Happy Saturday! Episode 2.

Welcome back to another episode of Stay in Saturday!

Thank you for joining me on this journey as we continue to create something together! I have so enjoyed getting to hear from everyone what this time is like for them. I have received a lot of great suggestions for the show, some of which aren’t mentioned in this episode, but I’ve taken notes and am already planning things for future episodes. I hope those go you who signed up for a goldfish have received them by now… please send pics, I’d love to share them!

This week not only will we lose track of time and spend half the day trying to figure out what day it is, I’ll introduce you to some of my talented friends and how they are using this time to channel their creativity. We’ll also hear from our friends “across the pond” about what quarantine is like for them, and I’ll try to do a better job convincing my husband to do a workout video with me!

Each week I’ll have an inspirational quotes segment, so if you got one you want to see in a future episode, share it with me!

On a slightly more serious note (Why So Serious? segment), We’ll touch on what it looks like to be a neighbor at a time when we’re technically “avoiding” our neighbors, and how social distancing is increasing our desire to connect. I think there’s certainly more to be said on that, but again we’re in the early stages of this show so that’s something we can bring up again!

I hope everyone has a great week and a happy Easter!

Tune in next week to possibly see me try to cut my husband’s hair. He said if I do a bad job he gets to cut mine so we’ll see how the goes!

Happy Saturday! Stay Inside! 🧡💛💜💙

*** If you still want a goldfish I have some left, just sign up for my email list on my website at http://www.jjbarrows.com See more life happenings and quarantine throughout the week on Instagram: @jjbarrows https://www.instagram.com/jjbarrows/

🎵🎵 Music in this episode:

O Tannenbaum– Vince Guaraldi Trio

I Want You Back– (acoustic cover) by Kenny Bern

Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright (acoustic cover) The O’Neill Brothers Group

The Corona Diaries

We got into Santa Barbara around 4pm yesterday. We flew in from Nashville, leaving the house around 4:30am to catch a 6am flight that routed us through Seattle, then Portland, then finally home after all direct flights were cancelled. Needless to say, I was exhausted. We got home in time to shower and start doing laundry, except I passed out before I could even get the clothes from my bag to the laundry basket.

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I awoke to my husband coming in the room to change clothes in a bit of a hurry, “I’m gonna run to the grocery store just to pick up a few things.” After traveling for two weeks we didn’t have much food in the house, I figured we’d go tomorrow but he said the governor had just ordered a lockdown on California— no one was to leave their house except to exercise, walk their dog or go to the grocery store. All businesses except health care providers were closing. “Stay home!” was the message.

Truth be told, after the stress of traveling in the middle of the Corona Virus spreading, I was looking forward to having to stay at home for a while without the pressure or expectation of having to be somewhere or be someone. 

In our travels we had made it to Michigan when things weren’t totally crazy yet, rumors of Corona spreading to California and Washington were starting to take place, but mostly we were just on the receiving end of text messages from concerned family members. I was aware that things were happening, but knowing my own self and need to remain mentally strong, I filtered what news I let in. Anxiety, panic, fear— All things I’ve spent years and thousands of dollars on therapy working through so they would not have a grip on me, crippling me from living my life. Mental strength will not make me immune to a virus, this I know… I still have to do my part to practice daily routines like washing my hands and taking my vitamins.

While mental strength will not spare me, it will keep me thriving and engaging in those daily routines that matter to get me through the tough times– to call loved ones, write letters, move my body and actually do the things that are being suggested we do to take care of ourselves during this weird time in history. 

I had two shows in Michigan, packed crowds and everything still seemed normal— a little panic around the globe, but it seemed far away and the audiences in front me seemed ready to laugh and not at all like they had to rush off to the grocery store to buy toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

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The hoarding had not yet begun, that I knew of. My last show was on a Thursday night. I woke up Friday morning to the headlines: “The NBA is canceled. Broadway’s gone dark. Disneyland is closed.” I had one simple thought, “Oh crap.” That was the moment I felt the severity of it. I read a few things and checked my email, the rest of the comedy festival I had been a part of was canceling the rest of their shows. People were complaining they weren’t notified ahead of time, “how come the festival wasn’t more organized?” I’m sorry but what company, organization or hospital was totally prepared for a pandemic to hit in 2020, really? A few psychics claimed they predicted it, and who the heck knows, maybe they did, but I don’t think you’re going to find a comedy festival relying on a psychic to help them prepare for what to do in case of a disaster. 

“Grace, grace, grace,” I tell myself. We all need to extend more grace, or at least I do, hard as it is. Grace to the hoarders, they’re scared. Grace to ourselves as we figure out how much to eat, where to get soap, and how to be nice to people when we feel stuck and exhausted. And grace to the underprepared companies and organizations who are finding themselves in this type of a situation for the first time and are also trying to figure out how to navigate it. We all have a bunch of feelings right now. Minimal facts and lots of feelings makes for a scary combination– an “us versus them” mentality and that isn’t going to help anyone. I don’t have answers, but I have grace for the people who are also getting on my nerves as they spread anger, panic, fear and anxiety faster than the virus itself. 

