The Church of CrossFit

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I am a card-carrying member of the Church of CrossFit. I belong to a gym, a specific branch of the Church, and I honestly couldn’t love it more. I am in. I am sold.

Let me tell you why.

Different gyms have different personalities, like neighborhoods. Some are competitive, some are snarky, some are kind. They might have different warm-ups, do different workouts, and have their gym set up differently, but the goal is the same for everyone, in every gym. In some gyms it’s even written on the wall:

“Be better than you were yesterday.”

It’s a simple goal, obviously. But it requires so much. In fact, when you start, you have no idea how much it will require of you.

It means pursuing your health. It means moving, one step, one day at a time, toward being the best you possible. And only you know what that means, how that looks. There are hundreds of people who have gone ahead of you, but not everything they did will work for you, because they are not you.

You have to learn about yourself, have to understand how you work, what food your body likes and doesn’t, how much rest you need, how much pain you can actually take.

Screen Shot 2018-07-20 at 12.28.58 PM.pngOh, the pain. That’s a big thing. It’s expected, that pain. Everyone at CrossFit knows there will be suffering – the goal is to be better than you were yesterday, and that means something is probably going to hurt. You learn to accept the pain of soreness, of breaking down your muscles and building them up again, and it becomes a bond between you and the people around you.

But actual injuries are totally different. If you get hurt or exhausted, maybe because you pushed too hard or maybe just because your body couldn’t keep up with what your spirit wanted to do, people tell you to rest and recover.  They suggest therapists and doctors, stretches and medications, all kinds of things to help you heal. There’s no shame in being injured, it means you were trying. Everyone just wants you to be healthy so you can get back to being better than you were yesterday.

Sometimes, despite every attempt to grow in health, you don’t achieve your goals. This can simply mean missing one lift you thought you could get, or sometimes even plateauing for months. When this happens, it’s frustrating, but not hopeless. If you fail, everyone encourages you, tells you, “You’ll get it next time.” “We all have off days.” “You’re here, you’re already doing a great job.”

And when a famous CrossFitter crashes and burns, it doesn’t destroy anyone’s faith in CrossFit. We know that sometimes your body just can’t do what you want it to, or that, as humans, we can’t control everything. We might shake our heads in empathy, because we all know what that feels like, or we might use it as a reality check. “That could be me. I’m not guaranteed anything. I need to remember that.” It’s not CrossFit that has failed, it’s a human being.

Screen Shot 2018-07-20 at 12.37.31 PM.pngAnd the human beings of CrossFit believe in each other. Because tomorrow that could be you dragging your lead-filled legs toward the finish line, and you are going to need the cheers of everyone around you just to take one more step without collapsing. Because we all know that if I’ve experienced something, probably someone else has too.

And when you spend so much time together, bonded together by suffering, you get to know each other. The different personalities can clash or blend, and loosely formed groups often surface, usually based purely on how much time you spend at the gym and how serious you are about being better than you were yesterday. We share recipe and date ideas, talk about work and home life freely. I’ve watched business mergers and real estate deals happen over a barbell, seen new friendships form and old friendships solidify while we lie on dirty black mats, sweating like it’s our job. Everyone does the same thing in the workout, so everyone has to come together, sweat together, sometimes cry together.

We only know what to do each day because of our coaches. Our coaches are leaders and guides, but never the end-all be-all to all things CrossFit. One coach might have one great suggestion, but it could be the third coach at a gym you dropped in at while on vacation that finally gives you the suggestion that gets you past a road-block in a skill you’ve been trying to master for months. And your home coaches aren’t mad, because their job isn’t to turn you into them, it’s to help you be better than you were yesterday. They will cheer as you show off your finally-mastered skill.

Screen Shot 2018-07-20 at 12.32.38 PM.pngNow, not everyone at CrossFit has pure motives and a heart of gold. There are people who are only there for the accolades, or who seem to miss the community aspect. Their insecurities or egos can sometimes ruin good moments or frustrate other CrossFitters. But they’re still welcome, as long as they work toward the goal.

Speaking of welcome, at CrossFit you have no idea who is gay or straight until you meet someone’s significant other or someone asks you out – because it’s completely irrelevant to you being better than you were yesterday.

What CrossFit does make relevant is the good of the community, because you cannot be better and healthier than you were yesterday and still ignore the community around you. CrossFit gyms and competitions raise hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for community centers, homeless programs, and individuals who need a helping hand. CrossFitters are often incredibly generous and thoughtful people.

