Socially Distant Surf Contest!

“Everyone wants to know the story behind the stories.” -Kramer

For any of my friends and pals who follow along on my Instagram…. Here’s a little bit behind why my previous (and more to come) onslaught of stories include asking people to help me win a surfboard via Instagram! And why this might be the only surf contest I could ever come close to winning 😂🤣.

It’s socially distanced by default cause it’s all on social media! Head here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CQyKkN7HK… to check out @mamalasurf on IG to like my photo…

Costa Rica Clouds! (Like this Photo on @mamalasurf’s Instagram profile to help me win!)

and anyone else’s surf photos… honestly who ever wins is gonna be stoked out of their mind and it’s kinda cool that gets to happen to someone!

The contest ends August 20th… Two days after my birthday, YIPPPPEEEE!!

Mental Health matters, and the ocean is my potion (OMG, did I just make that up!?!).

I don’t surf to be the best, I surf to feel alive!

I surf because I love it and for my own mental health, and I’m pretty sure all these rad women feel the same way too! Good luck, ladies!

And also please like my photo 😂 https://www.instagram.com/p/CQyKkN7HK…

(Contest takes place on Instagram… Directions included in video for my older generation friends!)

back to the basics

I think I think too much. I think this because I think all the time. Think, think, think, it’s always happening no matter what I’m doing, even if I’m doing nothing, I’m thinking.

I’m thinking about everything all the time and maybe I can’t hit on everything at once, but you’d be surprised just how much I can hit on in a short amount of time and space. Even for a woman, I’ve heard our minds be compared to that of a plate of spaghetti, all over the place, I think I think more than that. Even in places where thinking need not apply, I’m thinking…

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“Be present,” I tell myself, and for a few sweet moments I am, until the thinks creep back in and I’m too in my head to notice the wave that is about to take me out.

And it’s not always life changing stuff that has me thinking so much, sometimes it’s the mundane, the small and insignificant. What starts out as a small thought in the morning is a full blown attack on the front lines of my mind by lunch. Perhaps this is often why I need a nap after lunch, not so much because of the food baby in my belly but because of the incessant thinking that has me exhausted.

I was recently picked up by a Lyft driver and after a few minutes of what was meant to be small talk he turned around and looked at me and said, “you’re very strange.” I laughed and said thank you in the form of a question. “I don’t mean it in a bad way,” he said, “I just mean that you’re cut from a different cloth and I’m trying to figure out what that cloth is.” I agreed that I myself was trying to figure out what that cloth was. “I can tell you’re a thinker,” he said, “a deep thinker.” I laughed and agreed that in fact I was, sometimes to a fault. “And you think differently than the rest of the world, but that’s a good thing,” he continued. “Until it isn’t,” I said.

“Well, it’s good until it’s dangerous because if you think on everything that gets thrown at you, you’ll end up confusing yourself.” I agreed with him and told him there was a lot I was definitely confused about. I told him I was confused by my own truths on top of people throwing their truths at me. I told him I felt lost. We talked for the next 20 minutes of our ride and by the time we arrived to where he was dropping me off I didn’t want to get out of the car. It felt more like he was taking me to church than a music festival. If there had been an altar call option in the Lyft ride I certainly would have gone to the front. That 20 minutes will certainly be a longer story for another day as it might have changed the course of my life in a way I didn’t see coming. So naturally, I tipped him.

“If you’re confused,” he said, “go back to the basics. The only way you can know the truth is to go back to the basics of knowing there is nothing you can do or learn or be in order to be loved, you already are. Once you know it is the One True God who loves you, you will know the One True God. And in knowing God, you know yourself. People keep trying to find themselves when they already are themselves. You are fully you and you are fully loved, it’s you who has to believe that.”

I shook his hand and told him I thought he was an angel. He said he could say the same about me, but I think I was too confusing to be an angel, plus I didn’t tip that good.

And so I’m trying to go back to the basics, in a lot of areas of life, like riding in the white wash knowing it’s not that impressive but it brings me joy…

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But mostly I’m going back to the basics in realizing I can’t earn my worth or value, and no amount of praise is going to fulfill the love that I lack.

I choose joy. I choose freedom. I choose mastering the basics before trying so hard to figure everything out all the time just so I can feel worth something to somebody. I’m already loved. It’s me who has to believe that. And the same is true for you. You are already so very loved, should you have forgotten, just go back to the basics.

