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?


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.


Snow Leopard Friendships


Sometimes in life, you have to spend months, even years, slowly and patiently developing a friendship.

Perhaps you interact occasionally at group functions, knowing each other from a distance, and then over time come to realize you could be friends.


Or perhaps you even dislike each other, avoiding or fighting constantly, until, after so many awkward or even hostile moments, you realize that the things you like about each other overpower what you dislike. Or even that what you disliked was actually just what you didn’t understand. (Fearing what you don’t know, and all that nonsense.)

I’ve had those friendships. In fact, lately I’ve considered taking a photo every time I meet someone new, in case that person eventually turns out to be a good friend. But the awkward factor would probably be too high. “Would you mind if I photographed you in case I like you later?”

These friendships can be especially deep, because you have years of shared experiences and mutual friends to enjoy together. They are time-consuming but incredibly worthwhile relationships to develop. Don’t be afraid to invest in those kinds of friendships, even if some of them don’t turn out the way you expected. The ones you gain will make up for the ones that drift away.

That’s the lesson for this week; that’s where the universally applicable part of this post ends.

Because every once in a while, you find someone that you immediately become friends with, and really there’s nothing you can do to make it happen except be in the right place at the right time, and jump in when the diving board appears. (Mixed metaphors, you say? Come on, you knew what I meant.) It’s a rare but amazing thing. Like comets. Or snow leopards.

For me, lately, I’ve been incredibly grateful for one woman who appeared in my life in August, pretty much permanently. She’s funny, she’s deep, and she gets my nerdy references to everything from Milo and Otis to Star Wars. We went on tour together during a particularly rough season for both of us, and were able to laugh and cry through it together. I appreciate her friendship probably more than I can say, and I’m fairly good with words.

And at this point, it’s permanent. She’s stuck with me. Forever. Sorry, Aech.


So maybe there is another universal thought here: if someone comes along and you instantly become friends, jump in. I mean, boundaries are a thing. A big thing. We can talk more about that later. But I’m just saying, don’t be afraid to make friends, even fast friends. Because they’re pretty great.

I Get By with a Little Help From My Friends

Although experience is lauded as the greatest teacher, I realized last night that many of my long-lasting life lessons came from my friends.

And so, in case you didn’t have friends to teach you each of these lessons, here are a few of the things I’ve learned from the friends around me. (In no particular order.) I’ll start with how the lesson was communicated to me, and end with a general statement, since often the specific circumstances require some adjustment in order to make the lesson relevant to others. 

  • Couscous can turn “I scrounged up some random items from the pantry” into “Look I made a meal!” I recognize that this feels like an odd lesson, especially as the first on the list of “important life lessons.” Not to mention the fact that couscous is totally 2008. But really, the point here is that one freshly-made, hot item on a plate of random foods gives a sense of intentionality and comfort. Big picture lesson: Never underestimate the power of making hot food to comfort your soul. 
  • Even if you never dance, if the bride asks you to dance, you dance. This is mainly about setting aside you own insecurities every once in a while, so another person can enjoy a big moment in their life. Don’t worry about how stupid you look or feel. Just jump in. Like Amy Poehler says, “Nobody looks stupid when they’re having fun.” Big picture: Make sure you forget about you sometimes in order to make life moments better for others. 
  • But, don’t mistake drama for big life moments. Manipulation and shame have no place in getting you to do things. There’s a huge difference between, “This is really important to me,” and, “You will ruin everything is you don’t do this.” This is a huge challenge for me to recognize,  but I’m learning. Learn with me. Big picture: Choose to do things for people or not to; don’t get suckered into it. 
  • When traveling overseas, always bring your own toilet paper. Everywhere. This is pretty self-explanatory. But the big picture lesson I’ve learned from it is this: Never take for granted that other people have what you have. 
  • Whenever possible, have your friends be friends with each other. First of all, this makes story-telling so much easier. “Well, you’ve met them, you understand.” But also, the phrase, “The more the merrier!” really is true. Some of my favorite moments have been with multiple sets of friends all in the same place together. Big picture: Ummm…whenever possible, have your friends be friends with each other. 

What are some lessons you’ve learned from your friends?

My Own Reminder

Tonight I accidentally shattered a bottle of wine on the steps of a church in Tbilisi, Georgia. 
I never thought I would say that sentence. 

Yesterday I had pizza with a girl who grew up in a village where soldiers kidnapping children for ransom and women for wives is still a frequent occurrence. 

I really never thought I would say that. 

Because I don’t think I really believed that it still happens. Not now. Not when I can watch the Gilmore Girls on my phone and order a book from Amazon and have it delivered to my home in two hours or less. Not when a woman or a black man can run for president in America. 

Not when I am so safe by comparison. Her reality is too far from my own for me to believe it without hearing her, meeting her, looking in her eyes. 
So far on my trip to Tbilisi, I have learned some fascinating things, met wonderful, kind people, and seen beautiful mountains, buildings, and seas. 
But I have also been strongly reminded of how much I do not know, and how much I take for granted. 

And so here is my reminder, from my room in Tbilisi to my American friends. 

If you can, travel. Ask questions. Learn about other cultures. 

