Rocky Mountain National Park, and 1,000 miles of Road

The fact that someone actually searched for “the world’s number one waterpark” makes me laugh a little. That their search resulted in my blog makes me laugh a bit more, especially after Joshua and my heated debate about Schlitterbaun (okay, it wasn’t that heated, but it was a debate nonetheless). I’ve been staring at the stupid wristband for that place for the last 700 miles, all of which I drove today.

Yes, 700 miles. Or something dangerously close. I’m exhausted. I drove from the western part of Nebraska almost all the way to Chicago, Illinois today. That be a lot of driving. I would have kept going. I’m only 16 hours away from home, or something like that.

I’m at that point that all I want is my bed. And a complete lack of transience. And friends. And family.


Next Morning:

I was way too tired to finish that post. My last few days have been non-stop and intense.

I spent a few wonderful days with Sarah Lavalee (now Bollinger) in Colorado Springs, which was really great. I was able to relax, have a safe place to sleep, and get to know a wonderful person a little better. Sarah and I never really spent much time together in high school, but we knew each other, and liked each other well enough. There are a few things I wish I had done differently, and I wish I had gotten to know Sarah better. She’s one of those most beautiful people I’ve ever met – both inside and out. She’s really truly stunning, not just to look at, but to talk to, as well.

After Colorado Springs, I drove through Denver (went to the zoo – yes, I have zoo issues), then over to Estes Park, which is right outside the Rocky Mountain National Park. Spent a HUNDRED dollars to sleep in some hotel, then woke up and spent twenty more to get into the park. However, once there, it was all worth it, because it was beautiful and secluded. First, I hiked the five miles back and forth to Cub Lake, which was pretty, even if it did rain on me and make me soaked and cold. After that, even though I was pretty exhausted, I took the shuttle up to Bear Lake, where I then proceeded to hike four more miles down to Bierstadt. As you can imagine, at this point I was barely truckin’, but gosh it was beautiful. To walk from Bierstadt Lake to the trailhead, you have to walk back and forth down a dirt path descending down the mountain. Suddenly, the view opens up and you’re surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. It’s truly incredible. I stood there, by myself, surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, which I was hiking by MYSELF, and just breathed it in.

One of those moments a person never forget.

After hiking, I walked downtown Estes Park for a while, purchased some trinkets, and desperately avoided leaving Colorado. It’s incredible. Eventually, however, I bought a Colorado sweatshirt, decided that would have to be enough, and headed out of town.

That night, I made it about 300 miles to Cozad, Nebraska, and crashed in the back of my car at a rest stop. I didn’t really mean to do that, but I was so exhausted I could barely see straight. The next morning, I woke up and started driving at 8 AM… and finally got a hotel last night at 11 PM. Calculate that, giving away an hour because I drove into Central Time. Yes, that would be 14 hours in the car. After hiking 8 miles through the Rocky Mountains and sleeping in my back seat.

I barely minded paying the $65 for this shitty room, and passed out within minutes of getting out of the shower.

I was thinking… how I’m nearing the end of my journey. If you haven’t figured it out, I’ve decided to return home. Even though, I must argue that returning home is indeed not the end to this journey. In many ways, it’s the beginning. Hm. Gotta love cliches.

What I’m trying to say is that I started this journey as I was dying. Throughout this trip, I’ve learned to come alive again.

So returning to Massachusetts is going to be a challenge – a challenge to me and the things I’ve learned. How well will I handle it? How quickly will I lose myself again? Or will I forever maintain these lessons and beautiful pieces of my soul?

Hence, in many ways, it’s the beginning.

Or the end.

Joke.


I’m sure there’s a million more things I could, or should, share with you. But it’s time to head into Chicago and see my Aunt Dorothy. Yes, my Aunt Dorothy whom I haven’t seen in years. She was really nice to me on the phone, so that’s a good sign, even if she DID ask me why I would ever want to go to a zoo when there’s wildlife all around me.

How dare she question my zoophilia.

🙂


San Luis, Colorado & Pilgrimages of the Soul

I woke up this morning, and it was as though the world was new. I stumbled out of bed and opened the motel door, and had my breath stolen. Colorado is simply gorgeous. Outside my window were clouds and sunshine and mountains and Hope, resting there among them all.

Last night was perfect. I am so happy I checked into that hotel, sketchy tryst interruption and all, because it helped to focus and relax me. I dyed my hair, I put a mask on my face, I wrote a great blog entry, I edited some photos, and even Panda was in a good mood. I slept like a baby, all comfy and cozy and safe, and I probably would have (maybe should have) stayed there a few more days. But I didn’t want to ruin the magic of my one evening there, and instead I headed off towards Colorado Springs.

I almost feel bad for not staying in San Luis, a little town I had dinner in last night. It was also the place where I stopped to walk up the hill and view the stations of the cross, as rendered by the artist Huberto Maestas. San Luis is the oldest established town in Colorado, and the shrine is located on a mesa, up which I had to walk a winding dirt path to the top.

When I reached the shrine at the top, there was a sign on the church door. It was the only printed thing I saw in the entire area, and across the top it said “What is a Pilgrimage?” The words caught me, since recently while I was staying with Joshua, he kept referring to my trip as such. So I smiled over that, but then something twinged inside of me, and I took a picture of the sign so I could read the answer later.

As I was returning down the path, watching the sun set, and the lightning flash against the mountains in the distance, I decided to stop for a moment and read the answer to the question. As I was reading the words on my camera screen, I felt my eyes well up with tears, unexpected and needed.

A pilgrimage is a journey taken in light of a story. The storey preceded us: we’ve read it, we’ve heard it, we’ve been raised in it. And at some pint we need to test that story with our own experience – to read it with our lives and make it our own.

A pilgrimage – whether Dante’s or our own has certain distinguishing features. The pilgrim sets out on a path that others have taken, hoping to witness what others have seen – so see it with his or her own eyes. Pilgrims travel in company but each must encounter the holy site personally. Finally, the pilgrims return, tell others what they have seen and heard, so that others might be moved to set out on a pilgrimage themselves – to go and do likewise.

– Paul Eli

It meant a lot to me, to read that. It assisted in reminding me of one of my many reasons for this journey these past few months. More than anything, I hope to inspire others. I want to inspire people to make the changes in their life necessary to attain authentic, soulful, and joyful lives. So many people live “lives of quiet desperation,” as Henry David Thoreou stated, and “go to the grave with the song still in them.” Lots of people that I’ve met on the road have talked about a ‘consciousness shift’ that’s happening in the world. Many of these theories are based around the year 2012, but I didn’t get too much into that, haha. The point is – perhaps we’re reaching a time where the masses are going to wake up – already I can see it in the eyes of so many children – children who are aware on a deeper level than many adults. And then we have Obama, who could potentially change the world in ways that we desperately need. I don’t know… perhaps it’s an exciting time, and maybe I should look at it that way, rather than become overwhelmed by the depravity of the society around me. Perhaps I could be a part of this “change,” this “shift” in the world… and how wondrous that could be.

