So here I am finally in my first week on the base I’ve been trying to get to for what feels like a month, but has only been a couple weeks. The road threat levels eased up for a day – just long enough to give me 20 minutes notice to pack up my three bags, throw them in the car, make sure to put a scarf over my head because we were going off base, and zoom off into the great city of Kabul. When you’re stuck on a military base, you forget about bustling life going on just outside the gate…it’s all some imaginary world…so driving through the city was a whirlwind of new stimuli with different people, clothes, architecture, and colors. I guess I pictured the city would be nice because it’s the capital of the country, but for the most part it looked like it had seen better days – much better days. Lots of decay and years-old trash piles, roofs caving in on teetering buildings that looked like a small wind could knock them over. We wound through streets – traffic laws just a mere suggestion – it seemed to be the car that got to go was the one who wanted it more. I think traffic alone was probably more dangerous than any bomb threats!
Then the moment had arrived – I finally got to see my new home, the base I was going to be living at for the next year. It was like the scene in A Christmas Story where the little boy is anxiously ripping open the present thinking it’s going to be the Red Rider BB gun (I’m sure guys can correct me on the exact gun in that movie), and lo and behold, it’s pink bunny pjs. Only this wasn’t quite as nice as pink bunny pjs. It’s a TINY base with no pavement anywhere – just gravel all over the place surrounded by a big barbed wire fence. It was the tiny size of the place that was most alarming – I see some potential for boredom. BUT I will say that as I’ve poked around here and there this week, there are plenty of little nooks and crannies to find things to do – a place to watch movies on a big tv, a gym, a crossfit slab of concrete which a Canadian guy had to actually raise money to build because concrete is just not a thing here. I’m also really glad that the previous living tents were recently changed to metal conex boxes…and the best part…I have my own room! It’s about 10ft by 10ft and barely holds a bed and a dresser, but it’s all mine! I finally get to unpack and set up shop…starting with a little frame of my adorable niece right on my desk by my bed…hint hint…could use more pictures!
The best story of my week, though, happened on my first day. People were all talking about a base run the next day out on the track out side of the base gate, so I decided to be proactive about getting involved in base activities and signed up (for the 5k, not ready for the 10k yet because we’re a mile high and my Hawaii lungs are still adapting). In any case, women are always warned not to go outside ANYWHERE alone – let alone without a head scarf and bare arms – and HEAVEN FORBID you do sports of any kind. I wanted to run on the track though because the run was the next day and I wanted to see what it was like, so I found a nice Turkish military soldier to walk with me out to the track…which by the way is surrounded by astounding views of old Afghan palaces on a tiered hillside complete with a beautiful mountain backdrop (picture above). When we got there, he said he was walking, so I set off ahead running. I passed him a few times, but the track is pretty big – 1k total – and after about half an hour I saw I was no longer passing him – in fact I couldn’t see him anywhere. Hmmm…this was a quandary…I suddenly found myself off base alone with no covering and looking very sporty. I knew the gate was pretty close, so I just decided to walk with my head down and go straight to the gate. (Mom, maybe you shouldn’t read this…just know I’m fine now!) Well, the keeping my head down part backfired because I walked right past the narrow turn-in to the gate and kept walking on the main road out toward the Afghan base right next door. Finally when I realized I was quite lost I asked a couple men who looked as me like I was a three-horned unicorn…or tricorn rather…and I asked them where the gate to the base was. They asked me back in English which base (I didn’t know there was an Afghan base and that I was now right outside of it). I said American base, and they both continued to look confused – probably more at the fact that I was even out there talking to them alone – and then one of them finally pointed back behind me and said, “American base!” I looked back and saw the gate guard quite a ways back waving his gun at me in a motion to come back NOW. Oops!! On my way!!
Incidentally, I ended placing third overall (first girl – though there were only three of us) in the 5k the next day, and I attribute it to my track familiarization. My placing won me a little popsicle stick with the number 3 on it, as well as apparent base-wide notoriety after the places and times were announced in a all-base email. Suddenly everyone was smiling and saying hello to me and I’m meeting people from Canada, Turkey, Romania, Czechoslovakia, England, Germany and of course the US. So my first week has been a good week. I’m getting into my job, learning my way around, meeting people, learning a few local sayings like “good morning” and “thank you,” and curling up in my very own space at night…I have arrived!
