van realities

Me again with a riveting new video update!

As most of you know, my home base has been a VW van for the last four-ish months. Good grief. It is neither as creepy nor as adventurous as it sounds. I mean, it’s both of those things, but they are not mutually exclusive… nor are the pictures on Facebook or Instagram the full story (which I’m sure is true for most people).

As I’ve already shared with the people who have supported my book campaign, I’d like to also share with you a few of the real thoughts that come along with van life. I’m in a transitional season of life, not just because I live in a transit system, but because Aslan is on the move, as they would say in Narnia, and a change is gonna come, as Sam Cooke so perfectly sang back in his day.

With van life weighing on me while trying to do ministry and work another job to help supplement, and now having my book funded without much time or energy or goodnight-sleeps to be able to work on it, my season of van life is soon coming to an end, at least as a home base (Reggie June will still very much be a part of my life). I’m in the process of figuring out what my next steps are, as my time working at church is also coming to an end this month.

While I am excited, it took a lot of processing and admitting of my own struggles to be able to start moving into this next season of life, one of more stability… and one that gives momma a lot more reassurance about where her daughter is sleeping at night 🙂

I do not know exactly what is next, aside from lots of writing and coffee, and I do not know exactly where that writing and coffee will take place, my compass seems to be a bit broken. BUT, I do know that though much of my time and attention will be devoted to writing, my life has to include they very thing I sometimes forget I need, which isn’t a thing at all, but in fact, people… relationships built on human interaction. For as much as I love venturing off on some grand adventure, I think that doing life with people is perhaps the greatest adventure… even if it means staying put long enough to see their ugly, and long enough for them to see yours. Being loved through your ugly is quite an adventure.

To those who have been with me on this journey, and those who have shown their support in countless ways… Thank you, thank you, thank you for your help.

writing a book

Hey Friends, family and the like…

I’m finally writing a book… based on this blog.

And here’s how you can help make it happen!

CLICK HERE:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/it-s-called-a-spade/x/6955591

reggie june

A few days ago I sat on the opposite side of the street and watched my van rebel against its parking spot, as if to yell “FREEDOM!” and roll backwards onto Pacific Coast Highway. My van has a name, which we’ll get to, but my van’s name is not William Wallace, and so while I can appreciate Wallace’s fight for freedom, freedom is not something I’d like my van to take part in, especially from its parking spot, and even more especially from its parking spot when I’m not inside of it.

I had taken a couple of high schools girls to Encinitas, my favorite beachside town, to get smoothies and talk about whatever might come our way. It’s a longer than necessary drive to get smoothies, but the drive is a sight unlike any other along the California coastline, and I look for any excuse to take a road trip; an affection for the road is something I’d like to pass on to my high school girls.

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We parked on an incline and I noticed my emergency break giving a little, but I assumed once we removed our extra weight from the van it would be fine. That is to say, I noticed a problem… my van was moving when it shouldn’t have been… and I ignored it.

The girls and I sat outside of a cafe across the street, and in between snacking and laughing I looked up and noticed a van that looked just like mine, pulling out of the same parking lot I parked in. It took me the length of time it takes to read “God Bless Johnny Cash” on the back of the similar looking green and tan Volkswagen Vanagon before I felt my heart drop into my stomach, realizing that it was my van pulling out of the parking lot… and I was not in it. I barely had enough time to ask myself who was driving my van when it dawned on me… no one was driving my van. My van had gone rogue.

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I jumped up as if a fire had been lit underneath me and screamed, “OH MY GOD, that’s MY CAR, I’M NOT IN IT, IT’S ROLLING! MY VAN IS ROLLING!” Thank the Lord above my van rolled onto the highway at a time when there were no cars present, and those that approached shortly after her right lane arrival had time to get over and drive around her (yes, my van is a girl). She stopped with her back end sitting in the far right lane of the highway… which is to say, my bedroom was sitting on the far right lane of Pacific Coast Highway in Encinitas, California.

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“My house! Oh God, my house! Please don’t hit my house!” I said to myself, as well as passing cars, as well as Jesus, “Dear God, please,” I prayed and panicked, realizing I might have sounded crazy to anyone walking past or watching as I yelled about my house being hit by traffic. There was a florist outside with a bouquet in her hands and I could hear her yelling, “there’s no one in that car! Who’s driving that thing?” I made it across to the other side of the highway and as fast as I could, unlocked my house, jumped inside and cranked it up. I pulled back into the parking lot, on a very flat surface, put her in park and turned to look at the cafe where the girls sat on the other side of the street, laughing in disbelief, along with anyone else who was sitting outside, including the cook standing in the doorway of the restaurant next door.

