In the Queue with Qualls

I had a post written about Isaac and how he is in boot camp and how it’s the first time we have been apart as a family. It’s a bit of a tear-jerker. Quite frankly, I’m tired of crying. I’ve cried because I miss that kid like crazy. I have cried because I am overwhelmed at work. (They call the trunk of a car a boot. Extrapolate that out and you get how education might be extremely different as well.) I’ve cried for my girls when they have felt overwhelmed. I’ve cried because of hormones. I’ve cried. 

So, let’s move on. 

Today, I had a training day in a different part of London. It was called “acclimatization” training. There’s a great deal of irony here. It was just under 60 degrees Fahrenheit (I won’t do Celcius yet) when I left the house and clear, but it’s London. Someone sneezes and it starts raining. “Never leave home with it,” means rain coat and umbrella. But now, I’m literally underground, in my trench coat, in a heard of people. They are British so it is rather civilized. No eye contact. Never talk to anyone near you. And pretend this is what you do everyday of the week. 

I proceeded to transfer to a different subway line, and then walked at least half a mile through a small homeless camp to arrive at the building where my training was to be held. I was soaking wet and it hadn’t started raining yet. Thank God I’m still on my American strength deodorant. I found the bathroom (or toilet as they call it-they can be literal, just mostly choose not to be) just to take a moment to collect myself and attempt to look like a professional teacher, not a professional athlete. Toilet tissue came out as an attempt to absorb the aftermath of my trip. 

Ok. Breathing back to normal. Sweat was no longer pouring down my back. Progress. Until I began to wash my hands and I glimpsed in the mirror. There were a dozen small flecks of white all over my face and neck. Like I was a recently pubescent boy learning how to shave and my first attempt was my whole face. 

Remember when I said the day was about acclimatization training? I seriously thought of turning around and repeating the journey home. How much more acclimatization training can one person endure in a day? The queue alone was so incredibly British! But I stayed. The rest of the day was spent listening to a British lady who spoke rather fast and I spent half the time trying to decide if she was saying “half” or “have.” (More irony.) Remember I am a math teacher so the distinction is rather important. I’m not going to lie; I was thrilled when I thought the day was over. I finished my survey and enthusiastically headed for the door, only to find my acclimatization training was yet to be over. A short bus ride to the tube station and a quick switch to the second train when two stops in, the conductor comes on the intercom to say the train will no longer go to my stop, but will “terminate” early. We all pile off the subway, stand on the platform, again with a great deal of British decorum. I desperately wanted to ask someone if they thought the next train would actually come. They all stood so poised and assuming. They make sweatshirts that say “Keep calm and carry on” for an actually reason. It’s how they are. But in my American head, I was already planning two alternate roots. I could ditch the subway and find a series of buses that would get me home, or say, “screw it” and hail a cab. But today was after all, acclimatization training, so I held fast to the British decorum and continued to “carry on.” 

The next subway train came. Maybe it was the British who can claim the whole, “If you build they will come” ideology. We all got on, as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred and of course, I had to process this. I’m standing again on a train I hope will get me to the literal end of the line and I realize today was really about one word–capacity. We spend a great deal of time determining if we are “glass half-full” or “glass half-empty” and I think we are obsessing about the wrong thing. We are asking the wrong question. Who cares how much is in your glass? (I’m tempted to insert a gin comment here.) The question you should be asking is this, “Am I allowing my ‘glass’ to grow?” 

We all think we have our capacities. We believe there are limits to patience, grace, strength, insert your word here. And consequently, we spend a great deal of energy managing the ends of those limits. “I’m running out of patience.” I felt that today. Standing on and off subway trains for almost two hours, but then I saw a little boy take the gum out of his mouth and proceed to wrap it around his thumb after he has subsequently touched every public surface within a foot radius. 

That made me chuckle. So much so that I actually made eye contact with the girl standing next to me who had obviously seen the same thing. Maybe I’m not almost out of patience. So then I had to think what if our limit is really only a construct, a feeling? What if, in reality, there’s an endless supply? Today’s training could have been a test. How acclimatized am I? If it’s a test, there is a limit. The glass will reach a certain measure. That’s it. Pass. Fail. The end. 