We left Michigan and proceeded with our trip. We arrived in Nashville where I was meeting up with my potential manager. “Meeting up” turned into being quarantined at he and his wife’s house as more news reports broke that businesses were to close and people were highly urged to stay home. Prior to arriving we had plans to stay with a friend but she had gotten the flu, saying it was “just the flu,” and I thought to myself only right now would people be saying “JUST the flu,” as if it was no big deal. Even still, we did not want to risk getting sick in the midst of traveling, and again I had to mentally navigate what was no big deal and what was a harsh reality.

We arrived in Nashville on a Saturday and things were still a little on the normal side. We went out to dinner the first night and brunch the next morning. Not a lot of people were out, but places were still open, people were still active. The air seemed different, but not yet eerie. By Monday morning the atmosphere shifted. Shops were closing, restaurants were on a to-go order only system. My friend texted me that she went to Chipotle and a guy ran to the door, dropped her order outside and quickly shut the door. It sounded like a drug transaction. 

We spent days talking shop, sharing our stories and getting to know each other in a way we maybe wouldn’t have been able to otherwise given our situation. Tuesday night, Josh and I debated going downtown, just to get out of the house. Not everything was totally closed yet and one of our friends had wanted to meet up with us, the one who had the flu but was now better. I did not want to go, I didn’t feel comfortable going out knowing we might bring something back with us, especially when it’s something you can’t even see. Maybe if it had just been us, but staying in someone else’s home, who were older than us, not to mention, someone I wanted to manage me so I didn’t want to be the cause of his death before we even signed. I mean, I didn’t want to be the cause of anyone’s death at all (yes, my mind went there), but I was definitely looking forward to working with him in the long run. I also didn’t want to disappoint my husband or our friend, both who seemed eager to meet up in the midst of this chaos, and I struggled internally as we got in the car to make our way downtown. We weren’t even five minutes into the drive before the silence broke. We pulled the car over, talked it through and turned the car around. 

By Wednesday we at least needed to go for a walk, but with it raining outside we felt a little trapped. We finally decided on going to the mall just to walk around. “NO ONE TOUCH ANYTHING” was the rule. Almost every store inside the mall was closed except for the arcade and Chick-Fli-A. The arcade? Gross. Of all the places to be open, the arcade is germ central! Chick-Fil-A? Praise God. Waffle fries, please. And some of those anti-bacterial hand wipes. The mall was almost silent, save a few noises from the arcade, making it the perfect setting for a horror movie.

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We peeked in a grocery store on the way home just to see the empty shelves— no meat, cheese, bread, toilet paper, soap— entire aisles cleared out. The eerie feeling was in full effect. I had Lysol wipes in my pocket so if I had to touch a door or anything I was fully prepared. That was when it hit me, maybe Bob Wiley wasn’t so crazy after all, he was just before his time. (For reference, see movie “What About Bob?” with Bill Murray— a must watch during quarantine).

 

Wednesday night we sat around the dinner table, sharing jokes and memes we’d come across throughout the chaos of everything. At first I thought the jokes were hilarious, but by day four I just wanted to hear a joke that wasn’t about Corona. They all started to sound the same, and who came up with what first? Did that even matter? I would think of a joke or write a thought down and then I’d see it on someone’s Twitter or Facebook account. Dang it.

It makes sense, we’re all experiencing the same thing, and comedians are always looking for the punchline in a given situation, so everyone is coming up with the same stuff. “I feel like for comedians, once this whole thing is over it’s gonna be a race to see who can get to the stage first with all these jokes,” I said. 

 

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Almost every show I had booked up through April has been cancelled so far. I don’t mind if someone else gets to the stage first with the jokes, honestly, I’m already tired of hearing them. And yet still, I am a walking contradiction who in her exhaustion still thinks she needs to share her own jokes, or maybe fears she won’t be seen as having skin in the game if she doesn’t. Honestly, it’s a relief to know we all have to rest for a second. The stage can wait. 

By the end of the night we had gone over the rest of our business matters. My husband poured us a drink and we toasted as I signed with my new manager. The world felt like it was falling apart, and here we were planning our future, clinging to the hope that despite our current circumstances, our future would be bright and full, with plenty of toilet paper for the taking. 

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Josh and I woke up at 4am the next morning to pack our bags and head to the airport, which brings us back to where I started— after a long journey with two layovers and an attempt to do laundry, me waking up to my husband getting ready to go to the grocery store because the state of California was going into lockdown. “Do you want to come with me or do you want to text me what you need?” He asked.

I was still a little groggy, “I’m confused, why do you have to go right now? I’m so tired. Can’t we go tomorrow?” He said it would probably be worse by tomorrow and we just needed to get a few things. My husband is never chomping at the bit to go to the grocery store, so it seemed important. I said I would text him what I needed. “You don’t want to go with me?” He asked. I laughed, “do you want me to go with you?” He paused and smiled, “well, yea. I don’t know what to get, I’ll get lost in the cracker aisle and we’ll end up with cookies and crackers for meals.” I love him.

