Saturday Scribbles – The Great Outdoors

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I’ll be honest, I’m kind of a sucker for wilderness/survival shows…the idea of a person pushing themselves to their limits, against a force as daunting as Mother Nature…well, it’s exhilaratng. But more than that…it’s inspiring. ( I don’t care if half of these shows are staged or whatever, they still get me hooked)

And I needed something exhilarating and inspiring after this last week. It was a tough one.

It didn’t take me long after work yesterday to crawl into my stretchy pants, pour up a refreshing beverage and land myself on the couch for the evening. Now, a lot of my friends would flip the channel to some romantic comedy or feel good movie during times like this, and I understand why. It is lovely getting lost in make believe and squishy stories from time to time. But I didn’t need squishy last night… I needed grit and inspiration and Mother Nature. (From the comfort of my couch, of course. Let’s not get too crazy. It was a long week after all.) So, I found myself watching several episodes of a survival show on my On Demand channel. That’s how this girl ends a tough week…..with Guinness, stretchy pants and Bear Grylls on the tv.

The Great Outdoors have always been vital to me, whether I am encountering them first hand or enjoying a tv show about them from the comfort and safety of my comfy, overstuffed couch. They are necessary to my sanity at times; like oxygen to a drowning man. The Great Outdoors speak to me of both revelation and examination. I have experienced many moments of each….From the challenges of a summit testing my endurance and perseverance from high above me to the quiet reflection of a mountain stream revealing hidden truths and easing troubled thoughts. The tests of the mountains and canyons I’ve tackled have challenged my mettle and required every ounce of who I am to conquer them. And the streams, meadows and caves I’ve sought refuge in have revealed and healed crucial pieces of who I am, more than a few times.

I seek solace in the Great Outdoors. It’s where I’m best able to face myself and find my way out again. It’s where I find my balance.

After my evening of survival and adventure, I woke up restless, early this morning. There was a familiar itch under my skin; this drive to get outside. I needed oxygen and wide open spaces and something to climb. So I got up, got ready, and with a strong cup of coffee in hand, set out in search of a remedy.

A short thirty minute drive from my little apartment lies a beautiful State Park and one of my favorite places on earth….Palo Duro Canyon. Now, it’s no Grand Canyon, but it’s still pretty majestic in my eyes and it runs rich with the history of my youth. It is my retreat when I can’t run away to the mountains. It carries within it cracks and creases thousands of my sunburns, scrapes, and bruises, along with so much of my laughter and, in the last few years, my tears. It is my haven and one of the few places I’ve found, thus far, where I am truly able to breathe.

And mornings are some of the best times to find yourself there, before the heat of the Texas sun grows too vicious.

I have a secret spot I go. A place hidden away from the road, just a short hike away. I climbed up there this morning with my coffee and journal and breathed…..exactly what I needed. It was no survival show adventure wrought with peril, but it was outside and wide open and covered in warm sunshine, and the restless itch I awoke with began to slowly seep away into the red dirt beneath me.

I met a piece of myself I’ve left hovering under the surface for some time now. And out came this scribble…

You linger under the surface…
taunting,
waiting,
burning.
A fire from deep within,
I’ve always managed to smother before.

You’re not safe.
You’re not comfortable with their expectations.
You’re restless in the shadows I’ve kept you hidden within.

You frighten me.
You always have.

You long for stories and misadventures,
for endless, unpredictable skies and wild, untamed places.
You crave salt sea air and cold mountain water.
You ache for warm desert sun and frigid, snow laced night.

Slowly, and ever so mercifully,
You are dissolving my fear;
swallowing it up with a greater need to
burn brighter,
grow stronger,
be more…
of who I really am.

You are my joy.
You are my balance.
You are my very Heart.

Chelsey Whitlow

Your Ghost Found Me Today…

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Your ghost found me today, alone, on our dusty canyon trail.

I knew you by the smell of stale cigarettes and Ralph Lauren perfume, mingling, unexpected, with baking earth, wildflowers, and sage. The wild wind carried your laughter; my favorite one…the real one, from before our world fell in burning ash around us.

I walked with that laughter for a while, finding peace in the hum of insects, the stirring desert brush and the distant beat of stories told long ago.

I stopped and lingered for a few moments in the meager shade of a mesquite tree, wondering over a family of wildflowers growing recklessly around a patch of Prickly Pear. Perhaps the heat of our Texas sun was to blame, but I heard you whisper, in the rustling branches near my ear…

Wasn’t that always us? One wild and untamed and free with her colors….The other armed; daring the reckless to brave her sting, should they venture too close.