 

Oh, and should you need a ride somewhere, I recommend getting a Lyft.

 

……

Photos: Gary Linn

 

fear has a seat

Hi Family! Well, it’s been a while, a LONG while, and I apologize.

The last we spoke about my book (or I wrote) it was Christmas time and I was in South Carolina packing up my childhood home and saying goodbye to my last Christmas in that house. Sorry to get all sappy so soon. The process was long and hard, but good and necessary and ultimately I’m glad I was at home to help my mom, be with my grandmother and get to know my brother better.

I’m back in California and this year looks incredibly different from last year. I’ve embarked on a journey of pursuing art (in all forms) and have rediscovered my love for creating not just with words but with color. I’ve been painting like a mad woman and even went mad for a little bit as I tried to figure out the difference between work and play when you do something you love. I didn’t know I had a little diva in me until I got to the point of thinking my friends weren’t as important as my time painting. I never want to forget the importance of people and that no amount of money will ever replace them.

It’s hard because painting is how I am trying to make a living, which I love AND it also requires a lot of work outside of a 9-5 job. BUT painting non-stop isn’t what will define me as a painter, it’s what will define me as a workaholic and no different from the people who are slaving away at their jobs missing out on life and the people in front of them. I love painting, but it’s not my foundation nor what defines my value and I have to admit over a short span of time I managed to forget that. HOW DOES IT HAPPEN SO QUICKLY!?!

That said, I’m still trying to figure out how to make this all work. People on social media would see me as having a blast… and that’s true… I am having so much fun living out who I was created to be and functioning the way I was wired to function as a creative. AND, I’m also scared. I’m scared because for as fun as this all is, there’s no safety nets or guarantees. It’s like surfing… fun when you catch the wave, scary when it’s not guaranteed you will and the big ones take you under. The ocean is beautiful and its power is scary.

I go from selling high end art pieces and feeling safe to three weeks going by without selling anything and uncertain as to whether or not I will be able to pay rent. It’s scary to be down to the wire with no funds in the bank account. But I gotta say, it’s worth it when you get that message at midnight that someone wants to buy a painting they just saw. A sigh of relief never felt so good.

Fear is a necessary part of the process, of any process. To not have fear is to not be human and to miss out on the exhilarating feeling of the fear being silenced as the LORD comes in with the last minute save. In order to be excited over provision, one must have first experienced the fear of being without.

I have welcomed fear as part of the process, part of my humanity, but (as I learned recently from Elizabeth Gilbert) I tell fear it is not allowed to make any decisions. I’ve recently painted a chair for fear to sit in while I am in the room painting. Fear creeps in and tells me I’ll never sell anything, I’m broke, I’ll never be able to do this. I thank fear for its concern, recognizing that maybe its just trying to keep me in check the same way it did when I was in the water that day and the waves were too big for my strength. “Thank you, fear, I’m just painting, no one is going to die, you can go have a seat.” This is my new practice instead of beating myself up or giving into fear. Maybe fear isn’t such a bad thing, we just have to know how to handle it.

All of this to say, that is what I have been up to and much of it has to do with the process of my book. As some of you know I submitted it in its completion back in December. It has failed the content evaluation three times. Each time I sanitize my voice a little more to meet the high standards of the Christian publishing company. With this last attempt I decided I couldn’t sanitize my voice any further just for the sake of being published. I have no interest in being published just to publish, I have an interest in sharing the cold, hard truth about the goodness and toughness of life. Everyone wants to say Jesus saves but nobody wants to say why or what from.

So, I’m having a hard time trying to figure out what to do. I am past the point of getting a refund and I’ve tried to submit to a few traditional publishers but with my last attempt came the cold, hard truth that nobody really knows who I am to care enough about what I have to say. Ouch. Rejection is a part of the process, I get that, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

So I’m praying, and any of you who are willing, asking you for prayer too… about what to do next. I want to be willing to learn and flexible to change what I need to, but I also want to value my voice and the truth God has set me free to speak.

For now, I paint and I pray and I tell fear to have a seat.

Love, J

upcoming art show!

Hi friends, just a friendly video reminder about my art show coming up with RAW ARTISTS at the House of Blues on April 20th. Here’s a sneak peek at a few smaller pieces I am working on to sell at the show. I hope to see you there! If you don’t live in the San Diego area but are interested in sponsoring someone to go, you can do that too! Paying it forward is a great direction to head in life! 😀

You can get tickets at http://www.rawartists.org/jjbarrows

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

get back up, paddle back out

How I learned forgiveness through surfing.