IMG_3167And honestly, I’m very grateful for those people. I’ve been a part of four different gyms now, and each one has helped me be better than I was yesterday. I’ve made friends and grown stronger and healthier in each place. Because although on the bottom line, I am the one responsible for becoming better, they have encouraged, challenged, and supported me in that journey.

That’s why I’m a member of the Church of CrossFit. And sometimes I wish my Church of Jesus looked like that. I would just change the goal to this:

“Be more like Jesus than I was yesterday.”

Imagine with me for a moment. What if the Church of Jesus looked like the things I said above? We believed in each other, challenged each other to be healthy, suffered together, knowing that pain is part of growing more like Jesus than we were yesterday. Don’t get me wrong, I love my church. But what if the Church of CrossFit has gotten some things right that the Church of Jesus has missed?

This is a long post, so thanks for sticking with me. But now, I have to go the gym to be better than I was yesterday. And also to be more like Jesus than I was yesterday. Feel free to join me.

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Dear Maybe Someday Husband

Paper notebook with pencil and coffee on a wood table

Dear Maybe Someday Husband,

I’m really mad at you.

Yes, I know that’s not fair, since you’re not here to defend yourself, and technically you didn’t do anything, but occasionally I’m going to be mad at you without good reason so you might as well get used to it now. I’ll calm down and we’ll sort it out later, but for now, I’m ready to throw a few punches. And you just have to deal with it.

I’m angry because you’re missing it. You’re missing my life.

No, this isn’t about going to weddings alone or not having someone to buy me roses. Those things would be perks of having you around, but for me they’re not anger-worthy. I have friends who kill the dreaded spiders for me and a roommate who will make us Moscow Mules and play MarioKart and watch playoff hockey with me until we agree we should be responsible and go to bed. Most of the time, I really don’t care that you’re not here. I’m doing just fine.

And I’m doing whatever I want, which I know is a luxury. A married woman was quick to remind me of that recently when my singleness came up, and I assured her that I am well aware that marriage comes with a set of restrictions like checking with someone’s schedule and your agreed-upon budget before you spontaneously go skydiving. I’m appropriately appreciative of my independence, thank you very much.

And the sex…well, let’s just say I don’t really know what I’m missing, so that’s just a passing annoyance. Every once in a while I do think, “Hmm. This would be a time to have sex if someone was here for that. Oh well,” and I move on. I will say that although I can’t speak as an authority, I’m pretty sure you are missing out on some really good times, so keep that in mind.

So what is the problem?

You’re missing all the things that are happening, and all the people around me. You’ll never meet my grandparents, or one of my best friends. You won’t be able to remember that time we all did something ridiculous and laughed until we cried. You won’t know to tell me I did the right thing when I’m feeling the tough consequences of a long-past decision. You won’t be able to help me remember the moments and feelings that depression is wiping from my memory. You can’t tell stories of me when I was young and foolish when we are old and boring. You won’t know about this plain, early-May evening, sitting out on the patio, looking up at the new leaves, drinking tea and thinking about life.

Sure, I’ll tell you about it. I’ll tell you all my stories until you can tell them better than I. But I won’t know what I’m leaving out, and you will never have experienced those moments. You won’t have lived them.

I’m really mad at you for missing my life. And I suppose for me missing yours.

I’ll get over it, obviously. But I thought you should know.

If you ever do show up, could you bring another bottle of vodka? We’re running out.

I’m sure I will love you if you ever read this,
Your Maybe Someday Wife

Three Decades of Life

Sometimes, as Friday grows near, I ask my friends what I should blog about next. A few times now, one friend has suggested that I write about my latest birthday.

You see, I turned 30 in March, and they say it’s a milestone. IMG_1801

I’ve hesititated to write about it because in most ways, it felt like any other birthday.

But I admit, in one way,  it felt like a milestone. I wasn’t feeling old or anxious about it in the slightest until the day before my birthday, when it suddenly felt like I was aging the entirety of my 20s in one day. From 20-29, I felt exactly the same. Then, the eve of my 30th birthday, I watched my young adulthood zoom past, and I caught up with myself.

It was rather disconcerting.

The good news for me is that I never pictured myself much past college, so I didn’t have many unrealistic ideals to grapple with as I crossed into a new decade. I have many friends who expected to be married by a certain age, and have had to come to terms with singleness in unexpected ways. As my dating history suggests, I would like to get married but I’m not entirely committed to making it happen. I would love to own a house someday, but it’s not tied to a particular life stage. I don’t make much money, but adulthood didn’t necessarily bring prosperity in my young dreams. I am mostly free from broken expectations of that kind.

The bad news is that I fully expected myself to have more things figured out by now. I did not expect that life would still be so challenging, so…unexpected.

I thought I would know what I was doing.