But maybe it’s not a test. What if it’s just an opportunity? A chance to change the capacity, to grow the glass a little, to stretch the boundaries.

I used to think patience was a string. It could be consumed. At some point I would run out. But now I’m not so sure. I think it might be a rubber band with a tremendous capacity to grow. Or maybe a piece of gum wrapped around and around and around your thumb. Maybe it has the capacity to keep going. Maybe we have that same capacity.

We all need a bit of acclimatization training now and then. It stretches us. Pun intended. 

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The View

an evening view

I have been thinking about my last post and I feel I need to paint a more accurate portrait of our current status. The last post shows the view from our rooftop terrace. That really is the view but there are two things that I feel may have been overlooked by the singular perspective. 

First addendum. My mattress currently resides on the floor. Sure, we have a great view, but I can literally roll out of bed onto the floor. Last night, my dog curled up next to me. That was a sobering moment. If my mattress is on the floor, do I really sleep on a giant dog bed? But 3 hours in the local IKEA store on the morning we got the okay to move into the house could only yield so much fruit. We had four carts (aka trolley) full of necessary items to sustain life in a house. I’m talking ice cream scooper, pots and pans, and other necessary housewares. We were fortunate enough to grab a few things for every room, including mattresses and sheets. Bailey was the only one ready to pull the trigger on a bed.

I was walking home from the bus stop the other day and thinking about what we left behind. We have rugs, and beds, and headboards, and a drawer full of kitchen utensils. I remember putting a large plastic box of Band-Aids into an even larger cardboard box to store in the garage in Nevada. I think it safe to say that counts as surplus. Thankfully, Bailey was insightful enough to bring some Band-Aids with us. I chose another pair of shoes above a box of Band-Aids which is ironic because that leads me into the second issue that needs rectifying.

I brought with me several pairs of heals. It’s what I wore to work in the States. But I drove to work everyday. Here, I ride the bus. Which also means I have to walk. No one would want to walk a mile in my shoes. I don’t want to walk in my shoes. My feet are killing me. I have had a neon blue Band-Aid on the back of my heel for a week now. Not covering a blister but an actual area where I rubbed the skin off. We traded the rural country drives, for the slick streets of London and the sometimes running to catch the next bus. The amazing rooftop view comes at a price.

The four of us hung out up there yesterday afternoon. It was a sunny day in London and perhaps the last one for a while. We can see a long ways into the distance. Alternately, if we look down, we can peer into the lives of our neighbors. It reminds me of the Hitchcock movie, “Rear Window.” For those of you who haven’t seen it, the moral of the story is don’t be a voyeur. We could easily be drawn from the expansive view by the daily, often mundane routines happening around us. But thanks to Mr. Hitchcock, we know that generally doesn’t end well. 

Here’s what I see when I look down, metaphorically. I’m super stressed at work. There are a couple of classes where I have spent far more time teaching behavior and impulse control than math. It’s so frustrating! And in my forty plus minute commute to and from work, I have time to reflect. There are days when I struggle to see anything more than the mundane task of behavior management. It becomes a cycle where I feel ineffectual as a math teacher and then I’m falling down the rabbit hole where my current life choices come under intense scrutiny. I could be in Nevada with a bed off the floor, more kitchen utensils, and a house full of stuff, not to mention several pairs of boots I left behind. 

I know I’m not alone in this. Literally, I have three other people here struggling on different days with similar issues. We have replaced the familiar with everything that is not familiar. And in the moments of high stress, it’s so important for me to take high ground. To stand on the terrace and look out as far as possible. In the future my foot will heal. In the future, the consistent and patient care of my students will reap reward. In the future, the unfamiliar will grow to be familiar. In the future, I will have a bed off the floor. While I can’t live in the future, I can allow a bigger perspective to breathe hope into the chaos of the present. And I’ve found an amazing thing happens. It isn’t limbo to live between the chaos of the present and the hope for a different future. I think this middle ground is a garden that grows gratitude. I’m far more grateful for the smile or greeting from a student. For the moments of laughter with colleagues. For a seat on the bus on the way home. 

I find myself saying this a lot. Through different stories or blog posts, I apologize for repeating myself. But I need to be reminded so often. Reminded how my perspective, what I choose to look at, makes all the difference.  

