Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Peaks and Valleys and Turning 30

In 14 days I turn 30. I always thought I would dread this time in my life, because isn't that what people are supposed to do to mourn the death of their twenties? But I can't wait to walk through this particular doorway. I feel like my twenties have been one giant ball of confusion, a misstep at life almost. And while I'm meeting 30 with a new bag of questions to explore, I'm excited about what's next. While life is still a question mark to me, I feel that the grit and grind of life is slowly being sifted away, like I have survived the pain and the hurdles, like I am standing on the peak of the mountain of my youth.
During the summer of 2000, I participated in a summer mission project in South Lake Tahoe, California. The summer involved a lot of spiritual growth, learning to share the gospel, and working in the area. Some of the students I was on project with had cool jobs like working at the Ponderosa Ranch where they had filmed the show Bonanza. Others got to work on the Tahoe Queen, a local riverboat.
I worked at McDonald's.

Not only did I work at McDonald's, but the location of our camp was about 6 miles from the store that I worked at. My car was in Tennessee. So I purchased a bicycle, and 5 days a week I rode 6 miles to McDonald's, took orders for burgers and fries for 5 or 6 hours, and then rode 6 miles back to camp. Now, I guess if you have to ride your bike to and from work, doing it in the beautiful city of Lake Tahoe isn't all that bad, because every day on the way home from work this was my view:

This is Mt. Tallac. It's the tallest mountain peak in Lake Tahoe at 3, 250 ft. It's known for it's "snow cross" which you can see here to the left of the mountain's summit. Even in the heat of the summer, the snow is visible in the cross shaped crevice, and all summer long I got to gaze at this beautiful creation.

However, in all the time I was gazing at this thing...I never thought I'd actually climb it.

All summer, a large portion of our group talked about climbing Tallac. The climbing rating by the United States Forest Service is "difficult" which means that it is a day's hike that should not be done alone and also should probably not be done by someone who gets winded walking up a steep flight of stairs. However, it doesn't require ropes or any kind of rock climbing experience. It's just a strenuous hike. A strenuous 5 mile, straight up the damn mountain, kind of hike. One day towards the end of the summer talking about hiking the mountain turned into actually doing it, and I found myself putting on my tennis shoes with two pairs of socks and packing a sack lunch.

Have I mentioned that I don't really enjoy hiking? There are bugs. And it is hard. And there is nothing to look at but nature. And it is hard. And after about 15 minutes, nature is boring. is hard.

But I went. And after about 15 minutes, nature was boring, and I was tired of looking at my doubled socked feet. And I was getting nervous, because looking up to see how far there was left to go meant tipping your head all the way back until the bones in the back of your neck popped and being met with the sight of a 3,250 ft MOUNTAIN. But peer pressure is a funny thing, and because everyone else seemed to be enjoying hiking the big damn mountain, I put on my best "this is awesome" face and kept going. And going. And going. And going. For about 5 hours. There were bugs. It was hot. Phrases like "I can't do this" and "What was I thinking" and "I'm never going to make it" flashed through my mind on repeat. The landscape of the mountain turned from wildflowers and pebbles to evergreen and boulder. It got colder. I put on my fleece pullover and marveled at a family of deer. We stopped for a water break. And then we started climbing again. Up and up and up. And bit by bit by bit. And eventually I didn't have to tip my head so far back to see the peak of the mountain, because a little at a time, the peak of the mountain was getting closer. And closer. And closer. And then, I climbed over a giant rock, with patches of snow on the ground around me, and just like that, the peak of the mountain had come to meet me.

The top of the mountain was rocky, and our group began to snap pictures of the view below us.

It was breathtaking. Any way you turned you saw something spectacular. Emerald Bay and Fallen Leaf Lake were tiny from thousands of feet away, and I felt sorry for the people below us who were oblivious to the beauty that was escaping them from the safety of sea level. Standing on the the patch of rocky earth that formed the peak of that mountain was like being in such intimate conversation with God. Almost like he was letting me in on one of his many secrets, like he was giving me a glimpse of how big He was without ever saying a word. There was a deafening quiet on the top of that mountain, and I became so absorbed by the silence that I forgot every moment of "I can't do this" and "What was I thinking" and "I'll never make it." I forgot about the heat and the bugs and the hours that it took to get there. I forgot about the aches in my legs and the blisters on my feet, and the fact that my lunch had long ago abandoned me. All I heard was the silence of God's voice in my spirit saying "You did it. This is yours."

