lessons in commuting

I’ve spent the last few weeks with fingers impatiently tapping at keys and at a total loss for words. I feel torn between a desire for life to slow the freak down and speed up fast enough that my days blur by until boarding a plane. It’s hard straddling those two desires, that’s for sure.

But what I want to write about – no, need to write about – is not my life right now and all that is going on in it. I need to write about Jesus. About the fact that He is good and He likes me. Because in the midst of transition, questions, goodbyes, and bitter healing hearts, I really need Him. Pretty much more than anything else.

Which brings me to this epiphany I had the other week, which was a total reminder of all that.

So I spend every week day commuting from Boulder to Denver on a bus. I also spend every week complaining substantially about said commute (even though I know most of America does this every day). I’m thankful for my job and I’m thankful for where I live – I just wish they were closer together.

Now, let me tell you about my bus rides every day: they are never as expected. Whether it’s getting stuck trying to crest a hill in an atypical April blizzard or sitting next to some of the most unique individuals on the planet, it is never dull and never predictable. But one thing that is consistent, especially in the mornings, is that the bus always takes the good old HOV lane. ‘Cause we’re all carpooling, I suppose.

Taking the bus in the morning is a bit rough. First, I am not a morning person, so my mornings typically consist of repeatedly hitting the snooze button, groaning loudly, and eventually tearing my tired limbs from the warm embrace of my comforter. It involves a shower that always tends to take five minutes longer than it should, hot steam caressing my sleepy brain into a slightly more cognitive state. Stepping out of the shower usually entails a quick look at my clock, which invariably causes a “Dangit!’ to slip from my lips as I rev into hyper-panic-getting-ready-mode. I tug on my shoes of choice, run up the stairs and dash outside into the crisp Colorado air to my car. From there I drive like a crazy person to the bus stop (driving to go take the bus always seems sort of redundant to me, by the way), keeping one sleep-encrusted and wide eye on the ticking clock on my dash, watching the moments until my bus’ departure slip by. I race to the parking garage, whirl my car into a space, slam the door shut and sprint to the bus stop.

Generally I make it just in time to join the quiet, orderly crowd of multi-generational professionals, tightly-lipped and carrying brown shiny briefcases as we shuffle up the few, steep steps onto the bus.

I typically greet the driver, slip on by and sit down, crowded up against the window in anticipation for the stranger about to sit by me.

Getting to the bus is stressful. But once I’m on the bus, I literally have to let someone take the wheel (because on a bus, backseat driving just gets extreme – believe me, I’ve seen it happen and it’s not pretty). I’m not in control of when I get where I need to go, or even the route that I’ll be taking on the way there. I’m just along for the ride with a bunch of strangers, who hopefully got on the right bus and were planning on heading the same direction as me. I watch the word flash by a large, tinted window, and take a deep breath every single time.

The bus takes the express lane every day, and my gaze always lands on the parking lot of cars in the main lanes. More often than not, I dismiss the long line of stressed commuters whose wide-eyed faces are lit by the reddish tone of brake lights and acoustics of talk radio. Because regardless of how annoyed I am about taking the bus, I am pretty dang thankful most days that I’m not one of those people sitting still and stressing over the next two feet of forward motion.

And here’s where my epiphany comes in (get ready).

One such morning, I’m staring out my window at the honking mess as the bus speeds past and a Bible verse floats into my mind like mist, a barely formed thought that I noticed just enough to try and reach out a grasp as it loosely tangled in my mind:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

(matthew 7:13-14)

And as I’m observing through the glass the five lanes of stopped traffic, I see out of the corner of my eye the clear and empty road ahead of the bus I’m sitting on and it clicks. Not that all those people in their cars are going to hell or some crap – nothing like that. But having been one of them, I know that they are stressed, impatient, concerned, and carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders wedged beneath that tightly fastened seatbelt. And there are a lot of cars occupying space across four lanes of highway just on I-25 in Colorado like that, much less across the whole country, filled with people who are not content.

But on the bus, I’m free. I literally cannot add a single ounce of effort to force the bus to get where it’s going any faster. And ultimately I don’t really have any control over where it ends up anyway. When you’re on a bus, there’s also only so many seats as compared with the hundreds of people stuck in traffic. And in that moment where the world sort of shifted into place, I realized that it’s a lot like faith.

I have been sifting through a bunch of lies and garbage stuck in my head about what I need to do to be a good person, a good Christian, a worthwhile existence on this planet. And in realizing that that garbage needs to be thrown out, I’ve been mad and sad and tired and confused about what fits into place instead. I’ve been at a complete loss for words and anything else of how to even try to begin to explain what just hasn’t been sitting right. And in that moment on my bus ride commute, the words came.

