seeing life a few shades clearer

A few weeks ago I was contacted by my friend, Tabitha. She works as an International Sponsorship Coordinator at an foster home for visually impaired children in Beijing, China. She shared with me about her crazy ride of a life that has involved getting married, having a baby, moving to a third world country, getting a dog and a house… all within a year’s time. One year, five life-altering events. Dang. And while I could easily spend time sharing about what God is doing in her life and how He is meeting her right where she is at, it was the children at the foster home she spoke of that further revealed the truth of God’s word being alive and active and lived out in our world.

And no, and I’m not referring to taking care of the orphans and widows (for the scripture savvy who think they have pegged where I am going with this), like I said, this is not about the people taking care of the kids, this is about the kids themselves.

I am referring to the fact that Jesus said “I have come so that they might have life and have it more abundantly,” or to the full, depending on your translation. And what struck me as I read my friend’s email about the children who are orphaned is the fact that the orphans and widows are included in on Jesus’ offer to live a full life, they don’t miss out on abundant living because of their circumstances, left behind for us to come in and take care of them so that we can live full lives and pat ourselves on the back for doing good. Abundant life is not limited to people who have all all their sight and no family issues; and sure, that’s common sense, but I’ll be the first to admit I would not have associated a visually impaired orphan with abundant living prior to reading my friend’s email. How have I missed this before now!? Bare with me, I’m a slow learner.

I’ll take the honesty thing a bit further, I find it hard to write about this right now, currently living in La Jolla, California. It’s hard for me not to get caught up in thinking that the world in which I am living is the definition of abundant life and everything else is just sub-par. I sometimes try to bury my head in scripture in the morning, filling my mind with the truth about who Jesus is and what it means to live an abundant life, and then I lift my head, look around at all the glitz and glamour of Southern California, toss my Bible aside as I reach for my beach towel and join the ranks of the toned and tanned elite, disguising myself as one of them, while at the same time managing to judge them. I judge the people I am trying to look like… good grief, JJ, did any of who Jesus is set in before lathering on the sunscreen?

Oh right, honesty, I didn’t put on sunscreen, I just judged people in the name of Jesus. And while I believe in the authority of the name of Jesus, Jesus did not give me the authority to judge others.

Thankfully, picking that thought apart is for another day, as this post is about someone very specific, unrelated to the California coastline from where I write this, but I find it necessary to make the point that I am here and he is there, because he is living a life of abundance the likes of which some of even the wealthiest people could never purchase.

His name is Jian Yu, his English name is Jake.

Jake is four years old and he lives in Beijing, China at a place called Bethel (the foster care for visually impaired children I mentioned above). When Jake was four months old he was left in a ditch at a zoo. I feel the need to repeat that… at four months old, Jake was placed in a ditch and left there. Before I go further commenting on how dare someone do that to a child, I find it best to repeat the words of my friend, Tabitha, who shared the story of this precious little boy with me…

“I look at my son sitting next to me who is almost three months and I just can’t imagine it. I know it’s not my place to judge–who knows what that mother was going through. Maybe she figured that the zoo was a good place because there are so many people someone would find him quickly. Maybe she was so overwhelmed by his blindness that she thought he would be better off in an orphanage where perhaps someone would know how to take care of him.” Here is a baby boy, abandoned by his birth mother, crying helplessly until someone discovers him, which sounds crazy similar to the story of Moses, abandoned by his mother in order to save his life (story found in Exodus), and judging Jake’s mother does us no good in retelling Jake’s story seeing as how we don’t know her story, and abandonment is all together just not the point.

The enemy would love for us to focus on the fact that Jake was abandoned rather than focus on the fact that he was found, but much like Moses, abandonment will not be Jake’s legacy. When we think of Moses we don’t think of “that guy who was abandoned as a baby,” we think of the one who led the Jews out of exile. I can only imagine how different the history of Israel and even the Bible for matter might be if Moses had allowed the situation he was born into, even the situation he was adopted into, which he later had to chose to abandon in order to save God’s people, dictate who he was and what he was capable of.

And as Jake grows up I can only imagine that the enemy would love for him to focus on this as well, whispering lies of abandonment to try and define this baby boy’s worth, trying to blind him further to the fact that he was found, he was rescued, he was saved, and not just by the hands of man, but by the hands of God. The very hands that created the Heavens and earth saw his baby boy crying in a ditch and did not leave him there. Truth trumps the lie and Jake’s very existence is evidence of the message of the gospel, the good news that we all once were lost but now are found.

Jake was found and upon realizing his visual disability he ended up being taken to Bethel where Tabitha first met him. “When I first came to Bethel in 2012,” she said, “he was one of the first kids to attach to me. He would hear my voice in a room and would walk with his hands out till he could find me and then would climb up like a little monkey and wrap his legs around my waist. He liked to touch my face and hair and really loved to be tickled. He couldn’t communicate in English or Chinese, he just would say “ah ah ah” because he liked the sound, and he would cry in order to get the caregivers (called Ayi’s in Chinese, pronounced Eye-Yee) to do what he wanted them to do. At that time, he only liked one Ayi… and me. I confess that I thought he was mentally delayed or perhaps autistic. He had no real communication skills, he didn’t play with other children, and he didn’t really know how to play with toys.”

The beautiful thing about Bethel is the fact that they believe that each child is capable of living a fulfilling, independent life, not despite their “disability,” but with it. “One of the things I love about Bethel is that we do awareness and trainings for orphanage staff, teachers, and parents of the visually impaired. We have published a manual full of tutorials such as “How to teach a blind child to brush their teeth” and such… Hopefully someday we’ll be out of a job.”

Tabitha shared about Jake’s growing experience in which they brought in a speech pathologist to work with him. “When she (the pathologist) first started having sessions with Jian Yu,” Tabitha said, “he HATED it. He kicked, screamed, pulled a chunk out of her hair and I think he even bit her. After two sessions he started to warm up… and six months later, this kid is talking, laughing, playing and fully functioning at the cognitive level of his peers. It’s honestly a speech therapy miracle story. Today he runs around exploring and has even started preschool…

I can’t even tell you how incredible this was to me… a child I thought was mentally disabled is totally fine after six months of prayer, love, patience, and a little therapy. He’s a totally normal kid now!”

Jake was born into a situation that to the human eye would look like an accident, but I rebuke any such statement, thought or lie presented to us by the enemy. Jake’s existence, his being here on planet earth in this time frame, in China, made up of the DNA he is made up with is without a shadow of a doubt in my mind no accident, no random event, and his being found is no coincidence.

I think it’s easy to say to someone who has been adopted that they aren’t a mistake or an accident or a regret. It’s easy to say things like “you are chosen,” “you are valuable,” “you are worthy,” because it’s true, they are chosen. Regardless of our family histories and stories, we are all chosen, valuable and worthy, simply because even if it was a random act that got us here, even if we did grow up in a careless family, or no family at all, it is not a random and careless God who brought us into this world.

It’s easy to say that, but it’s much harder to believe, or at least to live in a way that we believe it. And I say we because I do not have a one up on Jake on living an abundant life simply because I wasn’t adopted or because I can see life a few shades clearer than him, which doesn’t mean I can see clearly at all.