On my way out of town, I randomly decided to pull into Sophie’s Taqueria, where I was welcomed so kindly, even though they were trying to close. It was there that I had something I have never heard of before actually – a sopapilla. I guess it’s a completely common Mexican dish in the Southwest, but I had never heard of it before. And… it was delicious. And everyone was so kind; as I was leaving, they asked if I was going to stay around for the festival for Santa Ana they were having. I must admit, I’ve thought of that little town quite often in the past 24 hours. It was a wonderful stop on my journey.

I’m exhausted. I want to write more but I can’t. Sarah (formerly Lavalee) has taken me – her and her husband, Jake, and I am eternally grateful to them. 🙂

Colorado Springs is absolutely beautiful, by the way.

Taos, New Mexico & The Enchanted Circle

So I think I interrupted the motel owner’s tryst with another man… it was right out of a movie. The lobby door was locked, I heard giggling and frolicking in a nearby room, and after ringing the doorbell and knocking a few times, a shuffling and a “hold on!” and finally the two of them show up, one guy smiling and the other (the owner) buttoning up his shirt and letting me in the building.

At least the room was cheap.

As, apparently, is the owner. 😛

But that seemed to be a perfect ending to this day. It has been quite… full. Since five o’clock this afternoon, I have walked through a ghost town, traveled to Colorado, put my feet in a lake (the first water I’ve been in for months), hiked up a hill while following the stations of the cross, eaten fantastic Mexican food in the oldest town in Colorado, and drove through the mountains while lightning illuminated the sky.

And that’s only a brief glimpse at some of this day.

It was a good day.

I woke up knowing that things needed to change. The woman I was staying with in Taos was a nice person, and I felt safe with her, but she was definitely a Debbie Downer. I have to give her slack, though, for her life seemed pretty horrific. From what I could piece together, her daughter was killed right in front of her, as was her dog, Ocito, who had been her companion for the last few years. She had traveled to South Africa, started her own charity, and had recently lost one of her best friends over there, to AIDS. So those are just a few examples of the weight she carried on her shoulders, so I can certainly understand that, but after being woken up by her in the middle of the night, as she cried, and I comforted, I realized that this might not be the ideal situation for me to get myself balanced.

Yesterday, I woke up, happy for a decent sleep (and my life) and headed over to the Taos Pueblo. Since Magellan told me to, I illegally drove through the Pueblo land, but luckily I didn’t get in trouble for it. Instead, I got to see how these people live, tucked away on their reservation, without water or electricity, and lots of dogs and horses walking around freely. Mostly, though, the drive was filled with empty desert land, beautiful in its simplicity and loneliness.

The Pueblo itself was gorgeous, even though I felt as though I were trespassing. A couple dozen people of the Pueblo have little shops, and they don’t mind the tourists, but the rest of the people who live there must be pissed! I know I would be. The entire purpose of living on the Pueblo is to maintain tradition and distance, and then suddenly you start charging people 10 dollars to witness this incredible life choice, and I don’t know… it would piss me off.

The Pueblo people really liked me, however. Especially… the men. Cheyenne, when I got home that night, said “yeah – they like the big, beautiful women.” I was initially going to be affronted by this comment, but then realized I was talking to a 5 foot one, 90-pound individual. She would probably be offended if I called her… squirt. So I let it go, and accepted the truth of it, because during my couple days in Taos, I think I had the potential for about five marriage proposals if I had just smiled one more time, or stayed a moment longer. It was nice, to feel so beautiful and mooned after, but it was… odd, since the culture I come from isn’t that way.

The winner for best ‘mooning after’ was definitely Joseph, however, He was a Pueblo man, who lost an arm a dozen years back while… carving a buffalo, or something. For some reason, it was as though I walked into his Pueblo and changed his life, because he lit up and hugged me for about… five minutes too long. After talking to me for a while, he also decided to bless me and my journey, so he lit a sage smudge stick and covered me in smoke and whispers. Wait, I made that sound too mysterious and sexy. It was definitely mysterious, and it was a beautiful Pueblo tradition he was allowing me to be a part of, but sexy it was not. Just to clarify. However, after this he asked me if he could take me to the mountain that night, and play his drum and sing to me the native music of the Pueblo people.

I mean, how could I turn that down.

But I did. I wasn’t about to put myself into another situation like that, however more innocent and authentic he seemed than Scott in Roswell. So I might have missed out on the most life-changing drum-filled spiritual experience of my life, but I had to let it pass.

I felt a bit of a stronger affinity to Cesar, who was a young man who worked in one of the stores in town. I didn’t notice him much at first, since I was enamored by all the beautiful jewelry, but eventually I needed to ask for his assistance, and we talked for quite some time while I was being wishy-washy about which pieces of jewelry I wanted.

In the end, I spent farrrrr more than I expected to, but not really since I had been waiting since Georgia to get to the Southwest and purchase the jewelry I wanted. I had wanted some inlaid jewelry (I expected it to be Zuni at the time, but the pieces I bought were Navajo, I believe), and I wanted some of the… green stuff. I think it’s just green turquoise, but I’m not completely sure. You think I would have learned the stones by now, but alas. I have not.

However, Cesar was extremely kind, and I didn’t think about him ‘that way’ until I was leaving and he said “see you tomorrow.” I turned around, and he said “Please?” I told him I wasn’t sure what I was doing, and I didn’t end up going back, even though I happened to drive by the shop today and was tempted. He was a good person, with intelligence and drive. He wasn’t what he initially presented himself as, and I liked that about him. He had definitely grown on me. But the last thing I want is to suddenly be stuck in Pueblo town.

Another fascinating individual I met was… well, Aspen something was his Native name, and I forget his real name… so I’m basically useless. But anyways, he was a 14-year-old boy from the Pueblo, who was selling the family wares that day with his grandma. They were such sweet people, and I bought a piece of inlaid work in the shape of a turtle, which his father, a master silversmith, had made. The boy, however, was fascinating, because at 14 he was one of the smartest, well-spoken individuals I have ever met, which is not just rare for the world, but extremely rare for this area of New Mexico. He painted cards, and was working on the Micaceous clay pottery, and was studying Law, and was basically a fascinating young man. I wanted to kidnap him and show him the world, and see what he had to say about it all.

Today was a tough one. I woke up, really unsure about what to do. All I knew was that I had to keep moving, and that the air had very quickly gotten stagnant while staying with Cheyenne, as interesting and kind as she was. So I packed up, and left Taos around noon.

The funny thing is, I left Taos again around five.
Haha.

The reason for this is that I drove the Enchanted Circle, an 80-mile loop around the Carson National Park area, which is wonderfully scenic, and drives through quaint little mountain resort towns. I especially liked Red River – it would be an ideal place to have a family vacation. There was even a ghost town, Elizabethtown, along the way, which used to be a thriving gold rush town, and is now essentially a shadow. Of course, I loved that… being surrounded by the history, with only remains acting as proof that anything was ever there. The woman working at the “museum” was really kind and gracious to me, and it was strange to be in the middle of nowhere, looking at old stuff. Really surreal experience, though, even if I’m not bothering to describe it very well. As I was driving out of the “town,” four horses were walking alongside my car.

That was fun.

And since the time between this morning and this evening, everything has changed. This must be the most life-filled day I’ve ever lived.