Don’t we all expect that, to a certain extent? Don’t we expect to somehow finally figure out how to deal with things, or finally learn a lesson that we don’t have to relearn? I know life is a process, enjoy the journey, yada yada, blah blah blah. I’m all for smelling the roses and embracing the process. But wouldn’t it be nice to, just once, in one area of life, actually arrive?

These thoughts brought me around to the serenity prayer, to words embraced by those who are willing to take that first step: admitting and accepting they are in process.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

Honestly, I had forgotten the second paragraph of that prayer even existed. I had grasped tighter and tighter in my 20s to what I could change, believing that my reach would widen, that eventually, somehow, I could control most things about my life.

I can’t.

Which, of course, makes me think of Dumbledore.

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

IMG_1819I am, and always will be, in process. But I can choose destinations along the way. I think that’s what I didn’t realize as a kid, dreaming about having things figured out, having my life under control. I’m not going to arrive at adulthood. But I can celebrate ten years of paying my own bills. Why not? Get a cake, invite some friends. A decade of financial independence! So what if I don’t have my financial plan figured out? I’m doing it. I’m living it. I can create my own stops on this journey.

I don’t know what I’m doing. But I’ve been successfully living in a world of total uncertainty for 30 years now, and that is worth celebrating.

What about you? What stops have you reached on this journey that you can celebrate?

 

#FlashbackFriday: Shadows

Doubting Thomas

Last weekend, wavering somewhere between grief and nostalgia, I dug out some old CDs from under my bed, CDs containing years of homework, photos, journal entries, and story ideas. I certainly didn’t go through it all, but I went back to the ones that stuck out in my memory. In particular, I wanted to reread an essay I wrote as a final project for my Creative Nonfiction class in college. And once I read it, I thought, “Wow. That was eye-opening. And surprisingly insightful.”

And so, nearly a week later, I’ve decided to share it with you. Although it is longer than my usual posts, I hope this essay written by 21-year-old Ashleyne is as interesting and thought-provoking to you as it was to me.

 

Shadows

            I have been at college for three and a half years now, and for the last year I have been hopeless.

            During a fellowship meeting last week for the girls on my floor, we were each anonymously submitting large life questions to discuss. I asked what to do when you can’t see or feel hope. Kara responded immediately, with typical pastor’s kid-certainty.

            “Keep praying, keep searching for God. If you can’t see Him, choose to believe that He is there anyway, and that life is not actually hopeless.”

            Other responses were slightly less certain, but equally unambiguous.

            “Keep staying in the Word.”

            “Keep looking for good things in each day.”

            “Let your friends cheer you up and remind you of truth.”

            During the conversation, I tried to express my dissatisfaction with their answers in a way that wouldn’t crush them or reveal my identity as the questioner. I am a senior; they are freshmen. I hold a lot of power. But, as I expected, when I tried to probe deeper they fell silent. My roommate, my age, spoke up, asking them whether their answers would hold strong if it had been two years and nothing — hope was still missing. More silence. Finally, we prayed and disbanded, and once again I accepted the absence of a simple answer.

~|~

            My freshman year I was absolutely thrilled to be at school. The day my parents dropped me off I had a ridiculous grin on my face and I think my orientation leader was afraid of me. I was almost unnaturally happy, but to me it was the most natural thing in the world. I was ready to face life – sitting on a green hill next to the chapel, watching the other freshmen huddle around their parents, waiting for last hugs and words of encouragement. I was ready to take on college and leave my parents behind – what could stand up to me and my faith and my enthusiasm?

            I am a rather enthusiastic person. When I play sports, my limbs often get in the way of actually following the rules, but my competitive energy makes up for lack of skill. I usually end up apologizing profusely to everyone that I knock over, but at least I enjoy it.

            I love living.

            And yet, I have noticed that my enthusiasm has slowly faded over the last year, like a smoldering forest fire. Apparently Smoky has done a good job. I have yet to find a cause, and maybe there isn’t one — I find myself without motivation even to start conversations or to spend more than the minimum amount of time moving. It’s like going from a brand new trampoline to a peat bog.

~|~

            I have been taking an art history class to fulfill my fine arts requirement. We started with the early Renaissance, and have been wading through painting after painting. Each artist shifts the style of those that came before, so that new ideas and ways of painting are created over time. Tenebrism, a variation on the Italian technique chiaroscuro, was developed in the 16th century. It is a way of painting bright light against darkness. Frequently in these paintings Christ is pictured, brilliantly lit (almost unnaturally) against blackness that creates a contrasting background. The painters, like Rembrandt and el Greco, enforced the content of their work by making perfection and divinity stand out against normal life.

