Saturday, January 16, 2016

Stars and Sunsets

I tried, I really did.

I tried to enjoy it. I even picked the best spot.

It was the first night of the New Year. I was on a personal retreat in Joshua Tree National Park.

I went out there to look at the stars.

And to have my moment.

I imagined myself getting there and being blown away. I anticipated a deep epiphany. I would recount the tale to other people about how I turned a corner and everything fit and my whole year made sense.

I was ready.

Not a cloud was in the sky.

A perfect night in the perfect spot in the perfect place for star-gazing.

It was everything that I wanted.

There was just one problem.

I don’t like the desert.

And for those of you that don’t know Joshua Tree National Park is smack dab in the middle of the desert.

Don’t get me wrong, Joshua Tree is beautiful. I picked this place for many reasons. 

1. If I ever have a son, I hope to name him Joshua.

2. U2 is my favorite band of all time. They have an album called “The Joshua Tree” which I listened to while I was there. 

3. The desert holds a lot of spiritual significance for me.

4. It was cheap.

Back to my moment.

I had driven around the park and went to a look out point for some sunset action. There were no parking spots open so I kept driving and made my way down into a valley that a nice yet slightly awkward park rancher said was the best spot to star gaze.

I missed the spot the first time and had to turn around and go back.

I parked the car and waited.

I waited for a sign, for a shooting star, for something.

But like I said, it was the desert and it was well…desolate.

And cold. 30 something degrees cold. I didn’t bring the proper clothes. I didn’t want to keep the car on to waste gas so I sat in the dark.

Cars kept streaming past. There was only one other car in the parking lot and two people were standing outside of it talking loudly.

The language was colorful.

I found myself thinking about what I would do if they started walking my way… then I started to think about serial killers… then I started to think about how my decaying body would eventually be found somewhere off the road by a cactus.

I stayed in the car.

Which made star gazing difficult.

I rolled down my window, cranked my neck.

The sky was beautiful. It really was. The stars were numerous. I thought saw the Milky Way. 

I sighed.

This wasn’t exactly going like I planned but I was ready for my moment.

Nothing happened.

Then the people started talking again. More cars drove by, my neck started to hurt because of the awkward crank and I was freezing. On top of everything else nature was calling.

I drove away and back into town after about 10 minutes.

10 stinking minutes.

That was my moment? What happened? I thought it was what I wanted, and it was…

Wasn’t it?

I was pondering this over in my mind as I drove near city lights. 

Nature was still calling so I stopped at a McDonalds. I needed to get some thoughts out of me.

(Now I am the type of person who feels guilty using a public bathroom at a McDonalds unless I buy something. So there I was writing this down with a small $1.17 Diet Dr. Pepper nearby.)

Maybe if I had camped out there I would have enjoyed it more, even if it was the desert.

But I am not a huge fan of camping. I love indoor plumbing. It is the only thing holding me back from devoting all of my free time to inventing a time machine so I can visit cool places like Jane Austin’s England, Cesar’s Rome and Abraham Lincoln’s Washington.

Outhouses make me nervous.

I sipped my Diet Dr. Pepper.

What if I just didn’t like the starry night sky as much as I thought I did?

What if what I thought I wanted wasn’t really what I wanted?

This can’t be it. This can’t be the lesson. When at first you don’t succeed…

I decided to try again. I had come all this way. Why not?

So after sleeping in a ridiculous amount again, (Both mornings the front desk called to make sure I didn’t want maid service and confirm I had indeed put the do not disturb sign on the door. I think they were just checking to make sure I was still alive.) I set off again.

It was my last night and before I went to my starry spot I half heartily decided to go to the look out point again to catch a sunset. I remembered the very limited parking the night before and had already conceded that the same fate awaited me again.

But, as fate would have it, I did get a parking spot.
Right near the top of the look out point.

I got out of the car, walked up to the top and my mouth dropped.


There I was on top of a mountain that over looked the entire valley.

The air was clear and bright.

Tourists from all over the world where mingling around.

And then the sky happened.

The sun began to sink down into the mountain ridge.

The clouds picked up the different colors.

Blues, Pinks, Oranges, Red.

It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.

I stayed for two hours.

It was simply breathtaking.

I was freezing. I didn’t care.

There wasn’t a place to sit. I didn’t care.

This wasn’t the plan.

I didn’t care.

The stars could wait.

I was having a moment. 

A wordless, worriless, somehow everything is going to be okay moment.

A much needed moment. 

Everywhere you turned the view was stunning.

The shadows stretched across the landscape.

The lights started twinkling below from the city.

The fellow watchers quieted.

I finally left after the very last drop of light fell out of the sky.

My red tipped nose and the rest of me walked back to the car.

My soul a little full. My heart wide awake. 

I drove around and looked at stars too.

It was nice. I stayed for a few minutes and left.

Later on I went through both experiences in my mind.

A starry sky, a dazzling sunset.

I thought I wanted one.

I needed the other. 

What is the difference between want and need anyway?

Well, Google says this:

Want: have a desire to posses or do

Need: require something because it is essential or very important.

You are right Google, that is a big difference.

It doesn’t take much to say what you want.

If you don’t get want you want, you will live. It stinks, sure, but you will be okay.

If you don’t get what you need…different story. 

It takes a whole lot of courage and vulnerability to say what you need.

And for those of us who find vulnerability hard to practice, admitting that you need something can be terrifying.

So we avoid it. And go after the easier things.

Even if they let us down. 

Even if they aren’t right.

I think a lot of us have this idea in our heads of what we think we want. We go after these things for so long that we don’t want to come to terms with the fact that we may not want them anymore. 

So we stick with it.

And end up in a McDonalds sipping a Diet. Dr. Pepper.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are times when needs/wants line up perfectly well.

For those really self-aware people, good for you.

Some of us tend to lean toward the trial and error method.

Sometimes it takes experiencing what we think we want so we can figure out what we actually need.

Here is the truth: I would have never seen that sunset if I hadn’t wanted to go star gazing.

Other times, it is a lesson of letting go of what you want in order to get what you need.

Or, it may take being in the desert to get yourself to admit you need water. 

What are you thirsty for?

What if you don’t know? What if you were like me and had no idea what you needed?


Simple yes, but ask.

Ask God. Ask others. Ask yourself.

Open yourself up to the answers that follow. 

I think part of the time we don’t know what we need because we don’t know what is possible or we just don’t ask the question.

So why not ask the one who can do infinitely more than we can ask for or imagine?

The one that made the starry night, yes, but really wants to show you this sunset.

The sunset that is just over that ridge, ready to blow you away.

This year I am going to start asking what I need. And taking it a step further, (gulp) letting others know what I need.

Sounds terrifying.

Most things worth doing are.

First things first.

My name is Carrie, I am not always great with vulnerability and I really need indoor plumbing.

And Sunsets.

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