Balconies, Birds and Border Crossings

He’s just standing there on the edge of the cliff, about forty feet above the crashing waves, staring majestically off into the horizon. His slender grey body and long legs are so delicate that your eye could easily miss him, but he’s so close to me I can see every detail. He’s a handsome crane, although I’m not exactly sure what he’s doing here, since I thought that they were fresh water birds… but I’m happy he decided to hang out by my balcony.

Two weeks ago, Rachel and I crossed the border into Baja California, Mexico. We entered the country in a non-traditional way… we drove. According to the U.S. Department of State, driving across the border into Mexico is “discouraged… due to safety concerns.” But what’s a worldwide adventure without a little risk?

The drive was surprisingly simple, especially considering the fact that street signs don’t exist here. But we found our way to Puerto Nuevo without incident. Once we arrived, we saw that the house we rented has the most spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean. From the balcony, I’ve already seen amazing sunsets, pelicans, dolphins and killer whales! But today, I’m graced by the presence of a beautiful crane.

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I take a deep breath and look out across the ocean with sheer appreciation for the beauty in front of me. “How did I get so lucky?” I think to myself as I take a sip of my coffee.

Woof, woof, woof!!!!

“Ugh,” I say over my shoulder, “Nimitz! Knock it off!” He’s standing behind me on the balcony and has clearly spotted the crane. He’s also decided that it poses a level-one security threat.

Woof, woof – WOOF!!!

“Seriously Nims, that’s enough!” I turn around to look at him, and my heart stops. “Mugsy! No!!” I shout as I watch my chunky white pup shimmy through the railing of the balcony and take a giant leap off the side. The drop is nearly eight feet and she lands on a sliver of land near the cliffs’ edge – in a bed of cactus. I look at her in complete disbelief, and then, she climbs out of the cactus and starts running towards the crane, who’s perched on the edge of the cliff.

“Shit!” I shout as I race into the house to get my shoes and the keys. We have locked gates all over our property due to the higher levels of theft and crime in Mexico. This is great for security, but super inconvenient when you’re trying to save a dog from imminent death.

Luckily, the crane is no fool, and he’s long gone by the time I get the gate open. But Mugsy is convinced that he’s lurking nearby, so she starts running down the edge of the cliff. “Great,” I say to myself, “this is how I’m going to die – chasing a dog off a cliff in Mexico.”

I lose sight of her as she rounds a narrow corner, and I shout “Mugsy! Get back here right now!” Something in my tone must have conveyed the severity of the situation, because she turns around and runs back through the gate of the house. “Oh thank God.” I say with relief.

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The cliff…

I take Mugsy inside and start plucking the cactus spurs out of her belly, and I try to calm myself down. As I slather her with Neosporin, I start thinking of ways to strengthen the barrier on the balcony. Or other ways to deter her from taking a second flying leap off the side. I chuckle to myself as I think about how badly she wanted to catch that crane, what was she going to do if she caught it? Did she even see the cliff? Probably not, since she was so focused on the bird. I laugh again as I realize – I’m not so different from this dog.

How many times have I chased something I was sure I wanted? Or fixed my eyes so intently on achieving the next goal that I couldn’t see the cliff that was right in front of me? Honestly… more times than I’d care to admit.

I spent years striving to achieve – the promotion, the house, the car, and the marriage. I was sure that if I could just grab the next thing, I would be satisfied. But I never was. I didn’t realize that, like Mugsy, I was just chasing one crane after another down the edge of a cliff.

Until one day, when I had caught them all. I had the job, the car, the house, and the husband; but something was still missing. I had everything that was supposed to satisfy me, but I still had an aching need for something more. Frantically, I started looking for the next crane, the next goal, or the next achievement that I could add to my list. But it wasn’t there.

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“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” C.S. Lewis

So instead of staring hopelessly at an empty horizon, waiting for the next focal point to appear, it was time to look for something new. For the first time in my life, I turned my eyes towards God, and asked him to guide me towards my purpose. And that’s where this amazing journey began.

Now, my life looks completely different than it once did. I’m not working; traveling around the world; and living out of a suitcase in Mexico. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, or where I’ll end up in twelve months – but really, who does? And even though it looks different than I expected, I feel truly satisfied for the first time; because I know without a doubt that I’m chasing God’s purpose for my life.

I look down at Mugsy, who’s sleeping on the couch. Her little feet are moving and her eyes are flickering; surely she’s dreaming about victoriously conquering that crane. I guess I can’t be too mad at her; we’re all prone to chasing the wrong things from time to time. Luckily, Mugsy has me to bring her back inside when she gets too close to the cliff’s edge. And I have God to do the same for me.

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Leaving It All Behind

I took a few steps back and surveyed the mountain of bags, boxes and baskets that filled the driveway. “There’s no way we have this much stuff…” I muttered to myself. The sheer volume of things made it look like we packed provisions for an Army. There were water filters, cooking supplies, bags of condiments, a box of wine, beach towels and clothes… so many clothes.