Whether the rain is gone or not, my clarity of vision is skewed… I’m blinded by my own sin, my own humanity, my own broken story and time and time again I settle for less than what God has to offer because I allow the nature of my sin or the origin of my story to dictate who I am. I feed into the lie that I’m not chosen, not valuable, not worthy and I function out of a place of believing I am mistake of sorts instead of shifting my focus to the One who intentionally created me in His image…the same Creator who created Jake in His image. Jake’s condition is not a mistake, nor a punishment, nor an exemption from living abundantly. And so it goes with me, with each of us and whatever obstacles we might face, our conditions, our circumstances, our stories are never to be used as an excuse to merely survive this life.

And so I think about Jake… to have the story he has and the visual impairment that he has are only parts of him, they are not definitions of him and because of this he lives a full, abundant life that involves a great deal of learning and laughter and singing B-I-N-G-O, (which is apparently his favorite song to sing). Jake doesn’t need the abundance of what America has to offer in order to see how worth living life is.

My prayer for Jake as he grows up is that his identity is formed out of the truth that he was found and chosen. If we all functioned out of this truth, that no matter our circumstance or story, we all were lost but now are found, could change the world. Maybe that sounds a bit naive or extreme, but I don’t think so. I can’t claim to serve the God that I do, the creator of the heavens and the earth and sit idly by as if I’m not capable of being used by Him in mighty big ways, as was true for my brothers and sisters, Moses, David, Joseph, Ruth, Rahab, and continues to be true for my brothers and sisters today, including “those kids” at Bethel, including Jake.

If you want to step outside of your own world, your own bubble, your own set of issues (don’t worry, we all have them), and be reminded of the simplistic beauty to live each day to the fullest, which may look like different for each of us, some people may need to face a big fear today and others may need help just getting out of bed, but whatever baby step you can take today to live this life well, take it, and take a look at how others very different from you and me are taking that step to live their lives full, rich and well at Bethel.

You can find on Bethel’s website ways to add to the lives of Jake and his friends, be it through adoption, child sponsorship, mentorship, and sure prayer, but act on that prayer. I believe answered prayer is a combination of divine intervention and human initiative. Even if that human initiative is one dollar, that’s one dollar towards something huge instead of a selfless thought that never saw the light of day to make the day brighter for someone else. If only we acted on loving others half as much as we thought about what a good idea it would be to do so.

As for Jake, well, my little friend, you and I have never met, but I hope someone relays to you one day the impact you made on a 30-year-old American girl living the “high life” in Southern California. You see life a few shades clearer than most of us could ever hope to imagine, and so your story has reminded me to never stop imagining, no matter how cloudy some days may get.  Your story has reminded me that the “high life” is an inside job and that I can live life well no matter where I am when all is well with my soul. Your story has reminded me that love not only saves people but it helps them thrive and grow and become who they were meant to be. Your story has reminded me to laugh harder and sing more no matter how old I get. Your story has reminded me to look harder for things that matter most in life.

And may you know that you possess inside of you the potential to change a village, a nation, a generation, even the world. As you grow up, read about our brother Moses… abandoned, adopted, rejected, disowned, insecure, speech impediment, not to mention a murderer, and yet (I love those two words), it was he who set a whole nation free from slavery. May you grow to know our Lord and know He chose you not just to survive this life, but He chose you for big and mighty things. He needed the DNA you are made of in order to create you and He knew you would thrive better planted in different soil.

Your story is one of great, great victory.

You are chosen, and so I say to you as one of my high-school students recently said to me, do you and do you well!

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pretty messy people

June 21

Just above me I can smell the sweet scent of hookah. Cars are driving past as I sit outside one of the only coffee shops in La Jolla that not only seems to stay open past 8pm, but offers hookah in the lounge just above the coffee shop area. I don’t know if I am surrounded by tourists or locals, perhaps a little of both, as is the case with most cities, and I find it interesting to not know which camp to place myself in. In one sense, I feel like a tourist as I am in a new place, wanting to see all the sites and take as many pictures as possible, most likely getting on the nerves of all the locals who have seen all that is new to me many times before. In another sense, I feel like a local due to my extended stay that will last until September, my ability to keep up on the freeway (a skill I learned in Chicago), my knowledge of all the local, non-chain coffee shops, because let’s be honest, I goggled it well before I got here, and so I’ve already placed myself above all the week long tourists, or worse (as I’ve come to understand from Californians) Arizona tourists.

I’ve lived in California for less than a month and I have already found myself rolling my eyes at Arizona license plates because Arizonans clearly don’t know how to drive, or at least all the Californians say so, and true to my nature, I go with what everyone else says. I don’t say that proudly, just honestly. Plus, even if it is over some seemingly small matter like traffic, sometimes it’s just nice to have something to relate to someone with, and you gotta start somewhere. Maybe disliking an entire state for their snail-like pace on the freeway isn’t the best place to start, but I’m not going to beat myself up too much over the matter because nobody’s perfect. Especially in Arizona. Am I right, SoCal?

After an all girls sleepover last night with the high-schoolers I am hanging with for the summer, I slept in this morning until a whopping 7am. I found myself somewhat disfigured with a slight crick in my neck as I tried to fit my 5’6 frame in a cushioned round chair that while spacious was still made for sitting, not sleeping. I woke before the girls and grabbed a book to read so as not to disturb their slumber. I got a few sentences in before the dog disturbed their slumber and the day began earlier than I had expected it to for a group of high school girls after a late night sleepover.

We filled our bowls with cereal and fruit and sat outside by the pool of our host home. Most of the girls left by 11am, the scheduled time of departure. I left at 3:30pm. Yes, I have the gift of over-staying my welcome. While the house we were in was above and beyond any house I had seen before, it was not the house that had me lingering. It was the people, the family, who occupied the house that made it a home and made me want to stay longer (possibly longer than I was invited to). There I gabbed, almost with each family member at different times, feeling overwhelmingly blessed to be in the environment I was in, but more so to be talking to the people I was talking to. We could have been sitting in the 1980-something Buick station wagon I drove to their house (and felt somewhat bad for parking in their driveway) and had just as much fun and deep conversation as we did sitting poolside under palm trees.

Eventually, I let the family have their day back and I backed the Buick out of their steep driveway, somewhat panicked as I nearly took out a wall and any plant life in the surrounding area of the driveway. I made it out and made my way back home where silence filled the house. It’s an odd feeling to go from the sound of laughter bouncing off the walls to silence filling the room. I looked for things to do, I watered the plants, I checked my email, I ate melted trail mix, which for a chocolate lover is actually better than non-melted trail mix. I felt antsy, restless, and for some reason, unable to sit with myself. I put running shoes on my feet, Eminem in my ears (no judgement, please) and I set about to run down Pacific Beach.

I have come to love Pacific Beach, which is why I feel most grateful to be staying where I am. You know what they say in the real estate world, “location, location, location.” The house I am staying in is just on the edge of Pacific Beach and so for a born and raised beach girl like me who’s been estranged from the beach for the last seven years until a mere three weeks ago, I find myself to be right at home while not at home within walking distance to the beach.