The most life-filled day I’ve ever lived. 🙂

Carlsbad & Roswell, NM & James Dean as he pulls her close by her scarf…

There are no words to describe where I am right now. Other than on the side of the road in the middle of New Mexico, 50 miles away from any town or gas station… and my tank is empty. Everywhere I look, the mesquite, cactus-covered desert plains are illuminated by the light of the full moon.

I started crying a little while back, but realized the futility of this, and started praying, instead. I know many of you would argue the futility of such an act, as well, but I have been shown otherwise in these past few months.

I started crying because my gas gauge was on empty, and my cell phone was receiving absolutely no service. I was driving at exactly 55 miles per hour, since my mother, as well as others, have told me recently that this is the exact best rate to be driving to get the best mileage (I thought it was 60). I figured they told me this for a reason, so I followed their advice. I started crying, however, when I realized that there was no gas stations for 50-70 miles in ANY direction, and that my cell phone had ZERO service. To top it all off, I’d like to add that it’s 2:45 in the A.M.

How I find myself in this predicament is a long, complicated, and useless story, so I’ll save myself the embarrassment, and you the time and pity.

If I have posted this entry, it means, however, that I have survived. So bully for that.

I hear the crickets, or whatever they are, outside my window, and a light, cool breeze is flowing into my car. Approximately a handful of cars have passed by in either direction. I couldn’t be much further away from civilization. Yet after a few prayers, my cell phone got service and I connected with AAA. I pulled over quickly to the side of the road and shut off my car, just as the gauge was dropping dangerously below the red line. I’ve kept driving forward for the past ten minutes, even though I knew that I would never make it to a gas station.

AAA should be here within the half hour, she said. I told her I was scared, and she sounded sincerely concerned. And then we lost service, so perhaps that will help her speed up the process.

A met a man in Roswell, New Mexico a few hours ago. I would like to blame him for the predicament I’m in, but it’s not really true. The truth is I’m an idiot. And even if I hadn’t spent hours talking with him, I probably still would have left Roswell without filling up. And after passing Roswell, the next station is around over 100 miles away. I’ve never experienced anything like that.

Earlier in our conversation, Scott (that was his name) had me hold out my hands, and he held his out above them, doing some sort of shakra-something thing. Then he looked at me, and said, “You’re more non-human than I thought.”

Which I suppose isn’t the strangest thing to hear in Roswell, NM.

He continued on to say I was an intuitive person, and we did end up having some fantastic conversation. The sort of conversation I needed – profound, soulful, and metaphysical. We talked about the things that matter, and how I should go after them. We talked about personal strength, and the ability to determine our own future and do what needs to be done to heal our souls.

On the other hand, he really freaked me out.

And now I’m abandoned on the side of an empty highway somewhere in the desert plains of New Mexico. In a way, none of that metaphysical stuff matters at this moment, but on the other hand, as the bluish tint of the sky twinkles and the haunting melody of the moon sing downs to me, that metaphysical stuff seems to be everything.

I’m not a normal person; I’m never going to be. I’m never going to be fulfilled by a good job and an even tan. I need to accept that, embrace that – no matter how people judge me for it. I need to live the life I was destined the live – the life that God gave me all the gifts to make a reality.

I thought typing might make the wait seem shorter, but I feel like I’ve been waiting a while now. I didn’t even check the time when she gave me the estimate.

Okay, it’s been about 20 minutes. Everything is still fine.

This really isn’t how I saw my day ending. I really had a fantastic day, up until the past couple hours. And even they weren’t that bad. I woke up in the Walmart parking lot (in my car, at least) actually refreshed, having gotten about 8 hours of sleep in my back seat. I bought some tasty goods from the local Cheerleaders outside the store, and I headed over to Carlsbad Caverns.

They were amazing.

What disturbed me greatly for about the first 30 minutes of my self-guided tour through the caverns was the fact that I couldn’t take it in. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how I looked at it, I was unmoved. Yes, I could admire its beauty, and the wow factor, but I couldn’t feel it. It disgusted me – about the world. That we are so bombarded with the fantastic – with the melodrama and hoopla of the entertainment world, predominately television/movies. Seriously, The Dark Knight had felt more awe-inspiring, and instilled a deeper sense of appreciation in me than million-years-old caverns whose beauty could devastate the unsuspecting. It made me sick, but mostly it made me terribly frustrated – I felt as one does when you are being adored by someone you can not feel anything back for – trying desperately to bring up the feelings, but they refuse to rise to the surface.

And I thought to myself – if I feel this way, and I am a very sensitive person, aware of the nuances of light and color and beauty – imagine how the rest of the world must be, especially the younger generation. Imagine how desensitized they must be from the air around them.

Randomly, I just smelled the scent of bat guano. The smell was almost overwhelming as you entered the cave entrance. Weird that it should come back to me right now. Perhaps I should have stayed in Carlsbad, but the local clientele worried me a little. Currently I’m hundreds of miles away from anyone, so that should relieve me. ::sigh::

I don’t know what I’m going to do. Between you and me, I still consider the futility of this life, and my wish that I did not have to continue it. The thoughts are few and far between, but they worry me, since I don’t want a future filled with such thoughts. I feel closer to making the decisions necessary (even if they are merely shiftings inside my soul) to change the course of my life, yet still I am not quite there yet. I am still too affected by other people’s opinions and feelings towards me. I still do not have the power necessary to be the person I know I can, and should, be. I could be… something great. I know this, and God whispers it to me, but my false sense of humility and fear barricades me.

30 minutes.

I’m getting tired. It’s 3 AM. I talked to grandpa around 6:00 mountain time, and he told me to get a hotel room. I should have listened to him.

One should always listen to Grandpa.

I’m going to watch Rebel Without A Cause while we wait.

Panda’s pissed.

* * *

Now it’s been an hour and a half. They called and said I can expect them in another hour and a half. I gave them my exact location – mile marker and all, and somehow that wasn’t good enough. They tried calling me, but I have no service. It only goes through every now and then. Some guy is driving from Santa Rosa to bring me gas. But that means he won’t be here until around 5 in the morning. I really can’t believe I’m in this situation. Strangely enough, however, I don’t feel anxious. I feel… calm. I’ve been watching Rebel Without A Cause. I’ve never seen it before. It sort of annoys me.

Anyways.

I don’t know what I’m going to do about my life. I want to go home, but as the girl in the movie just shouted, it “isn’t my home anymore.” I know I might have to become the black sheep of the family, since no one really understands me. But maybe that’s okay. Maybe being the black sheep will… allow me to breathe. I just need to get to the point where I’m comfortable doing that, without needing people’s approval. Even though I know that deep down I’ll always be waiting… waiting for people to be proud of me. Waiting for the people I love to recognize my talents, and say they are good. That I am good.

I wonder if I could have made it to Vaughn, NM with what’s left in my gas tank. Gosh, that would make me feel stupid. But I guess I’m supposed to be doing this. I’m sure there’s a reason.

I feel a cold coming on, too. My throat is really sore. I don’t know what I would do if I got sick on top of everything. I sort of want to go home – go to my bed, and sleep for a few days. Read a book. Take a walk. While at the same time, I can’t imagine being back there, driving those same streets, with all those memories… all that history.

I want to leave the history behind.