If you cannot travel, learn any way you can. Even if you never meet someone from another country, it will change the way you see your own life, and the lives around you. 

And if, someday, you find yourself in Tbilisi without a corkscrew…I wish you good luck. 

Something for Your Monday

Two things:

  1. I love this, and thought it might make your Monday better, too:

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 1.42.55 PM


2. I’m going to be traveling this week and next, so consider this your head’s up in preparation for…GUEST BLOGGERS! That’s right. New voices, new thoughts, new senses of humor. Brace yourselves. And check back on Friday to see who I conned into this job first! [Insert maniacal laughter here…]



To Kylie, c/o God


Dear Kermit,

I wish you were here…

to help our friends grieve.

to sit with my mother while she cries.

to see people show up from all over the world to honor you.

to mock the music they played at your funeral.

I wish you were here…

to see your brother come to church.

to hold your niece’s hand, tell your sister you forgive her, show your brother how proud you are of him, and roll your eyes at your dad.

to hold and admire our friend’s new baby, making this new mother feel confident and comfortable and loved.

to read to the kids and enthrall them with crafts, even while I selfishly enjoy that they are sitting on my lap in your absence.

I wish you were here…

to say, “Ashes, let’s go do something.”

to hike through the woods with me and curse like a sailor at your mortal enemy, the woodchuck.

47124_490650099781_4193999_nto tell your side of stories – like hiking a volcano in New Mexico, camping in a sandstorm in Michigan, and having a kid jump on your Jeep in Virginia Beach.

to say exactly how much you hate something, reveling in the awkward moments afterward.

to come find me in a corner and make me laugh when I’m trying to hide from a crowd.

I wish you were here…

to model adulthood for me, beyond the age of 38.

to ask me questions that help me understand myself.

to exasperate me as you do everything 10% better and faster than I do.

to talk about other cultures, other countries, and other decades, starting every story, “The other day…”

to find Jesus in every single topic, even outhouses and origami.

I wish you were here…

to know just how much you changed everyone’s lives around you.

I will wish you were here for the rest of my life. 

But I would never wish that for you.

So to echo your exasperated youth group wisdom, I’ll just say this: “Say hello to Jesus for me!”

Love, your Toadie


Thunderclouds and Whiskey Tears


They say the bad days make the good days better.

I don’t know who “they” are, but I’m not a fan. In fact, I think they’re not very bright.

I woke up on Sunday morning, peeled my eyelids apart, and blinked at the clock until it came into focus. This took several minutes. After finally ascertaining that I had, indeed, slept through my alarm, I sat up. Then stood up. And the whole world swayed.

Although I’ve never had a proper ‘rage against the world, clamp your hands over your ears’ hangover, I’ve experienced enough to know that this day, I felt hungover. I honestly don’t remember if I had any alcohol on Saturday night, but if I did, it certainly wasn’t enough to create a hangover. This feeling was coming from purely internal sources, the causes of which I am still unaware.

But today was the day of my dear friends’ important life event. I damn sure wasn’t gonna miss it.

Dressed in my roommate’s clothes, makeup covering the bleariness, I headed out the door.

I made it through the first part of the event with relative ease, even though I was unable to get my hands on any coffee. And really, I think we should acknowledge that for the miracle it was.

But then my social buffer left. (You know the kind of person I’m talking about. Actually, you probably know the person herself. Social Buffering should be her lifelong career.)

Anyway. I was now alone, in the direct sunshine, dehydrated, under-caffeinated, underfed but not at all hungry, and surrounded by a large handful of people who were uncomfortable speaking with me, due to some messy church nonsense.

And to top things off, all I could think about was how horrible life is and how I would rather not be alive.

I wanted to celebrate with my friends. I wanted to stay, to be present, to enjoy what was honestly one of the best events of its kind I have been to.

And I did stay. Because it was important.

But then I drove home, changed into sweatpants and a t-shirt, scrubbed the makeup off my face, downed a glass of whiskey, crawled into bed, and cried violently while I watched 3 hours of a political drama show.

By 5 pm, I had to face the facts. I was having a really bad day. When I was in high school, people described something negative by saying it sucked eggs. Well, this day sucked rotten eggs from a dead chicken. On garbage day. In India. During monsoon season.

This day was not going to make my good days better. This was the kind of day that keeps me looking over my shoulder on my good days, wondering if the thunderclouds and whiskey tears are about to descend. This was the calendar equivalent of a gremlin. It could come back, in a new form, wreaking havoc in unexpected moments. It could haunt me.

But…not if I accepted it. It’s sort of backwards, really. I had two options. One, I could keep being frustrated, sad, overwhelmed, depressed, and beating myself up about having a terrible day. Or two, I could keep being frustrated, sad, overwhelmed, and depressed, but accept it. If I said, “Yes. This is terrible. Rotten eggs all around. But it does not own me, or defeat me to accept that. I am not broken by a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day,” then I could get up the next morning and not look over my shoulder for the gremlins. The gremlins can attack. And that’s okay.

The bad days don’t make the good days better. The bad days remind you that no day has the power to destroy you, unless you let it.

So in this season, it might seem small, but that’s my first and most important action step for getting through a bad day. Acceptance.

I’d love to know – how do you get through a terrible day?