Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Strip District Trail is Open (finally)

The Strip District Trail has been closed off for almost 2 years now due to new construction and utility work close by.  The promised reopen date has long since passed and been extended, so many were skeptical when it was announced that it would, indeed reopen by the end of October.

As Bike Pittsburgh announced yesterday, it finally did!  I rode through this rainy Wednesday morning to check it out.

It took me a while to remember which streets were one-way, so I actually had to roll down past the Cork Factory Lofts and backtrack.  Next time, I would probably avoid Penn altogether and grab Railroad from 28th.

I went down 24th street and was able to access the little blip of concrete to 23rd, and though this was blocked off (view toward Downtown), I could get my bike through with one foot down.

Beside the Marina, looking back on barrier and a view of the parking lot with gravel.
Not a terribly good access point here either.

This is the view from 21st street, the official open part of the trail.  There's paved surface accessible from Railroad and Smallman, but note that 21st is one-way toward Liberty from Smallman.

The rest of the ride to the South Side was car-free and pretty much smooth sailing, no issues on the Strip trail.  There were parts with a lot of wet leaves and couple spots with a bit of roughness or debris, but it was not bad and I was proceeding with caution.  I saw various other gated entrances to the trail that would presumably open when the developments are finished...(hoping they aren't private entrances). The trail on the Downtown side of the Allegheny beyond that was a bit more bumpy with some worn concrete seams, but no problems here either.  The ramp up to Ft. Pitt behind the museum is nice now that it has been repaired this summer.  And I got to see one of many of these amusing little contraptions on the rail line along the South Side Trail going through Station Square:

Unfortunately, as I have heard, the South Side trail shortcut is officially closed off.  Be prepared to dismount as they somehow think that loose gravel is a great surface for bicycles to ride upon:

I took the streets the rest of the way to the office and luckily, no bad car interactions. I also found out that my waterproof rain pants are no longer so water proof.  Sigh:

Thursday, October 01, 2015

#inktober Day 1

I recently decided to participate in the #InkTober challenge. I will create an ink drawing or sketch each day during the month of October.  This was part of a challenge offered on the RPG-based To-Do app, HabiticaFind out more about #InkTober here:

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Bridge Crossing on "You Are Here Stories"

I had the fortunate opportunity to be published as a guest blogger on the fantastic "You Are Here Stories" blog for which my friend and former housemate is a regular contributor.  June is the "Travel and Place" theme, which I interpreted more on a micro-level.

It's a rehash of an old piece I wrote in 2008.  I hope you enjoy!

Read it here:

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lessons from the Pit

The Spirit whispers to me in my agony:
"Do not seek after only good days my child,
you do not learn what you need from them.

Do not rely on the lovely and light and pleasant,
they will just as soon float away when trouble comes.

When that time of trouble comes...embrace it.
Hold it close to you and behold it intently.
Do not scorn its presence.

For when one is without,
THAT is the time when one realizes the need.
THAT is when true appreciation comes...
When there is a lack,
THAT is when one realizes how much is left.
THAT is when Gratitude sets in...

Health and Youth are but fleeting things.
Strength and Happiness are qualities that waft away.
Weakness and Sadness seep deep into the bones.
They hang there and develop the true sort of strength
And a true sort of Joy.
The kind that physical circumstance cannot take away.

Cry out.
Yes, cry out to God.
Though God may seem far off at the time.
The One Who Understands is much nearer than you suppose."

In that cry of desperation,
My God My God, why have you forsaken me?
When I am at my lowest,
That is when I start to look up
And see what has been there all along.
That's when I peer inside
And see who I really am.

I run to hide under Your Wings.
You take me in like a Mother Hen.
I find solace in Your Arms.
You will never let me fall to the point of ruin.
Nothing is beyond repair in Your Hands.

I lift my hands that once were fists
That once beat my breast in sorrow.
I lift them high in praise and thankfulness.
I open them to receive the Grace You have for me.

After the suffering, I have new eyes to see the world around me.
My heart is softened, I am no longer blind to others' pain.
My heart is also enlarged, I can carry more after You have lifted my burden.
My hands seek to do the work to love others as You have so Loved me.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

De-Winterizing the Heart

I start to peel back the plastic and adhesive
that clung tightly to my windows this winter.
The sound of it pulling off of the frame is
as satisfying as the sound of popping bubble wrap.
It is like pulling off a bandaid after the wound heals:
It is Spring, and I no longer need the protection.

While I know there may be some cold snaps yet,
I do not fear the chill as I might have months ago.
My body is acclimating to this new state of being,
I am stronger from the winter solace.
It is Spring, and warmth is coming soon.

I crack open the window and a cool pleasant breeze
flows into the room, refreshing the staleness.
I hear birds chirping and see the brilliant sun setting
over the beautiful city skyline I call home.
It is Spring, and I feel the hope in the air.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Life is like riding a bicycle

"Life is like riding a bicycle: to keep your balance, you must keep moving."

I loved this when I saw it this weekend on a trip with my mom and some other ladies in Berlin, OH (Amish country).