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As soon as we walked into the store I wanted to leave— the lines, the empty shelves, the sense of panic, I felt it all and I wanted to get away from it. I told myself to remain calm and walk slowly. Wait my turn, just breathe, I’ll be home soon. I’m not gonna lie, as a true introvert, I LOVE this whole social distancing thing. We saw two people we knew in the grocery store. My automatic response when I see someone I know in the grocery store— pretend I don’t see them. My husband’s automatic response— “HEY GUYS!!” Sure enough, he flagged down the people we knew. My only relief was that we did not have to hug hello and it was FINALLY socially acceptable! It was the rare feeling of “this is amazing” while out in public. 

Yes, I love to entertain people and I feel alive when I am on stage, that is very real, but functioning in everyday life is a much harder story for me. Sometimes my biggest fear when people meet me is that they’ll be disappointed that I’m not like what they see on stage or on screen. Which goes back to what I was saying prior to all this— anxiety, panic, fear are things I already struggle with, I have to work hard to push through them. I’m sure this narrative is true for a lot of people, I’m not unique in that way. That said, Introverts, now is our time! Stay home, don’t touch, limit contact— we’ve so got this! I suspect the extroverts will now get a dose of what it’s like for us to function on a daily basis in an extroverted world. Grace, grace, grace. 

Today we cleaned our house and then I called Richard, my 80-year-old (former) neighbor who lives in Ocean Beach, San Diego. Once a neighbor, always a neighbor. “Oh I’m so happy to hear from you,” he said, “you know I been worried about you— how are you? Are you feeling okay?” I told him I was great, mostly just tired from traveling. He kept telling me I needed to take care of myself, I told him the same thing. “What about you Richard, how are you doing?” I asked, “You need to be taking care of yourself!” I didn’t want to add anything about his age, knowing the elderly are some of the most vulnerable, they already hear that enough and I didn’t want to add to the weight of it.

Staying mentally strong is just as important for the elderly, or as I have recently learned, they like being referred to as “the older.” “Oh I’m fine, I’m doing great, don’t you worry about me. I’m still cancer free and it’s the best I’ve been in years. Plus I know what they’re saying about this thing and I don’t need to be worrying about me… I’m in my golden years, I can’t be thinking about how can I make it last longer, I’m gonna let someone else do that thinking. It’s you I’m worried about, you have a whole life ahead of you!” 

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I called to check on Richard because I was worried about him and here he was worried about me. I had to assure him multiple times that I was feeling great. He asked about my family and my husband. “I bet you sure are glad you got someone to be with during all this,” he said, and I agreed that it was such a gift. “Yea, it does make it better,” he said and he was quiet. I thought of him being alone and even though I knew he was “fine,” I worried about how and when he would get out to get food. I’d ask and he’d keep saying not to worry, he was doing fine and had enough. To my friends in Ocean Beach, please check on Richard.

Before we got off the phone he said “You know, there was this coach from North Carolina, Jimmy V., he had this quote ‘don’t give up. Don’t ever give up,’ and that’s what I want you to hear right now. Of course he died from cancer shortly after saying that, but that’s not the point.” We both laughed a little, not at him dying, but just the delivery of trying to motivate someone with “don’t give up” followed by “he died.” Maybe leave that part out in the delivery.

“But he didn’t give up,” Richard said, “and that’s what we gotta think, not to give up.”

What does it look like to not give up right now? With so many businesses closing, people begging people to support their company, their career, their art, their music— we’re all in the same boat. Most people are trying to figure out how to make this work, how to get financial support while they aren’t working. And honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know what the answers are. I know that truck drivers, delivery workers and health care providers are some of the most important people in the world right now, more so than any celebrity, artist or musician. We NEED this over looked population of people. At the same time, people are connecting through music, movies and comedy, things to keep their minds clear in the midst of the struggle. I see people giving away free content online to keep people motivated— free yoga classes and couch concerts. The online community has become an important part of staying connected while social distancing. What gets created in these dark times has the potential to be very powerful.

After Richard and I got off the phone I googled Jimmy V. and found the speech he gave before he died. He said something very profound while battling cancer, “Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. But it cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul, and those three things are gonna carry on forever.” We cannot control a lot of what is happening right now, but we can control how it affects our minds, hearts and souls, which will greatly affect how we function and treat other people in the midst of this. 

As we continue to quarantine, while appreciating the connection of the online community and social media, may we leave time and space to just be present. I think this was one of the greatest things Coach Jimmy V. had to say, and so I’ll end my processing with this…

“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

It may be so hard right now, but here’s to having something really special at the end of it. 

Hang in there.

simple wonders

I’ve been gone for three months. My travels have taken me from San Diego to Israel for a time, a stop in West Virginia for a while, as well as Chicago, on to North Carolina before hiding away at my childhood home for the holidays on the beaches of South Carolina. It was a beautiful and chaotic time, but I suppose that’s how traveling can be, beautiful and chaotic… as well as life, life can be like that too.

My extended time away was not premeditated, it just sort of happened and it might have kept happening had it not been for a dear friend who decided to get married on New Years Eve in San Diego. It was her wedding that called me home, and so I packed up my travels, flying halfway across the country, landing in Texas and hopping a ride to drive the rest of the way back to California. It’s safe to say I love to travel. I love being in the act of it, anticipating where you are going, being present where you are, finding the balance between the two and making room for both. Sometimes I take the long way to the grocery store just so I can travel a little bit longer.

