Dance!

IMG_8325I went to a local fair in Loveland on Saturday. It featured local brews, live music and food. My daughter was dancing as part of the SlapStep Studios group, so my husband, son, and I went to watch her. Becky’s husband, Justin, and their daughter, my oh-so-wonderful granddaughter Maddy, were there also.

After Becky’s dance part was over, we hung around, trying to decide what to do, where to go. I took Maddy out of her stroller and in an instant she was running toward the front of the fair where the stage was. Live music was going on, and she needed to be a part of it.

I followed, not just to keep her safe but because there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than trailing after this little girl who doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase “slow down.” Or maybe she knows, but she certainly never heeds it.

As soon as she got up front, she began dancing and clapping. Her “dancing” is kind of a mix of galloping and skipping, and she uses every bit of space she is given. Every now and then, she’d grab my hand and the two of us would gallop and skip to the live covers of Luke Bryant, Elvis Presley and Merle Haggard.

At one point, she walked over to a woman sitting in the front row. She held out her hand. She pointed to the “dance floor.” She held out her hand again. The woman took her hand and the two of them danced.

What a wonderful thing it is to dance with such abandon. Maddy didn’t care that she wasn’t dancing in a way that traditionalists would call dancing. No one else cared either. She didn’t care who was watching, although everyone was. For Maddy, there was nothing more than the music and the movement, and the huge, overwhelming desire to have people share in her joy.

I want to live with that kind of abandon. I want you to live with that kind of abandon.

There will be times when you fall. Don’t let it stop you. Get back up, wipe the tears away, maybe even get annoyed when your daddy tries to clean your scraped up knee because he’s slowing you down when all you want to do is DANCE.

Live with abandon. Drink fully. Laugh often. Dance. Invite others to share in your joy. Fall down. Get back up. And keep dancing.

Lessons Learned from the Bike, Part One

balance-balance-motivational-1310443928I’ve been riding a bike since May 2012. Not very long. I love it, though, and I’ve found that no matter what is going on in my life, it’s all made better by time in the saddle. There is a sign on a bike trail in Fort Collins, Colorado, that my daughter pointed out to me when we went riding a couple of months ago. It reads “Let it all go.” That’s so true. In the saddle, I can let it all go and just focus on the ride.

I’ve learned a few things while on the bike, and I think they apply to so-called “real life.” Let me say right here that these are my own lessons learned. They may not apply to everyone, and they may not be true for every cyclist. Here’s a few in no particular order.

1. Any ride is better than no ride. Sometimes my mind will trick me that I don’t have enough time in one single chunk to do something. “I can’t write–I only have 20 minutes.” Biking has taught me the fallacy of that. Only 20 minutes? No problem. I can still get a very short three-mile ride in. While that isn’t much, any ride is better than no ride. And writing two paragraphs is better than not writing at all. Grab what you can when you can.

This also applies to exercise. Riding a bike is great exercise. And while you may at times feel that you can’t spend enough time to make it worthwhile, or that you don’t go fast enough nor far enough, remember this: you are lapping everyone who is sitting on the couch.

2. When confronted with the choice to go uphill or down, choose uphill. I’m all about options, and generally speaking, the more options you have, the better. If you choose to go downhill, you have eliminated the easy option, basically leaving you with no options. If you choose uphill, you can always change your mind if you really need to. Going uphill has a lot of benefits. The first, of course, is that eventually, you’ll go down the other side, wind rushing through your hair, joy flooding your exhilarated body. Second, the view is better from the top. You can look back at the hill you’ve just climbed, the accomplishment you have achieved, the challenge you have conquered and say, “Wow, I did that!”

In child development, if the parent does everything for the child, the child never achieves a sense of accomplishment and learns instead to be helpless and dependent. We develop self-esteem and self-confidence only by conquering the difficult. Choose uphill. Say yes to the challenge.

