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?

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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.

Checkpoint Reached

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When your counselor emails you to make sure you’re still alive, you know you’ve been gone from your “normal life” too long. And she’s probably not the only one wondering that.

Yes, hi. I’m still alive. Been traveling. What’s that? Oh, thanks! It’s my summer hairstyle. Keeps me cool, ha ha. I agree, it’s been far too long since I’ve posted. Hey, you’re looking good! Have you lost weight? No kidding! No, that’s okay, if I want to learn how to live on sunflower seeds and paste, I know who to call. How’m I doing? Well…

I went to Florida. And then I went to New York. And then I moved to a new house. And then I went to Colorado for two months. And then I went to Chicago. And now I’m finally home, in my new house, trying to figure out which drawer has toothpaste and which one has pesticide, while I schedule 1,486 doctor/dentist/psychiatrist/sleep doctor/therapist/car mechanic appointments. Oh, and I’m now a team leader at work. Which is AWESOME, but…umm…I don’t have time to work right now, so…

…So I’m doing alright, I think.

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I think I’m doing alright, mostly because I know that this is a new season, and that it’s okay for me to be ridiculously tired from all the things I just did. I’m realizing that seasons can be natural checkpoints, and that checkpoints are a great time to pause and rest, as well as to assess the things I’m carrying around with me and see what I really need.

For instance, I don’t really need a mandolin AND a ukulele, neither of which I play. Ever. Probably a good time to drop one or both of those.

Neither do I need to go to a doctor I really dislike. Ain’t nobody got time for cranky men giving you a pap smear.

But I do need a consistent, physical activity in my life. So I need to find one of those again.

How about you? As we head into a seasonal change, a checkpoint, what do you need to drop, and what do you need to find for this next season?

Size Me Up

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A coworker reminded me this week that since we’re going to Florida, we will probably want to bring bathing suits. I’ll be there for an entire month, so realistically I will want more than one bathing suit. But I only have one good bathing suit.

If you’re female, you already know where I’m going with this. Feel free to go grab a snack and come back next week. By the way, you look thin. Have you been eating enough?

Anyway.

Like most women, I hate bathing suit shopping.

thinkstockphotos-621993752This is because no one actually looks good in a bathing suit unless they get paid to do so (allowing them to pay other people to help them look good in a bathing suit.) Oh, and chubby kids. Fat babies look adorable in bathing suits.

When it comes to something as tight-fitting as swimwear, the sizes Small, Medium, and Large, simply don’t allow for the fact that HUMANS AREN’T SHAPED THE SAME. Not a one of us. For instance, I’ve got some extra junk in my trunk, but I also have the rib cage circumference of a chihuahua. And I’m supposed to choose between three sizes that were actually made for “Small model,” “Average model,” and “The rest of you.”

What in the actual heck?!?

(And don’t even get me started on dressing room lighting. I’m pretty sure it’s the mirrors that have cellulite, not us, just so you know.)

And yes, I can buy a more expensive bathing suit that allows for specific measurements. But forking over $150+ for a piece of lycra specially tailored to my bra size and the width of my belly button is just not how I want to spend my money. Why isn’t this where the whole, “There are starving children in Africa!” subject pops up? It makes so much more sense in relation to over-priced bathing suits than food that’s already been purchased and served to an American. I’ve been cleaning my plate for almost 20 years now, and those children are still starving. It’s not working, people.

I know I had a point to all this. Something about the unfairness of our material world and how they work us over for extra money and we try to make ourselves feel better while we eat our feelings of inadequacy because we don’t look like models.

But honestly, that just feels exhausting. Forget it.

I’m going to Walmart to get a bathing suit and some ice cream. Need anything?

Return Trip

Hey, friends.

I’m typing this from the back corner of an airplane, flying 37,987 feet over Atlanta. I’m hurtling through the air in a metal tube, making the 989-mile journey from Orlando to Indianapolis in about 2 hours. For the dollar price of a decent pair of jeans. I paid more for the tablet I’m tapping these words on than I did to look down at the earth like an astronaut coming back into orbit. Crazy. 

And yet, this journey that seems crazy when you break it down is actually returning me to normal. I’m coming back to real life. 

I’ve spent the last two months touring with a Christmas rock band, playing shows in prisons and homeless shelters. If you don’t know me that probably sounds like the beginning of a bad joke or a Lifetime movie plot, but it’s true. 

This touring season has been hectic and harried, full of late-night gas station stops and frigid early-morning wake-up calls. Our schedule has been all over the place, and that combined with rehearsals, regular work meetings, and overseas travel means that I haven’t had a steady routine since August. I haven’t worked out more than twice in one week since June. Add in the emotional intensity of talking to sobbing inmates and still grieving the loss of one of my best friends, plus not getting a lot of alone time, and all this makes for a very unstable Ashleyne. 

So today I am returning home. I’m returning to my routine and my bed and my gym and my cubicle. 

Normal often feels boring. Home can seem like an abstract concept. But today, normal and home sound wonderful. 

(Feel free to remind me of that in a month, when I’m complaining about it.)

So, wherever you are today, whatever you’re doing, why don’t you take a moment to join me in appreciating normal and real life? If you’re far away, or in a strange season, stop to look forward to returning to normal. If you’re in the day-in-day-out right now, no matter how hectic, stop – breathe – notice how nice real life is. Look around and enjoy the mess, organization, chaos, noise, or quiet. Are you home? Is this where you belong? Savor it. 


Here’s to return trips. 

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.