Tag Archives: faith

Connections

I glanced at my phone again and felt incredibly ridiculous.  What was I thinking?  How could I have been so delusional?  But for just one moment, one second in time, I had flipped back into the past.  I had slid out of the present moment and felt as if I was living ten or twelve or even twenty years before now.

I had actually just picked up my phone to call my mother.  Maybe I wanted to call my mother because I suddenly remembered that I still have her phone number programmed into my phone.  I know that I should probably delete it.  In fact, I should have erased it a long time ago.  But that action just seemed so final.

With all of my traveling and moving lately, I’ve lost or given away pictures, mementos, knick-knacks, and souvenirs.  Some of the items from the past have been packed away in places where I don’t have access to them every day.  So my mother’s phone number registered in my phone is my only constant reminder that she had been a part of this journey.

I haven’t dialed my mother’s number since the day she had moved to California from Kansas in August of 2009.  She spent the last nine months of her life with me in Palm Springs, so, of course, her phone had been disconnected the day she left Kansas.  Why did I keep the number even after she moved in with me?  Maybe I kept it because it was the same phone number that my family had when I was a child.  Maybe it is the number not only to my mother’s phone, but to my past as well.

I don’t know…Maybe it’s just laziness.  I don’t pay a lot of attention to my phone.  I don’t mess with it.  Maybe I just don’t worry about my phone because I just don’t care about technology.

But, for whatever reason, my mother’s number is still in my phone.

I wonder if the phone number has been recycled now.  I wonder who would answer if I suddenly got over my fear and anxiety and called my mother again.

I stared at my phone for a moment.  What if by some miracle, by some miraculous connection to heaven and by the pure grace of God, I would hear my mother’s voice again after the nine years she has been gone now?  If my mother answered the phone, what would I even say to her?  But, damn, wouldn’t that be amazing!

I stared at my phone again, so tempted to hit the call button.  But if I did how would I explain the reason I’m calling if someone other than my mother answered?

This is so hard…

Because, damn, I just really needed to talk to her today.

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Be Still

I am a natural born fidgeter.  I can’t help it.  I just can’t be still.  When standing up, I find myself mindlessly swaying from side to side.  When sitting down, I am tapping my foot or swinging my legs back and forth.  I can’t even sit still at the dinner table.  Even when I am out for meals with friends, I continue to slide the water glasses and salad plates around the table.  I twist plastic straws into impossible knots.  I spin the butter knives around in fast circles and build towers with the condiment bottles.  One night, as a friend and I were waiting for our food at PF Chang’s, I spun my chopsticks nimbly around my fingers before beating the wooden utensils against the table as if I was the drummer in a rock and roll band.  I only stopped my performance when our server offered me a wrapped set of chopsticks while saying, “You were having so much fun with those chopsticks I thought you would like to take some home with you.”

I have an extremely hard time relaxing my mind as well.  Anxiety, stress, and depression have been constant companions for years.  I wake up in the middle of the night with my mind spinning from events of the day.  I can’t even fall asleep most nights because my constant mind chatter refuses to quiet down.

My endless need to fidget is the main reason I started learning yoga poses and Tai Chi movements.  I couldn’t sit still in meditation, which was something I have wanted to do for years.  I yearned to meditate just so I could experience a sense of calmness, of peacefulness, that I always heard was a benefit of the practice.  I wanted to feel a connection to the universe that I believed meditation could provide.  I wanted to let my mind roam free.  I could feel moments of peace when I was in the mountains or by the ocean.  But I don’t always have the opportunity to be out in nature, so I truly wanted to train myself to sit in stillness and experience peace no matter where I might be.

About two weeks ago, I finally decided that if I truly wanted to practice meditation, I would just have to force myself into silence.  I had read several books on meditation, but reading doesn’t help if there’s no follow through.  I didn’t want to play at this anymore.  It was time to get serious or let it go.  I had developed more spiritually and I was slowly developing a new perspective on life over the last few years.  For some reason, I felt that this was my time.  I was ready to trust in the universe.

So, on June 25, I turned off my computer, put away my books, and set my timer.  I told myself to just remain as still as I possibly could for just ten minutes, which really isn’t a long time.  I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and began counting backwards from 100.  I was surprised how easily I suddenly felt my spirit slip away from my body and from all of the things of this world that had been holding me down.  I didn’t dwell on any thoughts that drifted through my mind.  I just let all emotions and thoughts pass right through me.  And I felt my spirit lifting, rising higher as my body surprisingly began to vibrate with energy.  I was surprised when I finally opened my eyes to find that I had drifted away from this world for over eight minutes!  Because this first session was such a positive experience, I decided to try again the next night.  Once more, I emerged from my meditation with the same sense of peace and bliss that I had experienced that first night.

I don’t want to  fall out of practice, so every night, at around 9 pm, I set my alarm for 10 minutes and let my spirit slip away.  The meditation becomes easier each time I practice.  To my surprise, I am able to block out all the mental chatter and clear my mind as I force my body to relax and sit still.

