Dwelling in the Planned and Unplanned

In the last two weeks I traveled my way through 7 states, 5 beds, 4 time zones, 4 cars, and 1 airplane. Oddly enough, my travels are only beginning.

New Mexico trickled out a goodbye rain, Arizona was smoldering, San Diego’s temperate rays remained constant, Chicago was heavy with damp air, Michigan emptied the dampness into a summer storm, and now Ohio’s warmth escalates until an approaching precipitation.

The nomad life is invigorating for some people, the thrill of adventure beckons them into wandering from place to place, with as little luggage as possible, and savoring every moment of unplanned happenstance. I wish I was one of those people. Although I love traveling and seeing different parts of the world, I have typically been a creature of consistency. I prefer a morning routine to a morning flight, a steady work schedule to a steady travel schedule, and the same bed every night to a new one every week.

However for many of my friends, we spent the last four years of college consistently moving at least twice a year. Home for the summer, back to school in the fall, back for winter break, back in the spring, until the cycle begins again. Each year was a new dorm room, or a new apartment, with new roommates and new classes. Some of us even threw in a study abroad or a summer job away from home. So my illusion of consistency was temporal at best.

The best consolation I found during these times was the idea of the Israelites wandering in the desert. Psalm 90 is labeled as “A prayer of Moses, man of God.” It begins by saying –
     “Lord you have been our dwelling place
     throughout all the generations,
     before the mountains were born
     or you brought forth the earth and the world,
     from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

From here Moses goes on asking God to give them rest from their years of wandering in the desert. For those of us who are familiar with this story, we know that Moses was the one who led the Israelites out of Egypt — but sadly he never got to see them make it all the way to the promised land.

I can only imagine how hard this must have been for him. The Bible describes him as a “man of God,” and he certainly was one of the greatest leaders for the Israelites, yet he had to spend years traveling without any sort of home and without any clear end in sight. So it makes sense that he begins this prayer by calling on God as his dwelling place, because the only consistent part of their travels through the desert was that God always went with them in a cloud of smoke–when the cloud lifted from the tent the Israelites set out to move again, and wherever the cloud settled is where they camped.

What does it mean to dwell in God though?

In Deuteronomy 8, Moses reminds his people about the purpose of their wandering by saying to them:
“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Here we can see that Moses recognized the importance of following God, because it is out of God’s great love that he leads us through the desert places to humble us and remind us to rely on him. For Moses and the Israelites, dwelling in God meant relying on Him completely–trusting that He had their best interest at heart and that He would provide the food they needed to make it on the journey.

Whether you are without a job, continuing school, preparing to move, or have been settled for many years and still feel restless at heart–dwelling in God enables you to have a consistency that is inaccessible in our world of rapid change. We are all nomads in one way or another. It is evident in those moments of itchiness, the prickle of daydreams, fidgeting hands and the unease deep within that leaves us questioning even the simplest things.

The challenging part of dwelling with God, at least for me, is accepting that the journey might look different than what I plan or expect. Moses probably didn’t expect that those years of wandering in the desert would include manna from heaven, or water coming out of a rock, or an abundance of quail driven in from the sea. He certainly questioned God plenty of times – asking why they had to suffer in certain ways, or why he had to bear many heavy burdens.

Change is inevitable no matter where you are at. The Israelites may have wandered for 40 years in the desert, but they were never in same place physically or spiritually. They grew along the way, made mistakes, and eventually they did make it to the promised land.

The good news is that we can find certainty and a sense of home in God.

Isaiah 42 says:
     “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
     along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
     I will turn the darkness into light before them
     and make the rough places smooth.
     These are the things I will do;
     I will not forsake them.”

Dwelling with God doesn’t mean knowing the plan. Even if we learn to treat God as our home, our center of security, we have to know that He is still the one in control. I know that I have encountered a lot of frustrating uncertainty along my journeys, and I am not ashamed to admit that I have questioned God at every odd turn or roadblock along the way. But being at home with God means embracing the fact that things aren’t going to look exactly like we expect or plan for.