I firmly believe there is something in each of us that wants to reach inward and take the best of what we can possibly be and extend it outward to make our world a little better. It’s in our nature to want to improve ouselves and our world. Every person possesses a talent – a gift unique to only them – the gift that is waiting to be offered to the world. So many of us ignore our gifts and drone on into the life that we’re told to live, and eventually we stop exploring and seeking to understand just what our gift is. How many talents go wasted and covered up in this life! I heard the saying that a graveyard is the richest place in the world because of all the unexplored talents and potential that dies with the body.
You were meant to find your gift, and to foster it toward maturity and growth so that the world can benefit from its special inherent value. Nothing comes of your ignorance or your unwillingness to share it. Those that either refuse to find or realize what their gift was, or those that have given up on finding it will not feel fulfilled or happy becuase they have settled far too soon in this life which was designed to be lived fully with zeal and fervor. It’s like seeing a beautiful sunset for only the shadows that it casts on the rocks at your feet instead of looking up and experiencing the grandeur of hues that fill the whole sky above you.
If you do not know what your gift is, don’t ever give up searching for it. If you do know, don’t deny it. Use it to step out of the shadows and brighten the world around you and those whose lives you touch. It was not given to you to be ignored and to wither from neglect…there is purpose in your talent and the world calmly waits to be bettered from it.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” ~Steve Jobs
As I stop in the middle of this sand and heat, I think about the lessons of life – the many lessons of life that we will at some point inevitably learn, and I ponder which one was most significant in getting me here to this place I’ve dreamt about for years. I think it’s the importance of listening to and believing in myself. When I began to voice what I wanted – which was to come here to Afthanistan – I faced some confused and strongly opposing opinions. If anyone has read prior posts, they know that I’m a default people pleaser…or as I like to say now, a recovering people pleaser…so expressing an idea that is in opposition to others took some lady balls. It took a long time to voice even to myself what I wanted, and longer yet to boost up the courage to say it out loud. At first I felt silly and I would add disclaimers like, “I know it’s a stupid idea, but I think I want to go to Afghanistan.” Thank God I found the fire in my belly to keep listening to myself and take action on doing the thing I could barely speak. I couldn’t tell anyone in my life – wait, I told my sister because she could tell something was up – and felt like I was living a deceptive life when I submitted my employment application to various companies. Then when one was interested in me, I would break out in a nervous sweat in replying back that I would like to continue forward with the hiring process – like I was committing a crime or some awful act.
But I stuck with it. I think part of me was afraid that I’d buckle if I told people too early – that I would listen to unsolicited advice about what a dangerous idea it was and I wouldn’t go through with it – so I protectively stayed silent. But I listened to my heart when my words weren’t even there yet and pushed on. It didn’t feel wrong, but felt good and exciting and right when I pushed “send” on those employment emails.
I’m not promoting living a double life in order to do the things you want to in life in a careless fashion – that’s not the lesson at all. I’m putting out the voice of encouragement to trust in your own dreams and don’t shy away from them because of other people’s criticisms. Listen to yourself. Listen to your heart. And if you think you’ll buckle, then yes do what you need to do for you to dodge those fire hoses (that’s what my high school running coach used to call people that like to squelch dreams). Ultimately, everyone in my life got behind me and is supporting me now. But even if some hadn’t, I was prepared to ask them that if they didn’t agree with me, could they just love and trust me?
I regret that I held back on jumping off my cliff and doing this thing I’ve wanted to do for so many years. I tried to accept the life I was in before and become the person that I needed to be to make that life work, but ultimately I wasn’t very good at it because I was so restless and unhappy and living counter to my dreams…which would always seep in again and permeate my imagination. Now I can stand here and smile a smile from the inside out – a contented smile of happiness with myself that I did this – I took the steps to put me here. I finally listened to myself.