3. When going uphill, go small. This goes along with the one above. If you’ve chosen to go uphill, there are going to be times that you are sure you won’t be able to make it. That’s especially true in life. Some challenges feel unconquerable. In that case, it’s best to look at the short distances. As the joke goes–how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Don’t look at the whole hill; focus instead on the few yards in front of you. Look ahead a little ways and pick a target. On one hill that I used to regularly ride, I would pick my target and give myself permission to turn around when I reached that target. I never turned around. I always without fail picked another target and kept going.

I read an article recently by Kimberly Turner about resolutions for writing, and she made this point. Looking at the big picture is necessary so you know where you’re going, but looking at it too long can be overwhelming. Get the big picture, the big hill, in mind and then make smaller goals. Instead of saying, “I’m going to write that novel this year,” break it down and say, “I’m going to write chapter one this week.” Instead of saying, “I’m going to lose 25 pounds this year,” say “I’m going to eat healthy today,” and “I’m going to lose two pounds this month.”

4. Keep moving. Life is movement. It pushes forward, struggles, surges, creeps. It is never still. Growth is movement. To stop moving is to become stagnant, to die. To ride a bike is movement. You can’t ride a bike and be still at the same time. If in life you feel you are stuck, move. If you are depressed, move. If you are uncertain which path to take, take one. MOVE. As Winston Churchill said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.” Nothing lasts forever. If you are going through bad times, they will not last. Keep moving.

I wish I could say that you will not fall off your bike if you keep moving. You no doubt will take a spill at some point while biking. But it is a certainty that you will fall off if you don’t move at all.

I live in Colorado, where I can look out my window at any given moment and see the mountains. And they are beautiful, majestic, breathtaking. But my heart longs to be on the beach with its ceaseless movement. Life is movement. Growth is movement. Learning is movement. Biking is movement.

5. It’s all about you. When I first started riding, I would approach this one hill and kill myself trying to maintain my speed. It took a lot of the joy out of hitting that hill, because I just couldn’t ride it as fast as what I thought I should. I have riding friends, and I was judging myself–a fledgling rider–on their distances and speeds.

Sometimes in life people will judge you based on their own standards. Sometimes you will judge yourself based on how they live their lives. But the truth is, no one sits in your saddle but you. No one resides in your skin but you. No one rides your path but you. That’s right–it’s all about you. Shinedown has a song called “What a Shame.” The first line of the chorus is “What a shame, what a shame to judge a life that you can’t change.”

Don’t let anyone else’s judgment change who you are–either when you’re riding or in life. We in the church are famous for doing that to others, judging them without knowing their lives, motivations, choices, challenges as if we had the right. I will write more about that in a future blog post.

6. Announce yourself. While it is all about you, recognize that you are part of a community. When you are on a bike and are approaching a pedestrian, you are supposed to announce yourself. “On your left.” This keeps them from unwittingly stepping out in front of you and hurting themselves, you and your bike. So it is in life. Announce yourself. This doesn’t mean that when you walk into a party you have to throw your arms open wide and belt out “Here I am! Embrace me!” It means say hello. It means reach out to someone else. Greet people. Smile. As a pastor at my old church used to say, “Be kind to everyone you meet, because everyone you meet is carrying a heavy load.”

I don’t just announce myself to the pedestrians on the bike path. I have a bell on my bike and I love ringing it. It’s a happy sound, and God knows we could use more happy sounds in this often sorrowful world. I ring the bell at other bikers. It’s a recognition that we are in a special community, that we both know the joys of pedal pumping. I saw a little girl one time and I know the joy on her face matched my own, and when I rang my bell and she rang hers in return, I felt like I’d met a sister, even though 40-plus years separated us.

There’s the first set. One final story–not because it fits in any particular category, but because it makes me happy when I remember it.

Squirrels are always something to watch out for. They’re fast, they’re unpredictable, and they always think they can beat you. Not long ago, I was riding on the street (sometimes I like to avoid the bike paths because I can build up better speed that way–no pedestrians to worry about), when a squirrel darted in front of me. I braked and it got by me. But there was an accelerating SUV on the other side, and I was pretty sure the squirrel would be flattened roadkill in no time. But if the driver didn’t see the squirrel, he no doubt saw my look of horror and my shoulders scrunched up by my ears in preparation of impending squirrel doom, and he braked. The squirrel made it safely to the tree on the other side of the road, and as the driver passed me, he gave me a huge smile and a thumbs up.