Riding the bus is a lot like faith. I hand over the control of my life to another and hang on for the ride. All I had to do is get on. The driver will take me where I need to go and give me the rest, the safety, the direction I need to get where I’m going. I don’t need to fret, force anything, make myself busy for busyness’ sake – I just need to be there. And it’s exactly the same when it comes to my walk with the Lord. I just need to show up and let Him do the driving.

And that, my friends, is grace upon grace.

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“have you ever thought of doing the peace corps?”

NAMIBIA

NAMIBIA (Photo credit: Rui Ornelas)

How, you may ask, do you tell someone that you’re moving to Africa for the Peace Corps?

Well, let me tell you – there’s no nonchalant way to do it. Whether it’s your family, your coworkers or even your eye doctor, there’s no casual way to slip it in. So sometimes you just have to come right out and say it, no matter the anticipated reactions.

One of the best conversations I’ve had thus far was with one of my coworkers. We have an open floor plan, so we have desks in little pods but no cubicles (praise Jesus), and my teammate is looking up something on his computer in a brief moment while we’re both not answering phones, and goes, “Hey, Ali, have you ever thought of doing the Peace Corps?” Now, I haven’t told pretty much anyone at work because I’m seasonal anyway and I know I’ll just be done at the end of my contract this summer and then jet off to Namibia, so this question was out of the blue. I kind of thought he was kidding, but this seemed like a simple enough opening to share my news, so I answered: “Yeah, actually, I leave in July for the Peace Corps.” Silence. I was still working on some customer’s account on my computer, so I tore my eyes away and looked at him to see him staring at me. Unblinking. Eyebrows furrowed. He was so confused. After a long, uncomfortable pause, he just goes, “Wait, really?” And then I told him more details and it turned into a jolly little sharefest, but that conversation literally captures the majority of conversations I’ve had when I’ve told people I might be going or now that I am. Because moving to Namibia isn’t a normal thing. And taking a moment to realize that I’m serious causes awkward conversations because moving across the world isn’t typical. It’s not an everyday sort of occurrence.

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saying no and nablablabla

A week ago, I received an invitation from the Peace Corps to teach English in Namibia.

Say whaaaaa?

The first sentence of this post are possibly some of the last words I ever anticipated writing. Back when I started applying in February in the midst of a lot of refinement, I did it on a whim thinking it was an exercise in trusting God more. And then I kept making it through to the next stage, and the next stage. Yes, the possibility tended to hover in the back of my mind, but I never actually expected to get to this point… So now I have to decide to go or to stay: yes or no. Two simple, single syllables that change the trajectory of my life. Not a big deal or anything. Continue reading

the process of un-mullet-ing

It’s true – I had a mullet. By choice.

photo cred: Brittany Zeinstra

It looks a bit more like a hipster mullet than anything else in this photo, but it was as mullet as mullet is going to get on my head. And it went from hipster, 80’s-esque mullet to pixie cut, and then perpetual growing out mullet until now, over a year later, my hair has yet to reach my shoulders again.

The process of my un-mullet-ing is legen….wait for it…. DARY! It’s a story of humility, one of courage, and of figuring out what makes me, well, me.

Let’s start with why the heck I cut my hair into a mullet. I worked for this high school ministry my first year out of college, and our big winter retreat theme was “Mullets, Mohawks, and Mustaches.” Aka EPIC. Check out our promo video (awesome, if I do say so myself). Well, I had a conversation with some adorable sixteen year old ladies that were complaining about the theme being too masculine and kind of sexist. I flatly denied any such thing and to my horror, the words “I’m cutting my hair into a mullet” escaped my lips. Wide-eyed, in absolute horror, wishing I could stuff those fatal 7 words back into my mouth, those precious girls started laughing. And so just a few short months later, I did it. I went over to my friend’s house and asked her to give me a mullet. When she was finished  and swept up the loose  strands of my dignity off her floor, as I pulled on my coat she softly said, “Hey, Ali… can you not tell people I cut your hair? I’d really appreciate it.” Continue reading

5 things i wish i had known about job searching

The title of this post is mostly self-explanatory, but here’s the gist in a longer version. I am 23 years old, a part-time employee at a local coffee shop, living back at my parent’s house(s), and with a lot of free time on my hands. So, when you get only have a little 4 hour shift that ends before 10 am and the rest of the whole day looms in front of you, calendar empty, what do you do? Well, personally I’ve found that I’m either going to fill it by watching episodes of How I Met Your Mother on Netflix or trying to go for a run or rearranging my room (yet again), and spending hour upon hour searching the internet for some company somewhere that might hire me. Or staring at a cover letter and resume that I have tweaked so many times I’ve got the versions saved as resume_1.doc through resume_28.doc in my “job search” file on my computer. I have my personal business card ordered (though I still am not sure exactly why I need one when I don’t have a big kid job) and have spent an embarrassing amount of time making sure my Linkedin.com profile is 100% complete. (You can check it out at www.linkedin.com/in/aemason, I’m pretty proud of it).