Truth be told, I could have passed up going to my friend’s wedding for the sake of travel, but deep down something in me knew that something about this life had more to do with people than it did with how many locations I could get to in one road trip, and so unlike myself, I hurried home.

I made it just in time to see my friend walk down the isle. She was every color of beautiful, in part because the colorful tattoos all over her body made the white in her dress shine an extra shade of bright, and in part because you could tell her heart was about to explode with joy as she held her breath to walk towards the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. She made her way down the isle, caught a glimpse of me in the audience, and as if to be further surprised by joy, she mouthed “Oh, JJ!” She held back tears and smiled. My heart lept and everything about rushing home was 110% worth it.

“Relationships,” I whispered to myself, “people. There’s something about people that I know this life is about. Even when it doesn’t seem like it matters, it does.”

We danced the night away at her wedding. She shares the same affection I do for 90s hip-hop culture, so between Mariah Carey and Boys to Men, we could have broken the concrete floor with how hard we danced. “Dancing,” I whispered to myself, “there is something eternal about it. I feel too alive when I do it for it not to last forever.”

We sent my friend and her husband off in style, with sparklers and chants and fist pumps to the air, or to God, whichever your preference.

The wedding reception ended with a long night still ahead of us. In eager anticipation of welcoming in a new year, my friend and I wanted to keep dancing, but seeing as how we aren’t as young as we used to be, we get tired earlier in the evening… I’ll speak for myself. Knowing we didn’t feel up to bar hopping but didn’t want to go back home, we drove out to Shelter Island to get the perfect view of the city. The moon hung low over downtown San Diego, nearly touching the tops of the tall buildings.

We made plans to come back out one night and take pictures, which is still sitting patiently on our to-do list. After driving up and down the little island we noticed a hotel still lit up for Christmas with welcoming doors. People were walking in and out, some on smoke breaks, some on cell phones, and figuring it must be some kind of New Years Eve Party, we decided to venture over.

There was an older man sitting out front who noticed us looking in the windows, “just walk in like you own the place, turn to the right, go all the way back and there is a live band with dancing.” Perhaps it was obvious we  wanted to be involved with what was going on but didn’t actually know what was going on. “OH! Thank you!” we said, and with that I adjusted my jacket to make it look like I owned the place, opened the door and walked in.

We crossed through the lobby without anyone saying anything, “it’s working,” I said to myself, almost laughing as I passed the right we were supposed to take and walked straight back to open a door to a private party. I opened the door with an “I own this place” smile on my face and was greeted by a bouncer who responded to my owner’s smile with “do you have a wristband?”

“OH!” I said out loud (and “dang it” to myself). Just as I was about to explain myself, my friend grabs my jacket and tells me we were supposed to go right. “Oh, we were supposed to go right,” I said to the bouncer whose facial expression did not change. We adjusted our route and made our way past a dinning room full of older to elderly overdressed people. It felt very clear that we were outsiders as we kept walking, pretending like we knew where we were going.

Eventually we found the room with the live band and dancing. It had the vibe of a company party, business people letting loose for one night, my friend and I being thirty years younger than everyone in the company. I watched while the band played Stevie Wonder songs and older-to-elderly people got down on the dance floor, “this is gold,” I thought to myself. “We’re totally staying here,” I said to my friend. “Oh, absolutely we are,” she said, and our friendship made sense.

We danced until the ball dropped with perfect strangers imperfectly dancing. We welcomed in the new year with people thirty years our senior, and even though we didn’t know each other, something about the whole thing felt eternal; all of us celebrating together for one cause as if we were family. Perhaps it was the dancing, perhaps it was coming together of different generations, perhaps it was Stevie Wonder.

It was the best New Years I can remember having in a long time. Maybe at some point we all say that. Maybe there’s a point in which some people never say that. I tend to forget that New Years isn’t just some holiday in which I deserve to have a good time. Having fun on New Years Eve isn’t a right, for some people it’s just another night of trying to figure out how they are going to make it through. In those moments of realization I feel helpless, crippled by anxiety over the state of humanity, which is the exact type of thought you’re told to put away on occasions like New Years. After all, you don’t want to be Debbie Downer at the party. I don’t know where the balance is between living your life and keeping aware of the lives of others, but I think it might be somewhere in between gratitude and time and action.

I’m grateful I had such a good New Years, because not everyone gets one, I’m even grateful I allowed myself to have such a good New Years. Had I have sat on my worries about the state of the world, I would have missed out on the people right in front of me, not only my friend who I had the time of my life with, but also the people who’s story I don’t know, who may have had a hard year despite what their expensive dress says.

People are people, rich ones, poor ones, nice ones, mean ones, and sure, I’ll admit some of them are easier to love than others, but people are still people. Loving the poor and treating the rich like dirt is the same heart condition of loving the rich and treating the poor like dirt. People are people, with stories the likes of which we have no idea. I think most people are the way they are because of their stories, and I am increasingly convinced that listening to someone’s story will change the way you see them.

I’m grateful for where I am at in life, I’m trying to be present in the places I find myself spending time, and I want to do something when it is in my ability to do so to help other people, which doesn’t always mean giving someone money (in part because I don’t have any). I’m trying to embrace the life I’ve been given, allow myself to become more of who I was created to be, and in so doing, setting other people free to be them… something I think people need more than money… the freedom to be themselves.

