Some days

November 25, 2015 § 4 Comments

Some days, you just need to go.

You need to call up your friend who lives far away. You need to pack a red duffle bag with a random assortment of clothes. You need to buy a plane ticket and get on that plane and fly to Colorado.

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Some days, when you feel twisted inside, when you feel a little like a deflated balloon, when you see a hundred looming question marks ahead, when it seems like you’re stuck in a maze and keep coming upon the same horrid corner, on those days, you need to take a deep breath of cold mountain air.

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You need to remember what you forgot.

You need to remember who you are.

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Some days, you need to spend time with a friend who knows you as well as you know yourself (and sometimes even better).

Some days, you need to drive a few hundred miles until you’re in the middle of nowhere and there’s nothing but you and the silence and the sky.

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Some days, you need to sleep outside in a tent to remember what it’s like to be vulnerable and afraid.

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And some days, you need to stop for bread and soup to remember all that’s nourishing and kind.

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You need to get up and go so you can return.

So you can face those giant question marks again.

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And so you go.

And so you remember.

And you are filled with courage.

And you are filled with strength.

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And you return.

And when you return, nothing has changed, not really. Nothing except you.

But that makes all the difference, you see, because you, you, are ready.

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Over the weekend

October 5, 2015 § Leave a comment

I shared these on all of the usual social media sites this weekend, but in case you missed them, I had the privilege of writing two stories for The Dallas Morning News which appeared in Sunday’s paper.

The first was this profile of Missy Williams, cofounder of Seed Effect, the organization I traveled to South Sudan with last August (which, if you read this blog, you haven’t heard enough about lately!).

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Missy went from being an interior designer to cofounding this remarkable microfinance organization with her husband. I recommend Seed Effect to anyone looking for a charity in which to invest.

“Our hope would be that Seed Effect would be a light in South Sudan, a place of stability, as much as we can, in an unstable environment.”  – Missy Williams

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The second is this photo essay of 15 women facing breast cancer, which I worked on with one of The Dallas Morning News photographers.

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This is one of the more powerful stories I’ve worked on. I interviewed 12 of these women back-to-back, and hearing about their illness, how it’s affected their lives, how they’ve found peace and strength in the hardest of times, it was nothing short of remarkable.

“Breast cancer was honestly one of the best things that ever happened to me. Although I hate [that] it happened, I really am thankful for my perspective on life changing to where I don’t stress about the small things.  – Erika Young

Hoping you enjoy these stories and have a happy start to your week!

Resolution ramblings

September 30, 2015 § 5 Comments

After taking the summer off and volunteering in South Sudan last August, I resolved to write a new blog post every week, a resolution I hoped would renew my love for writing and ingrain the discipline in me. A friend encouraged me to do it, and so far, it’s worked out pretty well.

I have loved writing a new post every week, finding myself overflowing with thoughts I want to share, overjoyed when I receive a kind note from someone who connected with something I wrote.

But this week, I find myself staring at a blank page with no idea what to say.

Oh, I have lots of thoughts, that’s for sure. A dear friend told me lately, “I say this from the deepest part of my heart, Lizzie, but sometimes, you’re your own worst enemy.  You tend to overthink things and drive yourself crazy.” This is absolutely true. I fixate on some thing and cannot let it go until I’ve wound myself into a ball of nerves.

I have done this lately. I find myself feeling like a rubber band stretched taught, about to snap. I find myself feeling like a cactus — get too close, and you might get pricked.

But these thoughts and emotions hardly boil down into a coherent blog post.

Which is why this week’s post feels like a bit of a copout, and maybe it is.

Or maybe it isn’t.

Maybe you feel this way at times, too. Maybe you know what it’s like to need to stick to a resolution even when the resolution feels hard and empty. Maybe you know what it’s like to feel as though you’re made of sharp silver needles sticking your insides. Maybe you do. Or maybe I’m just going through a neurotic phase.

Either way, I’ll post a few pictures to make up for this rambling post. From my recent trip to Southern California:IMG_5962

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Summer

September 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

Labor Day weekend is just around the corner, marking the last time it’s acceptable to wear white, the last holiday until Halloween, and the beginning of crisp fall days (or mildly warm days, as they are in Texas). As the season closes, I find myself reflecting on the past few months.

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Back in June, a friendly acquaintance stopped to ask, “What are you up to these days?”

I remember fumbling for an answer, something that sounded more impressive than the truth. I wanted to lie. I wanted to tell her that I was up to great things, saving the world and all that. Instead, I decided to be honest (mostly because I didn’t have the energy to come up with a creative-yet-believable lie).

“I’m taking the summer off,” I said. “Resting. Relaxing.”

She stared at me, and I was sure she thought I was your typical-lazy-millennial-bum.

“It’s kind of hard,” I admitted, partly because it was true and partly because I felt self-conscious. “I’m not sure I’m allowed to take time off.”

After all, shouldn’t I be like the rest of my peers, getting jump-started on a career or heading to graduate school or, at the very least, trying to find something to do. I waited for her to call me a bum.

Instead, she nodded knowingly.