The girls ran across the highway to join me and we all laughed as they climbed in, but my heart was racing, almost pounding out of my chest. “I need a second, I need a second to catch my breath and thank Jesus that my house did not get run over.” I took a deep breath and grabbed the steering wheel, “Oh thank you, Jesus,” I said, “thank you, thank you, thank you… that could have been so bad… not just for me, but for other people. Oh, my, God, thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Jesus nodded, as Jesus always does, as if to say, “you’re welcome, kiddo”…

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After catching my breath and saying my prayers, the finger-pointing began… “Reggie June!” I scolded my van quietly, “you could have killed somebody!” Yes, my van is appropriately named Reggie June. She’s named after one of my favorite football players of all time, Reggie White, and one of my favorite ladies of all time, June Carter Cash. Reggie June is a tomboy with a sweet and sassy personality who isn’t afraid to get down in the trenches… and apparently play in traffic. And even though she’s painted green and named after a former Green Bay Packer, she’s a straight up Chicago Bears fan…

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I scolded Reggie quietly because even though it was she who rolled out onto the right lane of Pacific Coast Highway, I knew that it was mostly (if not all) my fault.

It was mostly (if not all) my fault because I noticed a potential problem and I ignored it. I even commented “that makes me a little nervous” when I first set the emergency brake and it started to give way. But instead of addressing what made me nervous, I walked away from it, as if it was going to fix itself. I said “oh well,” instead of taking a little bit longer to park somewhere else a little more stable, a little more flat. To save time, I settled for the possibly of disaster instead of taking longer to find a safe place and a little more stability.

I still can’t shake the sight of sitting on the other side of the street, watching Reggie roll out of her designated parking spot; and if she wasn’t yelling “FREEDOM!,” she was definitely yelling, “I TOLD YOU, I TOLD YOU!!!” I was horrified, as I’m sure Reggie was, having her rear-end exposed to oncoming traffic. Reggie was in a vulnerable spot, and yet I got mad at her for backing out of the parking spot I tried to force her to park in, even though she gave me a fair warning that she wasn’t safe there.

As I watched bobble-head Jesus have a dance party on my dashboard for saving the day, as well as the lives of many (in more than ways than one), I couldn’t help but think about how often I have played that scenario out in other areas of life. How many times have I noticed a problem, or even just a potential problem, and instead of expending the time and energy it takes to fix it, or the very least address it, I’ve either said “oh well,” and ignored it as if I didn’t care, or said “ahhhh, it’ll be fine,” in complete denial that a problem even exists. How many times have I seen a problem, walked the other way and then blamed the problem for becoming a bigger problem?

What’s worse, how many times have I done that with people?

How many times have I either avoided conflict or given up trying to resolve the conflict because it took up too much time or energy? How many times have I ignored someone’s cry for help because it was inconvenient? How many times have I seen the warning signs of potential disaster, especially with men (in my case), and avoided them (the warning signs, not the men)? I don’t want to bore you with statistics so I’ll just sum it up and and round up… A-WHOLE-FREAKING-LOT!

As I scolded Reggie June under my breath, I knew I was scolding her quietly because she didn’t actually deserve to be scolded at all. As long as I could scold her, I didn’t have to own my stupidity in the situation. Scolding her was a form of blame shifting, and since I felt stupid for ignoring the problem, blaming anything other than myself made me feel a little bit better about not being smarter. But let’s face it, feeling better about myself for a moment wasn’t going to fix the problem in the long run. And in the same way ignorance and denial will never solve a problem, conflict will never get resolved if you are attempting to save face by not owning your stuff (in my case, stupidity… or carelessness, if we’re avoiding the S-word) in the situation.

You cannot seek to feel better about yourself as an end result of conflict and expect to find resolve, especially if you care about the person you are in conflict with and you want them to feel cared for.

Feeling less stupid isn’t going to prevent what happened with Reggie from happening again. Not even blaming Reggie for having a defective emergency brake is going to prevent a potential bumper to bedroom disaster from happening again. Addressing the defective emergency brake is what is going to prevent it from happening again, that is to say, addressing the problem. And if I’m honest, nothing within me wants to address the problem. I just want it to work… without the effort. So much time and energy and prayer and money has already gone into Reggie that I don’t want there to be any more work to be done. And even though I wrote about the importance of maintenance in previous posts, I want to erase them all and ignore the problem, because it’s easier, and cheaper… now. But not later.

