Solo road trip

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Tuckasegee River, Cherokee, TN

Sometimes you have to get away from your life to realize what you have – or don’t have. A couple of months ago I decided to take a solo road trip. I had never taken a trip like this alone before. Sure, I’d traveled alone before – taken extended work trips or traveled to a city to visit a friend – but I’d never driven for half a day on my own to a destination where I hadn’t planned on meeting up with anyone else for the entire trip. This would be a first for me.

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The Appalachian Trail near Clingmans Dome, The Great Smoky Mountains

I’d made the decision to do this for a few reasons. First, I felt the need to get out of the craziness of the city after the incredibly violent summer we’ve had here in Chicago. Next, I wanted to take a trip to celebrate completing my first marathon – a goal I’ve had since the age of 25. Also, I knew couldn’t afford to fly anywhere for the remainder of this year so if I wanted to get out of town, I’d have to drive. The fourth reason, which introduced the idea that I may have to go it alone, was that when I considered asking various friends to join me I realized none of them would be able to go on the dates I’d planned to go. And finally, the reason that cemented the fact that I actually needed to go alone on this one, was that I wanted to reconnect with myself physically and mentally, and spiritually reconnect with God.

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Tom Branch Falls, Deep Creek Loop Trail, The Great Smoky Mountains

When I began to think about where I might like to travel, I considered more than a few different locations that I’d never had the opportunity to explore. I checked into drive time, looked up Airbnb rentals, and researched things to do. The finalists ended up being Toronto, Canada, The Smoky Mountains/Asheville, NC and New Haven, CT. All three would have been great choices considering my goals for this trip. Ultimately, I decided on The Smokey Mountains/Asheville, NC. This particular destination offered a manageable, straight-shot drive and the opportunity for beautiful pristine wilderness along with the option for an urban vibe.

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Lickstone Ridge Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway, TN

I drove about 1800 miles over this four and a half day trip, listening to audiobooks for the vast majority of my time in the car. By the way, I highly recommend The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber. The drive from Chicago down to North Carolina is rather boring. More than half of it is flat, uninteresting, Indiana farmland. By the time I reached Kentucky and Tennesee and the landscape began to fill in with hills and trees, it had grown dark. Thank God for audiobooks! The drive back was much better, partially due to the fact that the more interesting landscape came during the first half of the drive, and partially because I left quite a bit earlier in the day and so journeyed with daylight the whole time.

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The Appalachian Trail near Clingmans Dome, The Great Smoky Mountains

While I was in North Carolina and Tennessee I covered many more miles traveling to various hiking trails in The Great Smoky Mountains and venturing further south to Asheville, NC to bum around for an afternoon. I actually hiked about 20 miles over 3 days. The breathtaking beauty of this national park offered the perfect setting to accomplish one of my goals – reconnecting with myself and God. I can’t express enough how wonderful it was to get away from so much of the pressure of my life and simply ‘be’. I stayed in a lovely one bedroom Airbnb rental about halfway between Asheville and the Smoky Mountains. Each morning I was able to cook a hearty breakfast. In the evenings, tired from a full day of hiking, I made a delicious meal, journaled and either read or watched something on my laptop. Isn’t technology is awesome? Even way out in the sticks we can get a strong wifi signal.

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The Appalachian Trail near Clingmans Dome, The Great Smoky Mountains

Reaction from friends and family when I told them of my plans prior to embarking on this trip were largely negative. I can think of only one person who had anything positive or encouraging to say about my plans to drive nine and a half hours to hike alone in the mountains. In fact, a couple of them tried to dissuade me from even going with warnings of freak accidents, attacks and other potential dangers. But something inside me refused to be deterred, and for this, I am tremendously grateful. The time spent wandering through forests and among mountains, beholding the beauty of God’s creation, and contemplating my infinitesimal place in the universe was an experience I hope to hold for all my life.

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Clingmans Dome, The Great Smoky Mountains

As I move through life, I want to learn from every experience. One important insight I’ve taken from this one is that my current day-to-day life is completely out of sync with my natural self and a change is needed. Another is that the unknown can be a wonderfully positive adventure, and fear of the unknown is limiting and a hindrance to freedom. These are terrific lessons to take from this trip and I truly believe that more will continue to reveal themselves over time.