That single moment of peace was worth all of the pain and suffering and labor and effort it took to get there. Because for a brief moment in time, the world stood still, peace lived within me,
and God and I were on the same page of the story and the same peak of the mountain.

Turning 30 takes me back to that moment, because for all of the "What was I thinkings" and the "I'll never make its," I have found myself at the peak of my youth. Looking back, I remember the pain and the lost footing, and the longing to turn around and go back home. So many times felt like failure, and so many times felt like shame. But now that I am on the verge of living my better life, there is peace in this place. I can appreciate where I am, because I know where I have been. I can look back on the journey and say

"I did it. This is mine."

Friday, January 14, 2011

The One About Marriage....

So far I'm 0 for 2 on this whole marriage thing, which is, at the least slightly irritating, and at the most unbearably heartbreaking. Most days I occupy a small bit of space somewhere between the two, because that seems to be the easiest place to fly under the radar. It's also where acceptance and new beginnings frolic exhaustively with denial and self interesting little game of freeze tag to say the least.

In the past month or so, there has been a tugging in my spirit for some peace about my history with marriage. It probably has something to do with the fact that I'm dating whom I believe to be one of the most precious human beings on the planet. And it probably has something to do with the fact that I would someday like to have more children. And it might just have something to do with the fact that I truly believe I will be a blessing as a wife to the right person. And, while we're just might have something to do with the fact that I've spent the last 2+ years studying the ins and outs of relationships and how to give and take and make things work.

But combine all of those desires with two very misguided marriages and you get a girl who is a little (VERY) gun shy when it comes to the logistics of "til death do you part." Is it really possible for two flawed human beings to stay together and do so happily for THE REST OF THEIR LIVES?

I went into both of my marriages with the best of intentions, but the worst of reasons. I was in love. Well....I was in love the first time. I don't really know what I was the second time actually. Stupid, definitely. In love? Not so much. But the first time, I married someone that I believed (and still believe in a different way) that I had a soul connection with. At the time, I would have said we were soul mates. Our journey had multiple twists and turns prior to our marriage, but there seemed to be some kind of magnetic force that kept pulling us back together. Our relationship made no sense, but at the time, I couldn't see NOT being with him. I loved him, and I don't really question that for a time in his life he really loved me. We were young and impulsive and knew nothing of shattered dreams and broken promises. Our world was filled with possibilities and plans and the naive desires of two kids who were oblivious to the harsh reality that they had everything to lose. We spent a small number of years fumbling our way through "marriage" and then a more recent number of years trying to figure out how to not be married anymore. And somewhere in the mess of it all, this person that I knit my life to, though he really hasn't changed all that much, has turned into someone that I kind of know but barely recognize. The pieces of our story don't quite fit together anymore, but our child shuffles between them as proof that at one point in time there was a story to tell. It's like when a word or a sound or a taste or a smell triggers a memory so poignant that you find yourself reliving it, and yet at the same time you somehow managed to forget that the memory was ever there at all.

And then, for some reason I can boil down only to brokenness, I remarried someone who 90% of the time I didn't even like. It's weird what pain can make you do.

So here I am at the most intense level of introspection that I think I am capable of about to dig into the history of marriage in order to learn more about what made it work, what made it fail, and historically why people got married before "love" got involved. This process involves a lot of google searches and a book that I am about to go purchase and read fervently with my highlighter poised and ready to go. I've already discovered that the concept of marriage for love is in its infancy while "hey, I'll marry her because she has a goat" is the more historically accepted measure of marital success. I figure somewhere in between those two I'll find a wealth of healthy building blocks for marriage, and hopefully a little bit of peace and healing.

Because if I'm ever to do this again and feel good about it, it can't be just about love. And lord knows there's no room in this house for a goat. So here goes nothing....