Today is day one of our worldwide adventure, The Great Enlivening. This morning, Rachel and I met in Dallas at her friend Sherri’s house. The plan was to quickly reorganize and re-pack my car before we hit the road and officially start our worldwide adventure.

“Thirty-minutes, tops!” I said to Rachel last night when she asked how long I thought it would take us to consolidate our cars. But now, it’s clear that we don’t stand a Popsicle’s chance in hell of only being here for thirty minutes. Plus, the laws of time, space and Toyota highlanders are about to pose a major problem for us.

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We have too much stuff.  Period.

We both arrived in Dallas with two well-packed cars that we meticulously filled over the last month with useful, sensible and high-quality items. We spent hours upon hours going through our belongings in Virginia and narrowing them down to what we would truly “need” on this journey. Everything sitting on this driveway has a logical, well-thought-out purpose. There’s just too much of it.

The limiting factor in this equation is space. Everything out here has to fit in the back-seat of my mid-sized SUV or in the rooftop cargo carrier. Oh yeah, and we need to have room for two people and two dogs!

“Okay, here’s the new plan” Rachel sighed as she silently came to the same conclusion I just reached, “we’ll just pair down, and leave anything we don’t take in the back of my car.” Rachel’s amazing friend, Sherri, graciously offered to keep the car parked in her garage while we travel. Although, as Sherri stepped onto her stuff-covered driveway, I swear I saw a look of “what have I gotten myself into” before she covered it up with her sweet smile.

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“Like this, do we need this?” I laughed as Rachel held up a bag of Tupperware. I sighed, what were we thinking? Actually, I know exactly what we were thinking – we don’t know where we’re going to be or what our accommodations will have, so we brought a little bit of everything we would need to be comfortable – and yes, Tupperware adds a certain level of comfort. “Uh… no” I answered, “I think we can ditch the Tupperware.”

We spent the next hour sorting things into “necessary” and “unnecessary” piles on the driveway. Two skillets, 35 dog toys, one volleyball, Mexican train dominoes, a box of thank you/greeting cards, several bottles of condiments, my guitar and way too many rolls of extra toilet paper were all deemed UN-necessary. While three laptops, my entire stash of jewelry, fourteen pairs of shoes (each), four bottles of ginger beer, and a picnic-style wine carrier (with glasses) made their way into the necessary pile. After the sorting was completed, somehow, we managed to fit our remaining belongings into the car with tetris-like precision. And a few hours later than planned, we were on the road!

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As we set-off, I was expecting to feel a familiar anticipation… like when I left home for the first time as an ambitious eighteen-year old. I remember the excitement as I drove away from my old life, filled with high-school friends, volleyball games and curfews, and headed toward a new life of unknown adulthood. I was so excited to leave it all behind. I can still feel the ease with which I turned away from everything I knew, charged headfirst into my future, and never looked back.

But today, I’m not the same wide-eyed, eager eighteen year-old. I’m a seasoned and polished thirty-one year-old. One who’s seen what this world has to offer, and what it can take away. And as much as I want to be consumed by the same naïve anticipation that I felt thirteen years ago, I’m not.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly excited and the happiest I’ve been in years; but there’s an edge to my heart that wasn’t there before. A lot has happened in my life to bring me to this place, and not all of it was good. I can’t help but think about all of the ways life could have turned out, and though I wouldn’t trade this amazing adventure for anything, it certainly isn’t where I expected to be.

Just as I’m pondering these thoughts and feeling a bit guilty for their melancholy undertone, something in the back of the car shifts and falls down. “We still have so much stuff…” Rachel laments. And she’s right. We’ll probably have to rearrange things when we get to our next stop. But at least this time, we’ll only be reorganizing the things we truly need.

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I take a deep breath and think back over the morning’s events, and while three hours in Sherri’s driveway wasn’t exactly my idea of fun, I feel good about what we’re bringing with us on this journey. Our load feels lighter. That’s when a thought hits me – what if I could do the same thing with my heart? You know, pull out all of the clutter, and repack only the good things… the necessary things. Like the memories that deserve to be replayed in my mind’s eye over and over again – endless laughter as Mugsy stole a fish from a bucket on the beach in Ocean View, thanksgiving’s where we played cranium and everyone fell asleep on the couch, eating grilled cheese and tomato soup while we watched “How I met your mother” for the hundredth time, and twirling around like fools on the beach in the pouring rain. “Yes,” I think to myself as I silently smile, “I could do that.”

I breathe a sigh of relief as I realize that I’m entering a beautiful new phase of my life, one where I can choose to move forward with only what’s necessary and good. Past hurts, regrets and unmet expectations don’t have a place in my future, just like how Tupperware, footballs and dog toys don’t have a place in my car. Unlike when I was eighteen, maybe this journey isn’t about leaving it all behind. Maybe it’s about leaving the right things behind and carrying a lighter load into the amazing future.