My first solo road trip was a fantastic and self-affirming adventure. I hope to be able to make it an annual event!

 

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French Broad River, Hot Springs, NC

Loss = growth

Viewing loss as positive can be difficult. The loss of a relationship with a friend or partner is sad and can be devastating. When someone we care about dies, the loss is exceptionally difficult and can leave a gaping hole in our hearts and lives. Losing a job or societal status comes with a different sort of heartbreak, but can be as equally annihilating to our spirit. The unpleasant feelings that loss inspires are so painful, that many of us will avoid it at all costs – even if keeping the relationship or situation in our lives is restricting, unhealthy or otherwise unfavorable to our present and future.

This is what I’m beginning to observe after experiencing many losses throughout my time here: Although there are quite a few negative aspects, in many instances, good things are likely to blossom following a loss.

In other words, when I lose, I tend to win.

And really, loss and renewal is the stuff of life – a continuous cycle of death and rebirth. Rather than spending valuable time and energy on the negative feelings associated with a loss, I can begin to view it as a door which, if I chose to open it and step through with fearless resolve, I can grow to a new plane with new opportunities and expanded vision.

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Dear Chronic Selfie Poster,

Dear Chronic Selfie Poster,

You are beautiful. Yes, you are beautiful in your own unique way. Though, many of the other humans, animals, plant life and plethora of additional elements that fill our world are also fascinatingly beautiful.

I do love to be informed of the happenings of your life. We don’t see each other frequently, so the social media updates assure me that you are looking good and enjoying life. Though, I wonder if you might consider sharing evidence of the external aspects of that life in addition to, or possibly instead of, the typical selfie-post.

This is merely my opinion and carries little weight in the wide world of ideas. I simply wanted to share my viewpoint, that while the selfie-post is nice on occasion, you might tell a much richer story of your life, and elicit greater inspiration for creativity in your followers, by sharing pics of who and what you encounter on your journey, rather than posed reactions to your experiences.

Yours,

Billie     xxooxxoo

P.S. I’ve included my own selfie for your amusement 🙂 …enjoy!

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What does happiness look like to you?

Recently, a friend told me that during her last therapy session she was asked a question she could not answer. “What does happiness look like to you?” Considering the fact that this friend is well into her 30’s, you might think that she should have been able to figure out this seemingly simple life puzzle by now. But as she related how this question had stunned her into several seconds of silence, I realized that the answer was much more complex than it appears on the surface.

We are told what we SHOULD think happiness looks like by a constant barrage of messages thrown at us by all of the various forms of media out there – television, YouTube, digital news outlets, Facebook, Instagram – the list is never ending. If we pay attention to these messages, happiness looks polished and clean, well dressed and educated. Happiness has an entourage of friends and a committed, loving, attractive and equally happy partner. Happiness goes out drinking and dining, and travels quite often. Happiness is in wonderful physical shape and perfect health without much effort exerted on exercise or thought to the quality of food consumed. Happiness seems to have an endless supply of money with which to buy whatever one wants. And happiness is always happy, always good, always well – all the time. By these standards, I’m not sure how anyone can achieve happiness. I know I can’t. And the reason why I can’t achieve this vision of happiness is because it is constantly changing and inevitably unattainable.

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The idea my friend’s therapist was getting at was the hidden truth – hidden only because, in our culture, we have been indoctrinated with this elusive definition of happiness dictated by corporations. The hidden truth is that we decide our own vision of happiness. Regardless of what any other person thinks, I have the right, the responsibility, to dictate what happiness looks like to me. If I so chose, I can go along with society’s idea of happiness. But if I do that, I will never really be happy. Instead of happiness, I will exist in a constant state of chasing happiness.

Rather than an illusory image of happiness, I would like to chose an attainable, authentic and sustainable definition of happiness. So, what does happiness look like to me? I’m not entirely sure yet. But I know that it involves jogging outside at a leisurely pace, cooking yummy food while sipping wine and listening to Nina Simone, and offering a smile and ‘Hello’ to a passing stranger on the street. Hey! Does this mean I’m happy?!