The ocean does not discriminate. It does not care what color you are, how old or young you are, how much money you make or don’t make, where you live, if you own a house or a van or a grocery cart. The ocean does not care if you are big or small, if you’ve been promoted or fired, if you started a non-profit or if you steal for a living, accomplish much or accomplish little. The ocean does care if you recycle or waste, eat healthy or McDonald’s, been divorced or hate divorce, are gay or straight, religious or spiritual, are trying to co-exist with everyone or if you hate God and people and kittens and puppies. The ocean does not care. The best and worst human in the world stand before the ocean and they are on the same playing field. They have no advantages over the other. They are equal. The power of the ocean wipes away all social status. The power of the ocean wipes away all differences and similarities between people. The power of the ocean wipes away all identity, which is to say, the ocean is incapable of being bias.

I find this to be both a beautiful and terrifying fact about the ocean. I want the ocean to favor me because I quite fancy it, but the ocean doesn’t seem to care how much I love it, I am given no favors, neither are the lifeguards, the coastguards or even the Navy. Build your ships as big as you want, the ocean can still sink you. Ocean beats rock, paper and scissors.

One of the mysteries behind the ocean is how it can so easily make you feel alive and yet so quickly terrify you with its might that you find yourself standing on the shore, watching its power, both admiring and hating it because you feel so weak before it. I don’t mean wading in the pools that form at the ocean’s edge, or even boogie boarding in the “safety zone” of the shallow white water, if there were to be a “safety zone” in the ocean; never assume to fully understand the ocean (just when you think you can read it, it switches up on you). When I speak of the terrifying power of the ocean, I speak of the place past the white wash, where the people on shore look smaller than your finger nail, and getting past the break is more than half the battle, at least for me. If you can get past the break there is a whole different sort of ocean than the one that washes up on shore; there is a whole different sort of world. Past the break people play on top of the ocean, and people playing on top of the ocean is practical magic at its finest. 

Surfing takes faith, and I’m sure some surfers wouldn’t say so, they’d maybe boast about their skill, but the best surfers I know are the ones who boast about the power of the ocean and how humbled they are before it. The best surfers I know have faith, and it shows in the risks they take riding on top of the waves and the humility they have to get back up after getting knocked down. (The best surfers I know also have fun and are nice to kooks).

I’m still trying to figure out how to work with the waves instead of thinking they are working against me. With surfing, I’m finding out what I am made of, and the sum of my parts are not as pretty or confident as I often charade them to be. It’s scary to not only face the ocean but to face your true self, to find out what you are made of. “It’s like squeezing a sponge,” my friend said to me, “that’s how you find out its contents.” Learning to surf is like being squeezed and finding out what you are made of. And so it is with how we handle the tough stuff in life, things not going our way, being beat down, rejected, or simply forgotten; how we act or react to the tough stuff in life will reveal what we are made of… being squeezed will reveal our contents.

I will be the first to say that I haven’t always acted or reacted well to the tough stuff. Accuse me of being the first to wave my angry fist at God and reject Him for not giving me what I want, or more specifically who I want. When someone breaks your heart, your contents get revealed real quick. Really sane people turn out to be psycho when their hearts get broken. Really brave people turn out to be cowards and really happy people turn out to be depressives. True stories, one of them being mine. But with surfing I’m learning that my past doesn’t have to define my present, and my response doesn’t have to be the same that it has always been. I don’t have to give up on me just because someone else did. 

“You’re not good enough, JJ” I hear in the white wash as I tumble under water. I get back up, I paddle back out. “He didn’t want you, JJ” I hear again as I’m held under. I get back up, I paddle back out. “You’re not worth it, JJ.” I get back up, I paddle back out. “Get serious, JJ, give up.” I get back up, I paddle back out.

“Not giving up” hasn’t ever really been my pattern, I’ve given up on many things, all too easily, but surfing is giving me the chance to not repeat my patterns and to develop a character that isn’t just confined to the ocean but lived out on land.