P.S. Since I started writing this post, we have obtained beds. Just didn’t want anyone to worry unnecessarily. 

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Sometimes it’s about the destination

our view
The view from our rooftop terrace

If you are flying off to some tropical location, do you reflect on the flight to get there? Is there some life lesson in the movie choices you made to endure the crying child three rows ahead of you and the rude man behind you kicking your seat? 

If you get a flat tire on your way to work, do you stop to analyze the metaphorical lessons while some stranger (saint) stops to help you change your tire?

We have made a point to wax eloquently about the journey. It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who graced us with the oft-used quote. “Life is a journey, not a destination.” We have proceeded (myself included) to alter this quote to something like, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” 

And by alter, I mean butcher. Sometimes, it’s about the destination. Sometimes, it’s about gritting your teeth, taking multiple deep breaths, and pushing your limits to get to the other side.

We moved out of our house on July 31st, so we could rent it. It seemed like a good idea at the time. We could travel through California, saying good-bye, staying with friends and family, then arrive in the UK, find a house and settle in. 

We just moved in today. For those of you unaware of the date, or reading far beyond the publish date, that’s five and a half weeks. Over two weeks was spent in hotel rooms. With 12 suitcases. And not suites. Just a room. With four people. And two dogs. One bathroom. I don’t even think Picasso could encapsulate the sheer stress of such an arrangement. 

Five and a half weeks was a journey. I’m sure at some point, we will reflect on the journey. Possibly there will be laughter. Possibly. But at the moment, there are genuine sighs of relief. There are four people spreading out and maximizing personal space. We are a family again, cooking in our own kitchen, making our own plans. Closing doors to keep out the world.

And know, that the last five and a half weeks, there has been teeth gritting, deep breath taking, and pushing on despite how we feel. And for those of you who are smug, wondering if I get the lessons we have learned, the answer is yes. But I won’t even start a conversation about this until I have showered in my own shower for five and a half weeks. That seems fair doesn’t it?

Oh, and our son left today for boot camp. In three months I will be a Marine Mom. And for the record, I will be telling him (only in letters as I can’t talk to him for three months) to grit his teeth, take deep breaths, and keep pushing because he too will get to the destination. Because, sometimes, in the moment, it’s really just about the destination.

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But tomorrow, there’s coffee

coffee please!

It’s late here. Almost 11 pm. Or as they would say here, 23:00. (We call it military time. They just call it time. I’m sure there’s a witty quip in there somewhere but did I mention it’s late?!) The offer for the house was declined. They won’t accept pets. We went through a great deal of trouble, and expense, to get 2 dogs here. It would be a shame to give them away now! Haha! Buddy (one of the dogs) keeps looking at me like he somehow knows I have even suggested such a horrendous idea!

I’m not going anywhere.

So the hunt continued today. Six houses, none of course next to each other. We drove and drove and drove. Had words with the navigation app. As the bird flies it is only say 12 miles, but nothing in London is direct so we actually drive 20 to get there. We are all exhausted. However, the evening ended with the four of us (we miss you Isaac!) sitting around a table, eating moderately tasteful food (which is rather high praise at this point), and discussing the pros and cons. The conversation led to choosing another house. Once again, we cross our fingers, say a prayer, and take a deep breath.

Oh, and today, David and I braved a Laundromat. I’m sure they won’t quickly forget us as we were the ones who accidentally put a Euro in the machine instead of a Pound. They had to call in the repair guy. He was quite jovial about it and in our defense the two coins (bills don’t start here until 5 Pounds) look remarkably similar and feel quite the same. We apologized profusely. I’m sure they think we are nuts. Now the consensus is the same in at least two countries! 

We are told so often to live in the now, enjoy the journey…I’m trying but I’m not going to lie. I’m so looking forward to familiar coffee in the morning. We stopped at a store to purchase a sort of French press, Starbucks ground coffee, cream, and mugs. There’s a hot water pot in the hotel room because the British are bonkers for tea.

It was a long day. We still don’t have a home. Our lives reduced to suitcases stacked in a hotel room…but tomorrow, there’s coffee! 