I’m surprised I’m not more tired. I woke up at 8:30, and spent about four hours walking through the caverns. My legs hurt, but I should be exhausted. I know this is going to catch up with me in the morning. I think I’m going to find a hotel and stay there for a couple days – recuperate. Try to figure out what the hell is going on.

San Antonio, Texas

I dropped Mom off at the airport today, hugged her goodbye, and went back to sit in my car. Alone. It felt almost surreal to be all alone again, this time halfway across the country.

It has been a month since I arrived in Eunice, LA, and what ‘a long strange trip it’s been’. 🙂 Furthermore, for the past two weeks, Mom and I have been vacationing essentially by ourselves – first to New Orleans, and then Texas.

Without meaning to sound even remotely insulting to my mother, for I had a great time with her, but the past month has definitely thrown me off. Some of my strength and passion dissipated, and I felt myself being drawn back into that shell… away from the light, not only of the world, but the light within myself. However, after enough moping around and introspective thought today, I came to the conclusion that it was probably good for me, since it reminded me of my original goals, and where I had strayed. It hopefully will assist me in getting back on track, and learning how to be strong – as Kara Emily Krantz. This showed me that there needs to be a balance between the dream of me, and the reality of the world. One can only press oneself so insistently and suddenly upon the world… an imprint needs to be made slowly, and with care.

I had started to get close to an affirming, authentic sense of unshakable self, but apparently it is still very shakeable, for the past few weeks have been rough on me.

But other than that…

Mom and I went to the San Antonio Zoo, which was fantastic, even though it was unbearably hot (as mostly everywhere is here). It’s been really fun to go to all these zoos – as I’ve mentioned before, the zoo has a special place in my heart. The little 5-year-old in me recalls those last fading moments of innocence, when family was a unit and all that mattered was the Panda Bears. 🙂

We also went to The Alamo (wayyyy lame I don’t want to talk about it), Mission San Jose (awesome) where there was a fantastic documentary that simply blew me away. Yesterday… Mom and I went to New Braunfels where the world’s number one water park is located, Schlitterbaun… which basically resulted in a day of HELL. But I’ve never been a big fan of water parks. Haha. Oh man. Quite the day, though.

We stayed in a beautiful hotel resort, where I am tonight by myself (Mom gave me the last night), and we walked down the Riverwalk (which contrary to Joshua’s opinion I found to be beautiful and wonderful), and walked through the shops in La Villita, and had a great steak dinner (and some horrible tex-mex). We met up with Joshua twice, and my mom actually liked him (which is shocking- she’s not a fan of the opposite sex, especially if they’re talking to ME). She even dreamed about him last night, but I didn’t tell him that. He’ll have to find that out when he reads this, haha. 😛

But now Mom is gone, and I’m here alone. Went through a melancholy, emo stage for a while where I crawled into bed and pouted, but a few friends rallied for me, and I knocked myself out of it. Walked down the Riverwalk by myself, took some pictures, packed up the car, and I’m basically all better. Just trying to get up the energy to keep working on my cocoon, and hopefully, eventually become that butterfly. Like I said, there’s been some serious setbacks these past few weeks, but it’s all right. God doesn’t give us anything that we can’t handle, and I’m starting to think that nothing happens that isn’t meant to occur at a given time – to assist us or confront us along this winding, often dirt-trodden path.

New Orleans, LA … to Fredericksburg, TX

It’s been far too long. And I apologize for that!

I’ve been MIA from a lot of people’s lives lately, and I’m not really sure why. I’ve barely spoken to anyone on the phone, I barely go on Writerscafe, and I get messages from people asking me if I’m okay. So I want to assure everyone that I’m fine.

This past week was spent in New Orleans, which was fantastic. As I told Kara S. on the phone today, it was truly the way it is represented. Sometimes you go to a place, and it’s nothing like the way you expect it. New Orleans, however, was just what I anticipated, and more. And the heat was ridiculously unbearable – the humidity was enough to evaporate you. Regardless, I loved the energy in the air, and the beautiful, eerie Lafayette Cemetery, the three dollar strawberry daiquiris, the powder-covered beignets, and the never-ending opportunities to meet fascinating people.

I’m a dork, and I’ll admit that my favorite part of New Orleans was the Audubon Zoo, where Mom and I spent over four hours in the debilitating heat walking around talking to the animals and taking pictures. I suppose I’m making up for my lack of zoo experiences as child, or perhaps subconsciously I am attempting to fulfill some deep need of my child-self to return to a place of hope and innocence, predominately because my last family vacation before my parents divorced was when I was six, and we went to the Washington D.C. Zoo.

Or, I like the animals. 🙂

Panda got a new friend (minion) out of the deal, and I also added a new animal to the family – a really chubby, ridiculous-looking alligator.

Of course, the only one who made it into the hotel room tonight was Panda herself.

Tonight, Mom and I find ourselves in the little, slightly odd town of Fredericksburg, Texas. I drove for about 8 hours today, and I’m tired, but I wanted to make sure I keep up with these entries… that I continue to write, for I realize it is something I must do. In order to remain true to myself, and in order to share myself… with you. I appreciate the incredible feedback I get from you all; it motivates me, not only to continue this journey as a person, but as a writer, as well.

So here we are, in this little German town in Texas. It has been an interesting day. And now we find ourselves in a strange little bed and breakfast house that’s somehow part of the Econo Lodge across the street… I’m not trying to figure it out. All I know is that I drove for about forty minutes off the main road through empty highway to reach this place… and it’s dark outside. And there’s armadillos. And, apparently, rattlesnakes, as Joshua was so kind to inform me… even though he didn’t feel the need to respond to any of my texts so that we could celebrate my arrival to his great state…

But I’m not bitter. I’m fine with it. He can do whatever he wants. I don’t care if I see him at all, really.

Stupid Joshua.

😛

Hm. As I was writing that, I got a text from Joshua that informed me that he hates me because I’m the name-caller. So I guess I should take the “stupid joshua” part back.


An Infliction of the Heart

I have read far too many romance novels.

I’m in the middle of watching “Becoming Jane” and it’s literally killing me. I feel my heart ache, and in the midst of a million different thoughts and emotions, that one keeps repeating:

I have read far too many romance novels.

It all started with Pride and Prejudice… or perhaps even as far back as Little Women. I read that book about ten times in only a couple years. And by the time Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre entered my life, I was lost. Lost to a world… which I am afraid may not exist. Caught up in clandestine, windswept moments that perhaps are not truly of this world.

However, in my life I have felt the tightening of moments – I have felt the air become taut and my heart cease to beat, lost in a moment where all that mattered was his breath against my ear and his fingertips grazing my palm. So in this way, I understand that the romance novel can be real. I have experienced passion that would in fact put the romance novel to shame, and yet…

The book always ends. The chapters close before we can truly feel the pain, the heartbreak. Life is indeed not a book, and therefore the pain is almost unbearable… for nothing has truly prepared us for it.

And what good are the romance novel moments… I take that back. The romance novel moments are everything… but then again, do I only feel this way because

I have read far too many romance novels?

Then again, there are people who have never touched a romance novel, and are completely swept up in the concept of love, as well. And LOVE – love, well that is an entirely different thing in itself. If love is the embodiment of the romance novel, then no wonder our hearts get broken when it doesn’t end on page three hundred with a cute little epilogue by the fire with the children on our laps and the kittens by the hearth.

