Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Race Goes On

This time of year always finds me thoughtful and introspective; remembering the past year and squeezing the final lessons to be learned before turning my attention toward the upcoming months. At the end of last year, I remember thinking that 2015 would be "The Year of Rest." I coined it as such mostly because I was coming out of one of the most difficult and challenging years of my life and wanted to embrace self-love, self-care, and continuing the path of healing on which I had embarked at the beginning of 2014. However, this year has been anything but restful, 'though that's not to imply that it was not good. Candidly, anything after 2014 would be considered good. And yet, even as I write that, I know that if I had not spent so many sleepless nights in anxiety, had not spent so many days eating too much or not enough depending on my levels of stress, or fought so hard to keep my head high despite the crushing hopelessness, I wouldn't have experienced the light shining so brightly through the darkness.

In many ways, 2014 was the crucible after the three previous years of aimless wandering. Everything leading up over the past four years - from losing friendships with people I've known since child-hood, surviving an abusive relationship, moving across multiple state lines multiple times, and being falsely accused and dragged through the court system - taught me the deeper meaning of forgiveness, patience, self-control, truth-seeking, and gradually re-learning the beauty of vulnerability. 

My only response over this past year has been one of gratitude. Gratitude to the friends and family who never gave up on me and held my arms up for me when I was too tired to hold them up myself; for the amazing community here on the Cape who stood by my side; for the ever-faithful God who calls me beloved when I see nothing but fear and doubt. 

Despite the ever-present busy-ness of the last 12 months, all I see when I look back is love, joy, beauty, and an all-encompassing peace that I am exactly where I need to be for such a time as this. I am who I am and equipped with everything I need for the tasks set before me. 

So, what are my plans for 2016? I've been mulling this over in my mind for many weeks, and here are some of the answers upon which I've arrived:
  • I have an important story to tell. I once had a professor write the following at the bottom of one of my papers: "Miss Bologna, I've held off saying this for quite some time. Today is the day. I have no doubt that one day I will be reading your books in bookstores across the country....God willing. Let Him take the shade off the lamp..."
    The time for fear and sadness over some of the chapters in my life is passing away. No longer do I want to be controlled by the ghosts of the past, but rather bring them to light, the better to light the way for others. 
  • My calling has always been to serve others. It's taken me awhile to learn that I can't serve others if I'm not serving myself. Part of that service is to participate in the things that make me come alive and fill me with joy. Serving others in drudgery does no one any good. The day is dawning to rediscover my passion and use it for the good of mankind.
  • Adventure is in my blood. The adventure of the light in my soul recognizing the light in anothers'; the adventure of discovering new places, be it across the road or across the world; the adventure of learning new things and mastering new skills; the adventure of letting go and letting God; the adventure of love. 
  • The Journey is the Destination. To quote myself from last year, "my resolution is to continue on this journey - the journey of learning how to take care of me, while still taking care of the people in my life that I love; breathing deep to remind myself of the sweetness of oxygen; taking moments, both small and large, to enjoy the pleasures of life, both simple and decadent....Most importantly, I want this year to be filled with love. I want to open my heart up, inch by inch, until its doors are wide open – allowing in the joy and the pain, and embracing them both."
I have set my intentions and lit my candle. As the slowly dying flame flickers and extinguishes on 2015, may the bonfires of the future ignite a la Lord of the Rings style from Gondor to Rohan, leaping from mountaintop to mountaintop, signaling now! now is the time to awaken! now is the time to answer the call and to ride!

The race goes on.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Great Legacy

There are a lot of emotions tied up in this day. I know I have friends who feel nothing but pain today for the wonderful fathers they have lost. I know I have friends today who feel anger today for the wonderful fathers they never had. I know there will be many posts on social media today about "World's Best Dad," and "I have the best dad ever," but today, I wanted to share a few words about the emotions I have tied to this day.

Gratitude. Pride. Honor. Respect. Joy. Love.

