Tragedy + The Tide

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When I was growing up, my family vacationed in Gulf Shores, Alabama every September. One year, my dad took my brother and I on an oceanside stroll after dinner. Mom stayed back in the condo to relax. We were probably 7 and 8 years old. As we were walking along, I remember the sun being almost completely set, my brother scampering around, his skinny limbs flailing as he ran up and down the ridge of sand on the shore where the tide had come in the night before. I remember talking loudly to my dad, asking lots of questions and hamming it up like I usually did, when my brother started to run in the opposite direction. I didn’t think anything of it, because he was kind of running erratically to begin with. But moments later, the tide came crashing in, right over my 6’4 dad’s head and my scrawny 3rd-grade body.

I reached out to my dad as the water poured hard and heavy over our heads. He grabbed my wrist tightly and I remember looking down and seeing my heels digging into the sand, my lightweight frame being beckoned right into the ocean. It seems like the water poured on our heads for the longest time, but realistically, it had to have been less than a minute. My dad let go of my wrist when the water receded and we both looked back at my brother, dry as can be, running back toward us.

My brother saw a wave coming in bigger than he’d ever seen before and he took cover. My Dad and I were too busy talking to notice the wave. And we got clobbered. It very well could have pulled us right under.

This memory resurfaced this morning as I learned about the unexpected passing of a dear friend’s mother. I’ve been thinking about the loss of my friend Christie a lot lately as well. So this story about the late-night walk on the beach with my dad and brother has taken on some new meaning for me.

I think tragedy is like the tide in the ocean. Sometimes we see it coming and we can prepare ourselves. The tide comes in every single day. We know this as a meteorological fact. But most of the time, tragedy arrives abruptly and rudely. It interrupts our peaceful stroll through life. It blindsides us, and pours heavy and hard over our heads. We can’t see clearly, only through blurry strands of raging water. We dig our heels in, determined to get through it. But we still wonder if there’s a chance we might not make it, while the sand slides away beneath our feet.

And when the ocean recedes, when things quiet down, and we realize we’ve made it to through, we still can’t forget what it felt like to be in the middle of the wave, hanging on for dear life. I sometimes wonder what part of tragedy has the worst effect on a person: the event itself or the subsequent grief journey.

So when I look back on the tragedy of losing my dear friend, when I think about the sudden loss of my friend’s mother this morning, when I think about the tide nearly taking my Dad and I out that day in 1993, I think about what made it possible for me to survive.

With gallons of ocean water pouring hard over our heads, my dad reached out through the angry waters and gripped my wrist with a determination and strength that I knew would sustain me until the wave passed. Even though I looked down and saw my heels slipping away beneath me, I knew no matter what, my Dad wasn’t letting me go.

When tragedy comes (and it always will, just like the ocean tide) I hope and pray that we all have an anchor that won’t let us go. I pray that God shows up in the people that surround you with love and food and strength and prayers and loved ones who grip your wrist in a way that helps you believe you’re going to make it, no matter how hard you’re sucked under. Because if you’re going, they’re going. Into the darkest places and back out to the light again.

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Why I Don’t Blog Much Anymore + Thoughts on Burnout

d47dd96d43a6a287e15247bd624a6b4bI know. The irony isn’t lost on me, friends. I’m blogging about why I don’t blog anymore.

But here’s why: I have noticed something in the last several months. There are a lot of voices on the internet. (What?! Shocker. I know. It’s news to all of you.)

Sometimes, an idea for a blog post crosses my mind. As I stew on it for a few days, it begins to dawn on me that what I have to say isn’t always necessary. In fact, most of the time–it’s not. It might stir the pot. It might make me feel better. But most of the time, it doesn’t change much.

In my past, I blogged about things quickly and without much thought. When I slowed the process down, I had this shift in thinking. With a chorus of voices talking about everything from the dress Katie Holmes wore on the subway yesterday to the conflict in Syria, I just can’t help but ask myself–is my voice really needed? Would it even make an impact? How wise is this 30-year-old compared to that cranky Star Tribune concert reviewer or Nicholas Kristof at The New York Times? I don’t know.