Tears threatening, I pushed on to our place. You know the spot. The shady one, flanked on one side by a wall of worn red canyon and on the other, by the rare flow of rushing water and trees filtering the blaze from above.

The one where I left you to rest.

That’s when you reminded me, of a truth long buried; your voice bubbling up from the creek, catching a ride on a surprisingly cool breeze….

You were born of wild, untamed color, My Child… and of free spirits and laughter and red earth.

It’s time to shed your sting.

It’s time to bloom in reckless places.

Saturday Scribbles – Heritage, Magic, and Possibility

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I wrote, not too long ago, about why stories are so important. For centuries, storytelling has been the way in which we carry on our legacies and histories. They are how we learn and remember. Storytelling has always been how I learn best. You can lay a list of facts in front of me and I may or may not remember them. But, if you weave those facts into the form of a story, their truths will most likely engrain themselves within me for always. I will remember.

Stories were how I fought my dragons as a child. How I still fight them. They were fuel for my creative brain. Watching the characters of my favorite books and movies struggle and triumph or to witness them battle and fail, is where I found the courage to keep fighting myself. And it’s also within these stories, where I found the power to heal.

Both of my grandmothers were gifted and incredible storytellers. One passed many years ago when I was still a child, but the other is still spinning tales for her great-grandchildren. And wonderfully, even as adults, her children and grandchildren are still captured by her stories. It is a beautiful thing to witness. I can still hear both of their voices echoing in my ear at bedtime; grand tales whispering of both caution and possibility. Today, these stories still ring with wisdom learned and imagination ignited. I am grateful to carry this gift from my grandmothers within me.

In my early twenties I taught for a while as a preschool teacher at a wonderful Montessori school owned by my best friend’s mother. My favorite time of day was always Story time. I reveled in it. I wanted so badly to make books come alive for these tiny humans, so ripe with wonder. Their imaginations fascinated me and it was always such a joy to hear them replaying the stories during recess or free time later in the day. Now, I love reading to my nieces and nephews and it fills me with such incredible warmth to watch them get captured by the words and images, just as much as their Aunt Chelsey still does. And I can never deny them when they ask for more. I’m a sucker that way.

 
I still find myself wandering into the children’s section of my favorite bookstores and libraries, running my fingers over the spines lining the shelves. The potent magic of these books continues to linger for me and I am thankful I have never lost my own wonder, like so many do as adults. The other day, I found myself doing just that; wandering through the children’s section of my local Barnes and Noble. At a table, tucked into a corner, I spied a girl reading to her little brother. The little girl couldn’t have been more than eight or nine to the boy’s four or five.  His bright blue eyes were wide with wonder as he hung on her every word; gasping quietly at the particularly dangerous parts. She was even creating different voices for each character, just as my grandmothers used to do…just as I do.  I found myself snared up in her animated reading. I felt a little guilty spying on them, but it was just too enchanting to tear myself away. So, I listened for a few minutes longer, hiding behind a bookshelf. Not long after, a scribble began to take shape in my head. In a world full of distracting and rapidly evolving technology (not necessarily a bad thing in some cases), I find comfort in the fact that storybooks still have the power, like nothing else, to capture us so completely, to spark our imaginations, and give us the wings of possibility.

With that thought in mind, I headed back to the cafe where my friend was reading. I wanted to remember, in words, what I saw in that little boy’s face while he listened intently to his sister. I hurriedly jotted down the scribble below on a napkin, in the hope that I could capture, in some small way,  at least a glimpse of his curious spirit.  (**Note – the picture above happens to be of me reading a story to my cousin Michael, on our Grandmother’s couch. Coincidently, I was probably eight or nine to his four of five.**)

 

Sharp mind and discerning ears,

Keen eyes absorb bleeding pages…

With an open heart,

The child listens.

 

Dark and light,

Peril and triumph…

Drip from words alive with truth and imagination.

 

From these drops of blood,

grows,

from deep within,

a breathing creature that cannot be stopped….

 

Possibility.

 

Chelsey Whitlow

A Mid-Week Scribble – Wrestling with Freedom

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How often do we find freedom, only to return to the thing which held us in bondage?

Last night, this particular question waged war against my resolve. I wrestled with it for quite a while, tucked away in my favorite reading chair in my darkened apartment. After listening to an excited voice message from my best friend about some of my writing she recently read, I realized how important wrestling with this question can be. And how much stronger the struggle can make us; if we let it.