“If that’s how you feel, taking time off sounds exactly like what you should do.”

I stared at her, mouth slightly agape, letting the wisdom of her words soak into my skin.

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I’d never thought of rest like that. In reality, I was taking time off out of necessity: there was no way I could keep up the demanding schedule I’d maintained since college, working and writing and networking and moving every year and, sometimes, every few months.

All of a sudden, I felt another reason to rest: if you can’t relax, if you can’t let yourself simply be, if you have to be busy all the time, working toward something all the time, then you need to stop. You need to let yourself be okay with who you are, a worthwhile individual, even when you have nothing to show for it, even when you can’t answer the simple question, “What do you do?”

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I’m on the other side of summer now. I’ve gone through the agonizing first few weeks of questioning: what am I doing with my life?! I can’t sleep in or go to the arboretum or buy myself a latte! I don’t even have a steady paycheck!!!

Now, I’m on the other side of weeks of rest, of days filled with doing whatever, of long summer hours at the beach, of afternoons in the park, of mornings lazily reading the newspaper in cozy coffee shops. Now, I feel ready to begin working again, not out of an anxious need to answer that pestering question, “What are you up to these days?” but out of a place of equanimity, a place I wouldn’t be in without the long summer of rest, a healthy, firm rock from which to leap.

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Into the deep end

June 30, 2015 § 1 Comment

Last winter, I had a dream. I dreamt that I was a child again, a toddler, standing on the edge of the deep end of an indoor pool. My fat toes curled around the concrete lip. Chlorine water lapped gently against the pool’s blue tiles.

I wanted to go swimming, but I was afraid. I had never swam before. I didn’t know how.

Certainly, I should not jump, though the water was inviting, though I could tell how wonderful it would be to bob up and down on my back, arms splashing, cries of joy echoing off the walls.

As I was about to turn away, a figure appeared in the water before me. Though everything was fuzzy, the way dreams are, I knew the figure was God. He opened His arms wide, and the gesture was obvious.

Come, it said. Trust me.

I was still afraid, and rightly so. After all, I couldn’t swim. But those arms were so inviting, and I, I wanted so badly to swim.

I took a deep breath. I leaped.

Of course, you know He caught me.

He supported me on my belly, like a mother does her child, helping me paddle this way and that. When I dunked my head underwater, we were no longer swimming in the deep end of an ordinary indoor pool. What should have been water had transformed itself into a celestial night sky, full of stars and galaxies and swirling planets, all of which, with his hand under my belly, I could explore.

When I awoke, I knew the dream as an answer, an answer to a prayer, a prayer I had prayed for a long long time. There was a thing I wanted to do, but was afraid of. There was a thing, and here was the answer. Come. Trust me. Leap.

John Russell

April 7, 2015 § 12 Comments

Once, I had a car named John Russell.

An odd name for a car, you might say, and many people did. But if you’re going to name a car, you might as well name him something special, and John Russell deserved a special name.

He was a college graduation gift from my parents, a dusty gold Ford Escape, used, but complete with everything a 20-something-year-old could want: sunroof, CD player, and cargo trunk, ready for road trips, ready for adventures.

And we had some adventures.

We drove halfway across the country and back. We drove up and down the West coast. We drove in the mountains. We drove in the desert. We drove in the snow. And we drove in the rain.

I gave John Russell his name on our inaugural adventure.

I’d just graduated from college and was driving from Texas to California for my first job as a post-graduate. And because it was my first job, and because it was my first time driving halfway across the country, and because they love me, my parents came along.

Which meant: I got to spend a good deal of the trip reading in the backseat (a reason to let the parents tag along, in my opinion).

Before we left, I visited the local used bookstore to find the perfect novel to accompany me on my adventure West. The great Elmore Leonard had died that summer, so I sauntered over to the Westerns in search of his name. A thin yellow paperback caught my eye.

Hombre.

Within seconds, I knew this was the book.

In Hombre, Leonard tells the story of John Russell, a white man raised by Apaches. John Russell is taking a stagecoach ride with a bunch of other white folk who, because of his association with the Apaches, don’t like him much. In fact, they dislike him so much they force him to sit up top with the driver rather than inside with them.

Of course, their attitude changes when outlaws attack.

Suddenly, John Russell, with his wily Apache ways, is the only one who can save them.

And he does.

But in the process (spoiler alert), he dies.

I read Hombre while driving west. While the dry Texas plains and the hot New Mexico desert and the rain-streaked Arizona rocks zipped past, I read how John Russell gave his life for some people he didn’t know, some people who thought he was less than the clotted mud on the bottom of his moccasins.

And because Hombre was the first novel I read in my car, and because I loved the character so much, I named my car after him – a Christ-like figure in a cowboy hat.

Now, as you can imagine, explaining the origin of John Russell’s name was always a bit of an ordeal. In fact, the explanation was so tedious it usually left me wishing I’d chosen something simpler or, better yet, nothing at all.

And so, only a handful of people knew his name, but those who did used it affectionately.

When his transmission broke, they said, “John Russell has a stomach ache.”

When I took him to the car wash, they said, “John Russell’s taking a bath.”