Gratitude. Once upon a time, there was a little girl with wide eyes and a big imagination that was encouraged to grow, and learn, and explore, and be exactly who she was. Her dad taught her how to ride and repair her bike, climb a tree, play baseball, and to never stop asking questions. He read to her at night great stories about great people. But the best stories were the ones he made up about the Adventures of Enzio and his Magical Cat Oblio. In the lazy summer evenings, he played guitar and taught her and her sister to embrace music, and making their own music. They went on adventures together in the marshes and discovered the wonders of nature and nature's God.

Pride. As the girl grew older, she realized that she wasn't the only one who thought her dad was pretty great. "Are you John Bologna's little girl?" And the response was always, "Yes I am!"

Honor. Growing up, she saw the way he led by example, the way he had a standard for excellence, not just for those around him, but for himself as well. He worked hard to provide for his family, and chose their comfort over his own.

Respect. With the passage of time, mistakes are bound to happen, and life wasn't always perfect. In moments of disobedience, bad attitudes, and temper tantrums, all she needed was to get "The Look" from her father to know that whatever she was doing needed to stop. Yet, for each of those moments, there were even more moments of praise for a job well-done, quick forgiveness, and so much patience.

Joy. Even as an adult, she still finds joy in dragon fly wings, the roar of the ocean's surf, watching green things grow, the mystery of the stars, the industriousness of ants, and figuring out how things work. There were countless nights of star-gazing at Nauset Beach, watching the Perseid's and creating names for the different types of shooting stars: the Sparkler, the Fizz, the Fizzer, the Streaker, the Blip, and the ever-elusive Fourth of July.
There are memories of the one summer when every day after returning home for work, the two of them would grab towels and bathing-suits and rush to Chatham Light Beach to dive into the chilly waters of the Atlantic, washing away the heat and sweat and work from the day. And then they would sit and talk, and sometimes grab an ice cream, and sometimes not, but it was always good.
And how many times did they wake up at 4:00....3:00....2:00 in the morning to adventure to the beach to watch some astronomical event, only to be followed by a sunrise and breakfast at Larry's PX.
Bike rides, canoe outings, road trips, hiking explorations. The Joy of Adventure all.

Love. They say that a life without Love is not worth living. Love has no limit; when love is given, it doesn't decrease, it multiplies. And so it is with a Father's Love. There is no limit. And within that boundless, endless, unconditional love, there is comfort, safety, and rest.

I know there are plenty of other father's in the world that are just as patient, just as wise, and just as loving. Perhaps they are even more so than mine. And I know my dad is not perfect...I know he's made mistakes. But, the thing about him that I will always admire is that he is so full of grace. Like his mother before him, there is a gentle intensity about him that is all-at-once inspiring and comforting. As I've grown older, I have come to rely on and seek out his counsel more and more. There have been times when I have leaned my burdened heart heavily against his, and it has never faltered.

I recently won an award, and during my few words in acceptance of it, I called my father out as my number one fan and greatest role model. I would not be the person I am today without his support. Through all the trials of my life - the lessons learned, the tears shed, the struggle and the mourning, he has been my rock, and always shows me who the true Rock is. His Source of strength is mine as well, and I can embrace the true Father Heart of God because of the example set out by my earthly Father.

Yes, I have many memories of joy and laughter, but it has been in the darkest night of the soul where the truth of his love has been a balm.

So, on this day....this day that hold so many different emotions for so many different people, I want to say Happy Father's Day to my #1 Best Dad in the World. Thank you for following in the footsteps of God, so I could follow in yours.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The First Step

Last night, I sat on the couch with my dad, drinking cold ones and watching #SB15 replays on the NFL Network (it will never get old). And I don't quite know what motivated it, but I started thinking about running and how much I used to love it.

I started thinking about the year before I moved to Pittsburgh and how my morning runs helped me to figure it all out - my time of prayer and meditation; my time to clear my head and find clarity; my time with just me, the sound of me feet on the pavement, and that seductive ribbon of road.

And then I thought about my time in Pittsburgh and how proud I was when I finally started conquering those ubiquitous hills, the exultation I felt when I would crest the top - heart pounding, lungs burning, legs shaking - and keep pushing on past the hurt until I felt like I could fly. I thought about the searing anguish that I had while I worked through the grieving process that whole year knowing my Nonna was slipping away and how running helped me conquer that hideous strength.