While it might be frustrating to have to keep working at keeping Reggie in good health, it’s a lot less frustrating than Reggie’s health giving out completely as she spirals backwards into oncoming traffic and my mode of transportation/house/office space is no more. I’d rather it be frustrating now than devastating later… I’d rather buy a new emergency brake than buy a new Reggie.

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And so it is with people, with relationships, with communication, with conflict. It’s so much easier to not work at it, to not try harder, to not fight (if need be), to say “never mind,” “oh well,” “it’ll be fine.” But avoiding conflict is not resolving conflict, and not fighting for the sake of not fighting is still fighting, just with less words, which is what you’re going to need if you want to find resolve, not just the state of not fighting.

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I don’t want to pick or start fights with people I care about, but I do want to be able to fight well with them when a fight is called for. Avoiding a fight isn’t just avoiding a fight, it’s avoiding the person involved in the fight. And so while I don’t want to fight, I also don’t want to be afraid to fight… especially when that person, place, thing or relationship is worth fighting for.

I’m learning a lot about life from Reggie, and a lot about myself in my efforts to take care of Reggie. I’m being exposed to parts of my character I didn’t know were there, and parts of my character I knew were there, but tried to avoid simply because I didn’t like them. Reggie is showing me that the parts of my character I don’t like will never change if I keep ignoring them, or pretend like they aren’t an issue… in fact, they’ll probably get worse.

I think that might be why I am where I am right now… not just in San Diego, but in life. I think I have a few defects of character that the Lord has tried to work on before, but I’ve avoided the work that needed to be done because it seemed too hard, too messy, too time consuming; but avoiding all the work has only gotten me further away from being who the Lord has called me to be, and gotten me further away from being comfortable with who the Lord has called me to be.

It’s funny, I now live in a mode of transportation, and yet I’ve never been more aware of my need to slow down, my need to be still, my need to stop running. It’s in my moving house that I’ve even begun to realize that I not only have a need to be still, but a desire to be still.

Reggie’s a big girl, and she’s thirty years old, which is young in human years but pretty up there in car years, so she’s pretty slow. Perhaps this is another reason God has paired Reggie June and I up, He’s gifted me with the opportunity to do all the moving I want, while slowing down enough to realize that I need, I want, to be still.

That might sound like a contradiction seeing as how I also just stated that I wanted to be able to fight… and I do, well, I don’t really want to fight, but sort of I do. I want to not be afraid of fighting so that I won’t run out on the people I’m avoiding a fight with. For as much as I want relationships to be easy, I want to be even more to be willing to work at them.

Relationships require work. People require work. Cars require work.

And love, love definitely requires work… and that’s okay.

May we all know when it’s time to get down in the trenches and work hard…reggiewhite

and when it’s time to sing and dance and play harder…

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I think life is a good mix of both… kind of like Reggie June…

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the simple life

In less than twenty-fours, after finally getting my van back, I have been… cheered for by street corners full of people (it was as if they knew how long I had been waiting to drive my own home), asked if I sell pot on more than one occasion, extended a marriage proposal, offered a a car-swap, rear-ended at the DMV, nearly T-boned by an old man who blew a stop sign, stalled out on a hill, watched “Cool Runnings” in the street, and fallen asleep to the sound of rain… all while managing to avoid the cops… until last night.

I was parked on top of Rocky Butte when a cop tapped on my window with a flashlight. “You guys smoking pot in here?” He asked. A hippie in a Volkswagen van, I get it, I must be smoking pot. I couldn’t help but laugh as I told him he was more than welcome to search the van. I now have a more accurate understanding of what it is like to be profiled.

I love the simple life… and the not-so simple things that come with it, like the stereotypes and the opinions of other people. It’s not that I love the stereotypes, I don’t, I don’t love that some people think I’m down-grading in life because I’m going to go “live in a van down by the river.” I love that I am learning to be so comfortable in my skin that even if someone makes a judgement call on me, it doesn’t have to wreck me, sending me into a wave of fear that has me driving back to my comfort zone… my comfort zone of being well-liked by everyone.

As I look back and think about some of the loneliest times of my life, they were the times that I was well-liked by everyone. They were lonely times because when everybody likes you, it means no one really knows you, and if no one really knows you, then no one can really love you for who you are… only who you show yourself to be. And when you don’t feel loved for who you really are, you end up feeling really, really alone… even in the largest of crowds of people who love you… or least the you they see.