            Both that kind of astonishing light and swallowing dark are easy to find in this world. The light of a picnic by the ocean, friends, laughter, a good book, a kind stranger. The darkness of abuse, homelessness, loneliness, a broken marriage, a lost job.

            Is there no middle ground? Is everything black and white?

~|~

            I am sitting in an hour and a half long class with a professor who likes to ramble. After meandering about research and cultural segregation and other irrelevant topics for six minutes past what we all know to be the end of our time, he pauses. Then, with gusto, “So, go out and do it!” He stands, and walks out.

            Go out and live. Live on.

            This professor is well beyond my years, he has seen many more moments of vibrant light, and moments of consuming darkness.  He tells stories of losing his first wife to cancer and marrying again. He talks about the difficulty of supporting a family and the wonder of watching a child grow up. He shows us published papers and stacks of rejection letters. Then he tells me to go out there and live: laugh: cry.

~|~

            Ever passionate, in one direction or another, my roommate once told me that she yelled at Satan in a parking lot a half a mile from school. She was determined that he should not win. There was anger between her eyebrows even as she recounted the story to me. “I was ready to give up, ‘Shleyne. I was done for; he had gotten me. But then I started to realize that I wanted to fight. I wanted to pick up my sword and fight. No matter how many times I dropped it, I wanted to stand next to Jesus and fight the darkness, ‘cause the devil cannot win.”

            And he doesn’t win.

            In the end of all things, the beast is slain, the king takes his throne, and love conquers the darkness. It’s a great victory scene, the kind that makes you cry in movie theaters when the injured and disheartened hero finally beats the odds and the enemy, all for love.

            I just wish that the story of eternal hope didn’t feel so out of reach.

~|~

             Love made me cry in the middle of the night last semester when I left my roommate by herself in the hospital. I hugged her, but it was almost 2 am, and goodbyes are bad enough in the daytime. So I left her there, standing miserably with the night nurse, and I walked into the elevator. When I turned around and pushed the button for the first floor, they were gone. The doors closed. I was overwhelmed.

            The silence of loneliness is painful, but leaving someone else in that silence is deadly.

            I managed to forget that feeling (or repress it, depending on the location of your psychological camp) until the end of Christmas break two months later. I went to visit my great aunt in her nursing home half an hour from my parents’ house. Her face was bright and she was eager to hear all about my college life. I told her about my classes and playing flag football and what I was thinking about after graduation. Not feeling like talking about myself any more, I asked her to tell me some stories.

            My Aunt Ruth was a sick child. She had two brothers, who were both athletic and active, but she had weak ankles and a weak immune system. Her mother, who was Pennsylvania Dutch, allowed her to skip gym whenever she felt sick, so Aunt Ruth never got stronger. She rode the bus to school across town so she wouldn’t have to walk a few blocks, and had to stay out of school altogether for several months during a bout of Pneumonia.

            As an adult, Aunt Ruth became a Latin and French teacher in New Jersey. She told me twice, “I know that the Lord opened the door for that teaching position.” It seemed a source of wonder to her, even so long afterward. She taught for over thirty years and never married, finally retiring to New York to live with my parents. Now, health declining but mind still strong, she lives in a nursing home, surrounded by others her age, and spends her days reading and playing Scrabble. She still talks about going back home, but we all know that she will stay there. She is always happy to have visitors, and tells the same stories over and over.

            When we ran out of things to talk about (we got to the point of talking about the state of the geraniums on her windowsill) I hugged Aunt Ruth and promised to come back again. She said she’d pray for me. I am always grateful for the prayers of those to whom God has been faithful.

            One more hug, and I pulled on my coat and walked down the hall, past the open rooms with hospital beds and flashing colors of TV’s and paper mobiles and busy nurses. I was thoughtful but content as I walked into the elevator and turned around to push the button.

            The doors closed. I was overwhelmed by silence. I started to panic.

            It had been a nice visit – I knew she was glad to have me there, and I like listening to her talk, even about Scrabble games. And I could see hope in her life, which didn’t happen very much. But when the doors closed, the nursing home disappeared and I was back at the hospital in the middle of the night, struggling to take a breath.

~|~

            I get together for an hour every week with another of my professors, just to see where the conversation goes. In an abstract, theoretical, and unrealistic way, we talk about absolutely everything. I do think that we could have picked a better location for our meetings, though – her office has no windows and displays holes on the walls instead of pictures and shelves of research textbooks instead of potted plants.