Then again, if love is more practical than that, perhaps it is not something I want.

People stop their entire lives for love – or whatever concept of love they have developed. People drop out of school, abandon dreams, turn against their families, alter their souls… just to be in love. Simply TO BE with the person they love, and who hopefully… God willing… loves them back.

I cannot judge them. I am not allowed to point my finger at them, since I have done such things myself. I have stayed in unhealthy, even abusive, situations, because of love – because the romance novel trapped me in stolen embraces and windswept moments. A young boy traveled down a stream with me, and held my hand in the stolen secrets of the night, and I was lost to him. For over four years, I begged for that romance novel to end on page three hundred, and when it never did… when instead I received the repetitive devastation of the heart… well, I hardly knew how to handle it.

I didn’t read a romance novel for years.

Yet here I am, watching a stupid movie about Jane Austen, and everything is coming back to me. All the feelings, all the dreams. It was the romance novel that awakened me – it was the stupid romance novel that gave me reasons to live. And yes, it was the stupid romance novel that led to my broken, broken heart…

I am reminded again of my father’s words – “return to reality.” And yet, this trip these past few months has truly shown me that reality can mean a million different things – and that, yes, we are certainly in control of what our reality is and becomes.

In that case, I propose that the romance novel can indeed be real.

More recently, I have considered the idea that perhaps I am not meant to marry, or even to join my life with someone else. Perhaps my energies would be more aptly utilized in other realms… with writing, or charity, or counseling, or teaching.

However, tonight I am reminded of how catastrophically important the romance novel has always been to me.

I am scared to feel the power of the romance novel again. There, I have admitted it. I am terrified of feeling my heart awaken once more. When I feel it stir, even if only from the lines of a poem or the quote of a novel, I become paralyzed with fear. I do anything to temper the flames, and maintain indifference. People have previously criticized me for loving too much, caring too much, throwing myself too recklessly into the sunshine…

I am still reckless, but no longer with my heart.

So what is important? What truly matters in this life? Writing this has brought me no closer to the answers to such questions. Rather, I still feel a tight constriction in my chest, a labour to my breath. Tonight I have been reminded of thoughts and feelings I have had since I was very young… qualities of myself that have led me to be the person I am today. These are the same qualities that have inspired me to put a pen to paper, my eye to the lens, my presence on the stage… it is the very inspiration inside me. And yet is this desperate quest for Beauty and Authenticity which most of the time leaves me burdened, begging for something more from this life. It is as though I am begging for the flowers to open, and share with the world what I see beneath their petals.

And yet, the flowers will not listen, and even if they did, the world would not look.
Again, I have read far too many romance novels.

They call me ‘The Gator Wrangler’…

Or, GW for short.

Okay, maybe it’s just Clay who calls me the Gator Wrangler, but the name has grown on me.

Tuesday morning, Mom, Clay, and I headed over to the reserve, about a two hour drive towards the Gulf of Mexico. Once there, we took a ride on his boat, searching for alligators. We stopped at one of the cement bridge-like structures off to the side of the marsh, and got out of the boat. There was a family, and a couple older gentlemen, hunting for crabs, and they greeted us. The family was on their way out, and the woman told us she was leaving the crab lines in the water, and we were welcome to them. It was basically a long stretch of rope, with a hunk of chicken meat tied to the end.

By this time, Clay had figured out that it might be worth the effort to do a little shrimping, so he went and fetched his net, and started throwing it in, then sorting out the shrimp from the catch. After a little while, I saw the rope with the chicken go taut, and so I bent down to pull on it and see what was on the other end. As soon as I bent down and picked it up, I saw the alligator, thrashing around with the chicken in his throat.

So… I started pulling harder on the rope (I don’t know, seemed like the right idea at the time) and the gator was flipping himself over and fighting to keep the meat.

Needless to say, I won this gator-wrangling fight.

After that, he slunk off to pout in the shade. He was pretty pissed. But as Clay put it, “wouldn’t you be upset if someone ripped a hunk of meat out of your stomach after you put it in?”
After that, everything appeared relatively blasé.

We (and I say ‘we’ because it makes me feel more involved) caught about five pounds of shrimp, then purchased about five pounds more. Clay also picked up some live crabs in the town of XXXX, which has basically become a ghost town ever since Hurricane Rita. We drove through a large part of the area that had been devastated by Rita, and it was unbelievable to believe that entire houses, even towns, had been completely destroyed. There were some houses that even the foundation had been vanquished, and there was literally nothing to mark a place where someone had lived, had celebrated, had raised their children and watered their gardens. It’s much easier to understand the devastation the hurricanes can bring when you’re right there, in the land that they affect. Back home, there is nothing that touches us the way these storms ravage the South. It’s almost impossible to imagine losing everything in such a way.

Tonight, a large group of people came to the house, and we all ate the Seafood Gumbo that Corey made last night. I’ve never had gumbo before… it’s different, that’s for sure! There were like crab bones sticking out and such, but it was cool to know that we were eating the shrimp Clay caught the other day.

There’s more to say than I can possibly convey. And words seem like such a waste of time- unless I’m using them to convey something more profound than itinerary information.

Cool news: Bought a new camera – a Canon Powershot G9 – it’s amazing. There really are not words for it.

More cool news: Off to New Orleans on Monday.

Mas cool news: Today I booked my flight to London in September.

Yeah, that’s right.

I have a one-way ticket to Europe. 🙂

2-month anniversary!

So yes, today marks my two months on the road. In a way, I find that hard to believe, yet at the same time, I feel like this has been my life forever now. When I think about my life before I left, it feels like another person, living that way.

And I never want to go back.

I don’t mean that I’m not willing to return to my home, in Massachusetts. But I never want to go back to life the way I knew it.

A week ago, my dad told me over the phone that he hoped that I could “come back home and return to reality.” This statement stuck in my craw then, and it has embedded itself like a sliver. At the time, I merely asked him whose reality he wanted me to return to – because my priorities and goals had changed. However, the more I thought about it, the more my mind expanded around the subject. There are a million ways to live – on this trip alone, I have met dozens of people who have taken me into their lives and showed me different ways to look at the world. I haven’t gone around fully embracing everybody else’s beliefs and ideas, but I certainly respect them. I listen to them, I learn from them, and I take what applies to me, and what helps make me become a better person. I embrace the concepts and beliefs that bring me closer to the person I want to be, every day of my life.

I told my mother today that out of all the people I’ve met so far, my cousin Lisa (whom I had never really known before this trip) has been the most influential for me. She has also been the most grounded, the most accepting, and the most spiritual of everyone I’ve met. She embraces each moment individually, and out of everyone I’ve met so far, lives with the least judgment in her heart and the least anxiety in her life. I truly believe that I will be able to use her as a model for the type of life I wish to lead – one that is peaceful, yet successful – selfless, and yet maintaining a beautiful balance of personal care of the soul.

Anyways, the point of that digression was not only to highlight Lisa, but also to highlight the fact that there are so many ways to live that can still lead me to not only live well, but also to fully thrive as a soulful human being. Never again do I want to allow myself to get caught up in the “daily grind” of materialistic, egocentric ways. Back home, it was as though everyone was merely trying to keep up with what society told them they should do and be – and I was beginning to fall for it. Beginning to believe that all that mattered was my education, and my paycheck, and the way I looked, not only physically, but also on paper.