There are times in my life, when I need my training wheels, when I need someone, God, a friend, a family member to hold me up and keep me balanced.  But when the training wheels are to come off, I need to keep moving or I will tip over.  If I'm too afraid to start, I will never get anywhere. If I'm too afraid of where I'm "supposed" to go, I'll never get there.

We all have seasons in life, and I feel like right now, I'm starting to get back my confidence and trying to not rely on the crutch of my training wheels.  In my spiritual life, I have been agonizing over my lack of prayer, my lack of discipline.  I wonder about the "right" way to do it. I worry about going the wrong direction and relying too much on my own power and getting into a accident because I went the wrong way.  I forget that the "wrong choices" can often be teaching moments and point me to turn around into the right direction.  Sure, it'd be better to avoid them, but if I'm not moving because I'm afraid to fail, I've failed before I've even started.

In a way, it's better for us to see God as a parent who wants us to always come to them in all situations like a child.  But God also wants us to be able to ride that bike without needing their hand on the back seat. To be sure, God is never far in case of trouble and to cheer us on, but perhaps we need to have more confidence in ourselves, in our God-given ability to make good choices and to do good things? This does not mean that we don't need God desperately, it just means that like recognizing a health practitioner's God-given talents to heal, perhaps we need to see those qualities in us and trust them as though they were the words of God saying, "do this," ?

So for me, right now, I'm finding this "keep moving" mantra to be very helpful. God is good about letting me know when I need to turn around or avoid a pothole or go in a different direction when we need to, it's the staying still that keeps us from moving or growing.  Or not getting back up when we do fall down.  I think that is often how our faith plays out: moving forward in confidence that God has our back as we keep going, keeping open to new directions as they present themselves and listening for God's voice if we do need to go in a different direction.

I do think it's also dangerous to be puffed up and think we are beyond God's help or guidance or rest.  This in itself is a balancing act.  Gratitude is the key: it's where we take our own efforts and bring it back to God as the source of our abilities.  When we live in gratitude and humility, it becomes less about what we are doing and how we are doing it, and more about enjoying the experience in the moment.  When I've ridden my bicycle, there are times when I'm too focused on the destination and technique and time that cause me grief and frustration, or there are those enthralling moments when the wind is in my hair and I feel free and overwhelming gratitude.  I think that latter example is how God wants us to enjoy and experience life.  Not that all is daisies, but gratitude, when it also applies to the hard stuff in life, is a powerful thing that can drastically change our outlook on a situation.  We keep moving, but we keep moving in gratitude and awareness.

Just keep moving, y'all.

EDIT: I realize that this post is almost counter to other posts I've made and maybe swinging more on the Free Will end of things (here's another post where I talk about that paradox of being).  I'm not sure how to square these two realities: that I need God to even breathe, but I have been given Free Will too and I have a sort of power on my own, limited though it may be.  I feel right now that I'm more on the side of the pendulum that says to "move" and "act" and be confident in the abilities God already gave me.  Also, there is my relationship I have with God...I do believe that sharing life with God and recognizing the "God things" is more the point of our faith anyway.  It's not really about doing great spiritual things, it's about growing closer to the heart of the Creator of the Universe.  The action and gratitude can then come naturally out of that relationship.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home

I just had a wonderful weekend with some wonderful ladies in my life (including my mom!) and I referenced Richard Foster's book on Prayer.  I realized that I had referenced it quite a bit in recent posts over the past couple years, and have mentioned that I can never seem to get past the first chapter on "Simple Prayer".  While I think it's ok to be "stuck" in a phase of prayer, and indeed, as Foster says, we will probably never outgrow this type of prayer, I think using that fact as an excuse to not get through the rest of the book is doing me a disservice. :)

So going back to a long gone post, I think I shall pick up this book again and give it a go.  I will try to read a chapter every week or so and attempt to just focus on this form of prayer for the week.  And write about it!  Of course I will always come back to the beginning, but at this point in my life, I'm ready to keep moving forward.  I desire very much to start digging into spiritual disciplines!

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Fourth Station of the Cross

Fourth station of the cross - Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.
Luke 23:27-30
And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?

This is admittedly, one of those strange prophecy sort of things that Jesus has said in the gospel readings.  For my church's 3-hour Good Friday vigil, artists were asked to create their representation of various stations of the cross during the first 2 hours and then we placed them in the last hour.  We only read up to the first bolded part on this station.

I mean, what do you do with the rest of it?  Every depiction I found on the internet showed Jesus with his cross casually slung behind one shoulder while addressing a crowd of properly mournful women.  No artist seems to touch the rest of it.

Come on Jesus, I know you are suffering and all, but is this any time to be saying these weird future voodoo things?  These are not very comforting words!

I looked up some commentary on the verse and found some interesting thoughts, particularly on the last sentence: "For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?"

At first, I was led to believe that Jesus, having not sinned, is the green wood.  And him saying this is essentially saying, "If even I am being put to death, then how much more terror will come onto you sinners in due time?"