The best we can do is rely on Him, dwelling in the certainty of trusting that he will provide for us, that he will outlast even the tallest mountains, and that he will guide us on unfamiliar paths, making the rough places smooth, from everlasting to everlasting without ever forsaking us.
Sunset in Ohio (State #7 of the last two weeks)

Sunset in Ohio (State #7 of the last two weeks)

On Sunday I leave for a month long trip to Norway and Sweden. The simple explanation of what I’m doing there is that I received the Humanities Grant from the Swedish Council of America and I will be attending a conference before visiting two universities in Sweden. The complicated part is that it involves six different plane flights, at least five bus rides, some train travel, reservations for places to stay in four different cities, and some time staying with family friends who live in Norway. I am hoping to post updates about all these adventures on the blog here, but I can’t make any promises with a schedule that packed.

I also previously mentioned on the blog my grand plans to do a series of posts on all the books I’ve been reading this year, but because of my travel plans I’ve decided to postpone it for when I return. In the meantime I am attempting to dwell in God’s consistency rather than my own, knowing that he will provide along the way.

Are there times when you’ve felt lost or nomadic?

How did you deal with it?

Where Mountains and Desert Converge

Yesterday I wrote about the city of Albuquerque in all its idiosyncratic glory. Today, I want to share my favorite part of the city: it’s outdoor landscape and activities.

On an early Saturday morning, the drive across Tramway Boulevard is still in the shade as the sun rises behind the Sandia mountains. Sandia, the Spanish word for watermelon, seemed an appropriate name to the early settlers of New Mexico who saw the radiant pink hues on the mountain face at sunset, resembling the refreshing summer fruit.
Up close the pink hues of granite rock in the Sandias is subtle, but when the setting sun hits the mountain altogether and from a distance it becomes a mass of watermelon red

Up close the pink hues of granite rock in the Sandias is subtle, but when the setting sun hits the mountain altogether and from a distance it becomes a mass of watermelon red

Refreshing is also fitting for the Sandias, since it is often twenty to thirty degrees cooler on top of the mountain than at the bottom. On hot summer days, the trails across the Sandias are filled with colorful wildflowers, serene vistas, and the soft murmur of the wind rolling through the cliffs. It is an entirely different world from the desert below.

In fact, if you hike the 8 mile La Luz trail from the foothills to the top, they say you pass through three separate types of ecosystems. The harsh desert landscape at the bottom eventually traverses through pines trees, still mingled with cacti and sagebrush, until the landscape transforms into a dense canopy of mountain pine and grass. Even black bears are present on the mountain, hidden across the undisturbed ranges of forest.

Thus Albuquerque has unique access to both the mountains and the desert. In theory, you could see a black bear in the morning and a rattlesnake in the afternoon. Back down on the city floor a number of trails are available for a variety of outdoor activities. Biking is especially common in the city, despite the number of sharp, thorny goats heads plaguing any outdoor space. Both the Diversion Channel and the Rio Grande Bosque trail provide long, scenic bike routes free from the crazy drivers on Albuquerque’s streets.

Most Albuquerque natives I’ve meet like to claim that you can’t beat the weather here. Although I will admit it remains relatively temperate for being in a desert environment, I am originally from San Diego and that is a place where you truly can’t beat the weather. Albuquerque, on the other hand, suffers from summer “monsoons” coming up from the Gulf of Mexico which led to multiple summer thunderstorms during my stay here. The rain was a welcome gift to the parched landscape, but I wouldn’t call it ideal summer weather.
My brother's dog Luna loved hiking with me. Here we did a trail at the base of the Sandias, still amongst the desert environment

My brother’s dog Luna loved hiking with me. Here we did a trail at the base of the Sandias, still in the desert environment

I do appreciate the variety of plants and flowers that thrive in such sparse conditions. Wildflowers on the desert floor are entirely their own, born between the cacti’s spears and extending high above the bristled grasses they are not delicate nor hefty. We often stereotype the desert as an empty expanse, but its riches are more like ripples than waves. There is no need to compete for height or breadth of branches and leaves, roots do undercover work and the surface remains inconspicuous in its survival. Grass is not the deep green of rolling plains, but tufts of grayed mint, off-white, and mustard yellow. Life is harsher no doubt, but a rough exterior doesn’t disqualify the land from its own unique heart and soul. 