Pacific Beach is where you find the tattooed, the bearded, the dreaded, the sandy and salty characters that get around by bikes, boards, or blades… yes, roller blades, they are alive and well along the boardwalk in Pacific Beach. Perhaps I am drawn to PB because it shares the same initials as my favorite food, peanut butter, and yes, I thought about this, but perhaps I am more so drawn to it because it reminds me of a beach version of Portland, Oregon, my home for the last three and a half years. There seems to be more tattoo shops than grocery stores in PB, and be it for surfing or skating, more boards than cars.

On a night like tonight, I felt very much like reminiscing about Portland, mostly because two dear friends of mine set about to get married round about the same time I put my running shoes on. They in Portland, me in PB, they experiencing the glory of God in the union of their marriage that will change the course of their lives forever, and me experiencing the glory of God as I ran along the ocean on what I could have been tempted to think of as just another ordinary night, but really, no day is really that ordinary when it is a day God has told the sun to rise and one in which I get to see that very same sun set over the Pacific.

I ran until I didn’t feel like running anymore and I plopped myself down on my knees in the sand, just a few feet from the ocean tide rolling in. I buried my head in the sand and before I knew it I was laying face down, making the bottom half of a sand angel with my legs. I laid there, quiet and still, something I seemed unable to do when I had entered the empty house just hours before I set out to run, and I cried. I whispered into the sand as if it were the face of Jesus and I cried, tears dripping into the sand and sand blowing back into my face as my whispers grew louder and my breath caused the sand to swirl about. I cried for a few different reasons, things worth crying about, things I’m prone to crying about when I sit still long enough, which perhaps is why I felt restless when I got back to the house… I didn’t want to sit still long enough to cry.

I could have avoided crying in public, but I am stubborn and so I avoided the cry in the silence of the big empty house and I ran. I ran away from the house, I ran away from what was sad, from what hurt and I ran until I couldn’t run anymore… literally, I hit a bay at the end of Mission Beach just on the other side of Pacific Beach and I could go no further. It was as if Gandalf himself, the white wizard from Lord of the Rings, put his staff down, or perhaps Someone greater than he, and proclaimed “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” I am stubborn enough to swim across, but also materialistic enough not to want to ruin my iPod. So when I say I ran until I didn’t feel like running anymore, what I mean by that is “a big bay got in my way.”

After turning around and walking to the ocean’s edge, there I laid, making amputated sand angels, face down, with sand caked to the edge of my nose that had started to run while crying. I joked with God while I cried that if I couldn’t run any further at least my nose could. I’m a sucker for a good pun no matter how dim the light seems sometimes.  I think God appreciates this.

———–

June 26

That was last Saturday. California is still beautiful and once again I find myself in Pacific Beach, this time at a little cafe whose foundations expose its story as having once been a house. If walls could talk I would be curious to hear the stories held within these walls. Walls do a good job of hearing stories and an even better job at keeping stories. Perhaps this is the bone I have to pick with walls, that they mask themselves as safe places where you can come and hide and tell all your stories and secrets to, but there those walls keep you, stuck behind them, hiding from life and burying your secrets further from the light and further into isolation. Isolation is anything but a safe place… well, perhaps I should clarify that, on the surface it is a safe place because people hurt people and when there are no people, yes, you will indeed find yourself in a safe place. But isolation doesn’t just keep you safe from hurt and harm, it keeps you so safe that you never really live life and you end up surviving your way to the grave. Isolation hurts you from the inside out, rendering it a completely unsafe place to be.

I have a bone to pick with walls because I have given into their lie that they will protect me, and so I have contributed to building my walls higher and higher, thinking I was doing the wise thing by functioning out of self-protection or other-protection (protecting others from me), all the while hurting myself and others as I shut them out of my life.

Laying on the beach, crying at the edge of the ocean was the most exposed I have felt in a while, probably because I was literally exposed. There was no where for me to hide, save a palm tree or a mound of seaweed, which I learned the hard way to never touch because my hands and feet still smell of it from a week ago when I tried to build a seaweed castle… yes, some thirty year olds still do this, at least until last week when I realized not doing it had more to do with the stain of the stink than it did with growing up. And so there I laid, fully exposed, praying out loud, face down, tears dripping into the sand. A group of guys were playing frisbee behind me, continuously landing the frisbee beside me, and seeing as how I wasn’t impressed by their tank tops and red cups of beer, I felt no need to impress them with perky smiles and dry eyes as if I wasn’t just having a deep moment with the Creator of heaven and earth.

I kept telling the Lord I was sorry, I was sorry for always trying to do everything on my own, for always trying to be better than I am, or at least always trying to present myself as better than I am. “I’m good at Instagram,” I cried, “but how good am I at life?” I love storytelling, almost to a fault. I love storytelling so much that I get caught up telling stories more so than living my own story. I lifted my head off the sand and looked out at the ocean. “I don’t want to sit on the edge of the ocean and tell stories about the surfers,” I cried, “I want to be out there surfing.”

Since arriving in California I have told a lot of stories to my friends, all true, but I have told those stories from behind the walls of my safe place… my safe place of not needing anybody. Getting out-surfed by kids more than 10 years younger than me (who aren’t actually kids but in their twenties) isn’t the best feeling, or the best story to tell, so I stick to the stories that present me better and talk about the glory of my location… because let’s face it, Southern California is glorious… when in doubt, talk about that. But what I’ve come to realize is that while this location is glorious, locational community does not replace relational community, and I need people in my life just as much as I think they need me.

And so my spade to reveal, which makes me cringe to reveal it, is the fact that I think people need me but I don’t need them. I flit, I float, I go from here to there, I venture out and pride myself on not needing anybody while deciding they could use a good dose of needing me. Who is it I think I am? God has always existed in community in the form of the Trinity (and please don’t ask me to explain that one because its about as over my head as the frisbee thrown by the guys on the beach), so who am I to think that I don’t need to exist in community!?! And don’t get me wrong, I am in community here, I am interacting with people, and I love the people I have met and spoken to, but “speaking to” is different from “talking with.” While I have shared parts of my story in speaking to the kids at youth group, I haven’t been as good at talking with someone about the fact that though my story of “once upon a time” involves a lot of recovery and restoration, I’m still in the throws of it, even as a leader, and it certainly isn’t “happily ever after” simply and solely because I’m not dead yet, which is the only time I think “happily ever after” applies to the ending of a story. And I don’t mean that pessimistically, I mean it optimistically, I will literally be living happily ever after when I get to see and hold in my hands the face of Jesus. And I’ll say it again so as not to confuse anyone with all of the new-agey spiritual stuff out there in which God is everything and everything is God…

JESUS. I cannot wait to see and hold the face of my Lord and Savior, He who walked the earth as fully human and who reigns supreme as the Son of God, which makes Him not only my friend, my king, my love, but as I am a daughter of God, He is also my brother… Jesus Christ. Sometimes when I know I’ve made a mess of things, I look up or over or where ever I think Jesus might be in that moment and ask, “you mad, bro?” He laughs and together we work on my mess. And call me a Thomas who is antsy to touch, but that is when my “happily ever after” will begin, when I can feel Jesus’ cheek bones in my hands, and exclaim, “free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty I am free at last!” If, in fact, plagiarism is possible in our glorified state, that is what I will say, followed by a wink at MLK.