One act, for one person, every day

I saw something the other day that both broke my heart and filled me with joy at the same time.  Driving home through littered streets, hearing the incessant sirens wailing from somewhere nearby, I turned onto the side street leading to my block and saw, standing in the middle of the sidewalk, two young men connected in a tight embrace, one sobbing into the neck of the other.

Anyone who wasn’t personally acquainted with these two young men would assume the stereotype that they were gang members and quite possibly drug dealers. Both were donned in ‘the uniform’: Baggy jeans, slouched low below the butt, over-sized plain white t-shirt and gym shoes. I do not personally know the two men so will refrain from any assumptions. I can tell you what I do know. I know that each of us experience pain and loss and disappointment. I also know that each of us have the capacity to provide comfort and support for another.

My heart broke seeing these two young men and my thoughts immediately went to the negative. Did someone they were close to get shot & killed? Chicago has the most murders of any city in the U.S. so far this year. Were these two young men among the many caught up in this seemingly senseless violence that has erupted upon our city?  Could it have been that one of the two just received a frightening medical diagnosis? Or maybe the two are related and they recently lost a grandmother or elderly aunt or uncle. Even those living in areas with high crime rates succumb to natural causes the same as everyone else. It was impossible for me to know the truth behind the embrace, but I wanted to know. What was their story? What happened? How do they know each other? What gave them the capacity for such a bold public demonstration of emotion?

And then my heart filled with joy because in the midst of all of the horrible shit we see every day, in my city and neighborhood and in places all around the world, places crumbling under evil men who terrorize the innocent, places thrown together in haste because people are forced from their homes trying to escape the terror caused by evil men, places that should be safe but aren’t because we just can’t seem to get it together as a human race and treat each other with love, in midst of all of this horrible shit, these two young men were displaying love and kindness and comfort and support. And dare I say, many would throw these two into a catagory of the worst kind of people who “have no respect” or “don’t care about anything” simply because of their skin color and the clothes they choose to wear. But they were publically defying those negative stereotypes with a simple act of love. Small acts such as this, even though they will never be reported on the news and no one of import will ever mention them in a speech heard by thousands, are what create positive change and can be the difference between life and death for a person.

Each of us have the capacity and, I suspect, the opportunity to demonstrate love, kindness, comfort and support each day we are granted life on this planet. Can we try that? Can we try to put aside our discomfort and selfishness, our insecurities and prejudices? Just one act, for one other person, every day?

 

The Daily Post – Slowly

At times, I prefer to move rather slowly, regarding, with great care, all of the sounds that accompany my world.  The sound of a key entering the keyhole of a door and clicking the deadbolt to locked is one that provokes a sense of finality.  And my insides lurch with small dread at the cry of sirens from any first responder vehicle.  Loud, raspy laughter breaking through the numbing white hiss of passing traffic force my lips into a smile.

At times, I prefer to move rather slowly, training my mind to stay; linking thoughts to sound to physical sensation.  I feel warming in my tummy at the sound of that very particular gulp only heard when pouring coffee from a full pot into my rounded mug.  The whiz of the wind rustling through my thick, curly hair, and across the thinner skin covering my ears, fills me with delightful tingling liberation.  There is nothing else in that moment, or that moment, or that moment but the sound and me.

At times, I prefer to move rather slowly so that I can be.

 

Written for: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/slowly/

I can love you where you are

All the talk about the mass shooting in Orlando, FL this past weekend has motivated me to write a little about love. In a world filled with so much hate and anger, I vow to show love to those around me, even when it isn’t returned.

Although we love each other so very much, there are times when people disappoint us. We like to believe that those who care about us will always come through. But the truth is, those who care about us are human and therefore, imperfect.

In a perfect world, friends would always chose the right words to encourage us when we experience difficulty, and come through with that exact remedy that would make everything okay without being asked. If our world were perfect, parents would always support our passionate pursuits and siblings would be our best friends. If life were as it should be, our boyfriends, husbands, girlfriends and wives would never say cutting words that make our hearts bleed or leave us alone in times of desperation. We can wish that those we love will never let us down, but we know from experience this can’t be true.