I have a bit of a confession…I’ve been intentionally NOT writing that in the past couple months I decided to take the adventure of my life and go to Afghanistan for a year. I continued to blog about the feelings and issues I was going through, but in much more vague entries – partly because I didn’t know if I’d be able to pull it off and go, and partly because I hadn’t even told the important people in my life of my plans and I didn’t want them finding out from my blog. I started double-blogging by writing my own personal story into a word document which I have saved and have continued to add to all along the way – through the fear of telling my family to the preparations and in-processing and travel overseas. I woke up this morning to my first morning in Afghanistan, so I guess I made it! After this, I will post entries about my journey to this point now, and onward about many stories I have yet to experience. There have been many tears and funny moments and loving conversations and memorable times in the last couple months that have gotten me to this point now, and I would love nothing more than to share those…though there is one port-a-potty incident that my mother warned me to “clean up” before posting.
In essence, I decided to take my own advice over these last few months of blogging, and get out there and do the undoable thing that I never thought I could do. Many people didn’t understand and said, “Yes, but WHY Afghanistan?!” Of all the crazy things to do! I simply asked them to love and support and trust me…and told them to read my blog because I will try to answer that along the way.
Since I left my home over two weeks ago, I have had a soaring sensation in my heart, and I know that I made the right decision for me. Jumping off my own cliff was right for me, and now I’m off in the adventure of my life to discover who knows what!
More to follow once I figure out how to find wifi and hook up to my own computer – there’s a time limit in this internet cafe and I’m nearly out of time.
“It’s the heart afraid of dying, that never learns to dance; It’s the dream afraid of waking, that never takes the chance; It’s the one who won’t be taken, who cannot seem to give; And the soul afraid of dying, that never learns to live.” ~Bette Midler “The Rose”
In high school I tried a front flip on our trampoline we just got for Christmas. Because it was cold, my socks slipped on the slick surface and I dislocated my ankle. That injury not only put me out of the swim team season that year, but it also instilled in me a new fear of throwing my body around in any flippy way. I haven’t tried a front flip of any kind since that day…until today. I don’t know if it was all my research, contemplating and blogging about stepping up and taking chances or if it was just simply time for me to try again. Either way, I felt a surge of courage in me and I couldn’t pass it up. I started by trying to roll into my grandpa’s pool. Once I did that without incident, I got another boost of courage and tried jumping a little higher of the side of the pool in a flip sort of maneuver. Same thing – I felt better and wanted to try it again – but this time off the diving board. And on and on went my flipping journey – each time I tried and realized I wasn’t dead (like my fear tricked me into thinking would happen), I wanted to try it a again but a little bolder. Granted, my flips are no Olympic caliber with a crooked torque to them, but I did it! At 34 I finally did my first front flip off a diving board!
I can’t help but wonder if my experience today isn’t a lot like the rest of life. I didn’t wake up imagining I would do a front flip into the pool, but with little steps, each a little more bold than the one before, I achieved something I didn’t think I could. We’re scared to go for the big thing – the flip off the board – but it can start small, and with each successive step we inevitably get bolder and bolder. And it’s SUCH a great feeling doing something you started out thinking you couldn’t do!
For my gymnast sister, doing a front flip is something very simple, and she would not have the same birth of boldness unless she did something challenging to her. So don’t compare what’s a big deal to you with other people, because it’s equally as significant and emboldening. It’s your front flip, and you can be bold and do it! Don’t listen to that voice that occupies a hunk of your brain and tells you that you’re too old, or too weak, or too ANYTHING. You’re not. I’m not. We’re not.
GO FIND YOUR FRONT FLIP AND DO IT! IT'S WAITING TO HAPPEN; YOU JUST HAVE TO OPEN YOURSELF UP TO YOUR OWN BOLDNESS!
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go out and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~Howard Thurman
Is this a question you’ve asked yourself lately?: “If life is meant to be an adventure, then where did I go wrong? And what the heck is adventurous about sitting here reading a blog?”
I saw a quirky movie on Netflix recently. The movie, “The Answer Man,” was cute, but one line from it really made me think. I transcribed the woman’s comment, and the man’s response…which is the part that struck me.
Elizabeth: “What do you want to hear? You wanna hear that I’m so freaked out that I’m not doing all I can…that I’m so freaked out all the time? That I’m afraid I’m not doing enough and that fear is turning me into something I don’t want to be, and I can’t stop it? You have no idea what it’s like to be pulled all the time by this idea that I am not doing enough, that I am not enough!”