            We’ve talked about feeling helpless, hopeless, like there is nothing you can do. The darkness is like a wall that we are climbing with no harness – you don’t know how far you have to go, even if you make it past where you are now without falling. We’ve talked about the obligation of those who follow Christ to trust in God’s protection. No matter how dark, no matter what we don’t know.

            Both interested in psychology, we have spent our hours threading together new theories about human existence. The tapestry we create is rather bleak, since it is based on social comparison, self-serving bias, and other such psychological ways of dealing with the difficult parts of life.

            At the end of a particularly frustrating discussion, she seemed to want to cheer me up. “You know,” she said, “abstract thinking isn’t actually helpful. Talking about these things is just going to make doing it harder. Go do something concrete, something artsy-craftsy. Go make a bird-house or something.”

            Later, out from under her florescent lights, I thought about it. A bird-house? Really? There is something deplorable about the concrete when the abstract is what hurts. You cannot conquer the silence by telling jokes; the silence just comes back.

            The next week, I told her so. She confessed to hating arts and crafts. “Why do you think I do what I do? I can’t be concrete.”

~|~

            There is something, though, to living on. It seems somehow more human. It’s like walking slowly forward with shackles rattling instead of sitting and braiding daisies into the chain links.

            But it is surprisingly easy to be inhuman.

            During a friendly soccer game a while ago, my team was steadily outstripped by the opposing team’s skill and physical fitness. Our enthusiasm ebbed as the chasm between the scores widened and the ball continued to pummel our net. By the time the whistle blew, hope had deserted us all until we could barely lift our hands to congratulate the other team.

            A friend of mine was on the opposing team. (This is an unfortunate facet of intramural sports – the other team is not always the enemy sent from the underworld.) She apologized for her teammates, who had made no effort to go easy on us, even after their victory was beyond certain. My friend seemed almost as upset as I was.

            “Don’t they have any compassion? Can’t they see what they are doing? It seems like it’s not even human.”

            On the tiny Micronesian island of Yap, athletic competitions are fierce. However, the winner must always be careful not to win by too large of a lead. Duane Elmer, whose opinion I respect, given his many years spent studying anthropology, describes his experience watching a regional foot race on Yap. The leader in the race continually looked over his shoulder while he was running, just to be sure that he wasn’t getting too far ahead of the others and stealing their self-respect. Elmer calls this “vulnerability.” To be vulnerable is to be less, to have your very self questioned, examined. Our culture promotes competition and individuality – protect your own vulnerability at all costs, but do not concern yourself with the humanity of others.

            Taking someone’s hope is taking their light. But still, when you are the one doing the taking, it seems perfectly straightforward.

~|~

            A story about a good king who returns to his land and sets the captives free is simple and inspiring across the board. But if it happened in reality the king was probably abused by his father and became a compulsive liar and several of the captives developed Stockholm syndrome and didn’t want to leave. There is darkness in every real story. I’m starting to think that stories are the only good things that are straightforward. Everything else has shades of gray, with black and white blended together.

            John Connolly paints this in the Book of Lost Things, where a boy named David winds up in the world of the fairy tales and folk stories that he reads to escape from his life. The dwarves are “a group of homicidal, class-obsessed small people,” but they are “really quite fun.” The knight in shining armor who saves David’s life is gay. No one is straightforward: darkness and light intermingle: twisting: fencing. Tenebrism disappears in stories like this – there is too much blending.

~|~

            My rambling professor likes to tie Bible stories to research studies. He interprets them with the looseness of familiarity – the gospels lost their literal meaning for him a few decades ago.

            “Jesus told us that people are both bad and not, simultaneously. Think about the weeds and the plants growing up together. You cannot separate good from evil, their roots grow together – you have to wait for the harvest to pull them apart.”

            The harvest. The top of the wall. The end of the battle. The last stab of the fencing match. When light and darkness will separate again, outside of a painting, and shadow will disappear forever.

~|~

            It’s difficult to keep going when you don’t know why you are going in the first place, although I suppose that makes sense. You begin to search for excuses – other ways to feel motivated. Consequently, I often find myself doing things because someone else wants to. If left to my own devices, I would be in my dorm room between my cotton sheets with my stuffed orangutan.

            Some of my friends have started to notice this. “But what do you want to do?” is a refrain I hear a lot lately.

            Nothing. I don’t want to do anything. So I watch movies I don’t like, spend weekends with people that drive me crazy, and eat a lot of tasteless, vegan food. Some people think I am sacrificial. It’s not that I am a nice person, it’s just that if I’m not going to be happy, someone else might as well be. There are no feelings attached for me.

~|~

            When the sun shines on campus, I walk around and look at the colors. They seem artistic, vibrant, not light against dark, but blue against green, brick against wooden fence, tulips against dirt. I wonder that the world can look so happy.

