yourself: What would make me happy? Rather it’s a job change, a cross-country move, or something much simpler, work to make it happen. There’s no promise that everything will go smoothly but at least you’re working towards something you’re passionate about. That passion fuels your commitment. The commitment reinforces your energy to continue in your purpose. Living in your purpose has a ripple effect on more people than you can imagine. You become an authentic conduit of light that beckons people to you and accentuates the best of our humanity.

If you can’t get to what makes you happy with the direct questions, go around the bush and ask yourself: What am I afraid of? What is so scary about the course of action I would prefer to take that has me running, hiding and building forts for protection?

How comfortable is life when you’re consistently weighed down with protective gear? Helmet, blinders, heart-guard, elbow pads, knee pads, you name it! You can let all that go and simply trust in God. Trust that He will not lead you astray. Trust that nothing will harm you as long as He’s holding you. That’s what I did. I can’t describe the peace of mind that I have now. The level of satisfaction I have with my life. No matter who or what crosses my path on any given day, I’m at ease. Life is good, God is great!

But I had to go through my tests (read: deep valleys) to get to this point. My prize – a peaceful existence. No part of me is warring with another part. I was completely stripped. Wrote a book about it, then got flayed for the effort. Since then, I’ve been healed. And now I’m being covered in raiment more dazzling than anything I ever imagined. And life is only getting better the more aware I become and the more I grow. I don’t have words to explain how my life has prospered in ways I couldn’t even envision five years ago – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. All over.  Nothing I’m doing now was part of the life plan then.

A couple of weeks ago a life coach pitched her business to me – quite honestly, I have the universes’ best coach already, as do you! Towards the end of our conversation, after I had expressed no interest in coaching or being coached on life, she asked me if I was happy with my job. I said yes. She sounded surprised by my response. Then she asked me where I saw myself in five years. I told her, “I have stopped trying to limit God. I will be wherever He wants me to be.”

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