Until then, I am still very much in the middle of my story, no matter how old I get, or anyone of us get for that matter… while there is breath in our lungs and earth under our feet, we are still very much in the middle of our stories. And being in the middle of my story means I need people. And perhaps even more honestly, I want people. Yesterday, after hours of talking and processing with my friend, who also happens to be my boss and apparently my therapist, I laid down my pride, much like how I laid down on the beach on Saturday, sat down and wrote an email to a few friends. I told them this truth, that while I knew they knew I loved them and even that I missed them, I was, even more honestly, lonely without them. “You’re weak,” I heard the enemy whisper, “and you’re doomed in the name of Jesus,” I said, “so get on outta here… I ain’t asking, I’m commanding,” and I hit send.

Telling my friends I was lonely was less about how they would respond and more about me needing to be willing to tell them my truth. I am not an Island, I am not God, nor am I above His design in it not being good for man or woman to be alone. To try and live above that is to say to God, “nice idea, but I got this.” And that mindset doesn’t compartmentalize itself, it plays itself out in other areas simply by letting it in that one area and before I know it I believe it in every area of my life, making it damn near impossible to say I need a savior… which is a dangerous place to be if the whole foundation of what I believe and who I am is based on the fact that I do need a savior.

I will never forget the beauty of this place as long as I live. I love being covered in sand all day, stumbling into a coffee shop in the early mornings to write with yesterday’s salt water still on me. I love climbing trees and smelling flowers I’ve only ever seen in books. I love the site of the coastline littered with palm trees and surfers, visible from nearly any road you find yourself driving on. It is sunny all day long and having been in the rainy Northwest for the last few years, my heart sometimes feels like it is going to explode from gratitude for the heat of the sun. This place will forever be seared in my memory and my heart will smile every time I think of it.

And I while I often pride myself on being able to love people where they are at, I will never forget how God brought me to a beautiful place to reveal to me that I am not just loving people out of duty because they are messy and need it, but out of love because I am messy and I need it too… to be loved where I am at. God brought me to a beautiful place and reminded me of how messy life is, especially life with people, and the beauty of this location has got nothing on the messy life I have with the people I love.

I’m choosing people over pretty and asking them if we can do this thing called life together. I’m still here for now, in the pretty, getting to know the people, and God has recently blessed me with a woman to share my messy life with. The funny thing is, as I am honest about my messy, I learn more and more that we are all messy, no matter how pretty our environment. I find honesty, even ugly honesty, to be a much better place to do life than pretty isolation. And I say that well aware that I still fail at it miserably… but I am trying. I am trying to live honestly.

Though God blesses us with relationships here in this life, when I stand before Him, I will stand on my own, no one to hold my hand or make an excuse for the choices I made, and so living honestly is up to me. Right now, living honestly looks like not lying to myself, which leads to lying to other people and eventually to God. And to not lie about where I am at is to say that I am living in the tension of absolutely loving where I am at and I am feeling the heartache of loneliness. Whether that makes me weak or not, I don’t care anymore, it makes me human, which is what my Creator made me to be, and so I’m going to glorify Him simply by not trying to be better than Him anymore.

Life is beautiful, and not just because of the pretty scenery. Life is beautiful because of the pretty people… the pretty, messy people.

I will be as present here in sunny Southern California as much as I can be, getting to know and love the people God has placed in front of me, hoping for lasting relationships  to be forming here as well, all the while knowing there is a people I also love that I left behind for a time, but long to see again soon.

I love these new adventures God has me on, and I love meeting new people, but I am learning and realizing, even just now, at thirty, that new people, places and things, new nouns, I suppose, have not taken away my love for nouns of old… but more specifically, friends of old.

And so, I will end this quite simply, knowing that relationship maintenance doesn’t stop at a mere blog post, but it’s a step in a direction I want to take toward not completely disconnecting from people…

Dear friends of new or old, be you near or far away, be you from this season or another, I have not forgotten you. I have carried you with me all over the place, and though you may see me gushing over the beauty of where I am on social media, the one thing I haven’t been very good about posting is fact that the beauty of this place pales in comparison to how much I love you.

 

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shaking and taking

I stood staring at the edge of the ocean, looking very much my age, perhaps not by what I was wearing, but certainly by how stoically I was standing, as if at 30 I had all of life figured out. I stood and I stared and I listened to the sound of friends’ voices sing into my ear about Jesus through my tiny pair of earbuds that are still clogged with sand. The beauty of having friends who are talented musicians is that you get to take their voices with you where ever you go and take their words personally and intimately, even if they are singing to the masses. Friends in an Ipod, it’s like a therapist in a box.

I am what feels like worlds away from my friends in Portland, and while I am pleased as punch to be exactly where I am, the beauty of Southern California doesn’t replace the beauty of what it means to live in community with people no matter where you are. Portland is amazing, don’t get me wrong, but let’s be honest, it’s not the thrift stores and coffee shops that sit beneath dark skies and rain drops that has kept me there so long… it’s the people. If it weren’t for the community I found there, I would have left shortly after arriving in 2010, as I was planning to do just before stepping into a group of people that changed the course of my next four years where Portland has remained home.

But… for as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to live in San Diego for a season of my life. I can’t explain it anymore than I can explain a kid enjoying math, nothing makes less sense to me than that, but to each his or her own, some kids liked math, I liked California.I don’t know where it came from, and I get it, it’s not abnormal to like the idea of California, I just find it interesting that as a kid growing up on the east coast, enjoying the beaches I was raised on, I day-dreamed about California. Maybe I saw a postcard, or watched Free Willy one too many times, which I don’t even think was filmed in California, or I knew it was the birth place of Mickey Mouse and my obsession with Disney almost led me to pursuing a life that would involve getting paid to draw Mickey for the rest of my life (which l later learned was called an animator), but for whatever reason, I wanted to end up in California. While being on my beach in South Carolina, I dreamed of another beach far away, and so goes the story of my life… always dreaming of somewhere else.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one, as proven by John Lennon well before I was born. I love being a dreamer, there is so much beauty in it. Even at 30, I imagine worlds that make the dreams of children look like child’s play… literally. If you let it, I think dreaming gets better with age because you have more experience with it. Too many people let their dreams die, they settle for less than because it’s safe or realistic or practical. I think there is a great risk involved in letting your dreams die, mostly because you end up living a mediocre life that you aren’t even aware of and if you aren’t aware of it then you can’t actually pursue living a more abundant life, so you end up thinking your mediocre life is all that life really has to offer and you get by, not really living until you die. That’s sad to me. And scary.