At thirty-one, not everyone likes me, and not everyone loves what I am doing with my life… but finally, after years of pleasing people more so than God… I am uncomfortably okay with that. And I am okay with being uncomfortable about people not liking me, because it means while I care about people and what they have to say, I can’t let or make their opinions be my God.

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I know living in a van is going to have it’s challenges, it already has and I’ve barely just begun, but it’s in those challenges that I am becoming more aware of my character and the importance of maintenance for the long haul. It’s not enough for me to put all the money I’ve received into the van and expect it to be good from here on out. I have to maintain it’s health… oil changes, tire rotations, check-ups to keep it running. I have to take care of this community-given gift by continuing to take care of it. And I have to do the same for myself. A one-time visit to treatment is helpful to the sick, I know, I’ve been there, but you… I… have to keep taking care of ourselves after walking out of those treatment doors, or that therapist’s office, or memorizing that Scripture. We have to go live out what we talked or read about it, and we have to do it more than once… we have to do it on the daily.

Even though I am incredibly excited about van life, I know this is just the beginning, and the excitement won’t last forever. The van won’t make it to California on one tank of gas, I have to keep filling it, and so it goes with me. I can’t expect the initial excitement of this journey to be enough fuel to keep me going for the rest of the journey. I have to keep getting filled by my Power Source and take care of the mind and body He’s given me, and take care of the me He’s given to the world. We’re all gifts to the world, most of us just don’t know it yet because it takes a lot of work to realize it, and even more so to live it out.

This van is helping me understand the importance of maintenance… the tiring but rewarding work it takes to maintain the abundance of that which you’ve been given… life.

It is also helping me understand the importance of curtains.

I love the simple life, but it can get complicated if you don’t have curtains… blogging is enough exposure for me.

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get a job, hippie

“Get serious.”

“Get married.”

“Get a job.”

“Get a life.”

Get. Get. Get.

I’m currently trying to figure out how many times Jesus told us to “get” anything. Maybe it was lost in translation, “get this or get that, come follow me,” but what I read most are the words “give this or give that, come follow me.”

Give. Give. Give.

We live in a society that is obsessed with getting, and I’m not at all saying I don’t like getting, I don’t think I would be human if I didn’t, but I do find it awkward to live in a getting-obessed environment when you are trying to follow a giving-obessed man who is so giving that He gave up His own life so that we could be given more life… even if we chose to spend that life getting more and more stuff we can’t take with us. 

That said, the rumors are true… I am following a giving-obessed man down a road that is not only different from the rest of society, but makes that society uncomfortable. 

After an entire summer of working with high-school kids at a church in San Diego, which you can read about in previous posts, I was asked to stay on for the school year. Though I wanted to return to the comforts of my home in Portland, I felt led to stay in the more challenging environment of investing in the lives of other people. San Diego is beautiful, so I’m not complaining about the environment, but when life isn’t all about you, then it certainly gets uncomfortable and challenging, no matter where you are. 

In praying about what my living situation would look like if I stayed, I started the conversation with the Lord about a seemingly impossible seventh-grade dream of mine… living in a Volkswagen. I discovered Janis Joplin in the seventh-grade, along with with The Beatles, Peter, Paul & Mary, Bob Dylan, and the Volkswagen. I dreamed about growing up to live as free as the hippies without all the drugs, assuming my dream was just a dream since the sixties were over and drugs scared me at that point. 

That dream faded around ninth-grade when I met a boy and my life became all about him. Years down the road when that relationship ended, my life became all about the next relationship, and when there wasn’t a relationship, my life became about whatever other people wanted me to make my life about. I’ve been though more phases in search of an identity than I can count on both hands and one foot, finding contentment in my new identity for a little while, only to feel unfulfilled and not at all like myself. 

Even still, I sometimes find myself asking “who is myself?” But I learned in more recent years that I have been asking the wrong question to the wrong person. Instead of asking myself who I was, I started asking Jesus who He was, slowly feeling more and more like myself as I became more and more aware of Him. 

As I talked to the Lord about a living situation in San Diego, coupled with the desire to do more for other people on a limited budget, the raggedy little brunette seventh-grader in me surfaced her opinion… what about a VW van?