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No More Purple Mountains

Smith, Nevada

Purple mountains

When we first moved to Nevada almost 7 years ago, I was struck by the stark beauty. “Purple mountains majesty” are really a thing. I remember standing in the cold, 14 degrees to be exact, watching our little kiddos at the time, sled down a sand hill covered in snow. Surrounded by high desert, lungs and toes objecting to the cold, I couldn’t help but think of the Israelites as they left Egypt.

(Some of you may not know this but I’m a bit of a Bible geek. Hang in there. I promise there’s a point.)

The Israelites leave Egypt. This nation within a nation, leave the only home they have known for generations. They end up in the desert, surrounded now by the majesty of creation. No doubt a huge contrast to the opulence and grandeur that they had grown accustomed to in Egypt. Confronted now with the unmistakable magnificence of the ordinary, they began a journey. Their journey was to last 40 years and I have always found that exhaustive and oddly specific. While I cannot speak still to the length, perhaps I am beginning to understand the reason. Maybe it wasn’t enough for them just to see something different. Maybe they needed to be pulled far outside their comfort zone. A reboot sort of.

We left our home in Nevada on July 31. The hospitality and graciousness of friends and family has been overwhelming and so greatly appreciated. But we have been nomads. We’ve sold cars and belongings, whittling our existence down to 12 suitcases, a rental car, two dogs, and a hope of someday having some space to call our own again. Three weeks of being stretched outside our comfort zone. And as I think of the Israelites wandering for 40 years, it makes a bit more sense. If we had jumped straight from Nevada house to London house, there would inevitably be a fair bit of comparing. Well in Nevada we had…It would be human nature to want to go back to the Nevada house. The familiar. Our home. But now, perhaps we are all so tired of traveling, the greater response may simply be gratitude. Hearts that are thankful to have space again, a place to call home, a chance to settle. A reboot sort of.

The house hunt begins tomorrow. An archaic boots on the ground approach. You know how you walk through towns you may be stopping over in and there always seems to be the reality agent on main street with houses taped to the window? I’m hoping there’s a UK equivalent. And yes, we know about the internet. But it’s a house we are picking. A neighborhood, a community. Boots on the ground seems appropriate. (And at this point, a chance to get out of the tiny hotel room.)

At this point, I’m praying our nomadic journey is nearly done. In search of 3 bedroom home, 2 baths (we have teenage daughters), pet friendly, and some furniture would be amazing!

The hunt begins tomorrow.

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A Lesson from Knots

After two weeks of living out of suitcases, lugging around multiple other suitcases, teaching our dogs to travel, and living under the nervous cloud of expectation about whether our travel plans would work out, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. But it wasn’t just me. We are all feeling it. None of us have our own space. We are grateful to friends and family who have housed us and offered unparalleled hospitality but we are tired. Patience waning, butts sore from hours spent in the car, and we really only have dirty clothes to measure our progress to date.

So, I started laundry. As I pulled the first load out of the washing machine, I found a pair of panties that were tied in a knot. True story. Not an analogous knot, an actual knot. I won’t wander down the rabbit trail of how and why. Instead, I’m going to jump straight to the obvious metaphor.

This random and remarkable discovery gave me pause. Literally, I had to pause the transfer of laundry into the dryer to untie the knot. In that brief act, I learned a valuable lesson. One that has taken me a few days to practice and truth-be-told, I’m still trying to master it.

Here it is…I’ll walk you through it.

When your panties end up in a knot,

try these three easy steps…

  1.   Take a deep breath. A seemingly obvious choice and hopefully most often subconscious but when the unexpected strikes, the conscious choice to breathe deeply provides a moment of space. A chance to set aside the why or how and refocus attention to the immediate issue at hand. 
  2. Patiently untie the knot. It has to be done. You are the one holding the knot, so carefully get the panties out of the twist. Set them free.
  3. Finally, move on. It happened. Yes, it was unforeseenand apparently unavoidable because panty knots can be an actual thing. Oh, and I have found it very helpful to take a moment to practice gratitude. Thank God the knot didn’t happen while wearing them.

As I mentioned, I’m still practicing the steps on more metaphorical panty knots. We still don’t have our visas. The deadline is noon today. It’s our deadline and a rather long story, a boring one. A story about expectations and “best-laid plans” and such. Long story short, I may spend today cancelling travel plans and transferring us further into limbo. But now I have three easy steps to help. And I commit to practicing today.