What’s also sad and scary to me is people like me, people who are so good at dreaming that they also never really live, but instead dream their way to grave, boasting that they never let their dreams die but they also never took action and did anything with them. They miss the life that happened in front of them because they were too busy dreaming of what could, would or should have been or be, and life around them gets stale, understandably so since they aren’t invested in it, and so they keep on dreaming, not even necessarily of somewhere better, just somewhere different. Before we pride ourselves on where we are at in life, be it as a dreamer or non-dreamer, I think we should ask ourselves if we are actually living the life we were meant to live.

And so here I am, where I’ve always dreamed about being… the coast of Southern California, and I love it. I’m living here for the summer and I’m not even going to try and down play it and say “it’s not what I thought.” It’s actually more than what I thought. Truly, it is beautiful in every way possible. I’ve cried multiple times from merely driving around, looking out at the coast line of the pacific, cluttered with palm trees and cliffs, so much so that my greatest threat here seems to have nothing to do with crime but everything to do with what I might plow my car into as I seem to look at everything but the road.

Not to mention, God let me in on a little secret kept during my entire childhood up until a short week ago when I moved here. You know Dr. Seuss? Well, I hate to bust your bubble, but for as much of a dreamer as he was, and he was if anyone was… all of his animation, whether he professed it or not (I don’t know his story) is 100% God inspired. Truffula trees and bungalow bushes and every plant or tree you’ve ever seen in a Dr. Seuss book or movie is REAL! My mind has been blown as living in La Jolla, California literally looks as though I am living in a Dr. Seuss book. I walk around laughing, saying “dude, you are so busted,” as if Dr. Seuss were there walking with me, laughing too. I imagine him to respond with something like, “yes, it’s truer than true, I’ve seen all my creations before, but much unlike those who’ve seen them all too, I didn’t keep them locked in my mind behind a trapped door. I took what was real, made it look like a dream, and so I went really living, being who and what I was meant to be. I’m a dreamer and a realist and I’ve combined the best of the two, and so ask yourself, JJ, are you good at being you and doing what you were meant to do?”

“That’s deep, dude,” I say back to the doctor as I brush my hand through an abundance of Kochia Balls. “Did you hear that, man!?” I ask God as I invite Him in on the doctor and I’s conversation. God laughs and says He indeed heard that, “and now that you’ve seen first hand what Seussy did with his time in La Jolla, JJ, what are you going to do with your time here?” God asks. And yes, I imagine God to have a nickname for Dr. Seuss, God doesn’t need the formalities of job titles.

Good question. What am I going to do with my time here? Am I going to leave what I see trapped in my mind or am I going to take action? And I don’t just mean with the scenery because let’s be honest, while I want to write books one day, I don’t think I’m here to replicate Dr. Seuss’s story. And while I love and appreciate what Dr. Seuss did with his time here, I’m here as a part of my own story. As I have met more and more people in the church I am working at for the summer, one of my favorite things they say to me is “God hand picked you to be here.” That melts my heart more than a stick of butter in a high-voltage microwave. Hand picked? And not just by any hand, but the hand of God?

Whoa.

There is great honor and great responsibility that comes with being hand picked by God and if I’m honest, I’m not 100% sure what I am supposed to do with it… at least not yet. And though I might not know yet the full purpose in me being here, I don’t doubt for a second that I am supposed to be here, and I have yet to find myself wishing I was somewhere else (well, maybe except the time I found myself lying on the beach next to girls who made Sisqo’s thong song look somewhat conservative… I struggle with insecurity enough to not linger in that situation, and about five minutes into comparing myself to them, which is five minutes too long, I told the enemy to take a hike, and when he didn’t, I did).

Yes, there are challenges here, which I hope to write on more at some point. As I just mentioned, I am surrounded by beauty, and not just in landscape. I feel like I have to walk around with an invisible baseball bat, beating the enemy off as he tries to jump on my back and whisper in my ear that I’m not as pretty, not as small, not as well dressed as those around me. On top of trying to make me feel worse about myself, he has me blame the beautiful women I am surrounded by who “make” me feel this way, judging them in order to feel better about myself. But you can’t fight evil with evil and expect to come out victorious. I can’t fight feeling worthless with judging others. So what do I do?

I shake it out!

Florence and The Machine sang it best, “every demon wants his pound of flesh, but I like to keep some things to myself, I like to keep my issues drawn, it’s always darkest before the dawn, so shake it out, shake it out! And it’s hard to dance with the devil on you back, so shake him off!”

That song has greater meaning to me than anyone will ever know, as I have literally and physically experienced the devil being shaken off my back, as well as any of his punk-ass sidekicks being shaken out of my body, and all in the name of Jesus. And so I’ve come too far to get caught up in the comparison battle, only to re-start living a lie of life that says I need to look a certain way in order to really live. I am surrounded by beauty and I am surrounded by lies and I have a choice to make not only about what I am going to look at, but how I am going to look at it. I tried closing my eyes so as not to compare myself to all the women, but that lasted about three steps before I realized I would have to walk around blind all summer. Avoiding comparison is going to have to be a matter of the heart and a transformation from within if I don’t want to miss the beauty of God’s creation and every Dr. Seuss plant along the way. And so as I open my eyes and look at my surroundings, I remind myself that I have been set free and I shake out the lies, even if that looks like literally shaking my arms out, or spontaneously dancing just be sure the devil is not on my back.

And perhaps this is my spade to reveal, the truth I must tell, that even as a leader to young women, I still struggle with believing the message I want to send them. But, my struggle with the message does not determine it’s validity and I refuse to give up believing the truth that I am perfectly crafted in the image of God just because I walk in a world where the enemy lurks and tries to tell me otherwise. I am not my struggle, I am not my thoughts, I am not a product of the enemies lies, I am a daughter of God who is prone to wander from what’s beautiful and settle for a cheaper version of beauty. And fortunately, my God of a father snatches me up time and time again, no matter how many times it takes to say, “no way, girl, I have so much more for you.”

And so I’m here for now, still in the early stages of what will be an entire summer of being able to love on girls in high school, who are also trying to figure out what they will do with their time here, both in La Jolla and in life. I miss my community back in Portland, but I have their words with me, tucked into my heart, my emails and text messages and even my Ipod.

As I listened to my friend, Liz and my pastor, Josh sing into my ear at the ocean’s edge yesterday, I was comforted in a way that not even the edge of the ocean or the limbs of a good tree can comfort me. It was the words of Jesus coming from voices I know well that reminded of who I was. Being on the ocean restores my sanity and being high in a tree calms my racing mind, but the the love of Jesus coming from the voice of a friend does something for my soul that not even God’s creation can do, simply because God’s creation is not God Himself. And so I can be anywhere and be at peace with who I am, if I am at peace with Him. But, let it be said, I am OH-SO-THANKFUL that I am where I am… it is icing to the cake. God is the cake, takes the cake, ices the cake, and let’s them eat cake because cake is all you need when it’s made by the hand of God. Seconds? Yes, please.

I hope to continue to dream a lot while I am here, but even more so I hope to do something with what I dream. To whom much is given, much is expected and I have been given a lot by being here… my prayer is that I do well by and do much with this gift. If any of the high schoolers are reading this, I have one thing to say… I am here for you. And if that is the only reason God has brought me to La Jolla this summer, then that is absolutely 100% worth it.