Community, a simple shared moment, happens even in unlikely circumstances.

Until my next bike post, wear your helmet, look both ways, settle in the saddle, and ride on.

A Doll, a Dress and a Black Stetson Hat

Quite a while ago, one of my very best friends had to move. She and her family were downsizing from a good sized house to an apartment, and so she was getting rid of a lot of stuff. We all collect bits and pieces over the years, especially when you have three girls who have gone all their lives in that same house. Baby feet had learned to walk up and down the stairs, and those feet eventually made clay footprint impressions in Sunday school. School papers from kindergarten to senior high had been displayed on the refrigerator. So had her husband’s love poems to her.

Bits and pieces.

Something larger that she had, something that perhaps can’t be called a bit or a piece, were things that had belonged to her mom, who had passed away not long before. Presents to my friend throughout the years, things she had made, dolls she had collected. Angel had to make the heartbreaking decision of what to keep and what to throw away.

I have no idea how she did it.

I’m in the same position now. Circumstances are forcing a move to another apartment, and my family is getting rid of almost everything.

What’s the big deal? I find myself thinking. It’s just a book. It’s just a child’s stuffed toy. It can all be replaced. It’s just stuff. Right?

Three particular bits and pieces.

First, the harlequin doll. I’ve had her for most of my married life, 38 years now. I fell in love with her the moment I saw her, the maroon clown suit, the gentle porcelin hands, the sad painted face. She’s traveled with me to various places. She has seen the sorrows we have gone through and witnessed the joys. She is the only doll I haven’t been freaked out by.

Second, my wedding dress. I probably don’t even need to say anything else about that, because most women will probably know emotionally what I’m saying just when I say “my wedding dress.” So much promise, hope and joy wrapped up in that bit of satin and lace, seed pearls dotting the neckline like little tears. It’s a bit yellowed and I wonder if I really did fit into it at one time, and like the doll, I have carried it carefully from one place to the next.

Third, my dad’s black Stetson hat. It’s dusty, as perhaps any cowboy hat should be. No, my dad wasn’t a cowboy, except maybe in spirit. But he loved the hat, and he wore it well. I haven’t carried it around with me as long as the other two. Only 25 years. Since my dad’s death.

I found out how much these three things mean to me when I tried to throw them away. I say tried, because I did actually take them downstairs to the dumpster and laid them carefully, lovingly, inside. Laid them as gently as I would a child to sleep. Laid them as lovingly as I would for any burial. I spoke to each one as I did, saying goodbye to these three “things” that are so much more than just “things.” Getting rid of the harlequin–oddly she has no name–felt as though I were telling her that she wasn’t important. Getting rid of my wedding dress felt as though I were telling my husband that he wasn’t important any longer. Getting rid of my dad’s hat felt as though he had died all over again.

Bits and pieces. Life. And perhaps death.

I cried all the way back upstairs. At that point, my husband said, “Let’s not be hasty,” and we went back downstairs and retrieved the three bits and pieces and brought them back home.

They had been redeemed, these three bits and pieces that make up a life.

I suppose I could get spiritual and say that in the same way, I’ve been redeemed. That sin has us all in the dumpster, dirty and reeking with the stink of rot, until Jesus, because of love for us, comes and pulls us out, cleans us up and places us in his home.

I could. But that’s not really what this is about.

Sometimes we don’t need to get extra spiritual. We can live in the moment. We can glory in earthly things. I can enjoy the way the rising sun casts an orangish glow through my new living room window, or the way the treetops look as I sit in my breakfast nook eating eggs for breakfast. I can feel the pleasure of my muscles working as I peddle up a hill and the sheer joy of freedom and the wind whipping through my hair as I let her fly down hill.

I can enjoy the bits and pieces, the doll, the dress and the black Stetson hat.