Now that I am back in San Diego with a new year ahead of me, I am excited about what is to come, nervous too, but mostly excited. I set out to go for a walk the other day and less than a minute into my walk I ran into Richard, my seventy (+) year old neighbor. He asked over and over again how I had been and where I had been and said he was worried about me. Three months is a long time and I didn’t get to see him before I left, “I thought something had happened to ya,” he said, “I went down to your coffee shop and asked about ya.” Richard and I visited with each other often. The first time I met him he helped me put air in my bike tires. The second time we went for a bike ride all over the city.

Richard told me he how worried he had been, “I thought something happened to ya,” he said over and over again. “I didn’t know you were leaving… are you glad to be back, it’s good to be back, right?” he asked, almost nervous I might leave again. I felt both happy that Richard was so anxious to see me, and sad that I had not told him I was leaving. Honestly, I didn’t think it mattered, only because I had forgotten that when it comes to people, even when it doesn’t seem like it matters, it does. I didn’t realize what our frequent run-ins meant to him. I felt happy that Richard would care so much about me, and sad that I would be so careless with Richard. “I want to be more intentional with people,” I thought to myself.

Richard invited me in to share some ideas with me. As he asked what my plans for myself were, he said he had an idea. “Can you play a guitar?” He asked. I said I could. “Can you carry a tune?” he asked. I said I could… well enough. “You start practicing everyday, get yourself 25 minutes worth of material, you think you could do that… be in front of people for 25 minutes?” I laughed thinking about where he was going with his idea, “yea, between stories and jokes and singing, I think I could last 25 minutes.” “Good,” he said with excitement, “now you get yourself an act, practice everyday, record a little demo and send it to people. You start driving up the coast in your van and send the demo to people to say you’re coming, then you can perform in places all the way up to Oregon.” He laughed and smiled as he carried on planning my “career” as a performer. “Not everyone can do it,” he says, “but you could, you got the personality, you could do it!”

I noticed a guitar in the corner of Richard’s living room, “do you play?” I asked. He said he did as he laughed and waved his hand, “not so much anymore, but I used to.” I asked if he could teach me a thing or two on the guitar. “You don’t need a teacher,” he said, “if you got the basic skills, which you do, right?” I nodded. “Then all you have to do is practice everyday. So many people want to move on to the next thing and do all this fancy stuff, but they never master the basics, so they never really learn to get better, they just find new tricks.” I thought this to be true to my life in many ways, always anxious to move on to the next bigger and better thing without really taking the time to invest in understanding the basics, like loving people well, sending them thank you cards and letting them know you’re leaving town and won’t be back for a really long time, not to worry.

I asked Richard if he would play his guitar for me one night and he agreed that he would. He went back to talking about my plan to drive up the coast and perform in music venues and coffee houses. “And listen up,” he said, “you get paid to do this… no freebies! People are gonna want you to perform for free, but you say no. I mean, every now and then a freebie is okay, it’s good to give back, but you can’t do all freebies, you gotta get paid.” He smiled and stared off into the distance as if he were reliving a dream, “yea, you could just drive up the coast and play at night, it would be wonderful.” I agreed that it would. “I’d do it myself,” he said, “but I’m too old.” He laughed at the thought. “Think about it,” he said before I left, “you could take your van, plus you’d be good at it, you’d make people laugh.”

I thanked Richard and gave him a hug before I left. We planned our next bike ride. I walked to the coffee shop where I used to work and was greeted with hugs and screams of excitement. “YEAAA!!!” my friend yelled, “I’m just so excited I want to pick you up and pace back and forth with you in my arms!” So she did. My heart felt happy and loved. I walked to the bank to pray there’d be money in my account, also to deposit a small check, which was an answer to prayer (a combination of human initiative and divine interaction). I thanked God.

I walked down Newport Avenue, the main street in town, and I took in those fresh feelings of returning home. I took note of everyone I walked past, seeing some familiar faces hidden in the herds of tourists. I high-fived a friend and coffee shop regular coming out of his shop. I felt like I was right where I belonged. I walked to the end of the street that dead ends at the ocean. Everything had it’s place, the seagulls, the buskers singing at the ocean’s edge, the surfers gliding across the water, even the tourists walking aimlessly around taking pictures. Everything seemed to be just as I left it, and everyone seemed to belong, even the tourists.

I took in a deep breath to smell the salt water. I thanked God that I was alive and that I lived in Ocean Beach, California.

Last year was tough, despite what social media suggests, but I’m sure that could be true for many if not most people. In many ways I was nervous to come back to California. I was nervous to have a repeat of last year, and seeing as how that was the last thing I wanted, I almost resorted to not coming back. While it’s always an option to leave when the going gets tough, it’s also a way to miss out on the goodness of life, some of which is so simple you could easily miss it.

Rejoicing at my friend’s wedding, sitting in Richard’s living room, hugging my co-workers, high-fiving my friend on the street, smelling the ocean air are all simple joys I would have missed had I have not come back to California, not to mention prolonging panic mode as I tried to figure out what to do next. I so easily forget that my past experience doesn’t have to define my present one and that while I might have made mistakes before, it doesn’t mean I’m destined to repeat them. Prone to, yes, as humans we are all prone to repeating our mistakes, half the battle is being aware of that, but destined to? Absolutely not.