It’s in these moments where true courage is put to the test. It’s in these moments where we have a choice to make (sometimes more than a few times over)… The choice between what we’ve allowed ourselves to become used to….comfortable with and the Life we dream could be possible in those stolen moments, when we’re covered in tears and desperation.

Freedom dwells on the other side of that choice. Freedom is where the good stuff happens; not the easy stuff necessarily, but the really good stuff.

Unfortunately, it rarely exists inside our comfort zones….

I ran across a scribble this morning while digging through my desk drawer for my bottle of super glue (a very effective paper cut bandage – FYI). It felt a little like fate uncovering this scribble; after a long night of wrestling with the question above. It spoke to my wavering courage. It spoke to the possibilities that lie ahead. The choice is mine. I can stay in my quiet corner and fade. Or I can grab hold of my courage and venture past the borders of a now defenseless cage….in search of the really good stuff.

So I figured, why wait until Saturday to throw out this scribble? Tuesday is a perfectly acceptable day for scribbles…because who knows who else out there is wrestling with their cages and courage today…

Hands tied and broken wings…
Warrior heart,
You fought so long for flight.

Now, free and whole…
Why must you recall only
the deceitful safety of
your shattered cage.

Chelsey Whitlow

Saturday Scribbles – Ghosts and Fire

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I’ve been neglectful the last few weeks with my scribbles and such and I’ve missed being away. As of late, I’ve been distracted by two of my biggest fears and have been trying desperately to wrestle them into submission… My heart and my writing

Much soul-searching, giving up on old ghosts, and facing the reality of some lies I’ve believed for too long went down over the course of the last four weeks.

I’ll address the easier of the two first…my heart. The writing we’ll save for another scribble.

A few years ago I gave my heart to a boy. Unfortunately, I gave it to him before I truly knew myself or what I was capable of or what I deserved. Despite his words leading me to believe otherwise, he didn’t want my heart after all and it crushed me. I held on, quite tragically, to his ghost far longer than I should have. I made the mistake of comparing others to the way he once made me feel and to the potential I always saw in him and in us. (Potential will get you in trouble every time) This was unfair…to him and to those that followed behind him.

Over my recent vacation, our paths crossed again and I was offered the opportunity to face this ghost head on.  And with no small amount of courage…I did. I sat down at a table in a deli and had a long overdue conversation with the boy who was given and broke my heart. No words were spoken of the past. Only words of whom we had become and where we were headed and there was freedom and release in these words. He was different, as he should be after years of life. And miraculously, I finally let him go.

I realized sitting across from him, listening to his story of the last few years, how different I had become too…and how much more of me there is now. I’m more myself than he ever experienced. He was given a young raw passionate heart, easily given and easily angered. He got a version of my heart that had not yet been tested and found worthy of life.

Years of darkness followed his break, which actually had nothing to do with him at all. Life and tragedy happened. Other breaks, far more painful, happened. And I realize now, this inevitable darkness would have destroyed him had he stayed. The heart held in my chest today came as a result of that darkness; bathed and refined by fire and grief and battle.

Sadly, I hid this new heart away for a while, thinking it too tragic and ugly to be seen. I hid it away thinking if he couldn’t love the unbroken heart, no one could love this now war torn version; even if I had come to cherish every burn and stitch and scar. I fooled myself for years….

The truth finally settled into place when I let his ghost go for good that day at lunch…. The heart I carry in my chest today is the most beautiful yet…scarred and stitched and wiser and surprisingly more. And worthy of light….

The scribble below arrived while cleaning out some emails a couple days ago. In this new light, I realized the new heart I thought I was hiding so well, didn’t go unseen at all. There was one who saw it and was not afraid. But blinded by my own crippling fear, it was I who didn’t see him.

I regret treating him so unkindly, for pushing him away. I didn’t see it then. If I met him today I would not hide. But he is gracious and he is happy with another now and for that I am grateful. I will never know what might have been with this one if I had let him past my armor, but at least I know there really are those who see and are unafraid of this passionate, scarred, and terribly beautiful heart….

 

He woke me up, sparked a flame,

and fearing the heat he created,

left me to rage and to burn….

Leaving no one to reign in the blaze.

 

You craved the heat, unafraid of my rage.

You would have remained until I was nothing but ash….

And then breathed your own life into the cinders,

So I could burn and rage again.

 

Instead….I chose the pyres.