            “Shut up,” I said to an awakening tree last week. “Shut up and leave me alone. I’m tired of fighting.”

            The tree said nothing, it just continued to shake off the cold weather. Even if it heard me, and I suspect that it did, it just kept opening its leaves and getting ready for summer.

~|~

            Love does win in the end; it’s getting to the end that I am having a hard time with. It’s not supposed to be this way, this hard. Light and darkness aren’t supposed to be endlessly twisted together, there aren’t supposed to be shadows. And eventually, love will win and the complexity of real life will be flattened. One day, the king will return for the captives, but what if the captives don’t want to go?

            It seems a silly thing to ask yourself, when you are searching for hope – if I found it would I want it? Silly, perhaps. But human. I ask myself these questions often.

            If the king came for me, would I hear Him calling out my freedom? I don’t think I have ever heard the unmistakable voice of God. I’ve said a lot of prayers, but had no visions. Sometimes I think that God doesn’t speak to me directly. I have only heard God in the voices of others: pick up your sword, build a bird-house, go out and live.

~|~

            Where is the hope in dropping my sword? For the past year, I have not had the energy to pick mine up. Am I standing in darkness? Have I somehow turned away from hope and stumbled into the territory of the “other,” anything but light?

            Or, perhaps hope is neither light nor dark. Perhaps tenebrism is unrealistic, and belongs only in a painting. I have been in a gray shadow, stuck in the middle, unfeeling, unenthusiastic, un-light, for a year now.

            Perhaps shadow does not have to be hopeless. “Just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean that the explanation doesn’t exist,” said one of Madeleine L’Engle’s characters in A Wrinkle in Time, a story about fighting darkness. And then, shortly thereafter, “Nothing is hopeless; we must hope for everything.” I cannot explain shadow, or why darkness is necessary in order to see light, or why hope cannot be found by those who earnestly seek it for a year.

            Even so, I think that I would rather graduate in uncertain shadow than be consumed by the dark or only acknowledge the light. Real life is complex and difficult to deal with, but I want to go out and live and see what happens.

That’s Not Me

Two days ago, I was riding on a bus in downtown Indianapolis, and a woman a few seats away leaned toward me and asked, “Are you a model?”

I laughed in her face.

And then I realized how incredibly rude that was.

“I’m sorry. No, I’m not.”

“Oh,” She said. “Well, you could be.”

I paused a quick second, trying to regain my Ps and Qs. “Thank you, that’s very nice of you.”

See, here’s the problem. I genuinely think the idea of me being a model is hilarious. And it’s not because I’m insecure or think I’m ugly. I’m not ugly. I mean, I’m no Gal Gadot, but let’s be honest, if there were two of her the universe would probably implode, so that’s for the best. I clean up well, and I can make an empire-waisted evening dress look like it was made for me. I’m pretty cute.

Screen Shot 2018-04-06 at 1.25.16 PM

But the very image of me modeling, putting in the effort to look poster-worthy for my job, every single day, is laughable.

Let me give you an example.

Adult acne is my nemesis. Seriously, I’ve had acne since I was 12, and it really hasn’t gotten much better – it’s just moved down from my forehead and sort of spread down my neck like it’s getting tired and letting gravity slowly win. About every two months or so, I look in the mirror at the mountain range that is my skin and I get incredibly annoyed. It’s wildly unfair, really. Teenage acne is one thing – they’re awkward and funny-looking anyway. But as an adult? It’s really just salt in the wound that is an aging body.

But here’s the catch: I hardly ever care enough to do something about it. Every once in a while I get so annoyed that I talk to a doctor or buy a different soap or stop washing my face in the shower. But then after about two days,  I just can’t be bothered to put in the effort. I have too much to do, and I value my downtime more than my skincare regimen. So my acne continues.

And I now have confirmation that it is truly a matter of values:

IMG_2725.JPGMy team and I have been working on a short film, and I am the main character. Knowing that we were going to be filming this week, and that my face would be displayed on HD screens, and that the character I was playing might actually put in the effort to deal with her acne, I forced myself to actually take care of my skin for two whole weeks. And damn if it doesn’t look good.

But last night when I got home from the last day of filming, I washed my face in the shower and couldn’t be bothered to do a single other thing to my skin before crawling into bed.

It’s no longer a priority. Sleep is more valuable.

And honestly, at thirty years old, it’s good for me to just acknowledge this: I could look better, but I’m just not going to, because other things are more important to me. That acknowledgment keeps the comparison and insecurity monsters at bay, because I can recognize that where I differ from others is almost always a choice. I could be thinner, but then I wouldn’t be able to eat ice cream with my friends while we watch terrible movies. I could drive a nicer car, but I wouldn’t be able to afford to do CrossFit, which I love.