And so for now, I am home, enjoying my neighbors and living the adventure of doing every day life with the people around me. It is an odd combination of simple and wonderful, but I think that is what the best stories are made up of… the simple wonders that take place when you love the people in front of you.

May 2016 be a year of simple wonders for all of us.

 

richard

My friend Richard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

chop and rage

I am the bi-product of a bad marriage. Part of me hates to say that because I love my parents dearly, but I’m learning in life that you can love people while still telling the truth, even if the truth is messy and hard.

I’ve lived most of my life convincing myself and other people that things were fine when they weren’t, that everything was okay when it wasn’t. In a card game it’s called bluffing, and I’ve become quite good at it. If I’m dealt a spade, I call it a heart and I smile while doing it. The problem with smiling while bluffing is that it not only hides the truth, it feeds the lie… the lie that things are fine when they aren’t, the lie that everything is okay when it isn’t. And the more you feed the lie, the more the lie becomes your reality, making it harder and harder to see the truth, the truth that you need help.

And the problem with bluffing, whether you are smiling or not, is that it not only isolates you in your hidden struggle, it eradicates any sort of hope for something greater, something better, something (at the very least) different from your current situation. Pretending my parents’ marriage or family situation is good isn’t going to be what improves it, and maybe calling it what it is isn’t going to improve it either, but it at the very least frees me up to find hope somewhere else instead of expending all of my energy into putting on a performance that becomes less and less convincing as time goes on.

As evidenced by my blog title, my life motto has become to “call a spade a spade,” to say “here’s what I’ve been dealt… I won’t lie, it kinda sucks, but how can I play it well?” I’m learning that it’s a process to learn how to play your cards well. Just when I think I’ve mastered the game, someone else appears to be coming out on top, to be winning, and the temptation to bluff sets back in, along with my pride and my smiles and my abuse of the Christian F-word: FINE, everything is just fine. While being “just fine” might make you seem like good company, someone who won’t cause any drama, ruffle any feathers or spill any milk, it also makes you seem pretty boring. As I’ve recently thought about what people might say about me after I’m long gone, be it from a room or life in general, I would hate for someone’s description of me to be “JJ, you know, the girl who was just fine.”

And so I’m calling it, my spade, the one that says I am a bi-product of a bad marriage. I know that is not who I am, but it is a part of my story, and calling out the bad allows room for the good to come in. I can’t talk about all of the healing and restoration God has done in my life if I don’t say what it was that needed to be healed and restored in the first place. For much of my life I have struggled with the lie that I am not worth it. I can pin-point it precisely, back to an old relationship. Before I understood addiction, I asked my boyfriend at the time why he wouldn’t quit drinking for me if it was hurting me.

His exact words were, “because you’re not worth it.”

And while he apologized shortly after, and years and years have gone by and I’ve sought my own healing, been in and out of a few relationships since then, and he probably doesn’t even remember the conversation, those words are the words that haunt me most to this day. I remember exactly where I was in the moment those words broke a sound barrier, piercing my eardrums as they seeped into my being and rooted themselves deeply into my mind and my heart. I know the Lord’s heart broke for me as much as my own heart broke in that moment. He knew the battle I was going to have to face to un-do that lie, and as a good Father, His heart broke at thought of His daughter going to war. And still, as a good Father, He has held tightly to me since then (and well before), refusing to give up on me and letting me fall victim to the lie that I am not worth it. I know my Lord’s heart broke because the enemy danced a victory dance that night, and though the Lord loves dancing, He did not reserve dancing for the enemy. The enemy danced because he was given enough fuel in one moment, in one sentence, to attack me for a long time to come. Please, chose your words wisely, they carry so much weight.

When my parents separated and later divorced I was sent through a shock wave. I was already barely able to keep bluffing my way through life, going through the ending of a relationship, a community, a job, an identity. When “comes from a good family” was taken off of the table of things I thought I had to offer, I snapped. While I knew well before my parents’ divorce that my family was dysfunctional, I banked on no one else knowing, hoping people wouldn’t know I had enough baggage to go to Iceland for a year or two. I figured people could or would fall in love with me first and then I could yell, “SURPRISE! I have more issues than VOGUE MAGAZINE, but at least you love me!” My fear was that if people saw all of my crap before getting to know me, I would never stand a chance. And I’m not quite sure what I wanted to stand a chance at, I didn’t want to get married, in part because of my experience with my parents, but I still wanted to be sought after, loved and valued. Even as a self-proclaimed independent woman with a black belt in Beyonce, I still want to be sought after, to be desired, to be “worth it.”

At twenty-eight years old, my world was ripped out from under me as the truth of my parents marriage was exposed and the one identity I felt like I had left to cling to, “I come from a good family,” was not only shattered, but broke my heart in the process. And I know, I get it, as a Christian, my identity is to be in Christ, but that’s just it, when you bluff your way through the game, “everything is fine,” it makes it harder to see the truth, “I need a Savior.” If it’s possible, I would say that up to that point, part of my identity was in Christ, while saying that all of it was. But I don’t think it’s possible for part of your identity to be in Christ, I think it really is all or nothing, but I couldn’t see that while I was bluffing, and so seeing as how it wasn’t all, since I was priding myself on the family I came from, I crashed when my parents’ marriage did.