What really matters is that when people look into my eyes, I want them to see my soul – and I want it to bring them peace, and offer them the inspiration to follow the clandestine, beautiful dreams in their heart, as well. This life is far too short for us to believe, for even a second, that power and money and possessions really plays even the most minuscule of parts. True, they allow us to survive and they allow us to move about in our society, but when they replace the parts of the soul that make us whole and authentic and beautiful, then it is not a worthwhile trade.

Anyways, the point of this entry is to herald in the third month of my trip. I have been on the road for 62 days now, and they have been 62 days that will have forever changed my life, whether or not I fully realize their impact now.


Gulf Shores, Alabama

Arrived at Clay and Cori’s on Tuesday, and on Friday we all headed off to the Gulf Coast of Alabama, where we’ve spent the weekend. Clay rented a beautiful condo by the sea, with four bedrooms, for all his family to come and spend a weekend together. I’m honored to be a part of it, and it has definitely been a crash course in the Menard Family. 🙂 And they are a wonderful family indeed.

The first day we got here, I branched off from the group and headed over to the beach. The Gulf of Mexico is so warm and delightful; I’ve never enjoyed swimming in the ocean so much. I usually don’t go into the water, but this time I found myself being drawn into its salty depths, laying on my back and floating over the waves. It was so peaceful. At the same time, I was dealing with a sudden onslaught of anxiety, which had been building and suddenly decided to overwhelm me. I was feeling frustrated, anxious, easily aggravated… all emotions that are uncommon to me, and most uncomfortable. I was able to talk through many of my concerns with Kara S, and then drifted some of them off into the ocean. Afterwards, I lay on the beach and listened to another chapter of Eckhart’s Power of Now, and found myself, once again, transported to another place. Since listening to that passage on Friday, I have been changed, and have been able to not only deal with my anxiety, but more fully enjoy the Present. I have a feeling that these concepts and feelings, if maintained and applied, could change my life forever… fill me up with the Present for the rest of my life.

Today I had a fantastic time with the four kids. We all went swimming, and then later on in the evening they all piled on my bed and looked at the pictures I’ve taken throughout the weekend. It was adorable. They’re all simply wonderful, and make me light up inside. I need to learn to have more patience, however, for children, since when I do take the time to simply BE with them, it’s always delightful.

Cori & Clay’s daughter, Jeanne, is really wonderful, and I’ve had some great conversations with her… I actually wish we could have gone more in-depth, for I think we could really tap into some great things. Her and her husband, Justin, are wonderful to watch… they were married last September, and they are so in love. It helps balance out the other couple (the one with the kids), for their relationship is quite strained, and when I watch them, all of my family and marriage counseling alarms go off. I feel terrible for Clay’s son, since he seems like a really great, and essentially happy, guy… and yet his light is constantly being dimmed.

Of course, marriage has always been a tender issue for me. I have never really seen a “happy, healthy” marriage, and that is a little scary and off-putting. Also, I have never really been in a relationship that improved or enrichened my life. Yesterday, Jeanne, being completely kind and not remotely condescending, said “You’ll find a good guy. They’re out there. And they’re wonderful,” and it’s apparent that Justin is proof of that.

TOMORROW MY MOMMY IS FLYING DOWN!! Cori, Clay and I are picking her up at the New Orleans Airport around 3 tomorrow afternoon. I was nervous for a while, not sure if I was ready to see any of my family members yet, but I think it will go well. It’s been hard for me to consider giving up any of my freedom, as I will have to do now that Mom is not flying home until July 16th. However, I’m learning to accept life as it happens, and stop applying anxiety to things. God always manages to take care of me, impossible ward that I am.

So much more to say, now that I’ve got myself going, but I’ll keep it to myself for now. Tonight, I posted some older photos onto Flickr. Call it homesickness, but I call it “fond remembrance,” since I truly have no desire to return home yet. It was sweet, however, to go through my old photos and give them a place on my Flickr account. I wanted to ensure that they were saved somewhere safe, and also to share them with you all.

Peace & Love

John O’Donohue: in memoriam

“To enter into the gentleness of your own soul changes the tone and quality of your life… you learn to see how wonderfully precious this one life is. You begin to see through the enchanting veils of illusion that you had taken for reality. You no longer squander yourself on things and situations that deplete your essence” ( 78 )

I couldn’t sleep last night, thinking about John O’Donohue. It is unlike me to care so excessively about the loss of someone I’ve never met, and of a sort of “celebrity”-like status. However, I can feel the loss of his presence on this earth, and it saddens me on a very selfish level that I was never able to meet him, to shake his hand, to tell him how profoundly he has affected me.

I know that it’s a beautiful thing that he has returned to the earth that he has always cherished so dearly, but as I said, selfishly I was looking forward to many years of him bestowing his wisdom to the world, and to me. I also anticipated joining him for one of his week-long retreats in Ireland, and it is hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea that this can now never happen.

As a (small) tribute to him, I want to take the time to type up a few excerpts from my favorite of his books, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace. This is a publication which has absolutely changed my life. I mentioned it briefly in my earlier post, saying it is a book of which I have been unable to read past the first 100 pages; its effect on me is that profound and brilliant. I hope you take the time to read some of this, even if only because I took the laborious (:P) effort of typing it out. Ignore the fact that I type 75+ wpm, and humor me. 😛

“The human soul is hungry for beauty; we seek it everywhere – in landscape, music, art, clothes, furniture, gardening, companionship, love, religion, and in ourselves. When we experience the Beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming. Some of our most wonderful memories are of beautiful places where we felt immediately at home. We feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful for it meets the needs of the soul… In the experience of beauty we awaken and surrender in the same act… Without any of the usual calculation, we can slip into the Beautiful with the same ease as we slip into the seamless embrace of water; something ancient within us already trusts that this embrace will hold us.” (2)

If you notice, this passage can be located on page TWO of his book, and it is just a small glimpse into the genius that is his piece of art. I remember the day I found this book – I was with my Aunt Gin, and we were in Tatnuck Bookseller in Worcester, MA (now out of business) and I wandered over to the Spiritual section. The title caught my eye, and as soon as I opened the book and read a passage, I thought I was dreaming. I turned to another page, found myself transported again, and could barely believe my heart. Here were words that perfectly reflected the secret thoughts and dreams of my Soul. Here was a man who was unafraid to write about the great Truths and Beauty of this world. And after that glimpse, I was never the same. For a while, I would read a page or two a day, but after a bit even that became too intense for me. Now, I usually read a couple pages a month, and that is enough to carry me through, to transport and inspire me.