My biggest challenge to this new ritual, however, occurred on Independence Day, July 4th.  Once more, I set my timer for 10 minutes, took a deep breath…and suddenly popped my eyes back open when a loud firework exploded outside my window.  The noise caused our three dogs to bark and whine hysterically.  I opened my eyes to find that our little Shih Tzu, Starburst, had wandered into my room and was now jumping up on my legs as she whimpered pitifully.  I got up from my chair, shut my bedroom door, and then picked up the dog and placed her on my lap.  I reset my timer and took another deep breath, counting backwards on the exhale.

100….99…98…97…96…

Suddenly, another loud pop and crackle came from somewhere in the neighborhood.  The two dogs in the living room where jumping between the couches as they growled and barked.  Starburst shuddered and jerked as she dug her claws deeper into my right leg.  Oh, my gosh, this was just crazy.  I was trying to leave this world behind and float away into the universe while fireworks sizzled and popped outside, and three dogs whined, barked, and howled inside the house.

And there I was…in the middle of all of this chaos…laughing!

Instead of letting myself get annoyed and upset by all of the noise like I normally would, I couldn’t stop laughing over the situation.  And suddenly the feeling of peace and bliss that I had been experiencing the last few nights started to vibrate through my body.  And instead of getting distracted, I had the best meditation that night because I didn’t let myself get aggravated.  I just enjoyed the craziness of the moment and kept myself calm in the midst of all the commotion.

And suddenly, that’s when I understood the true importance of meditation!  I realized that I needed to keep meditating because it was teaching me that I didn’t have to give in to panic and stress.  I didn’t have to allow myself to become anxious or afraid or frustrated anymore.  I could remain calm even when everything around me was spinning in turmoil.  I can hold on to my inner strength, my inner focus.  After six minutes of meditation on July 4th, I opened my eyes and cuddled Starburst closer to me and kissed her on the head.  I felt love and gratefulness for everything I had and wanted to keep the feeling of happiness and peace going in my life.  I’ve continued to meditate every night and can already see a change after just two weeks.  I am learning to live in peace now without stress, anxiety, or depression.  Life will always be chaotic, difficult, and messy at times; that’s just what life is.  But meditation will always help me find my inner strength, my inner guidance, and will lead me back to God and his plan for my life.  God wants me to live in peace.  He wants me to be happy.  And I have discovered a way to honor God’s plan for me.

Be still and know that I am God.

Dear God, I am learning to be still….

 

Clouds and Miracles

“Mary!  Mary!”  I screamed eagerly as I pushed the front door open a little further and glanced into the living room.  The shrill sound of my voice caused my sister-in-law to run across the hardwood floor towards me.  My animated cries had disturbed her.  A look of anxiety began to crease her pretty face.  At first, I didn’t say anything more to her.  I wanted the moment to be a surprise, but I didn’t want Mary to worry.  So now, I smiled and said, “You have to see this!  Come on!”  I stepped back onto the porch as Mary followed me outside.  As she stood beside me, I started to babble eagerly.  “I just came outside to get something out of my car,” I told her as I gently pulled her over to the first step off the porch.  “And I stepped over here, looked up…”  I paused now for dramatic effect before I said, “And I saw that!”  I pointed down the street and up into the sky.

“Oh, my gosh,” Mary whispered as the anxious look on her face now transformed into a look of pure grace.

“I know,” I whispered.  “Isn’t it amazing?!”  And then we both stood quietly for a moment and contemplated the sight in front of us as we wrapped an arm around each other.

A few minutes earlier, when I had walked out of the house, I had stepped down off the porch, turned, and found myself staring at a large cloud.  That was it.  That’s all it was.  Just a cloud…and, of course, I have seen an endless number of clouds over all the years of my life.  But this one was very different.  This cloud was huge; it had to have been several hundred feet tall from the ground up.  Yes, from the ground up!  The cloud wasn’t up in the sky.  The base of it looked as if it was sitting down on the earth.  In fact, it appeared as if the cloud had come to rest at the end of our residential street and then fluffed up into the air like a giant mushroom.  The cloud was pure, new-snow white as it shined like candle wax against the dusky evening sky.  But there was another aspect about the natural wonder that had me intrigued.  At the very top of the cloud that soared up over the steeple of the small Lutheran church at the end of the street was an image of a heavenly being.  Within the fluffy folds of the cloud, I could see the full, feathery wings and the haloed head of an angel.

As my sister-in-law and I stared at the cloud, we both caught our breath as a golden light suddenly shined out from the cloud.  Though the dusky evening sky was clear, an electrical storm was taking place in the center of the cloud.  The sudden bright lightening contained within the cloud caused the angel to glow internally with a spiritual light.

After a few minutes, my sister-in-law walked back into the house.  I stayed outside on the steps for a few awhile as I stared at the cloud and watched the miraculous lightening strikes in quiet contemplation.  Over the next couple of minutes, the cloud slowly began to collapse and sink within itself.  But even though the cloud eventually dissolved into the darkening night sky I still continued to feel blessed and at peace.  I believed I had witnessed a heavenly phenomenon.  And I knew I would always carry within me the hope and glory of the golden angel cloud even when I am experiencing my own days of collapsing into darkness.