We ourselves will let others down. Although we may care deeply for someone, we also will inevitably stumble and disappoint another. We can accept the imperfection in ourselves, but can we accept it in others? Can we meet people where they are, wherever that is, and still love them? Can we give to others the same thing that we deeply desire from them? Is love and acceptance possible, even when those we love fail to be considerate, fail to show up when we need them, fail to offer sympathy when we hurt?

I believe this is one of the most difficult types of love to achieve, but one we can all reach with selfless determination, an empathetic heart and a mind intent on the needs of others rather than our own. There is a misconception floating around that love should be easy. Nothing is further from the truth. Nothing worth anything is easy. Love is difficult, it is work and it is more valuable than any material thing on this planet.

Can we make a choice to do that work; the work of love? Can we make an effort, being consciously aware of our own imperfections while loving others despite theirs? I can try. I will try.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Dandelions are weeds

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Dandelions are weeds. We spray toxic chemicals to rid our lawns of them and angrily yank them from the ground, as if they were a blight on the perfectly uniform green carpets that cover our yards and parks. Like many other things, and people (sadly), which our society deems unacceptable, we eradicate dandelions, feeling the pressure to conform to some sanctioned idea of a beautiful yard.

But dandelions are beautiful! As I jogged along Chicago’s lakefront yesterday, feeling free, strong and blessed, I was struck with awe at how the cheerful yellow petals pair so well with the bright green grass and deep azure of the water.

Dandelions may be weeds, yet they are beautiful in their own way. Like you and I, in our natural forms, they are lovely, unique and complementary to the world around them.

Matthew 6:28-30 (NIV)
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

My tale of two cities – entry 1

I am inspired by the writing of Ta-Nehisi Coates to begin a series on the disparity witnessed firsthand in my daily life as a Chicagoan.


One half is shopping at Nordstrom, dining at STK and having cocktails at the latest rooftop bar while living in extravagantly indulgent fruitlessness. The other half is cleaning offices, waxing hospital floors, driving buses, parking cars, and cooking in restaurant kitchens while eking out a frugal living.

One half is able to live in luxury on the very backs of the other half, who live in a constant state of economic depression. And the only reason why we accept this is because it has been ingrained into us for generations as right.

There are other ways though. We don’t have to step on the necks of others in order to sip smoothies and lattes, eat pork belly and confit, and call it the ‘American Dream’; one half of the city metaphorically gorging itself on the very flesh of the other half. We can try to be better.

Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV)
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Freedom

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The sensation of strength and freedom coursed through me. I was running along the lakefront. LSD traffic howling on my right side and Lake Michigan, gray and ornery, humming on my left. Running and sleeping are the only two activities during which I allow myself to go offline. iPhone seems a manacle around the neck of leisurely reflection. I should go offline more often.

Thanking God for health and the ability to run, to stretch the taut muscles in my legs, to take in energy with each inhalation and release stress with each exhalation, I felt free. Liberty is a theme that continues to crop up during this season of my life. I haven’t figured out the greater purpose for this; why I have become newly aware of so many shackles that have bound me these four decades.

I like to listen to podcasts during my long runs. Snap Judgement’s most recent episode told the story of a man who had been coerced into confessing to rape and falsely imprisoned for 21 years. I could not imagine the sheer hell of finding myself in that kind of situation. Lately, the mere thought of being trapped in any sort of way brings on a panicky feeling, forcing me to quickly switch gears and ponder more liberating topics. Left to my own devices, I’d more than likely lose my mind if I found myself incarcerated.

The water was slightly choppy and the air a bit chill on this particular morning. Not many others were out, which gave me the pleasurable feeling that I owned the lakefront. Upon finishing the seven mile goal I’d set for myself, I decided to walk along the beach at 63rd Street. No other people were about, but I knew I wasn’t alone. The soles of my running shoes crunched over shells and pebbles piled up on the sand. Lake Michigan lapped up, foaming at my trail as I listened to a man tell the horror story of how he lied about being a sex offender in order to convince a parole board to let him out of prison.

I squatted down, looking for interesting shaped pieces of driftwood to sand and smooth into curious sculptures. I breathed in the essence of nature while in the midst of a city seemingly on the verge of destruction. I offered silent praise to God for all of this; for freedom.

Psalm 139:7-10 (NIV)

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.