Flexin While His Hands Up

christopher-campbell-33411Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

My youngest brother was in a bodybuilding competition last night, his first ever. Well, technically he was in the physique category, which is for less muscled people, but you get the idea. He signed up months ago, then yesterday morning my mum sent pictures to me and my siblings of him on stage for the pre-judging. None of us knew it was happening so we responded with surprise, but we were all excited for him.

I went to the main show with my mum that evening. The place was “cram jam”, as we say here, with cars spilling out of two parking lots onto the grassy strips beside the main road. We had no idea the event was so popular. Unfortunately we missed seeing Jeremy on stage, but we did get to see his friend who signed up with him. Today I got to hear about the behind-the-scenes, and he demonstrated some of the poses he had to hold for the judges. My littlest brother! Flexing his back and spreading out his chest to show his lats!

Bodybuilding has never been something he’s talked about doing; some guys at the gym that he frequents encouraged him and his friend to enter the competition. He is buff though – took home 3rd place! – and open to trying new things. I’ve been thinking about that – picking up new things – a bit lately, because of learning photography. I’ve always been kind of interested, but it’s never been too high on my To Do list. This foray is a by-product of a new project I’m taking on (that I’ll talk about soon!), a thing I need to learn and want to be good at in order to complement the venture.

I feel a little like those people who pick up a hobby later in life, except it’s not “later in life”. When I first started thinking about it, it felt a little weird, like I was jumping the gun on things, but now I realise, there is no gun! Just like my still-in-his-teens brother who is exploring the world of bodybuilding and physique competitions. I doubt it’s going to become a major part of his life, but it’s a very-new thing he put effort into all the same. Before photography, when was the last time I picked up something new to try and keep my mind sharp? I collect skills based on work that I want to do, and now I see that I can – ought to – open the net wider than that and be ready to jump into more of the things I’m curious about. I don’t need to wait until I’m retired or an empty-nester – life’s too uncertain – or have more time – I won’t. Of course there’s the responsibilities that crowd out every day, but a little intentionality goes a long way.

So thanks to my brother! For showing me what this kind of thing can look like, and generally being a wonderful human. If you met him I know you’d love him (basically because everyone does).

Have you picked up any new hobbies lately? Do they say “cram jam” where you’re from?

It Feels Good to Feel Good!

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I’ve been feeling gradually more light and happy the last few weeks. Nothing has changed in my routine, I haven’t gotten any news in my work or personal life, but there’s joy humming in the background of every day. It feels like I’m getting my old self back, from this new personality where things were all so heavy. In the last couple of years I’ve been dealing with job stresses, multiple moves and relationship transitions. Together they were bogging me down and I had to fight to feel happy, to have peace. There has been a lot of learning – about outside barometers of success I didn’t realise I so thoroughly imbibed, about trusting God, about perseverance – and I knew that I was changing, I hoped for the better. In the process though the sillier parts of me slipped further away, which I don’t fault myself for, but I did remember the way I used to be and wonder if I would ever be able to access those parts of me as easily.

So what’s brought me here? And where is here? I’m wondering now as I write this. I realise this post is really introspective, but it seems like it’s only going to get more so.
What’s brought me here:
1. Time – to learn how to handle life’s difficulties, to wash over wounds.
2. Watching my mother and my uncle – I inherited my silliness from them, and they retain that part of themselves even though they’re middle aged.
3. Spiritual maturity – resting more fully in Jesus, exulting in all of his blessings and goodness toward me.

Where is here:
1. Spontaneous outbursts of joy, manifesting itself physically and verbally.
2. Laughing and smiling all the way to my toes; generally being in a good mood.
3. Not being afraid that my expressions of happiness diminish or disrespect the difficulties I am otherwise experiencing.

On Friday afternoon I visited my friend’s mum in the hospital. She’s very ill, yet in our conversation did not complain about her condition or worry about the future. She was easygoing and we talked about all kinds of things; in fact, she’s like this whenever I see her. I marvel each time at her equanimity and feel comforted and encouraged after our conversations (although I always want to be the one encouraging and giving some comfort to her). Seeing her manage her illness is influencing the way I want to handle my own struggles.

After my visit I spent the night laughing, often to tears, at the storytelling of Evelyn from the Internets. I felt so refreshed afterward, and grateful for her and the work that she’s doing. As with my mum and uncle, she reminded me that I don’t have to take myself so seriously all the time.

I am so thankful to be in this place! I want to continue down this vibrant road, becoming even stronger, and not slip back onto the now-familiar, comfortable, pale-coloured one. This is it, my life, and there’s no reason not to twirl and whoop as often as I’d like, as often as I can. I hope you’ll do the same. 🙂

When Fossils Lead to Deeper Friendship

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Pine Forest in South Abaco Blue Holes National Park

I’ve learned this year how cool it is to see my friends at work, to get a peek into the ways they spend their weekdays. It was a little strange recognising the thrill this gives me – like, is this weird? What is so exciting about this? But I realise now as I’m collecting my thoughts that these are new experiences for me. I’ve never been old enough before to see my friends do the work they talked about doing and spent years studying. Now I’ve crossed that threshold.