My parents are not responsible for my crashing any more than I am responsible for their divorce, so I am not blaming them for what I went through then and what I continue to go through now as a result of it, but I often avoid talking about it in fear that it might be interpreted as blame, either by them or others. But even more than fearing mis-interpretation is the overall general fear of man and woman… fear of what people think. Perhaps this fear set in at an early age when my Sunday school teacher was disappointed that as the pastor’s kid I did not have my Bible verse memorized, and so as not to disappoint again or mis-represent my father, I set about to strive for the sake of being accepted. Perhaps the fear grew in middle school when I was told that “pastor’s kids are the worst,” and so as to be liked by the kids my age I set about to rebel because that’s what pastor’s kids do. And perhaps the fear of not being accepted for who I really am became a reality, or so I perceived it to be a reality, when six years into a relationship I was told that a bottle of alcohol had more worth than I did.

When I came to learn the story behind my parents divorce my anger at God increased to a level I never thought possible. Divorce in and of itself is hard enough to stomach, no matter what the story or situation. When I was handed the revised version of my story and my family’s history, I wanted nothing to do with God and His way of writing. I couldn’t fathom why He would ever even bother to bring my parents together in the first place. I remember yelling at God one night and asking Him how He could allow two people to go through so much pain, as there are two sides to every story, and both sides of my parents’ story broke my heart, and continues to do so. I remember screaming at Him and through my sobs I yelled out, “and if it’s because you wanted me here then I hate you… because I’m not worth it!”

And I truly believed that. I truly believed that my existence was not worth what my parents went through to bring me into this world, and I felt guilty for being alive. And again, the enemy danced as he watched me forget the truth and believe the lie that I wasn’t worth it. And again, my Lord’s heart broke as He pleaded with His daughter to just hang on, to not give up, to believe in His love for me despite what I felt. I look back and almost have a vision of Jesus weeping over me, weeping harder than I wept, hovered over me, begging His Father God to have mercy on His child.

I look back and I see Jesus being good to me, holding me tight, crying with me as our hearts broke over the same thing, but I couldn’t see it in the moment, not did I even try to. I couldn’t imagine anything good coming from the situation I found myself in, not even a hug from Jesus seemed good enough, or even worth it for that matter.

I under went a dark season of guilt, mainly for being alive. For as crazy as it might sound, I walked around believing that it was my fault for my parents ever getting together in the first place, for them having the story that they did. I felt guilty for their pain and I felt helpless because I couldn’t fix it. I was already here, walking the earth as a bi-product of a bad marriage. I felt responsible to make sure they didn’t hurt anymore and so I mostly kept quiet about the pain and guilt I felt, along with the anger at both myself and at them. I thought as long as I lived my life in a way that pleased them, they wouldn’t hurt as much. And at twenty-eight years old, after all the recovery I had gone through in my own life, I forgot most of it and set about again to be perfect in every way possible, ignoring the fact that perfection is impossible and perfect people don’t need Jesus.

I kept in touch with God, mostly to ask Him not to wake me up in the morning, “please,” I would sometimes cry at night, “please, don’t bother. I can’t keep up.” Taking my own life seemed to be the opposite of trying to help my parents not hurt anymore, and so in the confines of my own mind I decided not to take action, but I longed for the Lord to make that call for me. Since I had no control over eternally checking out, I took control by striving for perfection, hoping that maybe if I was good enough in this life, I could make my parents’ story worth it.

As I set about for perfection, trying to earn my right to simply walk the earth because I had forgotten the simplest of truths that I learned as a young child, well before I was ever lied to about not being worth it, that Jesus did and does in fact love me, I slowly began to disappear… again. Being perfect meant I couldn’t be JJ, and since JJ wasn’t “worth it” I set my sights on perfection instead of He who is perfect, and I managed to kill off JJ while believing she was alive and well. I killed off 23 pounds of JJ as I shrank into a bone structure that wasn’t strong enough to hold life in it. I hid under large clothes, tired eyes and weak smiles, never letting on that I hurt as much as I did, in part because I was too weak to hurt, another added bonus of disappearing. The lie that I wasn’t worth it became my truth, and surviving became my way of living as I tried to redeem the pain my parents’ had to go through in order to bring me into the world… “maybe if I’m a good enough daughter it will have been worth it… maybe I’ll be worth it.”

While I might have questioned my parents’ love for each other much longer than I care to admit, I never questioned my parents’ love for me, so it’s not a pressure they put on me to be perfect, or a situation they asked me to redeem. I don’t think they know the depth to which I have wrestled with the Lord over the matter, if for no other reason than practice makes perfect, and when bluffing is a regular practice, you get really good at it; so good that you don’t even realize you’re doing it. Sometimes I wonder how it’s possible for a twenty-eight year old brain to get as confused as I did, to have access to so much truth and so much love and yet still miss it. Part of it I think is pain, pain confuses things. Part of it I think is saving face, saving face confuses things. Part of it I think is memory loss, memory loss confuses things. And most of it I think is the enemy taking those parts, along with a handful of other parts, and making a great case for why you should be God instead of God being God.