Solstice Surprise

Recently, two of my friends, Rebecca and Cindy, invited me to go with them on a day trip to Weston, Missouri, on Sunday, April 15, 2018.  I had never been to this small town before and excitedly looked forward to the adventure.  I had envisioned a beautiful, bright spring day with a warm sun and cool breezes as my friends and I strolled around the antique shops and visited the wineries of Weston.

But that’s not exactly how the day unfolded.

On the 15th of April, I awoke around 9:00 am and quickly showered and dressed.  I told my family good bye and stepped outside to wait for my friends to pick me up.  Oh, my gosh!  What was going on?

The cold air wrapped around me and caused a shiver to shake my body as white, wet particles floated in the air in front of my face.  Oh, my gosh, is that snow!?  Yes, it was snowing!

But how was that possible?  The seasons were supposed to change weeks ago on March 21.  However, spring had been a horrible tease only showing her face on a few random occasions since the solstice.  The season was playing drama games with the Midwest…and I had heard that she wasn’t being too kind to the northeast coast either.  But maybe it wasn’t spring’s fault.  Maybe winter was a cranky old woman who was refusing to allow spring to make her debut.  I contemplated the past winter season of 2017 and 2018.  The weather had been much colder than expected.  The freezing Artic air drifting over the plains caused temperatures to dip below the zero degree mark many times.  It had been colder than I had ever remembered.  And several ice storms in the last six weeks made travel difficult.

Winter just would not end.  Even Easter, on April 1, had been a cold, gray, snowy day.  Now, the flakes of winter snow, like Mother Nature’s dandruff, floated around me for a moment before I quickly turned around and ran back into the house.  The cold air chased after me until I finally slammed the front door shut.  I stood in the living room and looked out of the large picture window as the flakes continued to dance on the air.  I didn’t venture back outside until I saw Cindy’s car pull into the driveway.  Then I ran out into the cold air once more, and shivered as I yanked open the car door and crawled into the backseat.  We were finally on our way to Weston on this winter (but should have been spring!) day.

It was about a 45-minute drive to Weston, and I still had a hard time getting warm even though we had stopped along the way for cups of hot coffee.  After Cindy parallel parked in front of the pink and white building of the Weston Winery Company, I hesitated before getting out of the car.  The snow had grown heavier and wetter, and I had to admit that I was a little annoyed that we didn’t have a bright spring day to enjoy.  But there was nothing we could do about it.  As I took a deep breath and stepped out into the cold, Cindy was suddenly standing beside me as she said, “Well, now that we are out of the car, I can give you a proper hug.”  And soon, her arms were around me and we held each other close.  Rebecca and I shared a hug as well and, suddenly, I didn’t feel so cold anymore.

My friends and I walked down the street with snowflakes falling all around us as we talked and window-shopped, and I soon forgot all about the winter weather.  Even with the harsh winter conditions, I was still enjoying a fun, relaxing day with good friends.

After shopping around for a while, we finally decided to stop for lunch in a small, rustic upstairs café of one of the antique stores.  I sat in the wooden chair closest to the large window.  As I chatted and laughed with my friends, I stared out the window and watched all of the people walking down the main street as snow fell like white glitter around them.  I felt so warm and peaceful that as we left the restaurant and walked back down the street to the car, I realized that it had been a perfect day.  I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a winter day so much.  Yeah, I love winter.

But then, just one week after that cold day in Weston, Missouri, I was sitting with my friend, Chandra, on a black, iron bench next to Wyandotte County Lake.  We sipped iced coffees and watched the ducks and geese chase each other around the muddy bank.  We were enjoying a warm, 70-degree day with gentle cool breezes and bright sunshine.  Chandra and I spent the afternoon talking, laughing, and enjoying a glorious spring day.

And I suddenly realized that it really doesn’t matter if it rains, snows, or thunders; it doesn’t matter if the temperature is 35 degrees or 70 degrees?  The weather doesn’t matter; I felt blessed with good friends, happy days, great moments, and surprising solstices that will create amazing memories.  Every season I have the privilege to enjoy is an amazing gift, and I am eternally grateful.

Help Is On the Way!

“Friskie!  Cowboy!  Starburst!”  I hollered as I stood at the back door.  “Come on, dogs.  Let’s go!”

Friskie and Cowboy responded immediately.  Both dogs came running quickly across the backyard.  I laughed as I watched their small bodies leaping and gliding across the grass.  After running around in circles a few more times as they chased after each other, the Dachshund and the mutt bounded up the five wooden steps and into the dining room through the open back door.  I laughed as I pulled my legs out of the way so I wouldn’t block their progress.

All right, now where is Starburst?  I wondered as I looked around the backyard.  “Starburst!”  I hollered.  “Come on, girl.  I gotta leave for class.  Get yourself in this house.  Come on.”  I don’t know why I always try to reason with the dogs.  Somewhere in my muddled brain, I knew Starburst couldn’t understand what I was saying, but I didn’t care.  I still tend to talk to our three dogs as if they are rowdy, little kids.  And I was desperate now that they understand me.  I had to get all the dogs inside because I needed to be at the community college in just a few minutes.  The dogs were never left outside when there was no one home.