Do you have a preference for desert or mountains?

How does the landscape of your city inspire you?

New Mexico Recap: The City of Albuquerque

Two main highways create a cross section of Albuquerque’s four quadrants. It oddly mirrors New Mexico’s state flag–a red circle with four groups of four rays that represent the four cardinal directions, four seasons, stages of the day, and stages of life itself.

However, the 25, North and South, and the 40, East and West, divide the city’s flattened expanse in unequal sections. Some people suggest that Central Avenue (part of Route 66), which is a southern parallel to the 40, and the Rio Grande, which is the western parallel to the 25, are the true dividing lines. Consensus and clarity are not among the city’s strengths though, nor is equal distribution.

Albuquerque is not known for attracting large businesses or job industries, yet strip malls are prevalent and extensive across the city. More than anything, the restaurant and food industry seems to be largely successful. The city boasts 12 breweries, four wineries, and a vast array of restaurants boasting classic New Mexican red or green chile sauces. One of my favorite Albuquerque chains is the Satellite Coffee and Flying Star Cafe group, which offer great locally sourced food and a more unique alternative to the Starbucks chain.
Satellite Coffee on Central Ave.

Satellite Coffee on Central Ave.

Eccentric attractions are a trademark of Albuquerque in general. The Southwest has an affinity for liberally minded people, those who reflect the desert’s ability to adapt to an arid landscape of poor resources and create a strangely innovative way of living. In a place where you can find hundreds of varieties of cacti and too many types of cockroaches to count, you also find a range of people that might be typical American suburbanites, hippie professors, avid cyclists, or disadvantaged minorities common in any large city.

Thus the city has everything from a thriving hot air balloon community and the international hot air balloon museum, to a historic Old Town, to Native American museums and cultural centers, to the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. They also embrace their local sports teams, the minor league baseball Isotopes and the University of New Mexico Lobos, as much as any big-city team.

Hidden behind all these unique attractions, there is an unfortunate dark side. A hint to these problems is a peculiar pattern I’ve noticed on the highways: almost every time I drive on one I see a car abandoned on the shoulder. What does it say about a city when there are constantly cars breaking down, and not just that, but that their owners often abandon them? Perhaps the tow truck industry is lacking, or maybe something else creates such a conundrum.

The ills popularized by the hit show Breaking Bad–poor educational resources, meth labs, and heavy crime–are all too real. Although the city has brought in considerable tourism thanks to the show (my favorite spin off I’ve seen is the dog grooming company “Barking Bad”) it hasn’t been able to solve any of those problems.

Albuquerque’s mixture of people, places, and problems is certainly unique.  In some areas it is just as hip as a California beach town, with Saturday farmers markets and organic eateries, but in other areas it suffers from the social  consequences of urban inequality, with a large homeless population and gang violence. It is a city mashed between mountains and desert, colliding between a world of harsh realities and high-altitude dreams. But just as high compression and temperatures can eventually spurn out diamonds, the mash-ups in Albuquerque can certainly yield surprising results.
Sunday Farmers Market at the old Albuquerque Railyards - a unique gem of local color and small businesses

Sunday Farmers Market at the old Albuquerque Railyards – a unique gem of local color and small businesses

Check back tomorrow for more on the specific landscape and outdoor opportunities in and around the city.

Have you ever visited Albuquerque? What impression did you have?