Next week I turn thirty-one, and while I still might not have all my ducks in a row, I know for sure that God does not spell His name with two Js. I cannot claim to always understand Him or the way He works, I cannot even claim to always agree with Him or the way He writes stories. I don’t understand why His writing is sometimes perfectly legible and sometimes as scribbled as a two-year-old’s. I don’t know why I hold the cards that I do in life. I don’t know why some people seem to have better cards and some people seem to have worse cards. I do not understand this God I serve any more than I understand the game of life. There is so much I still don’t know.

But I do know this… I am worth it. I am worth the air in my lungs and the heart in my chest. I am worth the effort it took to bring me into this world no matter how painful the process. I am worth more than a bottle of alcohol. I am worth the life of a Man named Jesus, who saw a little girl trying desperately to be who the world told her to be, even when it wasn’t who He called her to be, and instead of scolding her for not listening to His voice, He picked her up, time and time again, and He laid Himself down in her place, taking on her shame and her guilt so that she might be able to experience the glory of being called a daughter of the God Most High… a title, a role, a claim on her life that wasn’t earned, and therefore can be taken away by no one.

My parents are still divorced, and their story has not changed, but my perspective of God and the way in which I live out who I believe Him to be has. I no longer carry the guilt that I once did for being alive, in fact, I feel so set free from it that the thought seems silly to have ever had in the first place, but it was as real a feeling as the feeling of freedom I now feel. And so I suppose that’s it, I had to be real about how I felt in order to be set free from it. I had to call a spade a spade. So long as I was pretending I was fine, it kept me in bondage, drowning in my own shame and guilt, unable to be me while killing off any of me that tried to come up for air.

I don’t need to earn my worth, or redeem my parents’ story. I don’t need to be perfect, or make sure everything is okay. And I don’t need to curse the Hand of God when everything isn’t okay. Cursing the Hand of God only gives the enemy more room to dance, and I refuse to continue playing a role in letting the enemy enjoy the pleasure of dancing. He has danced long enough in the name of my family, which goes back much further than my upbringing. I’ve given into his lies for far too long, waging war against God and my own body. I am reclaiming that territory, the territory that God deems worth claiming and calling His own, the territory that is my body, heart, mind and soul. I’m calling the enemy’s bluff, that I’m not worth it, and with the truth exposed, the healing can begin. Where there is healing, there is victory, and I’d rather live victoriously with battle scars and war stories than tell the generation that I raise up that I didn’t really need Jesus because everything was “just fine,” especially when it really wasn’t.

A few weeks ago I was given a tee-shirt by a friend who didn’t know where I was at in life, but she knew I needed a tee-shirt (“needed” is a strong word). While I try not to collect too many articles of clothing, there was a story printed on the inside of the tee-shirt that left me clinging to it. For as silly as it may sound, it was as if God was saying, “take off those lies you’ve been wearing and put on this story.”

The story was titled “CHOP AND RAGE,” and it read as follows:

“Don’t stay out of the water. Don’t decide to only let the waves collide against your thighs. Don’t stop pushing out when your heart starts to thump in your throat and you realize how cold the ocean feels when you can’t touch the bottom anymore. Don’t stop swimming when you peer back and find the shore you’ve always known to be a stranger, a line of interchangeable ants along the horizon. Don’t stop slicing through the sea when your arms like twirling swords get tired, even when the water goes from green and curling and foamy to heavy and hearty and black.

You won’t die. And even if you do, so what? The world was created to be explored, even its tides and storms. The chop and rage will turn a heart to stone, but even stone can be moved, formed, and reshaped. The heart, if unable to do anything else, was created to be refined until it can’t beat anymore. Take it into your soaked and wrinkled fists and poke your head above the churning water. Hold it high and scream for help. If you want it bad enough, you will always find a lifeboat upon the surface.”

This is the story that I will relay to the generation that I help raise up, be it to kids of my own by birth or adoption, or kids of others, by loved ones or strangers. I will tell war stories that involve sunken ships, fallen trees and fierce storms so that the weight of restoration, redemption and resurrection can be understood. I will reveal my bruises and scars and I will dance in my imperfection instead of hiding it. I will let them see me cry so that they will know I mean it when I smile. I will admit that sometimes the bottom of the ocean seems safer than the storm raging above, but so long as I believe in the One in whom even the wind and the waves obey, I will face my demons, shake them out and I will never, ever, ever give up.

I may be the bi-product of a bad marriage, but the “badness” of my parents marriage is not what determines the “goodness” or the worth of the people in the family.

I am worth it… and now it is I who dance, crushing the head of my enemy with each step.

My prayer for you is that you know this to be true for yourself.

No matter how or why you got to be here on planet earth, you are here by no coincidence or mistake. It is with great reason and intention that you have breath in your lungs and a heart in your chest… should you find yourself ever doubting that, don’t hide your doubt while appearing to be “just fine.” If Jesus conquered death then He can handle your doubt… call it out, name it, expose the darkness of it to the Light, and then scream for help.

I don’t know how and in what way help will come, but I know that it will.

Just. Hold. On.

You are so incredibly worth it.

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“chop and rage” can be found at lovenailtree.com