“Star!  Starry!  Starbutt!”  I ran through all of our little Shih Tzu’s known nicknames, but there was still no response.  I took a deep breath and fought back a flood of emotions.  First, I felt frustrated.  “Come on, girl!  I need to get going!”  When there was still no response, I began to get a little nervous.  God, what if the dog got out of the fenced backyard somehow?  Did someone leave the gate open?  What if someone took the dog out of our backyard?  Do people actually dognap?  Okay, maybe that is a little extreme, but I couldn’t stand the thought of something happening to our adorable, blond and brown, furry pet.

Taking a deep breath, I started to step away from the back door.  “Star!”  And suddenly, there she was!  I laughed as I watched the small dog running towards the house from the far back fence.  She was racing across the back yard with her long fur flying back, and her little tongue lolling out of her mouth.  “Come on, girl!”  I cheered her on.

But then, to my surprise, Starburst suddenly came to a complete stop.  “It’s okay, Star, get in the house,” I shouted.  But she wasn’t moving.  Star had been running excitedly towards the house but had come to a screeching halt when she suddenly found a branch from our large oak tree lying on the ground and blocking her way to the door.  She stood quietly still for just a moment as she stared helplessly at the branch.  “You can do it,” I told her as I remained by the back door.  “Come on, girl, just jump over it.”

But Star just stood there as she contemplated the obstacle that had appeared in her path.  Slowly, she stuck out one of her long, thin paws and pushed at the branch.  She swatted cautiously at a few of the spindly twigs that were sticking crookedly up from the long piece of wood.  As the branch rocked away and then rolled back towards Star again, the dog jumped and barked at the attacking limb.  I started to laugh, before saying, “Jump over it, Star.”  But the little dog hesitated at she swatted again at the branch.

“Then go around it,” I tried to tell her.  “Star, if you can’t jump over the branch, you can walk around it.  It’s not that big.”  There it was again.  I was trying to reason with an animal who couldn’t possibly even contemplate my thoughts.  But still, that didn’t stop the words tumbling out of my mouth.  “Come on, Star, just go around it.”

I watched as Starburst walked towards the branch and then jumped back.  Her little body leaped forward again as she barked at the unyielding limb.  Then she jumped back, pranced around on her long legs, and took a hesitant leap forward.  However, her movement was so awkward, she still landed on the wrong side of the branch.  Starburst still found her passage to the house blocked.  She reached out her paw one last time, pushed at the branch and then did something that I had to admit I had done on several occasions.

She just finally gave up.

Instead of fighting against the branch any longer, she just took a deep breath and then keeled over onto her right side.  She just lay there, motionless and helpless, against the branch.

“Star, oh my gosh, girl,” I sighed as I now left the doorway.  I walked across the yard, stepped over the branch and stood over the prone Shih Tzu.  I reached down and picked up the dog’s furry little body.  I placed her four paws on the ground and then said, “Like this Star.”  Then I raised her up high enough to jump over the branch and placed her on the other side.  As soon as her little feet hit the ground, Star was off and running again as if nothing had happened.  She ran towards the house with her little rear swishing back and forth and her tail wagging proudly.  As I followed the dog towards the house and stepped inside, I suddenly had a moment’s realization.  I couldn’t stop remembering the times when I had given up just because some small obstacle had suddenly blocked my path.  Yes, I would reach out occasionally and try to push the obstacle out of my way.  I would just bat at the problem a few times before finally giving up in tears and frustration.  How many times have I thrown myself down on the ground just like Starburst did?

But now, I also realized that there was one difference between Starburst and me.  The dog had gratefully and gladly accepted my help.  She didn’t resist the assistance I had given her and then once the situation was corrected she had just merrily continued on her way.

Oh, my gosh, how many times have I resisted help from other people out of a silly sense of pride?  How many times has my ego made me respond, “Oh, I’m fine, that’s okay, thanks” whenever someone had offered to help me move the obstacles away?  And how many times, when someone did help me, did I refuse to show sincere gratitude because I thought accepting help was a sign of weakness.  I refused help so I would not have to feel obligate to anyone without realizing that allowing others to help is a gift we give to each other.  It is a chance to feel needed and connected to another soul.

Now, I walked into the house and looked at all three dogs already cuddled together in their large bed as they slept peacefully.  Yeah, I suddenly realized I didn’t need to be strong all the time.  I could be vulnerable.  I could accept help.  I could be sincerely appreciative.

I leaned down and carefully ran my hand over the dogs as I patted each one in turn.  Such great lessons I have learned from animals…and ones I will never forget.

The Magic of Uluru

Oh my gosh!  It was so cold!  I stood in the early morning air and pulled my old, comfortable, black sweater tighter around me.  I was, needless to say, completely unprepared and underdressed for this experience.  But then again, that just seems to be the way I operate.  I usually get so excited about an event, I don’t always think things through or plan as effectively as I should.  This morning was no exception.  I was freezing…and yet at the same time, I couldn’t stop smiling!  This moment…this dark, bone-chilling moment…was the culmination of a dream come true.