Steve Jobs

This whole thing feels like a rabbit trail. And with inspirational quotes on “calling” blowing up sites like Pinterest like a hailstorm, it makes me want to tear my hair out. Our world now equates who we are with what we do. It used to be the other way around, but now we crave jobs that are exciting and developing and sound cool to people – we want work places that encourage “Bring Your Dog To Work Day” everyday and who go on company-sponsored mountain biking adventures during lunchtime (Remember I live in Boulder, CO, so that really is a normal thing around here) and send you on all-expenses paid work trips overseas every other week. The difference between a “job” and a “career” can’t just be passion or what you want to do. And the only jobs out there worth doing can’t just be ones that we love. Calling everything else settling isn’t realistic. Because not all jobs are supposed to be like that, and that has to be okay. Yes, we can yearn for those jobs, but sometimes a job needs to just be a job and our passion, our love, our excitement, is what we do when we come home after work – to a family, to volunteer somewhere, the mountains we play in on the weekends, something, anything. Continue reading

confessions of a recovering only child

I’m an only child. Well, technically only half of one, considering having divorced parents and 50-50 custody and two stepsisters. My only-child identity, and all that comes with, becomes more and more apparent to me around the holiday season.

There are a lot of different stereotypes and studies on the particular nature of only children. A New York Times article quotes, ‘In fact, according to G. Stanley Hall, who oversaw the studies and was the acknowledged child expert of his day, being an only child was a ‘disease in itself.'” As mentioned in a Time Magazine article by Lauren Sandler, some other dated perceptions describe only children “as permanent misfits” and “overprivileged, asocial, royally autonomous … self-centered, aloof and overly intellectual.”

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would you come to my funeral?

Earlier last night, I was talking to my friend Annie about the loneliness and isolation this season of life has brought. It feels like I’m absolutely out there on my own – the phrase I used last night was something along the lines of “If something awful happened to me and I died or something, no one would even know what happened to be able to come to my funeral.” Because that’s how it’s felt lately – I don’t see anyone frequently enough where if I went missing or worse, anyone would notice until several days later. I know this train of thought is morbid, but I’m just being honest. Maybe people would be suspicious if I was never responding to phone calls or text messages, but I don’t see or talk to anyone frequently enough that they would notice anything amiss.

But the irony came full force  when a car slammed into me around ten last night. It happened so fast, I couldn’t even react. And as my car spun off course, I remember thinking two things: 1) Wasn’t the light green? and 2) Thank You, Jesus. And even though it happened in a town where both of my parents still live, both of them happened to be out of town last night. Because as a witness sprinted over to my car and started tapping on my window, shouting things, and I dazedly got out of the car, I realized that I am okay. But even for someone that values their independence and believes they are strong, facing something like that absolutely alone is terrifying. Especially when you have not a lot of money saved, a car is your only lifeline to get to work, and you have the most minor of health insurance policies. I panicked, totally freaking out over how I was going to pay for the situation, how I was going to handle not having a car, how the heck all I had was bruises. I sat on the curb, knees aching, body shivering, watching police officers pick up the pieces of my car, papers being blown down the street, my haven completely smashed, and I felt so alone. But I wasn’t alone. My Lord was with me. I’m still piecing together all the things that He has provided for ahead of time to help me deal with this situation and honestly, the fact that both of us drivers walked away totally okay is a straight up miracle.

But, let’s not forget now, my God is a miracle worker. And He loves me. I know this sounds morbid and weird, but in the midst of potential tragedy and being faced with my fragile mortality, I feel so unbelievably and overwhelmingly loved by Him.

Today, I woke up incredible thankful. Because I might not have.

Life happens in an instant. It can also end just as fast. And regardless of whether or not anyone else would be at my funeral, I have been forced to remember that death is the ultimate place that I won’t be alone – I’ll be with Jesus. But I got to wake up today. I can tell the people that are important to me that I love them today. I can walk and think and joke and face whatever comes. And my God is with me.

amen.

skydiving without a parachute

…is not a good idea, right?

I agree.

First off, I’m a little afraid of heights. Not conventionally, though. I’m more afraid of the heights that you aren’t strapped in for. Like bungee-jumping or rock-climbing or the Tower of Doom – pish! No big deal. Because there’s a harness and rope or some newfangled seat locking mechanism that are holding me in. Bridges or tall buildings? No big deal. That’s why there are railings. But free-falling at some crazy fast speed, plummeting towards the ground, just hoping this large sack on your back filled with some sort of perfectly tailored synthetic material will first off actually open and then slow you down enough that you don’t splat face first on an unforgiving patch of ground? Not so much.

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