I won’t lie, my heart leapt, but as a thirty-one year old who already quit her salaried job to be an intern at a church, the voices of my past crept in and told me to get serious and grow up. I’m not quite sure how to explain it, but in all my conversations with Jesus, at some point it dawned on me that not only was I sick of stifling my personality for the sake of making other people comfortable, He was sick of me stifling who He created me to be for the sake of making other people comfortable. 

The desire to live more simply has been unfolding in the last few years of my life, and even more so since realizing I could actually do more for other people if I lived with less. I’m tired of “getting” for the sake of preserving… getting more to preserve what I have and how people see me is a fear I give much too much power to. So when I decided to cast out the opinions of other people, not the advice and insight, but the opinions, I could see clearly that not only was my dream an option, it was possible.

The longest of stories short, I’m not following a dream, I’m following Jesus, and following Him has resulted in a dream being followed. Yes, I am giving up a lot to follow Him, I am simplifying to the extreme… but I don’t feel like I am losing anything in the process, I mean I am, but I’m not… if anything I feel like I am becoming more and more of who I was created to be. It’s this weird concept of gaining, but not from efforts of getting.

I recently wrote to someone asking for help and the best way I could sum up me living in a van to do youth ministry was this:

I’m not saying this is the direction God asks everyone one to take. My message is not “get rid of your house and move in a van,” my message is “follow Jesus, knowing that following Him looks different for each of us, especially since we are created so differently. Don’t be afraid to ask Him what it looks like for YOU to follow Him just because you’re afraid it might look the same as it what it looks like for me.” I think people are afraid to ask what it looks like to follow Jesus simply because they are afraid of what it MIGHT look like. They forget He knows their hearts and the ways they are wired. Honestly, I’m wired the way in which Jesus is asking me to follow Him.

And I stick to that. Following Jesus looks like me becoming more of who I am, not less. I may have less, much less than what the world says I need, but I’ve never felt more alive. And I think I’m becoming more alive not because I am pursuing a better life now, but because I am pursuing Jesus… a Jesus who cares about that raggedy little brunette seventh-grader in her John Lennon sunglasses, posing in front of Volkswagens. 

I don’t know how long this season will last, I know my time with the high-schoolers is a commitment through the school year and the conversation will be revisited then. I’m making plans and holding them loosely, because I know God likes to shake things up.

To those who have always said I need to “get more”… get serious, get married, get a job (hippie), get a life…

I am serious. I don’t have to be married to be of value. I have a job (thank you), and I’ve never felt more alive than at thirty-one years old, twenty-three pounds heavier than her former anorexic self, a few figures less than her last job, and acting on a faith that forces her to step out and buy a van that she doesn’t know how to drive and can barely afford. I made a faith based choice that I would learn how to drive stick-shift and the rest of the money would turn up. Again, I wasn’t banking on people giving me money, I so fully believed that this was the direction God was asking me to take that even if I didn’t have the resources on my person, I knew He was going to provide. I had to act, not because I had all the pieces, but because I had a faith that said all the pieces would come together if I believed even when I couldn’t see. It is one thing to talk about that kind of faith, and it is a whole different thing to actually act on it. It’s scary.

If you don’t know Jesus and you think I’m crazy, read the Bible.

If you do know Jesus and you think I’m crazy, read the Bible.

That book is crazy. I can’t claim to believe it if I don’t take its crazy seriously.

All of this to say, it wouldn’t be an adventure without obstacles, which is where you can come into the story. After engine work and other car troubles that have surfaced, I almost gave up a couple of times, chalking it all up as too crazy and almost audibly hearing the voices that would be coming down on me. 

I called my boss/friend/brother-from-another-mother, Evan, and asked at what point I should pull out because I’m being irresponsible and at what point I should press in and not give up. He reminded me why I was heading back to San Diego in the first place… “you’re not coming to be become a professional surfer or a sun-bather, you’re coming to invest in the lives of these kids and simply because of that, the enemy is going to do anything he can to stop you. Press in and don’t give up.”

And so I’m not. I’m not giving up. Certainly not yet. The van needs help. It’s in the shop now and I’m still waiting for totals, but what doesn’t go towards covering the work done will go towards gas money to get back to San Diego and continue the work I started with the kids… along with writing the stories God has called me to live and write. 