Running has always been my escape; my way of working through any and all problems I may have. It has been a glorious release from the stress I carry in my shoulders and on my mind. It was the thing that was always there - like an old friend, the road didn't care how long I had been away, it was just happy to reconnect. It was the thing I could always return to.

Until I didn't. Until I overstressed my IT Band and was crippled on the side of South Street in Harwich Port one August morning in 2011. Since then, except for a few disastrous attempts, I've mostly avoided running, scared shitless that that piercing pain will return and I'll damage my knee(s).

But, here's the thing, last night I got on my mom's treadmill and tentatively started easing myself back into it....a speedwalk here, a jaunty jog there, a full-on sprint for 30 seconds once I warmed up. I stayed on the treadmill for 45 minutes, covering a total of 3 miles. Yes, it's a slow start. Yes, that's only a fraction of what I used to be able to run. Yet, I wasn't discouraged. I was so thrilled that I got off the treadmill with no hint of the familiar tightening along the outside of my knee.

Who knows if the smooth crooning of Busta Rhymes through my earbuds helped me to block everything else from my mind, but today I am thankful. Today I am strong. Today I am taking the first step.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Ruminations

I've thought a lot about New Year's Resolutions over the past couple of weeks. I've thought about how I don't really believe in them it seems kind of trite to spout out all these high ideals that no one ever really follow through on past January.

And then I thought of this past year. And how hard it was. And how I coined it "The Year of Christina" because of all the self-care and self-love I wanted to give myself, because of all the ways I wanted to get healthy: physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. In some of those areas (physically), I failed terribly; in others, I attained momentary star power. But, in general, I have grown and branched out and become more "zen."

So, for this year, The Year of Rest, my resolution is to continue on this journey - the journey of learning how to take care of me, while still taking care of the people in my life that I love; breathing deep to remind myself of the sweetness of oxygen; taking moments, both small and large, to enjoy the pleasures of life, both simple and decadent; reminding myself to get out of my head and into my life; continuing to hone my craft and be excellent in my work; finding balance; remembering that the traumas of my past do not define me, but strengthen me; embracing creativity, innovation, excitement, and not being afraid of the failures that come along away that make the end product even better; investing my time in pursuits that are edifying; being gentle with myself; being gentle with those around me; abstaining from detrimental habits and activities.

But, most importantly, I want this year to be filled with love. I want to open my heart up, inch by inch, until its doors are wide open – allowing in the joy and the pain, and embracing them both. I want to continually eschew cynicism and bitterness. I want to press forward towards hope and joy and peace. I want to recapture the starry-eyed, idealistic dreamer I was before I encountered the dark side of humanity and allowed it to thwart my vision. Then I want to temper that idealism with discernment and grace.

As each page falls off the calendar, bringing us inevitably closer to the end of our days, I am more aware of what it means to live a good life. For truly, a life full of grace, truth, joy, and love will always be admired and celebrated.

Welcome 2015. May I live each of your days to the hilt!

Monday, May 19, 2014

To Love is to be Vulnerable

Vulnerability. For those in the Christian faith, being vulnerable is touted as a virtue. "We need to be vulnerable with each other." I remember one time in youth group, my youth leader used the word so many times that I couldn't focus on anything else except how strange the word started to sound.

I'm not sure when I stopped wanting to be vulnerable. Stopped wearing my heart on my sleeve and buttoned up my lip. In ages past, everyone knew everything about me and I was quick to raise my hand, share a testimony, offer my opinion. It was a sort of cathartic release to air my dirty laundry - a throwback to stepping into a confessional and verbally vomiting on the priest.

Perhaps it was one too many secrets told in private that ended up getting shared with the general population. Maybe it was a feeling of always being just a little different than everyone else - a little too outspoken, a little too socially awkward, a lot too unfashionable in my clothing and my opinions. There was always a sense of being slightly on the outside looking in, despite the fact that I was a student leader in my youth group and always a social butterfly in my group of friends. Yet, even though there were other homeschoolers in the "popular" circle at youth group, I somehow still didn't quite fit. There was something within me that longed for more. While everyone was nibbling at the buffet table, I wanted to see the full menu.