I had arrived in Alice Springs, Australia, on Friday, September 02, 2017.  I had dreamed for years of seeing Ayers Rock.  I have always been an earth person.  I know that some people (some people?) may think I’m a little crazy, but I swear I can look at mountains, hills, and boulders, and actually see them moving.  I don’t just mean blades of grass ruffled by wind or leaves on trees tussling with the breeze.  I can sit for hours and watch the earth breath as it inhales and exhales in slow modulations.  There is a pulse to the earth that seems to vibrate with my own soul.  I can find absolute beauty in rock formations and believe I am glimpsing the universe when I stare into the fissures  and fractures of stone.  Maybe that’s why I love crystals and keep a collection of amethyst, quartz, jasper, and pyrite with me at all times.  When I can touch the crystals, I can feel the vibration of the earth even when I am trapped in my home or at work.  I can find God in a small pebble, in a grain of sand.  So, of course, Ayer’s Rock was always a place that I fantasized about visiting someday, and now that dream was being fulfilled.

I woke up on Saturday, September 03, at 4 am feeling very excited and very alive even though I had only four hours of sleep the night before.  Although, I knew I was going to be out late on Friday night, I still couldn’t resist the opportunity to see the sunrise over Ayer’s Rock this morning.  I quickly showered, dressed, and then left my hotel room.  My room just happened to be in the back of a resort of small, well-space-out cabins.  I stepped through my doorway into completely obscurity.  I was surprised that the resort didn’t have a lot of outdoor lighting.  In the dark, I made several wrong turns as I tried to navigate the many different paths that lead to theaters, museums, and restaurants.  Eventually, I found my way to the front lobby as several people were already boarding our tour bus.  I don’t know if people were excited or cold but either way everyone was moving around and talking enthusiastically as we climbed aboard the vehicle.  Once we were underway, the driver, a large, sweet, young man, told us the history and legends of Ayer’s Rock, the Maori people, and the outback.  I really loved hearing that the Australian parliament had voted to change the names of treasured monuments back to the original names that were created by the Maori, the native people of Australia.  Ayer’s Rock now only refers to the general area.  The rock itself is known by the native name of Uluru.

Once we arrived at the site, all of the passengers gathered around tables that held large hot water urns, coffee, tea, and cookies.  In the freezing morning air, it felt good to hold a cup of coffee in my cold hands.  I sipped at the hot liquid as our guides encouraged us to fill our pockets with packages of cookies in case we got hungry throughout the day.  Once I refilled my foam cup with coffee and stuffed my pockets with treats, a young female tour guide walked over to me.  “If you are ready, you can go on up to the viewing area.  Just follow the path,” she said.  I stared in the direction the woman pointed.  It was still completely dark!  I couldn’t see anything beyond the generated glow around the snack tables.  The tour guide then pointed as she said, “There…just follow the lights.”  I looked again in the direction she was pointing and noticed small twinkling red and green fairy lights that were positioned on the ground just a few feet apart.  The lights were so small, so subtle, and placed so far apart, I hadn’t noticed them at first.

Now, while the majority of the tour group stayed gathered around the snack table,  I took a deep breath to calm down my racing heart.  I nodded my head, thanked the guide, and then sat off in the darkness, following the blinking lights.  Even though I was stumbling forward on rocky ground in the pitch darkness, I couldn’t help feeling the magic all around me.  I was on sacred ground according to the Maori.  And even though I lost track of the lights and wandered off the trail several times, there was an energy that kept pulling me back in the correct direction again.  It was a long hike up to the viewing area, but with the gentle help of the fairy lights and the energy of the outback, I finally found myself at the bottom of a flight of steps.

I grabbed the rough plank rail and started to climb up to a large wooden platform.  I soon stood on the platform and turned around slowly.  I was surprised to find that Australia was just as beautiful in the dark as it is in the light.  Then, to the south, I noticed a large dark formation rising up in front of me.  Uluru, I sighed as I sensed where the rock resided even though I still couldn’t see it.

Soon, the top of the wooden viewing area grew crowded with other pilgrims.  I smiled as I listened to their excited voices and laughter.  I heard Asian, English, French, Australian, and American accents all around me but I couldn’t see faces, but surprisingly I still felt the companionship and security of being with other people from all over the world.  The darkness, the energy, the stars, the moon, and all of the many people around me made me feel completely connected to the universe in a way I had never imagined before.

I stood there, shivering in the cold air, but did not feel uncomfortable.  Surprisingly, I have never felt more contented anywhere I have ever been, even though I wished I had paid more attention to the environment.  I should have thought more about the weather.  I knew when I planned my Australian trip for late August/early September, the continent would be transitioning from winter into spring.  Also, areas located further north or further south of the equator were cold .  The time of the year and location should have made me aware that there would be a chill in the early mornings,  even though the days would be warm.  But in my excitement of coming to Australia, my sense of direction and knowledge of geography had completely deserted me.  I have always been the type of person who jumped into an experience without planning or thinking it completely through first.