Sometimes I wonder if the ocean is trying to reject me. Sometimes I wonder if God is trying to give me a tutorial about not being lukewarm and allowing me to see what it would feel like to be spit out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16, trust me, you don’t want to be spit out of God’s mouth). And sometimes, when I can remember that God is good and He is in fact in control, I wonder if God is allowing me to grow, to be shaped and molded into the woman He has created me to be, no matter how much the growing pains hurt. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever get it, and sometimes I do, sometimes I catch a wave and for about four seconds I’m convinced I could go pro. And while they don’t last long, those four seconds feel like forever, and those four seconds are sometimes all I need to keep trying no matter how many times I get knocked down. For as harsh as the ocean can be, it can be three times as much magnificent. The power of the ocean is not just something to fear, it’s something to marvel at. 

When things start to click I gain a little confidence and just as I am about to say “I think I got this,” a new day comes with new waves, and the ones I learned to ride yesterday aren’t the same waves today. Apparently God’s mercies aren’t the only things that are new every morning, so are His waves. On these awkward new waves (of course I blame the waves), I feel stupid for ever thinking four seconds of bliss was going to earn me a sponsorship of some sort. I feel as though I am back to square one: I suck and I’ll never get any better… at anything. Maybe he was right, maybe I’m not good enough… for anything.

I get back up, I paddle back out.  

God tells me not to fear, but I take one look at the ocean and I find myself bathing in fear, loofah and all. The book of Matthew tells a story about Jesus in which He rebukes the wind and the waves and they listen. The wind and the waves were raging, people were freaking out, Jesus tells everyone to chill, including the wind and the waves, and everyone does… including the wind and the waves. The storm took a chill pill because Jesus said so. “Who is this man that even the wind and the waves obey him?” is also what I would have said should I have seen Jesus calm a storm (Matthew 8:27). While as humans we’ve got nothing on the power of the ocean, the power of the ocean has got nothing on the power of Jesus. Dang. That’s a lot of power. Do I live like I believe Jesus has that much power currently in this day and age? Honestly, not really… and I’m tired of talking about a Jesus I sometimes don’t believe.

There’s this other part of scripture where Jesus says “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father” (John 14:12). I’m gonna level with you, in my mind, if I have faith, be it the size of a mustard seed, I too can rebuke the wind and the waves and make them chill out, in the name of Jesus, right? Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe. Is it for the good of others or myself? Truth be told, myself. And yes, I tried it. I tried to do what Jesus did and I told the wind and the waves to calm down in the midst of being terrified while paddling out. I wasn’t even nice about it, I simply commanded the waves to chill out in the name of Jesus. And then I got knocked out. Not literally, I was still conscious, but the ocean must have found my attempt at being like Jesus so cute that it mustered up a big hug for me and wrestled me to the ocean floor until I screamed “UNCLE!” Uncle being Jesus. I ended up screaming for the guy I was trying to imitate. Funny how life works like that. We’re called to be like Jesus and we’re told to call upon His name. When your attempts to be like Jesus are out of selfish ambition, you’ll end up calling upon His name real quick.

And the same goes with healings and raising people from the dead. Jesus did it, I can too, right? I think I think so, but is it for my good or the good of others? If I’m honest, some people I’d like to heal (for my own good, because I love them), and some people I’d like to curse (for my own good, because they hurt me, and my flesh still wants revenge when my spirit says no). And if I were to selectively heal people due to my own personal bias, that’s abusing Jesus’ name, right? And hasn’t Jesus’ name been abused enough, misused and misrepresented enough? People hate other people in Jesus’ name and it’s heartbreaking.

And so what is this verse about doing greater things than Jesus? Maybe it is about healing and raising people from the dead and rebuking the ocean, but maybe it’s about something even greater than those things. Maybe it’s about really loving people, showing kindness and grace and mercy, even when it’s hard and we don’t want to. Maybe it’s about forgiving the people who have hurt us instead of cursing them. Truth be told, I’d rather have the power to rebuke the ocean than forgive someone who has hurt me. I was betrayed. But so was Jesus. Jesus knew He was going to be betrayed and He still sat at the same table with the guy who betrayed Him.

Many of us want to be like Jesus when it comes to miraculous signs and wonders, but not so much when it comes to the miracle of forgiving someone who has done wrong. Maybe I should just speak for myself. Jesus Himself posed the question, “For which is easier to say, ‘your sins are forgiven,’ or to say ‘get up and walk’?” I’d rather heal all sorts of people than forgive that one person. But that one person matters. True forgiveness is hard. But Jesus did it and He said that we would do the same works and even greater ones than He. He forgave people and then He healed them. I don’t know the theology behind it all, all I know is two issues came up when people needed to be healed… having faith and forgiveness. I think Jesus was quicker to forgive than He was to heal, and as a result of having encountered such forgiveness, people were healed. I think Jesus touched people’s hearts more than just their physical bodies.