Blogging, for me, has always been a way to exercise my writing ability, regain inspiration for writing projects, and work things out verbally. However. It’s tiring to write quality posts. I mean, it’s easy to shoot off a quippy, snappy little piece about cosmetics I like, or a new album I’m listening to. But it isn’t easy to write about things that matter and do it well. So. Thus the silence in this place for the past several months.

No energy to do things you love (see: Writing for pleasure), is also a telltale sign of something terrible. It’s called burnout. And it’s where I have lived for the past year, really.

I’ve been here before, but only visited. This is the first time in my career life where I’ve really pounded in the tentpoles and set up camp. Burnout. What happens when you burn out? Well, here’s what I’ve learned.

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When someone goes out of their way to be nice to you, your first reaction is to be annoyed. What kind of jerk gets annoyed when someone is nice to them?! Someone who literally has left so little margin for interaction with other humans in their life, that they are only concerned with said nice person potentially slowing down their productivity. Really, they’ve forced the burned out shell-of-a-human out of their dark place and it’s uncomfortable for them. So they get annoyed. “Don’t you dare make small talk with me, person-at-the-Wendy’s-drive-through-window. I. Will. Cut. You.” Sound familiar? Come on. You know you’ve been there. Just me? Ok. I’m terrible.

There’s no time for anything that brings them life. What brings me life? Music. Live shows. Cooking and baking. Art and design. History. Reading books by smart writers. Writing for pleasure. Quality time with people I love. Drinking wine or Manhattans when they’re not being downed to forget about a hard day. When there’s only room in your schedule for waking up, sometimes showering, accomplishing tasks, replying to emails, buying meals because there’s no time to cook, then going to sleep and doing it all over again–Welcome to Burnout.

There’s no capacity to care. In one sense, living in burnout requires that you care A LOT about some things. But I think it often means there’s no emotional, spiritual, or physical energy left over to care about some things that SHOULD matter. Prioritizing becomes impossible because every single thing is at the top of your list in Burnout. And you can’t really address any of it at your full potential, when you’re living in that state of chaos.

You isolate. No time for developing relationships. No time for thoughtfully interacting with whatever humans God places in your path each day. It’s all about you, your checklist, and the people and things that you’re allowing to dictate it. Selfishness and anxiety reign.

Your faith suffers. Faith is a relationship with God. And if there’s no time for developing relationships or even investing in the lives of strangers, there’s certainly not much time for God. Aside from a frantic prayer here and there, good luck keeping that connection alive. I can vouch for how incredibly hard it can be in this place, to sense that God is here and to interact with him.

You do nothing well. You might still be fooling everyone around you that you’re fully capable. But when you slow it all down, you’ll see–you’ve barely been scraping the surface of your potential. You’ve been giving everything 5% when you could give two or three things 25% and still have energy left over for personal fulfillment. Can you imagine what an amazing life that would be? I dream about it like I dream about what heaven will be like one day. MARGIN. What a joy that would be.

So. That’s Burnout. I’ve been a real peach to be around, lately, as you can imagine. 😉

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A dear mentor and friend said this to me recently: “I don’t think God intended for us to live our lives exhausted and dried up of passion, inspiration and joy.”

Soon after, other wise people started saying similar things in my direction:

In the words of G. Love + Special Sauce, “This Ain’t Livin.”

In the words of Iain Thomas, “And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, “This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!” And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, “No. This is what’s important.”

In the words of Ariana Huffington, “And whenever I’d complain or was upset about something in my own life, my mother had the same advice: “Darling, just change the channel. You are in control of the clicker. Don’t replay the bad, scary movie.”

In the words of Andy Warhol, “Sometimes people let the same problem make them miserable for years when they could just say “so what.” That’s one of my favorite things to say.”

In the words of Anne Lamott, “You are not your bank account, or your ambitiousness. You’re not the cold clay lump with a big belly you leave behind when you die. You’re not your collection of walking personality disorders. You are spirit, you are love. ”

In the words of the Psalmist, “Seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14)

It’s because of Burnout that I’m responding to a deep urging, that I believe is from God, and making some big changes in my life. (More on that, soon.)

I plan to force margin back in. To get to know what grace and peace and creative inspiration feel like again. To feel joy. To reacquaint myself with wonder. To grab God’s hand again. And to REALLY LIVE. Whatever it takes.