And suddenly I realized I wasn’t the only one…

As I stood in the dark, freezing but happy, a young man approached me.  Out of the shadows, I heard his deep, English accent as he said, “I see you didn’t know it would be cold either.”  I glanced around us and compared all of the bulky, parka-heavy shadows compared to our two lean forms.  I suddenly realized the man was dressed in shorts and a thin t-shirt.  As we watched all of the people moving around us in heavy coats, we laughed and talked for a moment about how unprepared we were for this moment.  Then, slowly, over his right shoulder, I suddenly began to see a soft glow breaking up the darkness.  I stared in the direction of Uluru and watched excitedly as the shadow of the sun slowly began to kiss the huge rock formation.   Uluru began to grow and stood out against the dark sky like a shadow of God.  As the sunrise grew stronger, the rock began to change colors, from black to light brown to golden to red.  I was fascinated by all of the colors that suddenly began to glimmer and sparkle across the surface of the monument.  Uluru continued to shimmer as it breathed slowly in and out.  I could feel the soul of the rock as energy waves radiated out and the formation glowed and change shape in the approaching sunlight.  The visible energy of Uluru resembled ocean waves; it looked like heat rising up off the land; it portrayed an upcoming dream sequence in a movie.  Uluru was natural magic.

As the sun now shined across the outback, I walked down off the platform and followed a trail that lead to a fenced viewing area situated closer to the rock.  I leaned against the fence and stared at Uluru as I watched it breathe, alive and well.  And I knew that despite the cold, despite stumbling around in the dark, I too was alive and well.  And as I watched the energy filling the air around Uluru, I realized that I had been blessed with a dream come true.

And it didn’t matter that I was dressed in a black sweater while most people were wearing parkas.  And I didn’t care that I had tripped and stumbled up the dark path.  It didn’t matter that I was there alone while other people were with friends and family.  Looking at Uluru I realized I had been fortunate to experience a dream come true.  I took a deep breath in and captured the energy of Uluru in my heart and soul and knew that no matter what happened I would be forever bonded to this magnificent land.

And it would be forever a part of me.

 

Float

I have to admit that I have a strange relationship with water.  Maybe it’s because I am not a strong swimmer.  Okay, to be honest, I’m not a swimmer at all.  However, over the last few years, I have found myself exploring various bodies of water.  There was the journey across the channel from England to Belguim and then to France, the cruise around Lake Mead, the voyage down the Colorado River, the expedition to view glaciers in Alaska, the whale watching adventure in Hawaii (which unfortunately, didn’t produce a single view of the large mammals), and even the gentle drift around the lake on a duck boat in Branson, Missouri.

So even though I have experienced a variety of watery journeys, I have to admit that I still feel a tense anxiety starting in my chest and rising up in my throat every time I board a boat.  Stress grips my heart and tightens my rib cage.  I find myself holding my breath as the boat begins to pull away from the dock. I silently begin to pray, “God, please, don’t let this boat sink.  Please, don’t let me fall overboard.  Please, I can’t swim and this lake (or ocean or sea or creek) is so deep…please, God, please, don’t let this boat go down…please…”

And then, I sigh an audible “…aaahhhh….” as the boat settles into the water and begins to roll back and forth on the waves.  At that moment, an amazing sense of peace and gratitude overwhelms me.  Like second nature, my soul just gives over to the need to be part of something larger than myself.  I look out at the water and feel amazed by the vastness of the universe.  My anxiety always gives way to the most luxurious feeling of peace once I find myself sailing along with the currents.  As the saying goes, “When I stop struggling, I float.”

So that’s why on August 30th, 2017, I was filled with both excitement and anxiety as I stood in front of the Hotel Pacific in Cairns, Australia.  I was waiting for the tour bus that was going to take me to the port where I would be getting on a boat that would be carrying me out to the Great Barrier Reef.  Though I was already praying for a safe journey, I still couldn’t shake the exhilaration that was pounding through me.  I was about to experience one of the best attractions in Australia.  After ten minutes of prayer and stress, I was finally aboard the Western Winds bus, which was expertly driven by a friendly, older man who looked like the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island.  The heavyset, incredibly kind man had gray wispy strands of hair straining around the sides of his head.  His blue captain’s hat tilting to the left and his crooked smile leaning to the right may not have inspired a lot of confidence, but felt immensely welcomed and respected by this driver as I settled into a seat near the front of the bus.

The drive to the harbor was going to take about an hour with a few stops along the way to pick up additional passengers.  I thought that this would be a great time to catch up on my journal entries. I held my pen over a blank sheet of paper, but I couldn’t concentrate.  I just wanted to stare out the window and see as much of Australia as I possibly could through the large, slightly grimy, thick windows.  I wanted to climb every tree, smell every flower, and count every blade of grass.  I had even stared at all of the hotels and tried to count all of the doors and windows as I tried to commit everything I saw to memory.  But, of course, the bus was moving too fast to experience Australia in this way, so instead I was content for a few minutes to relax back in my seat and watch the two lovely bees buzzing around the front window on the opposite side of the bus.

Finally, we arrived at the pier and the bus driver, who would be traveling to the reef with us, pointed in the direction of the dock where our boat was waiting.  I was glad he was there to direct us; the harbor was full of a multitude of ships of various styles and colors.