Forgiving someone means you are loving them, even when you don’t really like them, and loving them might do just as much for you as it does for them. Giving and receiving love changes people. I think that is why forgiveness is powerful. It heals. It changes people. 

Saltwater heals too, which is initially what got me out into the ocean, wanting to surf, wanting to take my mind off of things, wanting to heal from past hurts. I started to surf to face some fears and live my life and learn some lessons along the way. My faith has increased, as has my awareness of my need for Jesus… I scream for help a lot, in fact I scream “JESUS, TAKE THE BOARD!” the way Carrie Underwood screams “JESUS, TAKE THE WHEEL!” It just doesn’t sound as pretty. “Help” is one of the most powerful words I know; it solicits a response, sometimes in the form of a friend and sometimes in the form of a lifeguard. Yes, I have a story about that.

The ocean is dangerous and beautiful. It’s not at all safe and at the same time hosts children of all ages with great care. It’s powerful and capable of anything. It welcomes everyone without discrimination and will just as quickly humble anyone who thinks they stand above another. The ocean is a mystery to me and I have a reverent fear of it. I love the ocean, mostly because I think the ocean was created in the image of the One who created it. Scripture comes to life when I am in the ocean and in that sense I feel like I get to know God more and more each time I come out of hiding and face my fear, face my true self and the contents of which I am made.

It’s funny, what I have learned the most in surfing is not yet how to pop up faster or duck dive accurately (my last attempt gave me a slap in the face and shot me back about ten feet), and I still haven’t learned how to muster enough faith to rebuke the wind and the waves. What I have learned the most in surfing is that trying to be like Jesus doesn’t mean trying to produce visible miracles; trying to be like Jesus means loving the very people who hurt and reject you, which might not mean doing life with them, but certainly forgiving them. That to me, is a miracle. In the same way we stand before the power of the ocean on equal grounds, we stand before God, no matter what we’ve done, on equal grounds. All have fallen short. All of us are called to forgive just as we have been forgiven.

I simply wanted to learn how to surf, but I learned that no amount of saltwater will wash away the pain if you don’t forgive the one who has hurt you. 

And much like learning to surf, or even life for that matter, forgiveness is a process. If you find you can’t do it right away, that’s okay, start there by saying you can’t. You gotta start somewhere and I think honesty is the best starting point. You can only change that which you are honest about. So start with “I can’t,” ask Jesus to meet you there, and never, ever, ever give up.

Get back up, paddle back out. 

It’ll change you and you’ll change the world if you love like Jesus (or at least somebody’s world, and that somebody matters, even if that somebody is you).

failing forward

I’m trying new things… or at least trying to try new things.

Often times I let the fear of not being good at a new thing keep me from doing that new thing, but I’m realizing more and more that the fear is less about my capability and more about what other people think. Like with anything in life, when you start something, you probably won’t be excellent at it right off the bat, but it you keep at it, little by little, over time you find that you can do it, and then one day you find you can do it well, and then one day… most excellent.

I’m tired of living my life in fear of what other people think… “is so and so proud of me?” (probably not, they hate tattoos), “am I working the right job?” (probably not, I should make more money), “will I be made fun of?” (most definitely)… but living in the what-ifs of other people’s thoughts is no place to live… it’s not living at all, it’s functioning at best.

At thirty-one years old I’m facing some fears. One of my fears is also one of the things I love the most in life… the ocean. Moving to California and living a block from the ocean, I’ve realized very quickly that you can’t have surfed on your dad’s longboard on the east coast 12 years ago and then come out here and call yourself a surfer. The first day I took a board out to “refresh” my  “skills,” I had my ass handed to me by the ocean. It’s intimidating being out there with people who’ve been at it their whole lives. But I’m tired of living in the wake of other people’s intimidation. And so I go out, as often as possible, and I get my ass kicked, sometimes I even get made fun of, but I know the only way to get better at it is to start being not so good at it, and then keep doing it.