Yes, I am asking for help, but that is not all. I’m asking you to ask God what it looks like for you to follow Him. It might look like giving time or money to someone or something else… do it, even if it seems crazy. Don’t ignore those little nudges or checks in your spirit, and don’t think following Jesus means you have to give up being who you are. Jesus doesn’t want to suppress your personality or your life, He wants to enhance it. He wants you to live and live well, feeling fully alive as you go, breathing because life is to be lived, not survived. If you are fortunate enough, as I am, to be in a place where survival isn’t your means for living, you are blessed beyond belief already.

If you are in a place where fighting for survival is a way of life, hold on. Please. I may not understand your situation, but I understand the need to hold on, and the lack of desire to keep doing so. 

You don’t have to look far into the archives of this blog to find posts that lack the tone of hope and life that this post has. There were times I wasn’t sure I’d ever have anything happy to write about, accepting my fate as the designated downer who other people looked at when they wanted to feel better about themselves. And while I may be experiencing an extreme amount of joy in this process, I know living in a Volkswagen van isn’t going to be all flowers and rainbows. I will face the hardships as they come while embracing joy in the process. 

So my challenge to you is this… go to paypal.com or clearxchange.com and send money to jenniejoybarrows@gmail.com (or track me down in Portland),

BUT…

Before you do, go get on your knees, or out in the ocean, or in a tree, or however you best connect to God, and before you ask Him what you should do or how you should help, ask Him who He is. Ask Him about Jesus and ask Jesus who He is (there’s this weird three-in-one thing going one that I still don’t get, so don’t worry if you don’t). Even if you already know or already think you know, I think it is always a valid question to be asked multiple times over the course of our lives…

“God, who are you?”

Or if you’re anything like me, “God, who the crap are you!?!?”

He’ll answer. Maybe in that moment, but maybe not. You might end up giving me money, you might not. But if you got to know Jesus a little more in the process, then it was worth asking you for money in the first place… a question that is hard for me to ask, which may be less about an answer for me and more about an answer for you. 

Don’t give up asking if you don’t hear Him right away… and don’t worry, God doesn’t call all of us to live in a van… air pollution would be awful and there would be no where to park. I do not think this is everyone’s call, or even “the call,” this is just what it looks like for me to follow Jesus. 

What does it look like for you

Go ask Him. 

I did… and some twenty-years later I’m going to be driving my VW down to Southern California, experiencing freedom in Christ and life in community. And when people holler at me, “get a job, hippie!” I shall wave my peace sign, smile and proudly holler back… “I got one!”

Thank you, Jesus, for being serious, for being the ultimate example of living what you preach, for giving me life, and a job with these kids in San Diego. 

Now please send money, and help me get there. 

 

 

Go Van Go

Following Jesus down a crazy path of simpler living. I’m trying to live with less and do more for others. If you want to join in the making of this story, message me for ways to help. Find me on Facebook or Instagram: JJ Barrows 

Let’s not beat around the bush… I need lots of prayer… and money.

Ask God what it might look like for you to help, if something lines up with what I’m asking, hit me up! 

thou mayest

Oh. Dear. God.

Dear Lord, where do I start?

How about with a question? 

That one doesn’t count.

What am I doing?

Can we make it two questions?

Why am I doing this?

You told me more than once, on more than one occasion to follow you. In fact, I think it might be the most common thing you say to me. That and “stop worrying, girlio.” I like it when you call me “girlio,” it makes it more believable when you tell me not to worry… more do-able, or at least as do-able as “not worrying” can be for me.

So, Man, I know I’m following you, I mean, I think I am, right? What happens when the rest of the world chimes in with “what the hell are you thinking, JJ?” How do I stand against that? Do I stand against that? How will I know the difference between You asking me to stand contrary to the norm and You asking me to listen to the counsel of others? What if “everyone else” is right? What if this life really is about white picket fences and owning your own home and 401Ks and all that other stuff that kind of makes me want to cry when I start thinking about it? 

What if I’m crazy? What if I’m the one missing the point? What if I’m supposed to want the things I don’t want? What if I’m missing a screw or a wire or something that requires just a little more medication to make me like everyone else? Who is everyone else? Who is it that I’m even worried about? Why do I even care what they think? When I stand before You, because I know that I will, I know with all that I am that I will, am I really going to tell You that I lived according to the thoughts and opinions of other people more so than according to the very words You spoke? 

Jesus, Dude, I’m scared, Man. I don’t know what I am getting myself into, but I have to believe you called me to this place. You did, right? This isn’t me trying to prove a point or be irresponsible, this is You being You, which, let’s be honest, is pretty crazy, and You’re calling me into Your crazy… right? 