Once aboard, crewmembers greeted the passengers in the cabin with coffee, tea, cookies, and an interesting presentation on coral and sea life by a marine biologist.  Twenty minutes later, as the boat revved up and started to move out into the ocean, I once more started to pray, “God, please, don’t let this boat sink…”

But within a few short minutes, the sense of awe overcame me and I started to relax as the boat rocked back and forth on the water.  Aaaaahhhh.  I couldn’t help the deep sigh of serenity that escaped my lips as the boat moved further away from the dock.  With the majority of the other tourists, I climbed the white metal stairway to the top of the boat.  My sudden sense of peace had compelled me to sit where I could observe the water, the sun, the fluffy clouds, the pure blue sky, and the other boats that sailed along beside us.

I settled down on one of the red vinyl benches that bordered the top tier of the boat.  I closed my eyes and let my body relax with the swaying of the ship as I breathed in the smooth, warm air….at first.

Within a few minutes, however, my eyes popped open and I sat up straight.  The strong currents were pushing the boat sideways and the wind was blowing so hard that the red canopy covering the boat began to snap loudly as it flapped up and down.  I put my hands down on the bench to grip the edge of my seat.  I felt my body beginning to roll as the boat rocked violently back and forth.  I glanced at all of the people sitting on the other benches around me.  Though everyone seemed to be gripping onto their seats or trying to push the widely blown hair out of their faces, I grew concerned that I was going to embarrass myself by getting sick.  I had never been on a wilder ride out on the water.  I was now mentally kicking myself for not accepting one of the seasick pills that the crewmembers had passed around before the ship left the dock.  I’m not a believer in taking any sort of pills unless absolutely necessary and I had never gotten sick on a boat before.  Anxiety and stress, yes, but never physically sick.

I decided then that my best course of action would be to go downstairs to the cabin and see if I could still get one of those little blue pills.  I pushed myself up from the bench and started to walk across the white wooden planks that made up the floor of the upper tier of the boat.  Oh, my gosh…what was happening!?  I couldn’t get my footing with the crazy rocking of the ship.  I hadn’t had any of the wine or champagne that the crew had offered earlier and yet I couldn’t walk a straight line no matter how hard I tried!  And I did try hard.

My goal was to walk over to the steps leading down to the galley.  However, as I tried to walk towards the stairs, I moved my legs straight and yet found myself high stepping to the left!  I tried to walk to the right and got my legs all tangled up and almost tripped myself.  I straightened my legs and found myself suddenly lurching to the left again.  I was suddenly aware, even with the noise of the wind whipping through the canopy, the flags, and various clothing items, that no one was talking or laughing anymore.  Everyone had suddenly grown still as they watched me walking (?) rubber legged across the upper deck.  Oh, my gosh, was my only thought now, these people must think I’m stinkin’ drunk.  I tried to force myself to straighten my back and hips and walk forward, but I was still all wobbly legged and continued moving right in order to go left!  I swear I was walking like a drunken sailor back from a three-day leave!  I struggled to get my footing and found myself sliding backwards two steps for every one-step I moved forward.

Finally, a young man  wearing a yellow t-shirt and multi-colored, striped shorts stood up and took a few steps towards me.  He started to reach out his right hand to grab my arm, but he was too late.  I tumbled away from him just as he made a grab for me.  The man tried one more time, but we missed each other again as he stumbled in one direction and my body was thrown the opposite way.  At that point, the man basically gave up as he threw up his arms and backed away, leaving me completely to my own devices.  Trying to regain some sense of balance, we both walked wide-legged towards the stairs as the ship rolled back and forth.

And then…success!  I did it!  I got to the steps first but I don’t think the man had put up much of a fight.  I suddenly realized that he had let me win so I would go down the stairs first and avoid falling on top of him if I fell.  So, now I was anxious to prove that his assessment of my awkward movements was completely wrong.  I was determined to get down the stairs without a stumble.  I gripped the white metal railing and carefully lowered myself down one-step at a time as the man followed cautiously behind me.

I now walked across the lower deck and entered the galley.  It wasn’t until I was on the carpeted floors of the cabin that I was finally able to walk straight.  Thankfully, the crewmembers had placed numerous little blister packets of the seasick pills in a large, plastic, blue bowl on a wooden counter by the door.  I still grabbed two of the packets and placed them in the pocket of my jeans as one of the male attendants reminded me that the pills only really work if taken before leaving port.  Oh, well…I would save them for the journey back.

After leaving the galley, I decided not to even try going back to the upper deck.  Instead, I carefully edged my way across the lower level and sat down on a bench.  Now, I felt more relaxed and calm as I sat by myself watching the tall waves as they splashed up against the boat.