I both love and am terrified of surfing. I get out in the water and I sing, I sing and I pray and I find myself having to trust God in a whole new way. I find myself having to choose to believe that He is in fact in control of the ocean and He’s got me. Sometimes I have to wonder if He does got me… west coast waves are different, they’re bigger to say the least, and my noodle arms are not in the habit of pushing and pulling against the ocean. I’ve been tossed and turned and held under for much longer than I am comfortable with. I’ve come up gasping for air only to have the next wave topple over me. My prayers go from “help me!” to “come on, man! give me a break… although not literally!” Ever heard the song Oceans? It’s a good one, look it up. I sing “as your love wave after wave crashes over me, crashes over me,” and it puts a whole new meaning to the song. “Thank you for loving me, God,” I say as I see a wave of love heading my way to crash over me, “could you please love me in a different way right now?” And then I get toppled.

Swirling around in the power of the wave I can only begin to imagine the power of God’s love for us. I’m rendered helpless by the ocean as it overtakes me. I think God’s love is like that. People talk about God’s love as if it’s fluffy and safe, I think it’s powerful and scary and totally unsafe… like a wave. But when you learn how to ride with the wave, you experience the goodness of lining up with something so powerful and scary and unsafe. I think when we truly experience God’s love it does render us helpless, it leaves us shocked that we could ever be loved the way that we are. I think God wants to jolt us into being rendered helpless every now and again, if for no other reason than for us to realize or to remember that there is nothing we can do to earn that love. Even the best surfers in the world get their asses handed to them by the ocean; they could never be could enough to master the ocean because it’s not their ocean, it’s God ocean. And likewise, we could never be good enough to earn God’s love because it’s not our love to earn, it’s His love to give. So we can’t master the ocean, but we can continually keep showing up, get in the water and learn how to line up with the ocean’s power for our good. Unsafe becomes a place of trust and awe and wonder.

I’m still a beginner, so I’m not the best, but I’m trying. I have good days and I have off days and they all matter because they all make up the process of getting to where I want to be. Some days are hard and I’m embarrassed, but much like with life or even my relationship with God, it’s not a reason to throw my hands up and say “I quit!” just because things didn’t go my way. And when I’m most honest, I feel like I don’t even deserve praise for trying as I’m currently experiencing a minor set back. Fear has crept in the last week after getting stuck in a large set and having my board slam down on my head (lesson learned: always cover your head). I’ve slowly crept back to the comfort zone of the shore, and I think that happens in life when things start to get uncomfortable, naturally we want to find what’s comfortable. I’ve spent the last week beating myself up about being in the comfort zone, but that does me no good. What might help is catching my breath in the comfort zone, taking the pressure off to think I even have to master something or do it well enough in a certain amount of time, and find the enjoyment for it again, which ultimately is what will draw me back into the water, the fact that I love it. But if I see it as another task to perform or master, constantly feeling not good enough, I will stay right on the shore lines where I don’t even want to be.

My enjoyment for Jesus is what draws me to Him, not the tasks I think I have to do for Him. And so it is with surfing, and the new things I am trying in life, the approaches I am taking to not live in fear.

Alongside surfing I’ve picked up the ukulele, given to me by the high schoolers I used to work with. I’m not the best at it, but I love it, and that is reason enough to keep doing it. I see videos of other people playing perfectly and it is almost enough to make me wonder “why bother” as I’m just not as good as them. But I do bother because I love it, no matter how good someone else is, and if I spend my time comparing, I become so self-focused that I lose enjoyment for what I love and the ability to appreciate someone else’s talent. Someone else’s success is not my failure, and so I can praise them for how great they are instead of trying to compete with them. When competition is removed you find camaraderie, and where there is camaraderie there is community.

This video was made right where I am at in life… trying. I haven’t mastered anything, but there are enough videos of people who’ve mastered things. I figured maybe just maybe, if the process really is that important, I should be more willing to let people into the process instead of showcasing my gifts once I’ve mastered them. I’m inviting you into the process, not just of my life, but of yours, and encouraging you to share your process with other people, if for no other reason than connecting, relating, and not being so alone. You don’t have to be onstage to be good enough… you are good enough right where you are at, in the process of becoming you were meant to be, which in some weird way is who you are now, but also who you are becoming (I don’t get how it all works, I just know you’re good enough now and God ain’t done with you yet). Don’t give up. And don’t be afraid to fail, I guarantee you it is part of the process.

“Fail forward,” a friend said to me this week and I liked that… and I did.

And I survived.