I don’t understand. I don’t understand why grown-ups even bother teaching kids the Bible if by the time the kids get old enough to grasp who You are and take You seriously enough, they are told to grow up and get serious about life when they attempt to live a life that looks contrary to that of the world. Those words, “get serious.” Why can’t I shake them? Why do they have so much power over me? Why, when I start to run after You with my bare feet and dirty hair, trying desperately to cling to your garments, I hear those words, “get serious,” and I slow down, look around for a pair of shoes and a comb, tidy up and play the part… the part that others want me to play. The part that makes me look good and feel crazy. Why does following you look crazy to others, even others who know you, but feel good to me? And even when it doesn’t feel good, I know that it is good. 

Evan, you know Evan, my boss/friend/brother-from-another-mother (thank you for that one), asked me to continue working at the church for the rest of the school year. I was supposed to go back to Portland in just a few short weeks, wrap up this summer in California and go back to the comforts of home… my cute little house, my fun city, my amazing church family, and my group of friends who I have missed more than I am able to express. My home. My comfort zone. That is where I was supposed to go. That was my plan. That made sense. It all made so much sense. This was only supposed to be for the summer… three months. That was it. 

When Evan first asked me to stay, everything within me said “NO WAY,” if for no other reason than I simply missed home, and truth be told, I missed life being all about me. Again, my home, my friends, my comforts… me, me, me. I hate to say it, but if we’re truth-telling, I like it that way. Well, I do and I don’t, but mostly I do… me, me, me. I told Evan I would pray about it, which meant I would mention it to God, but not lose sleep over it. So I did. I started the conversation about it, You remember… “Lord, Evan asked me to stay longer. I don’t want to. What are your thoughts?” That was as much energy as I put into it. I didn’t want to pray about it, but since it had been offered as an option, with that little bit, I was consistent, “Lord, Evan asked me to stay longer. I don’t want to. What are your thoughts?”

As it kept coming up in conversation, the conversation about it eventually started to get longer, perhaps because the more it came up, the more realistic it became, and the more realistic it became, the more there was to say about it, or perhaps, ask about it. I notice when I ask The Lord, “what are your thoughts?” on a certain issue, He isn’t very quick to give them to me, but if I keep asking, thoughts start forming and He at least gives me more questions to ask Him as I try to navigate in the direction I think He is asking me to go. Isn’t that right, Lord? Isn’t that what You often do with me? Correct me if I’m portraying You poorly. I wonder how You answer other people’s questions. I know, that is between You and them, I just can’t help but wonder. 

And so I asked more questions as more thoughts came… where will I live? How will I get around? What about my cute little house in Portland? What about my church? What about my friends? What about my heart?

Some of these questions I still do not have answers for, and as the day got closer for me to let Evan know my decision, I knew I might have to give an answer without all the answers; after all, that is the kind of God I serve. He often asks us to do the craziest of things, sometimes without the slightest clue as to how we are going to accomplish them, only asking us to trust Him. When I quit my job back in April, I had no idea what I was going to do next, but I knew the time had come for me to let it go, an irresponsible move to some people, but I couldn’t shake God asking me to do it, to trust Him. On my last day of work, I found out I got the job to come work in San Diego for the summer, the one place I had always wanted to live for as long as I can remember. A place I had tried to move to time and time again, but time and time again it failed as I tried to force it simply because I wanted it so bad. I look back at the times I was dissapointed over not being able to move to California and I see the Lord holding me saying, “chill out, girlio, if you just wait a little while, I’m going to make this better than you can imagine. I’m gonna get you there, but I’m gonna do so on my terms, which, let’s face it, are better than yours. Trust me.” And He did. He got me here, in a way I could never have imagined or dreamed up. To get paid to do life with high-school girls and stay in large homes and drive a large car and talk and learn about Jesus and surf and skate and climb trees and eat fish tacos all while living in San Diego!? #Nailedit, Lord. Good Grief, did He nail it! 

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But even with all of my amazing adventures in San Diego, I followed myself here, which means so did my struggles, and once again the life lesson that locational change may help, but it certainly isn’t a cure-all. I faced the same struggles in San Diego as I did in Portland, except I did so without my friend base, my support system who saw me though the last few roughest years of my life. Yes, I stayed in large homes and I was caught up in all they had to offer for a day or two, until the largeness of the homes made me all the more aware of just how empty they were and how lonely I was. Expensive toys are only fun but for so long when you are enjoying them by yourself. While it might have been nice to have my own movie theater, after a while I started to wish people were in the empty seats beside me. 