Dearly beloved, brace yourself for impact.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Life has been good lately. I've had the last month or so off of school, so instead of running around crazy, I've actually had time to sit around the house and do a whole lot of nothing all that spectacular. It's been, in a word, amazing. My crazy schedule starts back next week, but I feel rejuvenated and ready to take on this last semester. I graduate in the countdown is O.N. (I actually wish the word "on" had more letters in it so I could make that point even more emphatically. Two just didn't quite feel satisfying...)

Anyway, I've continued working at the bar which has been both interesting and frustrating for the past month. The bar that I work at is in a hotel that I may have mentioned before mainly caters to business travel. As you can imagine, most of our patrons head home for the holidays, so with the exception of New Year's Eve, for the last month I've been pouring drinks less often than I've been standing behind the bar and counting how many cars can drive by outside the floor to ceiling window during the amount of time it takes me to sing the chorus of "Glory of Love" in my head. The record is case you were curious.

The week after New Years brought a sigh of relief, because most of my regular guys were back. Paul got back in town and took his usual seat, drinking his usual Corona. Kenny came back from Cincinnati, Doug came back from Philly, and Mark came back from Houston.

Mark is here on business with a company that does very official IT business with a very official local corporation. He is probably in his mid to late 50's and often sports a salt and pepper 5 o'clock shadow that seems to argue "I'm masculine" while his eyes gently urge that he's kind. He always starts the night with a shot of Glenlivet on the rocks. He pays $15 a glass for the good stuff, insisting that the difference between the 12 year and the 18 year is like a prepubescent kid and John Wayne smoking a cigarette with a naked blond in the room. He carries around a quiet demeanor but exudes an aire of "get the job done." He's wealthy beyond measure, but he wears it like a man who at one point in time probably had to shovel manure in cowboy boots and 100 degree heat just to get his beat up pinto running again. I like him, because he drinks enough to come to the bar, but not enough to stop talking nice about his wife. Whenever he comes to the bar he starts by asking me how my day has been. And whenever he stands to go, he ends the night with, "Well, Sara....that's all for me."

Last week, he joined me in the bar and I poured his regular glass of scotch. A young man in a jeans and white t shirt sat beside him. I had never seen this guy before, and seeing as how he was leaving town the next day, I bothered only to get his name and the basic "What are you in town for" information. His name was Jim, and he was in town on business from Cincinnati. He was from Michigan, but his wife wanted to move to Ohio, so he did. His head was shaved, and he kept rubbing it like it itched. He drank a Bud Light and ordered a burger. When Mark sat next to him they began to chat. I brought their food and listened to them talk between moving around behind the bar refilling drinks. The talked about their wives...their kids....the For about an hour, they chit chatted like old friends, as perfect strangers in bars tend to do. I perched myself in front of them and listened to them talk about the holidays and found myself smiling. Then, as I gathered dirty plates and printed tabs for them to sign, Mark looked at me and smiled asking, "Sara, are you happy?"

And I felt my smile widen as I replied, "I really am." And Mark looked to his right at the young man sitting beside him and said, "I knew she was happy. That's why I asked that." Then he looked back at me, placed the ink pen back in the black check presenter, drank the last bit of scotch from the bottom of his glass, and said, "Well, Sara...that's all for me." And with that, he walked out of the bar.

I didn't really see it coming, but seeing as how it's visible from the other side of the bar, I must be wearing happiness well these days. It fits better than it used a pair of jeans the day after you take them out of the dryer. Somehow I managed in this crazy life to make sense of motherhood, of grad school, of divorce, of work, of love. For the first time in almost 30 years, I feel that I am owning my life instead of it owning me. I feel like I have served my time in the trenches of confusion and made my peace with the demons there. And I feel like I have I'm I'm I'm doing this life thing right. Happiness used to be like a coat to put on when it was cold and take off when it wasn't. Now it's like an ember in my core, something that lights up inside of me when the wind hits it just right, and without any effort at all, suddenly I'm warm.

The journey hasn't been quite as smooth as a glass of 18 year scotch, but I'll drink in the life just the same...and well....that's all for me.