But this isn't about the strangely-overly-confident-yet-weirdly-insecure-and-needy-for-approval girl I (am) was in high school. It's about the innate desire we, as human beings, long to have with those around us, yet so often fail to achieve because we, as human beings, are helplessly imperfect and flawed. But, before I go any further, let's actually define our terms.

adjective: vulnerable
  1. susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm.
    "we were in a vulnerable position"
    • (of a person) in need of special care, support, or protection because of age, disability, or risk of abuse or neglect.
      "employees must be better trained in how to deal with vulnerable young people"
early 17th century: from late Latin vulnerabilis, from Latin vulnerare ‘to wound,’ fromvulnus ‘wound.’

Yikes. That does not sound pleasant. Actually, this sounds like something that should be avoided at all costs. Who wants to actively and willingly place themselves in a position that is susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm? In almost every type of definition, be it military, social, cognitive, or environmental, vulnerability is seen as a weakness, something to be avoided.

So why is it touted as such a lofty goal when it comes to human relationships? In Brene Brown's TedX talk, "The Power of Vulnerability," she says,
To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there's no guarantee; to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we're wondering, "Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?" just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, "I'm just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I'm alive." And, most importantly, to believe that we're enough. Because when we work from a place that says, "I'm enough," then we stop screaming and start listening, we're kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we're kinder and gentler to ourselves.
What are the things we feel vulnerable about? Our weight, our looks, our qualifications, our education, how many sexual partners we've had, how few sexual partners we've had, our jobs, our childhood, our family, our faith, our everything. And behind all of it is fear. Fear of failure. Fear of being different. Fear of not being good enough.

And how badly do I want to make my life look so beautiful, so enviable really. Isn't my life nice? Isn't it perfect? Don't you wish you had nothing to hide, like me? But, we all have something (many things) to hide. My closet is as full of skeletons as the next person. And then it turns into revealing all so that no one can hold any of my secrets over me. "Why should I care if you told my secret to the whole world? I already did it." But, the problem is, they still  judge me for it. And I know they do. So what is my defense mechanism? Try to even out the scale by piling more "good deeds" on the other side? Do I try to unearth other's darker secrets to make myself feel better? And where does it end? At what point do our hearts stop beating life and start beating self-hate, self-loathing, shame, bitterness, fear?

What is the solution? Do I just let it all hang out there? (For anyone who's read my blog...I let a good bit of it hang out there.) But, is there a point where we become too vulnerable? And how much are we really taking care of other people if we reveal more than they're capable of handling?

The famous Dr. Seuss quote, "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind," has become a bit of a mantra to me. But, the problem arises when those who mind do matter; whether it's because you're rising to a position of influence in the public spotlight, or maybe it's just because you're (I'm) so damn concerned about having the whole world like you (me). So what then? How do we embrace vulnerability, transparency without exposing ourselves to brokenness and pain? Like so many things in my life, I'm always seeking the balance point.

When I was 15 I started learning how to play the violin. One of the very first lessons involved the proper way to hold the instrument between my chin and shoulder ("Suspension without extra tension) and how to hold the bow. "Find the balance point," instructed my teacher. "It's not where you think it is." The bow is weighted unevenly, so the balance point is where the bow is held, close to the bottom where most of its weight is. "Let the bow float in your hand. Don't grip it, just guide it where you want it to go."

Oh how I love these lessons in life. Sometimes the balance point is not where we think it is. So what is this balance point of vulnerability? Of allowing another human being to see our nerves exposed, raw and red?





And for every scar that lingers- every story from our past of which we're ashamed- every gory detail we try to mask- such a small part of our lives- there should be a bow's length of displays of our gentleness, our graciousness, our gratitude that "to feel this vulnerable means I'm alive."

Like most matters of the human heart, vulnerability is not simple, and it certainly is not easy. But, in the ever-wise words of C.S. Lewis, "Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully 'round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But, in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken, it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable."

So, when did I stop wanting to be invulnerable? When did I want to let the joy bubble up and drown out all the fear and regret? Well....sometime between dawn and dusk; the space between starting this post a month ago and ending it today; the moment between inhale and exhale; the semi-conscious realm between waking and sleeping.

To love is to be vulnerable.

I love.

I am vulnerable.

I am grateful to feel this alive.