Arlen: “He knows. And He wants you to know that you ARE enough, and so much more! You are here so God can experience the world through your eyes…to see what you see, to feel what you feel. Every day, He can’t wait to see what you’ll do…what makes you laugh, what moves you…He can’t wait! Every day through you, He falls in love with the world all over again. You are His muse!”
What a beautiful notion…and what’s more, it inspired me to get off my bum watching Netflix and go out to participate in the sunny day just outside the window. I wanted to be God’s muse and have Him see what I saw, and I didn’t want it to be a computer screen, so I went down to the beach. I swam for an hour until I was blissfully exhausted in nature’s beautiful playground. As I began to make my way back toward the beach, I watched all the kids running around playing in the sand. I felt like in my swim I had just let myself be one of them – playing, being adventurous, and loving the day and the moment.
I’m normally not the kind to read self-help how-to types of articles, because they all end up as basic lists like “try something new,” and “say hello to the next person you pass by.” But this article, non-adventurously titled “How to Be Adventurous,” was actually quite good. The author, Brad Bollenbach, writes that “if your life is anything less than interesting and inspiring to other people, you’re doing something wrong.”
He asserts that there is no best time but this time to start living the adventurous life, and that the only thing stopping most people from taking action is not less-than-ideal circumstances, but instead our own heads. “While many people will say that some of these things [dreams] are out of their reach, the truth is that you’re only ever either taking action to achieve a specific goal, or making excuses for why you aren’t.”
This doesn’t have to be closing up shop and moving to Hong Kong tomorrow (though that utterly appeals). It can be as simple as going outside, looking up at the clouds and breathing in a breath of gratitude. Participate in Life, don’t isolate and shy away from it. Go out and be a part of today – partake in the adventure that’s already happening. Be the hero or heroine in your own life, and let God (or whatever higher, intelligent being you believe in) see the world’s beauty and adventures through your eyes. Make today count!
“The important achievement of Apollo was demonstrating that humanity is not forever chained to this planet and our visions go rather further than that and our opportunities are unlimited.” ~Neil Armstrong
We are an awesome species – capable of reaching feats of physical achievements while also reaching deep into our emotional and spiritual cores for untouched depth of meaning and feeling more than any other creature could possibly fathom.
We have the capacity to be hurt by another and then to forgive them and move on in peace. Heck, we have the capacity to forgive ourselves for our own reckless mistakes, which in itself is a miracle. That we can have compassion, sympathy, understanding and curiosity are all unique and remarkable talents that should never be undervalued.
How exactly do we differ from our other animal earth-mates? We have the gift of expression of self through voice – a gift too often neglected. (How many relationships fall apart simply from lack of good communication?) We stand upright and have disciplined our bodies to do awe-inspiring physical feats – from climbing vertical rock walls to doing flips in the air on bicycles, or cars, or practically anything. We can dance, swim, jump, climb, flip, slide, soar – no movement has been untapped. We have hands that can hold and make things. We fashion tools and technology to build up our world out of our own imaginations….which leads to our brains. We have the largest brain capacity of any living being, and with that comes thought, emotion, imagination, creativity, innovation, and art. And finally, we have longer childhoods than any other animals…maybe that helps foster our talents to use later on, or maybe we just need a LOT longer to mature than other beings.
Look at the wisdom, philosophy, poetry and art that has come from people. Look at the heights and depths our one species has gone to, both on our planet and beyond. There is no inward and outward limit to what we are capable of reaching….except maybe black holes…I’d stay away from them.
It’s an element of gratitude I feel when I wake up and look at what I am a part of. Ultimately, it is a world of goodness and love, of reaching higher and further, of fighting through the valleys for the mountain tops, and of good overcoming evil. Yes there is pain and suffering all around us, and yes there are people who hurt others just for the sake of hurting them. But thank God they are the deviants of our kind. In spite of hunger and pain and loss, we still default toward the good and joyful state of living.