Not really satisfied with this explanation, I'm wondering if this really means, "Since I'm am with you and they are putting me to death.  How much more suffering you will experience as my followers when I am not physically with you?"  As we know, many of his early followers faced similar or even more cruel deaths at the hand of the Romans.

Or perhaps he is simply seeing the the future destruction of Jerusalem as happened in 70 AD, a mere 37 years after his death?

I don't think I can entirely unpack this passage...that's the tough mystery with these prophetic statements.  Whatever the true meaning (and there may be multiple) it is interesting that Jesus would take the time to teach women even as he is going through his own suffering and humiliation.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Easter Rose

I made this during a gathering of art friends last week.  I think I enjoy the light charcoal on dark background and may try doing a series of drawings using this sort of style.  And with the theme of rebirth, growth or resurrection out of pain or heartbreak.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Isaiah 61

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord 's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
(Isaiah 61:1-4 ESV)

This was painted during Advent at a sunday service at Church of the Ascension.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Step Back From the Mirror...

Sometimes it happens:

I am standing at the mirror and get a close look at my face...

Now I don't fancy myself all that concerned about looks, but I would be lying if I said I NEVER cared...

So close to the mirror, I can see little things that bother me.  Things that might not really be that big of a deal. The problem is when I begin to fixate.  And I soon realize that I've spent way more time than I have the business to be spending on my face, perhaps even making things worse.

This carries over to other areas in my life.

I fixate on a small task at work and then realize I have no time to do the bigger things.  I fixate on a certain detail of a project and spend time meaninglessly making corrections.

This gets worse when it comes to fixating on my failures.

I focus too much on what I feel I lack instead of what I have. In my spiritual journey, I focus on the many little things I feel I should be doing.

I find that I assume God sees me the same way.  Truth is, he DOES.  But he also sees the bigger picture and is full GRACE.  God knows my shortcomings as well as the wonderful things about me...and LOVES me completely.  I fail to see this when I get so close to my crap...I really am often a bad gauge of myself.

Times like this, I really need to learn to catch myself and to step away from the mirror.

I figured this Halloween pic would be an appropriate end to this post...

Friday, January 23, 2015

Thankfulness for the Small Measure Given

In the Christian community thankfulness is just what it is anywhere else in the Christian life. Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good. Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things? If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

I was looking up Bonhoeffer quotes recently and came across this one.  It hit me in the stomach and took the wind out of my lungs.

I realized that my struggle to get close to God is in direct proportion to my inability to be grateful.  I am not thankful for "the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience and love" that has been given to me.  Somehow, I think that I should be further along in my spiritual life than I am...whatever that means.

I'm too fixated on my supposed destination rather than being fully in my present reality in the journey.

I have felt for the past 10 years that I'm not sure who my community is and when I think I find it, I somehow lose it.  But, there have been steadfast people throughout my life and have I really stopped to be thankful for those faithful few?  I want to be satisfied with the little I have (which is actually a lot according to Bonhoeffer).

It makes me think of communion.  We only get a small part of the bread and a little sip of the cup.  But it is Enough.  Can I trust God right now, that the small bit that I have is enough?

Bonhoeffer mentions something that Jesus talked about: the fact that one who is thankful in small things will receive the big things.  I can't put the cart before the horse.  There's a "growth" that Bonhoeffer references...I hinder God from growing my fellowship in His terms.  Jesus mentioned the mustard seed in relation to faith: it is the tiniest of seeds, but grows into a branching tree, in which birds can find their nest.

I cannot underestimate the small things in my life...they are where God wants me to grow.  Lord, help me to learn daily gratitude of the small things.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Lessons From Flying - Outgoing

We take off east instead of heading directly towards the destination.
As we begin to bank to the left, I glimpse my city amidst the fog:
Its distinct skyline slightly silhouetted by the rising sun.
It is almost too harsh to view, but I look intently for the familiar shapes and lines.

Soon enough, we continue our curve towards the west
And begin to put miles between our steel flying machine and my home.

The landscape below transforms into a thick layer of clouds:
an alien terrain of rippling, puffy ether.
This highway in the atmosphere will lead me to an even more foreign place.
This place is full of beauty and wonder and adventure.
Yet it is not all unknown: it holds the familiarity of an old friend.

Air travel can certainly be argued to be a "point A to point B" experience.
Of course the reason is to cut down the time in order to more enjoy the destination.
But I would say that the journey, the line between, matters.
It has something to teach me as much as the destination.
The question is, do I take the time to really see?

In order to get where we need to go in life,
Sometimes we need to take a good look back.
It seems counterintuitive; but it can be necessary to move forward.
It can be hard to look back: like staring into a bright, burning orb.
But if we persevere, we see what we need to see - and then move on.

The 30,000 foot view of our lives can give us better perspective
And a healthier view of ourselves and our life's path.
The way forward is unknown, but there is promise of Beauty.
And Friendship.
And Adventure.

I try to remember this as I see the miles multiply;
Even as I am not yet where I want to be:
I am exactly where I need to be.