I’m here because I believe in you becoming who you were meant to be, in part because as a child of God, you already are! Dr. Seuss may have said it, but he was really just repeating the words of Jesus, and I find it to be an important thing to say especially during this time as graduation is upon us…

“Kid, you’ll move mountains!” It only takes the littlest bit a faith and the biggest piece of cake!

Summer 2014, here we go…

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Shaking it out and taking the cake so I can take in the beauty of the place Dr. Seuss called home, my home for now… La Jolla, California.

 

la jolla

Long story condensed incredibly short, I got a job working as an intern for a church in La Jolla, California this summer. I know, amazing. As I had no idea what was going to be ahead of me when I quit my job earlier this year, finding out I got the job in La Jolla on my very last day of work was nothing short of Jesus saying “follow me.” And so I’m clinging to his garments and willingly following him south, toward the smell of the ocean and the country’s best fish tacos.

Seeing as how I will be working with high schoolers, and seeing as how they have no idea who I am or what to expect, I decided to write them a letter to ease any concerns they might have about this thirty-year-old intern coming in, who I realize sounds older than Moses to a high schooler, or at least it did to me when I was in high school, and so now that I am thirty I would like to take a moment to apologize and honor all of the “old people” who poured into me as a teenager… you weren’t old.

But you are now. AHAHAHAHAA!

I’ll apologize for that when I’m fifty.

I’m loosing my train of thought… Ah yes, the letter. Seeing as how I both love the written word as well as struggle with A.D.D., I decided to combine my love and my struggle by making this a visual letter of sorts.

Without further ado, the letter…

Dear La Jollanites,

I don’t know how many of you have heard by now, but I’m coming to join your group in a mere three weeks. I know it can be un-nerving to have someone new join the group… especially someone from out of state, especially someone who is originally from the other side of the country (especially when that side of the country is the south), especially someone who is currently living in Portland, Oregon, because as you may or may not know, Portland just may be one of the weirdest cities God graced this earth with.

I wanted to settle any of those nerves by sharing a little bit about myself so you guys and gals can get a little more comfortable with the idea of a newbie joining the group. Here are just a few known and unknown facts about me to ease your minds about this mysterious gal coming to join you…

I once met an angel. It was not nearly as miraculous as I thought it would be, but then again it was in Texas and nothing is ever as miraculous as you think it would be in Texas…

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In 2012 I traveled around the country playing the Jurassic Park theme song on the melodica, which is actually how I met Evan when I was in Santa Barbara (the youth pastor who hired me, to those who else are reading this). Don’t worry, I’ll bring my melodica with me…

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I am very talented… with my feet. Mostly I use them to climb trees and drink water…

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The last time I led a group of high school girls, it looked like this…

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(just before they dropped me on my head, which has only happened to me one other time… as a child… thanks dad, for that time you left me on the handle bars of your bicycle when you put the kickstand up and walked away, only to remember you left your child sitting there after she fell off). Memories. So good.

I used to have a dog that made Goliath look like a baby. At 180 pounds, he drank water straight from the kitchen sink and I used to pretend to ride Beauregard like a horse. He may have been part of a Halloween costume once. Then again, he may not have. Don’t mess with Beauregard…

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During my road trip around the country, I stayed with some people in Montana and every time I tried to get in the shower, this happened…

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… I never showered while staying with them.

I love Jesus, and puns, and making my own Christmas cards…

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No. Big. Deal. Except the Jesus part… Big. Deal.

This is my doppelgänger…

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This was me in high school, which is to say, there is hope…

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I once chugged a whole bottle of chocolate syrup in under a minute on a high school ski trip because a guy said he could do it in a minute, to which I said I could do it in fifty-five seconds, to which he said “prove it,” to which I did and won the respect of whoever was in the ski lodge at that moment.

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I lost said respect shortly after we began our van ride home and I threw up on the head of the boy I had a crush on at the time. I’m sorry, Zack, I didn’t know you were sleeping under the bench seat.

I make my own face wash…

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… and yes, I’d be happy to show you how.

I have been known to make things more complicated than they have to be, but fun is usually always had at least somewhere in the process…

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… and yes, an entire game was played this way. I took home the winnings and left behind the imprint of my canines of the bottom three pieces. They remain there to this day. Someone is welcome.

I can sleep anywhere…

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Seriously…

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Anywhere…

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I am quite crafty and hate to waste things, which means I can make even the worst of gag gifts be incredibly useful. Take this triple-extra-large shirt of Tupac Shakur…

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Just call me En Vogue and tell me I win.

Speaking of winning, I once won a card game with two jacks…

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…being JJ never felt more victorious than in that moment.

I love to dance, second only to writing and third only to Jesus. One time I went to Africa and danced so hard I passed out…

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Dance parties? Yes please.

NEWSFLASH: Did I mention I like puns? I once went to a halloween party as a newsflash. I spent the better half of that evening with a blessing in disguise…

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I worked briefly as a flight attendant for Alaska Airlines (remind me to tell you that story), where I learned how to walk in high heels in a pressurized metal tube some 50,000 feet above the ground while serving ginger ale and singing The Fugees version of “Killing Me Softly…”

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Yes, due to my skill set, you might as well call me a ninja. And yes, I kept the extra peanuts.

I most recently worked as a cook at a preschool where I made eating food even more fun than it already is…

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And though I left that job, I still get inspired to create with food…

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… and I now spend most of my days sitting over the duck pond I live on, feeding ducks and Instagram-ing my breakfast…

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But soon I will come join you guys and gals, with all of my ninja skills, plethora of puns, dance moves and food art, and I must say, I am quite excited to join the mix. I feel the need to warn you of the extra large sweat pants covered in paint that I don 80% of my waking hours, so don’t let those scare you, but if it’s hot enough I won’t need them, in which case don’t let my mayonnaise-colored legs scared you… the sun is not so generous with its time here in Portland.

Get excited… it’s gonna be a fun summer! As we say where I’m from, can’t wait to meet all y’all!

Oh, and just because I have already been asked, no… I am no longer a vegan. I do love cows, but not in the way it appears here…

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It is as a recovering vegan that I have come to more fully believe these three things:

Life is to be lived, fun is to be had and Jesus is Lord.

See y’all soon!

JJ

from the lunch lady

Today is my last day of work as The Lunch Lady for an amazing group of preschoolers. I woke up early this morning to write a letter to my kids that I’m sure they won’t necessarily be able to grasp now, but I wanted to post it here as a place for them to always come back and find it should they ever forget who they are and how much they are loved. I have so much more to say about my time spent in Lunch Lady Land, many stories and pictures to share, but for now I shall just share this letter and take in the last few moments of my morning, before taking my last walk to work where I will fix my last lunch and hear “THANK YOU MS. JJ,” from that amazing group of preschoolers one last time.