The first time I had this feeling was several months ago, in the dental hygienist’s chair. My friend Toni loves teeth and posts about them all the time on instagram, but this was my first chance to see her in action. She was wonderful! Told me all about my teeth and oral health in general. I left with a sparkly mouth, a heads up about what will likely need to happen with my teeth in the future and new information to incorporate into my cleaning routine.

The second admiration-inducing moment was a few weeks ago when I met up with Elora, a photographer. I’ve worked with her before on a few fun projects, and we talk often about the hours she spends editing pictures and developing her business, but this was the first time I was behind the camera with her. She explained the basics of exposure and helped me navigate the dials and menu options on the DSLR I’m borrowing from my uncle. I had an idea about the technicality involved in her craft, but having her as a teacher for a couple hours provided a deeper level of insight and, correspondingly, respect.

Then this week I’ve been in Abaco, an island in the northern Bahamas, visiting my friend Kelly. She’s an anthropologist for the Antiquities, Monuments & Museums Corporation of The Bahamas, and the office here focuses on natural history. She’s driven me around the island, telling me all about the environment, ecology and history; I alternate between awe at all that I’m learning about my country and Kelly’s fluency in this information.

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Dan’s Cave, South Abaco Blue Holes National Park

Today we went to her office and she showed me prehistoric fossils found in blue holes on the island, preserved almost perfectly because of the anaerobic environment at the bottom of the holes. We don’t have crocodiles or hutia in The Bahamas anymore, but Kelly has sifted their bones from sediment, cleaned and labelled them and taught schoolchildren about their historic presence here, along with other animals that are still around, like bats and wild boar.

Watching my friends at work, or listening to them talk in detail about their work, gives me a glimpse at another side of them. I learn more about the things they’re passionate about and the ways their minds differ from mine: Wow, this person must really enjoy biology/I don’t know if I could ever memorise all these things! I appreciate them in a whole new way for their contributions to our society, and the high standards they hold for their work. As life lasts, I look forward to seeing more friends in action, and the sweeter level of relationship this brings.

Busy Sundays Make for Hopeful Mondays

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It’s dinner time! And I’m just getting started on this post. Typically I like to write in the morning, before the day’s thoughts can crowd out the thinking space in my brain, before I am tired out from chores and To Do’s. Today, I had to work on an urgent editing project that came across my desk, and for which I am so thankful.

Now that it’s done and I have the evening to myself, I can pause and reflect on the hopefulness I feel about the task I have kind of unintentionally set for myself: self-employment. This project is a boon to my confidence, not only because I have spent so long trying to find work, but also because I live in a country where creative work is to varying degrees not considered ‘work’, thereby not worthy of payment.

I am not now assuming that henceforth everything will be peachy, but it felt so good to have a job doing something I enjoy and actually being paid for it. I can more easily envision a future where I am secure and independent, sustained by projects that are fulfilling and stimulating. One thing I’ve learned in the past two years is how much patience and perseverance I need to walk this road. I alternate between patronising smiles and head shakes at the memories of my younger, naïver, self. But hopefulness is important too! To fuel that patience and perseverance. So I am thankful for this peaceful, hopeful moment.

May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands.

~Psalm 90:17

When Your Vote Precipitates a Near-Quarter Life Crisis

Path of Life

My right thumbnail is stained a reddish brown. The colour is in patchy striations, in harmony with the grain of my nail,  darker in some areas than others. It reminds me of modern art, and if I could somehow lift the pattern onto a canvas it would be interesting, if not beautiful, and belong in one of those hard-to-understand museums.

There is colour underneath my nail too, like a line of dirt. It’s stubborn; it bothers me. I rake my left thumbnail over this line time and again in an attempt to get it off, but it doesn’t lift. It will stay there until it is good and ready to leave.

The entire stain will be there until it is good and ready to leave. Or rather, until my nail grows out and away. On the top I can see the line where it used to meet my skin, a neat, faint U, and beyond that the ordinary purple-pink of my nail bed. The rebirth has already started.

How did I get this stain in the first place? I voted. In The Bahamas we dip our right thumbs into bottles of deep purple ink to indicate that we have cast our ballot. A purple thumb is a mark of pride and participation. People take pictures of them at all angles; they flood our social media feeds after elections. And this purple is tenacious. Some take to bleach to remove it. I am one of the ones who is waiting for it to fade away, though I didn’t think it would take this long. It’s been 11 days since the election.

As long as this colour is on my nail I can’t easily forget that day. This makes me think of the way other things in our lives remain long after we have encountered them. Exchanges and conflicts in relationships, and the sometimes-big sometimes-small choices we make throughout our days, have effects lasting as long and far longer than this ink on my nail, though many times they are much easier to forget. When I think about how each decision I make dominoes into others, how many relationships leave deep, lasting grooves in my life, I get a little overwhelmed.

I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s good to be shaken from sleepwalking through the everyday, or from having my nose so deep in the task in front of me that I forget to look up for perspective. This life matters, and so do each of the blocks I use to put it together. I pray that I will make the most of my days, with wise choices leading to positive stains.