Any steps I missed? Feel free to share!

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The Best-Laid-Plans

Photo Credit: "Keep calm and carry on", © 2009 Derek Keats, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

The best-laid-plans…Ironically, this is a phrase coined by a Scottish poet in the 18th century. (Once again, truth refuses to age.) Robert Burns tells of a farmer who unearths a mouse’s nest while plowing a field. I think perhaps a more modern approach might be the phrase, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Both of these well used phrases could easily describe the day I’ve had. It’s a rather tedious story about the logistics of moving across the pond and the oodles of migration paperwork. (This could be an easy mark to go adrift into the political weeds of immigration in general but then we would miss the point.)

For the last few months, we have planned. It’s sort of like a target. The further away one is from the intended action, the more vague the planning. The basics are talked through. Should we sell our home or rent it? Can I find a job? What happens if I can’t? The general aspects are ironed out and we move to the next concentric circle. One step closer to the thing.

We are rather close to the center now. We leave our home in 9 days. I spent the morning filling out visa applications and realizing that our well-planned itinerary may come crashing down around us. What happens if the visas don’t get approved before we are scheduled to fly out and we have to change our tickets? What happens if I miss my training? How much is it going to cost to change the tickets for the dogs? (Yes, as if taking 4 people isn’t challenge enough.)

The spinning begins. The stress meter tops out and darkness and despair descend like a chaotic fog. Quickly the questions change from how to why. Why are we doing this again? A question I have been asked frequently and for good reason. A question I have had to revisit myself today as I watch the best-laid-plans get doused with gasoline.

Several years ago our daughters expressed an interest in studying abroad. David and I encouraged the idea then realized we would be sacrificing a whole year we could be spending with them. He came up with the brilliant idea that I teach math (maths if you are in the UK) somewhere abroad and we take them on this adventure. Bailey and Ryan were fairly persistent, encouraging this idea of moving to another country. The discussion of a few years ago brought us to this point of visas, and packing, and leaving in 9 days.

Each one of us has had breakdown moments in the past few months. Sudden realizations that our lives are about to drastically change. (Oh and did I mention Isaac is going to be a Marine? Can we add that to the mix?) I find myself having to lean into the advice I have given others. Remember. As the stress of the unknown looms overwhelmingly, breathe and remember. This is what I tell myself…”Remember the specific times you have overcome difficulty. Remember the hurdles you have already cleared getting to this point. Remember why you started this thing in the first place.” The landscape of the adventure may have changed drastically, but the heart you had when you took your first step has not.

We leave in 9 days. And truthfully, I’m not sure how it’s all going to work out. But I remember why. So, best-laid-plans be damned. We jump ship in 9 days (metaphorically, of course) and these best-laid-plans will turn into stories and moments to remember as we stand on the precipice of the next adventure. (Insert deep breath here.) Or as the Brits would say, “Keep calm and carry on.”

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Accidental Social Experiment #1

Perhaps some of the best experiments happen by accident. Case in point, Post-It Notes. “Accidentally” is used twice to describe this incredible can’t live without office tool.

An accidental discovery occurred at our house this past weekend. Yard sales are stressful to begin with. Add a thunderstorm the night before just as you’ve finished carefully laid rows of random items once thought to be of paramount importance. Thankfully the rain was intermittent, although I think secretly David (husband) and I were hoping for a well-placed lightening strike to save us from the actual chore of conducting the sale. Alas, all treasures survived and for the first three hours of said sale, we averaged one car every hour. Morale was sinking as the temperature was marching toward one hundred.

Around 3 pm, a critical decision was made. We were no longer interested in an exchange of worldly goods for money. It was time to give it all away. Here is where it gets interesting. Because people were not going to be required to pay for anything, they spent far more time browsing and picking things up. Great! That was the idea. But not one of them left without giving a donation. That was the surprise! It seemed that our unselfishness inspired them. They began shopping for others, saying things like, “so-and-so would like this. I’ll just pick this up for them…” Oh, and they would leave a donation for it of course.

Get this. We averaged just as much money per person when we started giving things away as we did when we were charging pennies on the dollar. It appears people are far more willing to be compulsory givers than bargain shoppers. We accidentally conducted an experiment of human generosity.