About 30 minutes later, I was amazed to see a tall lighthouse situated on a small island come into view and the boat slowly began to drift to a gentle stop.  Our ship didn’t dock on the island.  Instead, like all of the other boats in the area, our vessel dropped anchor and we continued to bop up and down on the waves, the island still 100 feet away from us.  To get to the island, all passengers were transferred on to large sailboats.  Now, maybe from sheer relieve that I had survived the journey to the Great Barrier Reef, I joyfully and gracefully stepped across the gap between the two boats and settled myself into a seat.  I was now on a glass bottom boat and eagerly leaned forward to view the reef as the marine biologist pointed out various varieties of coral, fish, turtles, and clams.  I was so fascinated by the view that I completely forgot for a moment that I was still on a boat that was rocking with the currents.  I felt as if I was peering into an alien world, an advanced civilization that I could only see from the outside looking in.  I really wanted to be a part of that world but decided not to go scuba diving.  Again, I am not a strong swimmer (okay, honestly, once again, I’m not a swimmer at all!) and was afraid I would hold back the group that would be following along on a guided tour led by the biologist.

Instead, I carefully exited the boat and sunk my feet into the warm deep sand of the island.  I roamed around by myself for a while as I waded in the cool Pacific water, took long deep breaths, played in the sand, and snapped a lot of pictures, filling up a single memory card.  I probably overdid it with the pictures , but the scene was far too beautiful to trust it just to my memory.  I didn’t trust my jumbled and scattered brain to take it all in or remember the amazing sights.  After a while of roaming aimlessly and purposely, I sat with one of my fellow passengers in the shade and discussed our various travels.  The elderly gentleman was from Sydney, and joyfully informed me of all of the main attractions I had to visit when I explored that area of Australia the following week.

After a tour around the island with the marine biologist, the passengers and crew explored the lighthouse and the small grave that held the remains of the first woman to be the caretaker of the lighthouse.   I stood for a few moments over the grave and imagined what life must have been like for this woman, who had lived in solitude while her husband was away on the continent for the majority of their lives.  She had lived on this island, fighting the elements, surviving alone while making sure the lighthouse would always be bright to save the many ships from harm.  So many years ago, what had life been like for this strong, courageous woman?

All too soon, the sailboat arrived to take my group back to our boat.  Once again, everyone was settled into the gallery with cups of tea or coffee and cookies.  I sat in a booth with the elderly Sydney man and his wife as we talked about our homes and travels and waited for the boat to rev up again and carry us back to port.  Not taking any chances, I covertly swallowed one of the seasick pills and prepared myself for the journey.  I was hoping that the ride back would be much smoother.  We would be going with the currents this time since we were traveling in the opposite direction now, right?  But then, the Sydney man informed me.  “The journey to and from the island is always rough because we never go with the currents.  The distance between the dock and the island is always going across the currents.”  I just smiled and nodded as if I had expected this, but in my head, I had started to pray again.  “Oh, God, please, don’t let this ship sink…”

After a few minutes, I decided to be courageous and step outside onto the lower deck.  I took a seat on one of the benches as a middle-aged couple settled into seats to the right of me.  And this time, as the ship moved across the water, I couldn’t stop laughing!  Instead of rocking back and forth on this journey, the boat was literally bouncing up off the water!  The waves were so high that our ship would sail up into the air and then flop back down onto the water with a loud smack.  I had to jump up and change my seat several times as heavy waves splashed up over the white railings of the boat and flooded the lower deck.  A few times, I clung to my seat as the boat sunk down below the surface of the waves and then shot straight up in the air again.  Many times, my hands lost their grip on the edge of the seat and my body was basically airborne, with my little skinny legs kicking helplessly in the air, as I flew up over the deck and then smacked back down on my bottom on the bench again.

I don’t know if it was the seasick pills or just the joy of being alive, but I didn’t feel afraid.  Instead the wild ride exhilarated me.  I had never experienced anything like this before and I was excited by the whole adventure.  As a gigantic wave once again chased me out of my seat, I crookedly walked across the deck and stood on the other side as one of the female crew members walked out of the galley.  The young woman stood for a moment and brushed her long, blond hair back out of her face before she suddenly said, “Look!  Look at the whales!”  She pointed excitedly out at the ocean.  I turned quickly just as two large glorious whales leaped out of the water, their white and silver bodies glistening in the sun before they flopped back down into the ocean.   Their movement caused our boat to roll violently to the right side, but I didn’t care.  Oh, my gosh…there were large whales right in front of my eyes!  I carefully crossed the deck again and gripped hold of a thick metal white pole just as the two whales shot straight up out of the water again and this time a small baby whale jumped with the them!  I laughed out loud as I suddenly realized that the boat had been rocking and flying into the air because of the whales frolicking so closely to us.  The whales had been circling around us ever since we had left the island.  Now, all of the passengers were crowded out on the deck as the whales continued to cavort around us and follow our boat back into port.

After a few more minutes, our ship pulled up to the dock and all of the passengers carefully disembarked as we tried to now walk on solid ground with our legs still rubbery and wobbly.  Everyone  settled back on the bus again as our lovely driver drove back to our various hotels.  I was exhausted but also feeling very alive as I rested my head against the cool glass of the window by my seat.  I was so pleased now to have had such an amazing adventure on the ocean today.  I thought of the fear and stress I had felt as  I get on the boat and it all seemed so silly now.  I love the water!  Once again, the excitement, the beauty, and the basic joy of being alive had overcome my stress and fear.  And that’s exactly the way life should be…