“Beauty is mostly forgotten and made to seem naive and romantic. (3) Sadly, whether from resentment, fear or blindness, beauty is often refused, repudiated or cut down to the size of our timid perceptions.” (4)

This following passage calls forth ideas that I am currently considering for a book of my own:

“There are secret sources of courage inside every human heart; yet courage needs to be awakened in us. The encounter with the Beautiful can bring such awakening. Courage is a spark taht can become the flame of hope, lighting new and exciting pathways in what seemed to be dead, dark landscapes.” (6)

“When we awaken to the call of beauty, we become aware of new ways of being in the world. We were created to be creators. At its deepest heart, creativity is meant to serve and evoke beauty… The wonder of the Beautiful is its ability to surprise us. With swift, sheer grace, it is like a divine breath that blows the heart open.” (7)

“Our deepest self-knowledge unfolds as we are embraced by Beauty.” (8)

A section of his book that really started to unfold secret parts of my heart was a section called ‘In Difficult Times to Keep Something Beautiful in Your Heart’. It begins like this:

“There are times when life seems little more than a matter of struggle and endurance, when difficulty and disappointment form a crust around the heart. Because it can be deeply hurt, the heart hardens. There are corners in every heart which are utterly devoid of illusion, places where we know and remember the nature of devastation. Yet though the music of the heart may grow faint, there is in each of us an unprotected place that beauty can always reach out and touch.” (16-17)

Honestly, this is taking a lot out of me to even glance back at the passages in his book which I have marked up and starred- words that have completely altered my paradigms and encouraged my soul to breathe again. I wonder if without the seeds of hope and beauty Mr. O’Donohue has planted in my heart with his words, if I would ever be where I am now – on this incredible journey. Dreaming dreams long forgotten.

John O’Donohue writes about how a single thought can alter a person’s entire life-world, and that concept has always held so true with me. He writes that “a person can dwell inside a thought. Sometimes a thought is the most intimate and sacred temple, a place where the silence of the earth is wed to the fire of heaven.” (43)

“It is everywhere, and everything has beauty; it is merely a matter of discovering it.” (49)

Oh gosh, I will stop this now. Partly because I don’t want to go on too long, and lose your attention, and partly because I may burst. I guess all I’m trying to convey is the profound effect this man and his words have had on me, and how he will continue to inspire me on my own journey to touch the world and people with my thoughts and words. We have lost a great man, but the world beyond has reclaimed something pure and beautiful, which always belonged to another dimension. I will attempt to gracefully accept that, but damn it!

Damn it.


“True poetic beauty emerges when the poet is absolutely faithful to the uniqueness of her own voice… the depth of that exposure seems to call beauty.” (81)


walmart parking lots and late-night transcendentalism

Left Murfreesboro yesterday – it was really hard to say goodbye to Kelly, Tim, and Amelia. Living with them felt really natural and wonderful – I felt like part of the family. Amazing how someone I could have easily never met in person could become someone I feel I have known my entire life. 🙂

Headed over to Birmingham, where I went to Vulcan Park, a large statue from the World’s Fair that now overlooks the entire city – it was a beautiful view. The woman selling tickets down by the bottom randomly asked me questions about me and my trip, and was really encouraging. She was a young black woman, but she was like “oh, honey, when I was 23… uh huh, I should have done what you are doin’ but I was too scared. You go, girl. Go with God.” It was really encouraging.

Afterwards, I headed over to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, which were simply beautiful. I’ve been to gardens now in Raleigh, Asheville, and a couple other places, but I think Birmingham might win for the most peaceful and beautiful setting. I had a wonderful time (per usual) walking around and taking pictures of the flowers. I found it slightly humorous, however, that part of the Gardens were entitled “Alabama Woodlands.” I don’t know why that was so funny, but it was.

As I was leaving, I spotted this elderly couple (and I mean elderly – mid-80’s) walking hand in hand through the rose garden. Well, obviously my heart stopped and went “awww!” I was able to snap a picture of them, but then we ended up near each other, so I said hello and before I knew it the woman was talking away. She must have been starving for some human contact, because she enjoyed talking to me so much, even without her hearing aids in, haha. Her name was Lenore, but everyone calls her “No No” which was kind of cute, even though a more positive spin would be “Yes Yes” but I suppose that really doesn’t make any sense. Hm. So we walked around parts of the gardens, Lenore, her husband, Bill, and I, and then met up with one of the groundskeepers who they know from their visits there, who then escorted Lenore and the rest of us back to the car. Lenore was talking about Father’s Day and her family and how she came from a small town in Mississippi called Picayune (I tried not to laugh at the implications of the word and the way she called it a “small town” – mostly because my humor is becoming very skewed, haha).

Afterwards, I had given up on my couchsurfing woman (who ended up having to rush to the hospital because her mother had a stroke) and then called up another couchsurfing guy named Marcos. He said I was welcome to spend the evening, so I drove to his house, but he was not there yet. As I was sitting in the car talking to Kara I realized, however, that I really wasn’t ready yet to settle down for the night. There was still about 8 hours or so to drive until I reached Eunice, and I wanted to get some of those hours down that night. So I called up Marcos, said I was hittin’ the road, and proceeded to drive into the early hours of the morning.

It was ridiculous and it was silly and it was tiring and it was wonderful. I really do enjoy those times by myself (and Panda, naturally) where it’s just me and the road and the endless expanse ahead of me. 🙂 It’s very freeing, and thought-provoking, and peaceful.

The most intense part happened around 1 AM, when I decided to start playing an audiobook which Scott had given me back in Knoxville. It was Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, and… well, let’s just say life suddenly became surreal and my mind was blown out of my head for the next hour and a half. I felt as though I was driving through alien territory, in the dark of the night, on highways by myself, listening to this strangely-accented man talk about deep existential philosophies that have lain latent in my heart for years and were suddenly being thrown back at me, blowing me away.

Way intense. Way.

When I couldn’t take any more of that, well, I shut it off, and then realized it was almost 2:30 in the morning and I had no real plan on where I was going to sleep. I had considered the idea of sleeping at some random Walmart parking lot, since it was legal and most of them down here are open 24 hours. Then I look at the road sign, and I see that not only am I in Mississippi, but I’m… in Picayune, Mississippi.

Yes, sirree bob.

And right off the highway in Picayune, Mississippi is a Walmart. Where I proceeded to bunk down and sleep haphazardly for about three hours. Haha.

Just ridiculous.

And let me just tell you – the birds in the Walmart parking lot have a completely skewed perception of the world and need medical attention. Because I think they believe that it is constantly dawn, due to the parking lot lights that are always on. And, well, they just chirp away all night.

Bastards.


Grace Center, Franklin, TN

I have let this go for far too long.

Last Sunday, I attended church with Kelly and Tim – they attend the Grace Center in Franklin, TN. It actually received the “church of the week” award on national television for the way the center helped a sister church by donating over $200,000 to them after their church burnt down. And as they said, “This isn’t a reflection of the wealth of our church, but a reflection of God’s desire for extravagance. He is an extravagant God, and he calls for us to give extravagantly of ourselves.”

It is sentiments like that which have opened my heart back up to the Lord, and completely re-awakened my heart. As the song went today – “I’m falling madly in love with you.” – it feels amazing to fall in love again, and this time with God.

Last week was simply mind-blowing, and it was fascinating to see how different last week’s service was compared to today’s. Kelly assured me that every week is different, and completely dictated by the will of God and what He wishes to accomplish, both with us and through us.