The options are out there, and I am choosing what I want. I am so okay with not being a model, and it has nothing to do with feeling insecure. It’s just not me. There is great freedom in just admitting that a certain thing is never going to be true of you. Like having a clean house, or getting that motorcycle. Those things will happen if you choose to value them, but that’s just unrealistic, why don’t you come on over here with me? We might have messy houses and adult acne, but we have ice cream and no regrets.

What are you not choosing to value in life that you can just acknowledge and move on from?

When in Thailand

A lot of people recently have asked me, “How was Thailand?”

Here’s my standard answer: “Thailand is a really cool place, and I would love to go there again!” IMG_1604.JPG

The astute among you may notice that although I did technically answer the question, I didn’t really answer the heart of the question. Some people notice that in real time and inquire further, but most don’t and just move on. It’s an easy way to decipher who’s asking a quick, polite question, and who actually has time and emotional bandwidth to know more.

But since not all of you know me personally and can ask, I shall give you the long answer. If you didn’t want the long answer, then you already have the short one and you can go on your merry way! Blessings and health upon you, my friend.

 

So here’s the big picture. Five of us went to Thailand to lead worship for about 500 missionaries. That part of being in Thailand was fantastic: being with these super cool, dedicated, interesting people during their week of processing and chill time. But the actual trip (both there and back and some of being there) was ROUGH.

IMG_1452Our luggage didn’t leave the US when we did, so our 16-hour layover in China was just with carry-on luggage, which is not a huge deal (as anyone who’s done much traveling knows, this is a fairly common occurrence) but the language barrier meant that we spent at least 2 of those 16 hours in discussion with various airport personnel about our lost bags. And you haven’t really felt alone in the universe until you’ve tried to find transportation in a non-english speaking country at night, with nothing but your passport, laptop, and a clean pair of underwear.

We found our hotel, and due to a series of odd and sleep-deprived decisions, I ended up sharing a room with a total stranger that we met at the airport. So I can also tell you that you haven’t come to terms with your mortality until you’ve laid in bed thinking, “Wow, I hope my roommate isn’t a serial killer. I guess we’ll find out in the morning.”

Good news: she was not a serial killer.

We trekked onward to Thailand, settled into our hotel, and played for two days on rented instruments, waiting for our luggage to arrive. Day three, most of it arrived, and my acoustic guitar was among the happily accounted-for.

IMG_7200But when I took it out to play it the next morning, I discovered an 18 inch crack along the bottom of my guitar. I own an SKB flight case, which basically means in theory you could drop my guitar out of the plane at 30,000 feet and it would be fine. And since there was no damage to the case, clearly someone had removed the guitar from the case, somehow managed to crack it, then put it back and sent it along to Thailand. (I strongly suspect that they removed it to inspect it, stopped to take a smoke break, sat on the guitar, and then just put it back when their break was over. Either that or some sort of guitar-throwing competition went down.)

So that wasn’t great.

IMG_1623One of my teammates accompanied me back to the airport to report my luggage as “damaged,” which was another exercise in universal sign language. There was a point, actually, when a very polite but harried Thai gentleman told us we needed to speak to a Mr. Ping. My teammate leaned over to me and whispered, “Is he being serious or is he making a racist joke about the Chinese?”

“I have no idea. Just smile and nod,” I said, following my own advice.

We never found Mr. Ping, so maybe it was joke? Very difficult to say.

After we returned from the airport, I was getting ready to play for the evening session when I suddenly realized a terrible thing: I’d left my iPhone in the cab.

My roommate, who had lived in Asia for several years, was kind but straightforward: “I’m very sorry that happened. You’ll never see it again. Accept that and move on.”

Well, at this point you need to know that midway through the week I had learned that my grandmother passed away back in the states. Between that, the energy needed to lead the team, and my broken guitar, I was already emotionally on edge, and losing my phone, my tether to the familiar, put me over that edge.

I don’t cry often, but when I do, I tend to be in danger of popping out my eyeballs from sheer force. This was one of those times.

Thankfully, a coworker refused to accept this ending. He used Find My iPhone to see that my phone was still in the cab (back at the airport) and he put a message on the lock screen. Less than an hour later, we got a text in very broken English. Paraphrased, it said, “We found your phone. We are heading to such and such resort. We will leave your phone at the front desk.”

And there was much rejoicing!

My roommate’s immediate response was, “Wow. God must really love you!”