But in the days after the crash, we never once called him John Russell. Instead, we referred to him only as “the car.”

I was driving on the highway from Dallas to Austin, and it was raining. John Russell and I had been in the rain before, and though I doubt he liked it much, I certainly did. I’ve always loved the rain, especially the rain in Texas.

I was listening to the radio. At first, NPR. Then later, Johann Pachelbel’s Magnificat in D, Mary’s song of praise when she finds out she’s pregnant. And still later, some obnoxious new country song.

I hit a patch of water, which caused me to hydroplane and lose control. I slid right and John Russell’s nose went left. The steering wheel jumped away. I was drifting fast, trying to brake, not sure if I should brake, headed toward a semi truck on my right, sure my tires would hit a strip of dry road and the car would flip and the semi would barrel through me.

I thought I was going to die. I cried out to God.

When we hit the concrete median, John Russell crumpled like an empty soda can, the hood buckled, the glass shattered. I bit my tongue hard and my head snapped side to side.

I should have died. I should have cracked my skull or fissured my spine or broken my arm, but I didn’t. All the energy that should have shattered my bones, John Russell absorbed instead.

Afterward, I rode in an ambulance to the emergency room and never saw him again.

The way I see it, there are two ways to interpret our lives: either the things that happen are meaningless, or they’re not. And if they’re not, then we can look at our lives and read them like a story to discover the purpose underneath.

Reading my life like a story sounds nice when it’s day-to-day, but when it’s something as profound as a near-death experience, every interpretation sounds hollow in comparison to the real thing, as though it’s too extraordinary to understand through human eyes.

What’s more, I will forget details of the event and botch the story.

I will forget that earlier that day I was filled with a surge of hope for the future, but that I was frustrated when I left Dallas.

I will forget that in the ambulance I repeated over and over to myself the Jesus prayer, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner, because even though I was safe, I was still afraid that my luck would run out and God would let me die right there on the gurney from some unknown internal wound.

I will forget that on the drive home from the hospital, my body wracking with sobs, my father calmed me by telling stories of his own near-death experiences.

I will forget all these details and pull together others to make a story that makes sense to me in the hope that it is the right story, or at least one true story out of many possible ones.

But what else can I do? Meaninglessness isn’t an option.

My interpretation goes like this:

Before the accident, I was scared, mostly about the kinds of things I imagine most 20-something-year-olds are scared about: the scant number of dollars in our bank accounts, the pressure to find a job that both pays extremely well and fulfills our unattainable desire to absolutely love our work, the unfounded belief that with each friend’s wedding we move closer to spinsterhood, and other things as well.

After the accident, I was no longer scared.

Though my whole body ached, though bruises began to appear in black splotches on my arms and legs, though a red mark emerged where the seat belt had dug into my collar, I’d never felt better. I was keenly aware of having survived something I should not have survived, that my very existence was a gift, that I was a living testament of grace.

Survival brought with it a kind of freedom. I was grateful to be alive. What else mattered?

God had been there, a hand of protection when I swerved all over the watery road and slammed into the concrete, so near to me in that moment when my heart was a hand that reached out and grabbed him, when I yelled “Help!”

And yet, where was he, really? I didn’t see him. Not on the road or in the ambulance or in the hot shower that night when I scrubbed the sticky tape leftover from where the medic had stuck an IV in my arm, or when I curled, shaking, under the comforter and tried to sleep.

And why me? I know others have not been as fortunate. Nor am I now untouchable by evil, by pain, by death, though I’m as likely as anyone to naively believe in her own immortality.

To have an encounter with death like that, to know God’s protection in a moment of complete lack of control, and then to find afterward that God is still too huge to comprehend, too different to even find to approach, too vast to experience fully – it is disquieting.

This is what moments of closeness to the other world do to a person. They awaken in us acknowledgement of God, acknowledgement of grace.

What am I saying?

I’m merely saying that this life is grace, that both the accident and surviving the accident were gifts. I’m merely saying that this moment of survival, along with the thousands of breaths we take per day, are given to us and could just as easily be taken away. I’m merely saying that I experienced a holy being who loves me, who undergirds my existence, who in doing so is nearer to me than I am to myself, and in being able to do so is farther from me than the farthest star from the Earth, a being who would crumple and bleed to keep me safe, just like John Russell.

I miss John Russell, of course.

I miss the memories we made with my bare feet sticking out his back window. I miss reading on his sunlit seat. I miss finding sand scattered on his floor after a day at the beach. I even miss checking his oil and filling his tank with gasoline – or, as I used to say, “taking him out for a drink.”

As I write this, my old friend’s in an impound lot in West, Texas, a blip on the map just north of Waco, sides scraped, bumper hanging loose, frame twisted, and windows smashed. Meanwhile, I’m sitting on my front porch in Dallas on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, sunlight dappling the grass and a light breeze rustling the leafy branches of an old oak tree.

John Russell saved me.

But in the process, he died.

A tall calling for a used car, but John Russell had a tall name. I’d say he lived up to it.

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This post was later adapted as a Sunday essay in The Dallas Morning News.

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