 

Hello My Little Friends,

I have already started tearing up as I address this letter to you. As you know but may not have added up, I have been your lunch lady for the last year and three months. The time has come for me to say goodbye to you all as I set off for some new adventures in my life, but I wanted to be able to tell you all how much I love you, how much I will miss you and how much life you have to offer this world.

You are currently in preschool. You’re short, you’re cute and you have a whole world and a long life ahead of you. I have never addressed an audience this young, so bare with me as I try and figure out how to relay a message about life that involves a lot of beauty and a lot of scrapped knees and things gone missing, like toys, and playmates that might move away, and all of your baby teeth. Has anyone told you yet that you will loose all of the teeth that are currently in your mouth? You will, and it may be easy or it may be hard, but don’t worry, you’ll get much better and stronger teeth in return, more durable for the long road ahead.

Life is going to be a lot of that, things gone missing and getting found again, and lost again, and found again, and sometimes not found again, but sometimes replaced with something better. It’s okay to cry when things go missing. Crying is okay and very necessary, don’t ever let anyone tell you not to cry. There are so many things in life worth crying over, so many things that hurt our feelings or bruise our elbows, and when we feel hurt it is most certainly okay to cry. And crying doesn’t just have to happen when you are sad. Sometimes I cry simply because the sky is so beautiful and smiling just doesn’t seem to cut it. Sometimes I laugh so hard I cry. Sometimes crying makes me just as happy as not crying, and so I say to you, dear boys and girls, it is okay for you to cry. Plus, you never really grow up enough to grow out of crying, so you might as well learn to embrace it. That means to welcome it into your arms and give it a big ol’ hug as you learn to love who you are, how you were made and the emotions you were given.

So there’s that… crying is okay.

And there’s also this… you all have the most beautiful smiles! I’m back to crying again as I think about each one. Some of them are bright red, others are a lighter pink, some are crooked with character and some are straight as can be. I usually see them covered in food, which quite honestly is one of my favorite ways to see them as you enjoy the food I make for you, but whether drenched in spaghetti sauce, hidden behind chocolate or clean as a whistle, I love seeing you smile. A smile is a language in and of itself as everyone you meet in life, no matter where they come from, no matter how different they look from you, everyone understands what a smile means. This makes a smile a very powerful thing… some of you already know this as you try to smile your way out of trouble, so while I say use smiles often, be careful with them… they may get you out of trouble, but not learning a lesson is way worse than getting in trouble… I promise. Oh, and girls, smiling is way better than makeup… no amount of makeup can make you look  half as pretty as having a smile on your face… I promise that too.

You should know that much like the lunch room, life is going to get messy. Life is full of messes. We can clean up real good and wash our hands and brush our teeth and change into a clean pair of pajamas and maybe even have some sweet dreams, but each day is different and some of those days are going to look squeaky clean and some of those days are going to look messier than your toy box exploding in your bedrooms. While I don’t advise going about trying to create messes in life, you can certainly expect some messes, even embrace them (remember that hug thing) and still enjoy the life you’ve been given.

Somewhere along our journey together, me as your lunch lady and you as the precious little mouths I feed, I forgot that life could get messy, especially in the kitchen, and I forgot what life was about as I tried to cover up my messes instead of cleaning them up. Cleaning up a mess is much better than covering it up… I promise. Thank God for Ms. Mackenzie, who came in to help me do the dishes and clean up all the messes I made on my own but would have never been able to clean up without help. Know that it’s always okay to ask for help; no mess is too much for someone who loves you to step in and help you. Try your best to hold onto people who aren’t afraid of your messes, they are few and far between (that means hard to find). Be sure to say thank you when someone steps in to help you clean up. I shall set that example for you by saying thank you to Ms. Mackenzie now…

Thank you, Ms. Mackenzie, so very much, for stepping in, for lending a helping hand and for not being afraid to take on my messes. You are more beautiful than you know, and not just because you help clean up after me.

So remember that, life is messy, but with just the right cleaning crew, it can and will be oh so fun! Ask for help, say thank you. I so hope you all learn to write, as a hand written thank you card is one of the best gifts to give and receive. Remember how I said smiles were powerful? So is saying thank you. I will never forget the sound of you all screaming “THANK YOU, MS. JJ!” just before I was about to wonder if all the work I did in the kitchen was worth it. Let me tell you now, every once of effort I put into creating your lunch was worth your smiles and the sound of your voices yelling thank you.

I wish I could wrap your little and brilliant minds around just how much I am going to miss you. It was not an easy decision for me to make to leave The Sunshine School, but Ms. JJ needed to take care of herself, which meant she needed to step out of the kitchen for a while. You see, I forgot some very important things along the way, but the most important thing I forgot affected me the most and I want to share it with you to store in your pockets and purses to maybe pull out and look at somewhere along your own journeys.

I forgot that life isn’t about being the prettiest or the coolest. I forgot that for as cool as Spider-Man is and as beautiful as Cinderella is, life is not about being a superhero or a princess. I forgot that while I love my best friend, life isn’t about saving a seat for my best friend only to leave someone else out. I forgot that life isn’t about being the king of the mountain or the queen of the castle. I forgot that making pretty food doesn’t make me have a pretty heart and saying “look what I can do” never feels as good as saying “look what you can do.”

I lost sight somewhere along the way and I forgot what life was about…

Jesus.

Life was and is and always will be about Jesus whether we remember it or not, so I find it most helpful to try and remember. My heart was sad for a long time, simply because I forgot about Jesus, and so that is what I hope you remember more than anything else, more than your sandwiches that looked like faces, more than Ms. JJ dancing in the kitchen or the puppet who has surfaced in our last few days together, I hope you always remember who Jesus is.

Jesus saved Ms. JJ at a time when she needed it most, at a time when her mess seemed too big to clean up, and he rounded up a cleaning crew and got to work. Life is about Jesus. And because life is about Jesus, that means life is about people, because Jesus is about people. The best way to love Jesus is to love yourself (because you are a people) and to love other people, to invite them to sit next to you, to help them clean up, to smile at them, to say thank you.

My heart is excited and heavy as I think about you all going out into this world. My prayer more than anything is that you would know you are loved. You are so deeply loved. Knowing whether we are loved or not shapes a lot of who we are and how we treat people, and so the simplest way I can think to pray that you would never forget Jesus is to pray that you would never forget how loved you are.

I’m quite sure your attention span hasn’t held out this long, perhaps I should have addressed the Jesus thing first, but perhaps maybe one day when you are older, you can come back and read this letter and be reminded of the time you spent in a place called Lunch Lady Land within the county lines of The Sunshine School. Perhaps you can be reminded of how good your food was, but more importantly how much your lunch lady loved you, but even more importantly how much Jesus still loves you no matter what you’ve done, no matter what road you’ve taken, no matter what age you come back and read this letter.