At 9 AM, before the actual church service, there is a time where people can attend the “soaking room” where… well, I’ve never experienced anything like it. It’s in a small room, which can hold about 50 people or so, tightly squeezed in there. There are about 30 seats, but beyond that some people lay on the floor, some against the wall; others stand. And what it is…. is… a place… where the Holy Spirit is allowed to come and sit with us, stir us… and create music. There are a few musicians who sit up in the front, and a couple singers, and what happens is a completely improvised music session, led by the Holy Spirit.

If you think that sounds strange, it gets better.

Some people shout out random things like “Amen” or call out to “Jesus!,” while others are moved strongly enough to dance around, or wave streamers/flags. The emotion and presence of Him in the room causes many people to cry, while others laugh out loud, or even start giggling – filled with Joy. It is really fascinating, sometimes overwhelming… always beautiful.

Last week was intense – Kelly told me that it was usually never like that. It got so loud in that room that she almost had to leave, but for me, since it was brand new and I was entering with absolutely no expectations, I was extremely moved. The room was packed, so we sat on the floor, and I was surrounded by interpretative dancers and music and people and I just sat there and my eyes were filled with tears and my heart was filled with God – a feeling I had been without for years now.

Today was more relaxed and much more calm than last week, but it was still intense and beautiful. It was Father’s Day, so some people occasionally spoke into the microphone (and even their words sounded like music) and talked about fathers. One woman came up and almost broke my heart. She started crying at one point, talking about how she was going to “give herself back to God – give herself all over again” – and that would be her gift to Him on Father’s Day. It definitely started my tears – her talking about how God has never lied to her, or taken advantage of her, or hurt her. “You are always faithful to me; you are such a good daddy.” – oh my gosh that almost destroyed me.

The woman who sings in these sessions is named Laura Rhinehart. She has a CD out entitled “The Soaking Room” so I guess she knows what she’s doing. 🙂 Anyways, she has this gorgeous voice, and then the words she speaks inbetween the music are just lovely. Today she said:

“All the things that you long for… are a breath to Him.”

I could go on for hours. And I hope to one day write a beautiful story about my entire experience being part of this church for the last two weeks. But the end of the story is this: I am in love with God, again. I hope to keep this in my heart forever this time. Kelly and Tim have taken me into their home for the past ten days, and they have been like family to me; I am honored to know them. Their goodness simply emanates from them, while at the same time they exude a naturalness and a simplicity that makes them very human. Kelly knew from the beginning that she was supposed to take me into her home, and she trusted that feeling, and in doing so has given me a safe haven where I have been able to explore my faith again.

I have been on this road trip journey for over six weeks, and I am finally in a place where I can begin to handle all these questions and emotions I have.

A few weeks ago, I talked about how yoga almost caused me to have a breakdown – and eventually I did break down, in the front seat of my car at five in the morning, panda clutched desperately to my chest. Three weeks ago yoga was too much for me to handle, since I had so much pain residing in my soul and my heart… I had soul pain that took away my breath. Yet one week ago, I sat in that soaking room and was enveloped by the Holy Spirit, and yes I felt pain and yes I felt intensity, but mostly I felt peace, and joy, and completion.

Just to know how far I have come in a few weeks is so encouraging to me. This trip truly is restoring my spirit – and more than that, it is opening up doors for me that I can walk through for the rest of my life.

And as Laura said today:

“Jesus came to take us to the Father.

Jesus is the door.

Thank you, Jesus, for being the door.”

http://gracecenter.us/index.php#home

The Grand Ole Opry

It’s really something interesting to drive (and walk) around the country by yourself. Every step is new, each rock is completely yours to touch, every bird yours to notice, and the sound of the water is yours alone to hear. I can stop when I want, take pictures of what I want, eat when I want, and find myself hilarious whenever I want.

I’m really a fantastic traveling companion. Haha. 🙂

Panda might tell you otherwise. But don’t listen to her. I mean really, she’s a panda.

Went to the Grand Ole Opry Saturday night. Couldn’t believe I was actually there. While I was outside in the park, listening to the outdoor band and sitting on a bench, I realized how strange it can be to be alone in moments like that. Literally everyone has people they are talking to and laughing with and discussing things with. Occasionally, conversations can happen with strangers, but they’re often over-rated and sometimes even annoying. And I wasn’t feeling lonely or left out, it was simply an awareness of being by myself whereas everyone else was together.

Walking into the Opry House was beyond thrilling. You could feel the history and the music in the air. It’s a gorgeous building; I wish it was still located in The Ryman, but you can’t have everything.

Dwight Yoakam was the main performer, and I was beyond excited to finally see him in person. It was his first performance at the Grand Ole Opry in over 16 years! Furthermore, his latest album is “Dwight Sings Buck Owens” – Buck being my favorite all-time singer, so I was basically in heaven. Dwight, dancing around with his skin-tight pants and ridiculous moves, twangy voice and tan cowboy hat. He was excellent, as was the entire evening. I admit it – I teared up at one point, overwhelmed by the fact that I was where I was, when I was, feeling how I was… just everything was perfect.

I also want to mention that on my way to the Opry House, my Magellan GPS system was telling me what to do, like the bitch that she is, and I had to laugh out loud when she said “Turn right onto Grand Olee Road” – stressing the long ‘e’- almost making an olé out of it. Hehehe.

See, these are the things that entertain me when I’m by myself.



Ozone Falls, TN

I haven’t told you about Ozone Falls! It was a place off of Interstate 40 that Scott told me I should check out on my way over to Nashville. It’s right off the highway; however, it’s tucked away in some foliage and sandstone, so it makes you feel like you’re far away from reality. The crazy thing is you can walk directly up to the falls. As in, you are standing at the point where the stream falls 110 feet over the rock into a deep blue, rock-strewn pool. A ‘rugged ¾-mile trail begins along the bluff near the falls and then descends into the gorge passing a small rock house called Gamblers Den. The trail follows Fall Creek to the confluence with Renfro Creek where hikers must backtrack to return to the trailhead’. That sound fancy, but I copied it from a website.

‘Ozone Falls is situated on the eastern edge of the Crab Orchard Mountains on the Cumberland Plateau. Legend has it that the area was named “Ozone” because of the “stimulating quality of the air” created by the mist that is generated after the long plunge of the water. In the 1800’s, grist and sawmills had been built above the falls. The last one was washed over the falls during a spring flood in 1900.’

Haha, that’s kind of hilarious – the stimulating quality of the air, not sawmills being washed over the falls. That’s scary. Sort of like how I was literally laying over the edge of the falls, staring over a hundred feet down to my death.

But that wasn’t the point of this story – to just share the scary-ass part of it. What was crazy was the moment I shared, by myself. I lay there, shaking with anxiety, and I forced myself to lay upon the sandstone, with it’s slightly downwards tilt, and stare out over the falls. The water was falling over the rocks about an arms length away from me, on my left. And I was part of the landscape; it was almost impossible to believe that I wasn’t going to slide right off the cliff like the water was, and it took all my strength to force myself to stay there for a while.

It seemed like minutes, but it was probably about 45 seconds before I allowed myself to move away from the edge. The way I saw it, who knew when I was going to have an opportunity like that again – to be hanging on a precipice, safe but somehow in such an extreme position, completely alone, and enveloped by the landscape.

It was basically a spiritual experience. And it rocked. 🙂

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