I wonder if it also had something to do with our mindset. No longer trying to squeeze pennies out of treasures, we were happy to see people take interest in things that once interested us. The fiscal outcome was virtually the same but what started out as a mundane attempt to detach ourselves from possessions, turned into a rather entertaining and competitive game of who could out give the other. Perhaps they gave us money out of guilt or not wanting to look cheap. Sorry, no Survey Monkey to tell us about their shopping experience. But in reality, their motives don’t change the outcome. So maybe there motives are irrelevant? Perhaps trying to understand the motives of those around us, isn’t nearly as important as trying to understand our own motives?

Our motives were strictly desperation and frustration because we are moving to London next month and as they say, “You can’t take it with you.” (Well, in this case you can but it costs a fortune.)

More on our upcoming adventure to follow as I’m fairly confident there will be more accidental social experiments as we dive into a different culture. So stay tuned!

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Resistance, meet my friend Possibility

Redding Air Show


Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? Have you ever bailed out on a call to embark on a spiritual practice, to dedicate yourself to a humanitarian calling, commit your life to the service of others?…Late at night have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.”  -The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Two weekends ago, we accepted a gracious invitation to attend the Redding Air Show. A chance to have a weekend away with my husband and children. No sports. No sleepovers. And our first air show.

As my heart rattled in my chest and my ear drums nearly split open, I couldn’t help but think about the remarkable advancements and the even more remarkable people responsible for those advancements. Generations have been fighting Resistance, pushing the envelope, flying faster and farther.

Personally, I’m no stranger to Resistance-the gale force wind encountered when turning in a new direction. But, an afternoon spent craning my neck to the heavens reacquainted me with an old friend. Possibility announced it’s presence with the blast of a jet engine thundering across the tarmac.

Resistance, meet my friend Possibility.

The demonstration of sheer power through jet propulsion has been reverberating in my heart. The strongest weapon I have found against Resistance is the gravity defying hope of Possibility. Since covering my ears to the chest pounding cacophony of jet engines, I have dusted off my treadmill, laced up my running shoes and pressed the start button. I have sat down to write and overcome the nagging silence as I stare at a blank computer screen. And I have opened my eyes to the truth that I am not the only one fighting Resistance. A good friend of mine has launched a crowd-funding campaign to crush Resistance and pursue Possibility.

Resistance stands in the middle of the room and tells us all the ways we might fail, or all the times we have failed. But there’s another voice. A low rumbling, like a distant jet engine, that stands in the corner, holds out a jetpack and says, “Wanna try again?”

Resistance, meet my friend Possibility.

 “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up.

The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

-Thomas Edison

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A Colorful Epiphany


Hot air balloon races

Hot Air Balloon Races, Reno, NV

Garnered with large doses of coffee and hot chocolate, and an unnatural enthusiasm for being awake at such an hour, we left our sleepy little town at 3:30 a.m. for what I was told, is the largest hot air balloon launch in the country.

We joined the masses at pre-dawn on a large grassy field dotted with tarps and giant picnic baskets. Several high-powered gas burners ignited a few feet behind us, and although the heat was welcome in the cool air of a high desert morning, the sound momentarily stopped our hearts. Extreme heat and noise brought life to a field of colors and the magnitude of it all caused me to stand in awe.

Hot Air Balloon Races

Early morning ascension.

The heat and noise needed to launch these massive balloons and provide amazing views, looked and sounded a great deal like conflict. I realized, the greatest vantage points in my own life have come on the heels of the greatest heat and the loudest chaos.

Conflict is hot and loud, but like the balloons, it is full of potential. It provides the prospect of reaching heights we never thought possible. We learn more about ourselves and more about the amazing people we get to share life with. Without the fire, the balloons would lie lifeless on the damp grass never realizing their full potential. Without conflict, I propose our relationships too, would lie lifeless, never allowing the realizations of who we truly are, or the beauty of the deepest, most tender places in the hearts of those around us, to come to light.

I don’t suggest the creation of conflict. It is organic. It will inevitably show up and it will leave, but maybe it’s possible to recognize it for the auspicious potential it contains and not just the momentary pain it causes.


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