Though I am not ready to think about not seeing your faces every morning, the time comes in all of our lives to take the next road. Kindergarden is soon ahead of you and so our ways would have parted soon enough anyhow. I’ve never been good at saying goodbyes and so I used to avoid them, but I’m learning that you just never really know what life brings you, which sometimes includes bringing something back you thought you had to say goodbye to. So this isn’t goodbye, at least not forever, because who knows when and where we might see each other again, be it at the grocery store in a few weeks, or a few months from now when Frozen comes to the cheap theater, or ten years down the road after I’ve written a book a two. Did I tell you that yet? I want to write books and tell stories… and make no mistake that my time spent with all of you helped shape that. And because some of you have already started asking, yes, I am going to cook for myself at home.

As I bring this letter to a close I want to leave you with one more thing, and I mean it… I’m here for you. Yes, I’m moving on to new things, but should the time ever come that you’ve forgotten some of things I mentioned above and you need an encouraging word, or a cleaning crew member, or a smiley face sandwich, even if it’s twenty years from now and the smiley face sandwich is more proverbial than literal, all you have to do (as I may have lost my memory by then) is say, “Ms. JJ, you were my lunch lady, and I’ve forgotten some things along the way.” I’m here for you, and I’m for you. I’m in your corner, cheering you on, even if I have to do so from far away.

So cry when you need to, laugh a lot, smile big, get dirty, hug the mess but don’t leave it there, find a good cleaning crew, ask for help, say thank you, be nice to people, be willing to give up your seat instead of save a seat, nourish those little bodies with lots of good food, be a kid as long as you can but don’t ever be afraid to get older (adulthood isn’t as scary as I thought it would be), love each other, love your teachers, love your parents and guardians, love people. Love Jesus, and never, ever, ever give up.

Life is worth every bit of breath you have to breath it in. Even on the toughest of days and the most sleepless of nights, life is so incredibly beautiful. Don’t let it pass you by, live it up and live it well.

It is with great appreciation for my time spent with you that I say goodbye for now.

I love you, my little friends, I really, really love you.

With much love and much muchness,

Your Lunch Lady, Ms. JJ

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journey

I currently have 38 drafts saved in my Tumblr account. Unfinished and unpublished, none of these drafts occurred within this new year and I don’t even know how many of them occurred within the last year. I suppose I wrote a few times last year, but mostly I just posted pictures of food and became really unhealthy in the process.

Somewhere along life’s journey I got lost… again. I look back on the life I have lived over the last thirty years and much of it consists of getting lost, finding my way again, getting lost again, finding my way again, and so it goes… again and again.

I used to think I would arrive at some point where I finally found it or did it or became it and I don’t know if I ever really knew what it was, but I knew it didn’t involve getting lost and having to ask for help. To finally arrive meant I no longer needed help and I would have thought that by the time I reached thirty I would no longer need help, with anything really.

I don’t know why I thought this, I don’t know if someone told me this along the way or if I just conjured it up in my head all those times I played “journey” as a kid. Yes, while most other girls played house, making tea and cleaning for their pretend husbands and babies, my sister and I were playing “journey.” We would pack our bags with blankets and apples, along with markers and paper to make maps and together we would pretend we were run-aways or adventurers going on a long journey, never actually arriving to our destination. The game was all about the journey and what happened along the way, it was never about arriving to a certain spot because we never actually arrived to a certain spot, unless dinner was ready then we would arrive home for dinner, but in the game there was no arriving. We would set up camp in a tree for a short while, long enough to snack on an apple, check our maps and catch our breath, but always we continued on our way through the “mountains” of our surrounding neighborhood. For the record, there were no actual mountains, just the imagination being played out on the flat coastline of South Carolina.

The beautiful and sad thing about the imagination of a child is that at some point you grow up, and at some point you start hearing the voices that tell you you need to grow up, you need to succeed, you need to accomplish, you need to arrive. I don’t know at what age I realized that it seemed more important to arrive somewhere than it did to journey somewhere, but my guess would be middle school. I think anybody who has made it through middle school has a right to blame a lot of their issues on middle school. I think Flannery O’Connor said something to that effect, but I can’t be so sure as to quote her verbatim.

I’m not blaming middle school for my getting lost time and time again, there comes a time in life when the same old excuse loses its validity as an excuse at all; I’m just citing middle school as a possible starting point for thinking the day would come when I would finally arrive, even if I hesitated to arrive at all.

I love road trips, I have always loved road trips, and most of what I love about them, if not all of what I love about them, is the road itself, the state of being in which you are constantly on a journey. Whether I am merely heading to the grocery store, a friend’s house or a national park I have yet to see, there is always the slightest bit of disappointment upon the arrival, not because I don’t want to be there, but because the journey has in some way come to an end. I look back and it makes sense to me that I played “journey” as a kid instead of “house,” I never wanted to be still, I never wanted to settle down, I never wanted to arrive, I just wanted to journey.

At thirty years old, I still have yet to arrive, and perhaps this is what I have come to accept about life, that while there is a time for everything, even being still, life in and of itself is a journey, and we will never actually arrive on this side of eternity. For a restless heart like mine, I take great peace in knowing that I am not expected to arrive, at least not to a state of perfection, of having it all figured out, of knowing it all, applying it all and being it all. On this side of eternity I am already who I always wanted to be, a sojourner. Perhaps I was on to something as a kid and I forgot along the way as I grew up and sought out perfection instead of character.

I have made a lot of mistakes in the last few years, some the result of an intentional poor choice and some not at all, some I wasn’t even aware were mistakes until I took a second to look back and notice the wreckage. I say that to say I’ve messed up, time and time again, mostly because I have been trying so hard to finally arrive instead of slowing down enough to take part in the journey. I’ve been racing to a finish line that I don’t even necessarily want to get to because it’s not only unrealistic, it’s lonely. Nobody is perfect and so even if I did by some bizarre, unnatural twist of fate reach that goal of perfection, I can guarantee you that I would be there alone, and alone in this world is not somewhere I want to be, not a place I want to arrive.

I cannot undo things that have been done in the past any more than I can take back words that have been spoken. I can only own my part in the damage I have done, seek forgiveness where it needs to be sought and move forward from here, finding my way yet again on this journey of life, reminding myself that you are never too old to ask for help.

My job is coming to an end this month and a new journey is beginning. I am a mix of nerves and excitement, peace and chaos, confusion and clarity, dark and light, dust and divine breath.

My plan, my hope, my prayer is to write more in an effort to live more. I feel most alive when I am writing and mainly because it means I have actually been living, which is where my best writing material comes from… life. If writing is evidence of life then last year looked a lot more like death than life. You don’t have to look much further than my Tumblr archive to see what I mean. You will find pretty pictures of sandwiches that look like animals and vegan desserts made from twigs and berries, but you won’t find much past that. You won’t find many stories about life, about people, about hope and redemption, about grace and forgiveness. You will find bright colors and perfectly positioned subject matters, but you won’t find any warmth or any subjects that actually matter (save the few faces of some adorable kids, those faces matter).

Perhaps a blog is a lame place to start, but I am lame and in need of a new start, and so I am starting in the best way I know how, with writing, even if just on this blog. I am taking a baby step in a new direction on this long journey of life, extending grace to myself when I lose my way and grace to others when they lose theirs. After all, whether we like it or not, we are all in this together.

Traveling mercies, seventy times seven, grace upon grace,

jennie joy

 

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