Theologically accurate? Not so much. Figuratively true? Yes.

You’ll be glad to know that the trip to the resort to retrieve my phone was an adventure in itself. We took a tuk-tuk, which is basically a giant tricycle with an engine, and when we showed the driver the spot on the map where we needed to go, he pulled out a one-inch thick monocle in order to see the map. And he still put his nose on the phone screen to use it! If I’d had a phone at the time, I would have taken a photo, and you could all share in the disbelief. Our driver was essentially blind.

IMG_0003.JPGBut apparently his distance vision was somewhat better, because he successfully got us to the resort and back, cheered with us about my phone (“You accomplish you mission!”) and even took our photo and consented to take a selfie with us afterwards.

The end of this story is as follows: I bought a pair of Thai pants with elephants on them and wore them on the plane home and they ripped right down the crotch halfway through the 14.5-hour plane ride. Which just confirms the fact that nothing is fair in this world. And that international travel is an adventure from start to finish.

There. Now you know how Thailand was. Want to go with me next time?

What Didn’t Happen

My last two months have held a series of adventures.

From getting stranded in an ice storm in Iowa to leaving my iPhone in a cab in Thailand, my recent experiences could easily be narrated by Lemony Snicket. Some of that just comes with traveling internationally, and some of it was completely unwarranted and just comes with Murphy’s Law. It’s basically been two months of solid blogging gold, and even other people have noticed. Some variation of, “This will be a great blog post,” has been said to me at least five times by different people.

But my blog has been quieter than the Western Front.

IMG_1670 2.jpgThis is not just because I’ve been traveling. I’m currently writing this on a plane, somewhere over Pennsylvania, because you can write anytime and anywhere, Sam I am. (I guess not in the dark, unless you have a charged electronic device, which tends to be elusive when traveling overseas. But unless you’re stuck in a closet with no electricity or technology, I feel like you don’t really have an excuse for not writing if you have something to write.)

And I am going to write about those things that happened. Because they’re dang crazy. Or at least worth sharing. I am going to tell you what happened when I ripped my pants on a 12 hour flight from China to LA. Just not right now.

Today I want to talk about what didn’t happen.

Let’s start with the age old question: if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it still make a sound?

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My not at all old answer: yes, but it sounds different.

(There’s also the question, if a man hears a tree fall in the forest and there’s no woman to hear it, is he still wrong? The answer to that one is, of course, no comment.)

Here are a few things that didn’t happen:

When I couldn’t get the flat tire off my car while freezing rain soaked straight through my clothes, no one cussed the skies with me or lent their body weight to the effort. No one helped me tell the story when I got back, a day later than I had planned, from that spontaneous trip to Nebraska.

When I had an overnight layover in China, there was no female friend to share the hotel room with me, to laugh at my inappropriate jokes about the window between the shower and bedroom. There was only the young woman I met in the airport, and she was already asleep as I explored the foreign room, so I didn’t talk and laugh out loud about this stranger hopefully not being a serial killer.

When I saw a vague message from my mother and knew my grandmother had died, no one at that Israeli restaurant cut through the sounds of raucous laughter and busy nighttime traffic in Thailand to join me in telling stories about a woman who lived a long and amazing life. Whatever I needed in that moment didn’t happen, simply because no one present knew what that was, including me.

I could go on. But my point is not to depress you, or me for that matter.

My point is that over the last two months I’ve noticed the things that didn’t happen, the things that are missing.

And almost every time it’s actually a person that’s missing. Not one specific person. A kind of person in my life. The kind of person with me who could say, “I’m in this boat with you,” or, at the very least, “I see you and I understand you and what’s happening.” Those things didn’t happen because the people directly around me couldn’t say that, or because I was alone.

(A brief note: absolutely none of this is a complaint against the people I was with, or the people who helped and comforted and laughed with me from a distance. I am incredibly grateful for the way my friends, coworkers, and even strangers supported and cared for me. You did what you could in the moment, and I appreciate that more than I can say.)

I have had the good fortune to have at least one of those persons with me on many of my life adventures. But they’ve been noticeably absent in the last two months, and it’s made my adventures less fun, less funny, less light-hearted, harder to to accept as especially colorful pages in the coloring book that is my life.

Screen Shot 2018-02-15 at 9.11.14 PM.pngI have a notepad given to me by one of my favorite persons; we used it to log our travels on a particularly adventurous road trip. The cover says, “You be Thelma. I’ll be Louise.” The story of Thelma and Louise wouldn’t be a story without both of them together. They were in the boat together, right up to the end.

My thought for the future: whenever possible, take that person with you. The extra baggage fees are definitely worth it.