In spite of life’s lemons, I’m struck by the spark inside of me that won’t give up on the notion of goodness and love and risk and courage, and all that is good about us. We get knocked down so much, yet there is that unkillable drive to stand back up and keep going, fully expecting another fall further ahead. No matter how much hurt or pain you endure, you’re going to be ok, and that spark to get up and try again will always be there…it’s in our humanity.
We have the ability to do anything, to help anyone, to make changes big or small…that is ours. We intrinsically want to live better tomorrow than we did today, and strive for evolving toward that better state.
“It’s amazing what ordinary people can do if they set out without preconceived notions.” ~Charles F. Kettering
“The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: decide what you want.” ~Ben Stein
There are no magical fixes; it’s up to you. You have to pass through the “easier said than done” thought, get over your own self-imposed limitations, and decide what it is you want. It’s so easy to do something you’re good at but don’t love. I have a friend who’s worked for the same company for 13 years because she’s good at what she does and she gets paid well for her good work. But from the beginning she promised herself that she would only do this job until she found something more “her,” and now she’s reeling from the fact that that was 13 years ago. She’s one of the smartest women I know, and she could do anything she set her mind to, I know it…but does she? I’m creeping up on 10 years in my line of work and I still wonder if this is what I want…or is there something more, something greater? Not necessarily greater in scope, but just greater for me. This isn’t a challenge for you to change life courses to go be an astronaut because it’s the loftiest career out there…it’s finding the loftiest place for YOU and ME in this world.
The decision itself may be difficult, but certainly not worth stressing and losing sleep over (pointing my finger at myself on that one) – this is a good and powerful move toward opening yourself up to new opportunities because you’re stopping long enough to listen to your heart and follow what it already knows it wants. You already know what you want…it’s just the world or your family or your paycheck or other outside factors have made the picture a little hazy. It’s like suddenly seeing 50 red Toyota Echoes (do they even come in red?) the day you buy one…when you finally make a decision on what it is you want, you’ll start seeing opportunities to help you get there that have been there all along.
“The vision that you glorify in your mind, the ideal that you enthrone in your heart, this you will build your life by, and this you will become.” ~James Allen, As a Man Thinketh
Survival tools for life: Optimism, appreciation, faith, hope, belief, love. We can cherish them and use them, or keep them tucked in our tool belts and be tools ourselves. Bad joke, sorry.
But seriously, you know what’s not in the survival tool belt? Negative self-talk, doubt, and pessimism…trust me, I’ve checked. So stop telling yourself that you’re incapable or ugly or that you would be prettier if you lost another 5 or 10 pounds. Stop feeding yourself this endless negative monologue of “if onlys.” Stop telling yourself that you’re worth less than you actually are, and above all, stop believing it! You are your biggest cheerleader, and you’re cheering for some other team…namely the waify airbrushed models and celebrities in Us Weekly that you just saw in the grocery store aisle. How much power those unknowing models have over millions of women in grocery store aisles each week! Well, I’m sure they have some idea of their power, or they wouldn’t be starving themselves for a living.
You bring wonderful and amazing gifts to the table each and every day. My friend who called me this morning was weary but trying to keep a smile on her face for her kids so they don’t see the worry over money problems that is beneath the surface. She is a great mom and wife, and doing the absolute best with what she has. How disturbing it is to think about hard working moms and women like her who doubt themselves for one second because they feel they somehow don’t measure up to what the media and society says they should be?
That negative self-talk can be more caustic to a woman’s health and well-being than disease or drugs or anything destructive in nature…ok at least on par. That internal stress actually impairs a person’s health…but this is constant internal stress, so the damage is ongoing and never-ending. It kills me to see bright, beautiful women think less of themselves because someone else tells them to think it.
Stop shrinking inside of yourself and letting your light get dimmer with time. Put down the magazine, take a good, hard look in the mirror at the miracle that you are, and go out and live brightly, fully and unabashed in your own skin. You are great, but no one will see that until you yell out to the world, “I’m gonna show you how great I am!” (Muhammad Ali said that in a press conference before a fight when he was coming in as the underdog in 1974…he won.) It’s his voice you hear in the video below. I realize it also has the Rocky quote again, but you can’t hear that enough!
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ~Marianne Williamson, Return to Love