To The Stars

It is getting dark again. I was gone in Chicago for a few days at the beginning of the month and I came back and it seemed all the daylight had fled in those few short days. Some days it is hard to wake up knowing that daylight is fleeting, and even harder when you know each day you lose a few precious seconds.

I took Latin in high school. I was not very good at it, but I loved that the ancient language felt like unlocking a mystery. Each new word I learned had somehow evolved and changed until it became a word we use today. For example, “video” means “I see.”

My senior year of high school I somehow stumbled upon a phrase that is also the state motto of Kansas, “ad astra per aspera.” Aside from being beautifully alliterative and poetic in sound, the meaning is even richer: to the stars, through difficulty.

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Seeing the Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis) was never a huge bucket list item of mine. They were a bit of an afterthought to me, until one morning during our first winter when I was headed out to school I looked up and saw a purple and green line slowly moving through the sky in a dream-like trance. A few more sightings of the elusive lights drew me more and more to them. I liked that they were unpredictable and showed up on their own terms. More accurately, they were always there, but their visibility was a matter uncontrollable to man. The Aurora is only visible in darkness, and the darkness increases your chances of seeing it.

Darkness and difficulty are fickle friends who often don’t feel like friends at all. But they also bring us to the stars. If I weren’t willing to bundle up and stand on my porch in -30 F temperatures I’d never know the living poem of the Aurora lighting up the sky.

Through difficulty, yes — but, to the stars. To the stars.

The Marathon That Wasn’t

Last November I signed up to run a marathon in August. If I talked to you in person at some point between those months, I’m sure I mentioned it. I was so excited. I realized that in order to have motivation to exercise through the Alaska winter I needed a goal. Building a base for the marathon was exactly what I needed.

I love running. I love its simplicity, poetry, and how much it teaches me. I had never completed a full marathon before, but the marathon intrigued me. I felt curious about the distance, and wanted to see what it would be like to do a buildup and then run a marathon.

I worked really hard at building my base over the winter logging miles on the treadmill, and thinking how wonderful it would be to finally run outdoors and see the sunlight. The first day that the snow had melted enough on the track I did a little happy dance. I ran the first track workout I’d done in years, and I loved it. Marathon training made me so happy. I loved the long runs, the track workouts, all of it. I researched and stretched and foam rolled and ice bathed and did all the things.

And then one day in June my knee started to ache a little. I thought nothing of it, but skipped my long run that week. The pain persisted. After some time icing and ibuprofen didn’t seem to help I saw a doctor. Throughout weeks of trying to cross train and take care of myself it didn’t get better. I suddenly realized that my dream was fading. Maybe a better word would be deferred, to steal from the iconic poet Langston Hughes.

I realized that if I truly believed that my body is God’s and I want to honor him with it I couldn’t in good conscience continue trying to push myself to do the race. My body was telling me it wasn’t ready, and I had to listen. I had to scratch. After I scratched I felt really mad that I had wasted all my training. I put hours of work, research, and rehab into training, only to not accomplish my end goal.Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

One of my favorite authors, Amy Krause Rosenthal, talks about “Plan Be”, existing only in the present. I love that. It redeems Plan B from a second choice to the best possible choice. It asks, what do I have now that I can rejoice in? So my marathon Plan Be was to take the lessons marathon training taught me and hold them. I learned about endurance, rest, and being kind to myself. Those lessons will always be there. The marathon ended up giving me a lot more than I could have expected, and I didn’t even run it.

That thing that you worked and hoped for, putting in lots of hours, only to see it pass without fruition? It mattered, and it still matters. You’re not a failure if you don’t end up accomplishing the goal you worked towards. Sometimes you just have to work a little to find Plan Be.

Fireweed

The first weekend I lived in Alaska, two weeks freshly wed, Derek and I drove up the Steese Highway in Fairbanks. It’s an incredibly scenic drive and we lost phone service almost immediately, a perfect recipe for quality time.

As we drove I noticed a pink flower on the side of the highway, and I remarked at how beautiful I thought it was.

“That’s fireweed,” he told me, his eyes fixed on the winding road ahead. “They call it that because it’s the first thing to bloom after a forest fire.”

I never knew until moving here that Alaska had a forest fire issue, but lightning strikes, hot summer air, and abundant wilderness make for quite a few forest fires in the summer.

I looked at the fireweed, a stark contrast with the overwhelming green on the Steese, and it struck me what a grace it is that God made something so beautiful to be the first thing to come from a fire. The fireweed was a little phoenix rising from the ashes.Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

This morning, two years after that drive up the Steese, I was talking with some friends about God’s faithfulness, and how refining trials can be. I think difficult and painful seasons of life always bring with them their own fireweed. They bring lessons, truth, wisdom, and grace. The caveat is we have to be attentive–and patient. Maybe sometimes that fireweed isn’t visible for years, or even until eternity. (This is not to say trials or pain are easy, either. They are difficult and hard, and I don’t want to be dismissive of that. Sometimes answers are few and tears are many. But I am a person who tends to dwell on the negative, and I want to be more focused on the graces and lessons of trials, and fireweed helps me to do that.)

Whenever I see the fireweed, and it is everywhere in Alaska in the summer, I try to remember that grace. The grace that something beautiful and bright comes from ashes of a forest fire, and in the same way God is in the business of bringing truths that are beautiful and bright to our lives in the midst of trial and pain.