And so, while I have loved my time in San Diego, it’s not the final destination I thought it would be when I was younger, in part because what I never in a million years saw coming is the fact that so much of my heart is still in Portland, in part because of the people I found in Portland. This being why my initial reaction to Evan’s request for me to stay in San Diego was one of “NO WAY,” a response that a younger me would have kicked myself for saying. But, I’m learning that the Lord loves to shake things up. The Lord gives and He takes away. Why is that we rejoice when He gives and  we shake our fists at Him when He takes away? Or at least I do. Not only do I do that, but He gives and I complain that it’s not what I thought it would be. I constantly put the Lord in a no-win situation in my mind’s eye, even though the Lord always wins whether I see it or not. I am more affected by my view of the Lord’s character than the Lord is, it’s my behavior and attitude that changes depending on how I view Him. He is unwavering in who He is regardless of how I view Him. Thank God. Seriously, thank You. 

Given the location of my heart despite my physical presence, the Lord and I clearly had a lot to talk about when the option to stay became more realistic… where will I live? How will I get around? What about my cute little house in Portland? What about my church? What about my friends? What about my heart?

I could very easily go back to my comfort zone, mostly because it’s comfortable. It’s easy, so to speak. It’s not that there is anything wrong with things being easy, I certainly think there is a season for that, as there is a season for everything, that’s Scriptural, not just a song by The Byrds, but I don’t know if that is the season God has for me right now… mostly because as I’ve prayed about it, I’ve felt less and less peace about reaching for ease. BUt God has gifted me with a sound mind to make choices, and so regardless of what He might be calling me to, I could still choose to go after what I want, to go after ease, to go after my comfort zone. I could easily get cozy within the walls of my cute little house… 

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and while I might be wishing I was living a more adventurous life, I’d at least be comfortable.

Or, I could choose to go after a season of being stretched and challenged in a way that my comfort zone doesn’t stretch me or grow me. I could choose to go after the crazy, the “that doesn’t make sense,” the road less traveled, not because it lacks beauty, but because it doesn’t offer enough answers or guarantees before taking it. Don’t get me wrong, San Diego is beautiful, and I would certainly not complain about the geographical re-location, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, a beautiful location does not replace beautiful relationships, and moving to San Diego for as beautiful as it is means I have to let go of the beauty that Portland holds for me. 

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My God is good, and He has gifted me with a choice… sometimes it is a gift I am glad to have, and sometimes I wish He would just say “do this.” Lord, why? Why can’t You just say, “do this”? Maybe in this case You have, but it tears my heart so much not only to make the choice, but to own that choice. Honestly, I want to be able to blame You for the parts of the choice that hurt… the parts of it that might hurt other people. I’ll admit, in most cases when faced with a decision, I want the glory if things do work out, but if they don’t and people start asking “why’d you do it?” I want to point my finger and the blame and say “He made me do it.” I’m sorry. I’m sorry I do that to You, time and time again, I do that do you. Why is it that we pray for clarity and then when we don’t hear what we want, we ask You to be clearer? I think You’ve been clear with me, and I’ve asked You to be clearer, and You graciously have been, and I’ve asked You to be even clearer. And I’m sorry it’s taken so long, but I don’t have 20/20 vision or insurance to do anything about it, so it takes me a bit longer to see things clearly… You’ve offered me directions, and then told me I could choose which route to take.

On August 18th, the day I turned thirty-one, I made a choice. I made a choice to live the life God has called me to live, which means a life worth living, one that makes my heart beat because I am fully alive, not because I am barely surviving. A life like that isn’t easy: a life that not only makes the heart beat, but also makes the heart skip a beat. A life like that breaks the heart and mends the heart and tells stories of hardships and chaos and confusion, followed by goodness and mercy and a peace that surpasses all clarity and understanding. A life like that comes in waves that roll and waves that break, and while you might ride some waves with ease, you get beaten down by others, but the chance to ride on top of the wave is always worth the occasional beat down. A life like that has bruises and scars because it has lived well and has at the very least tried to face its fears with courage instead of hiding from fear until it goes away. 

God gave me a choice and I choose His directions. I choose Him. I choose to live the life He has called me to live, a life that isn’t always easy, but is worth it. I choose You, Lord, I choose You.

On the day I turned thirty-one, I took one of my high-school girls with me to get a tattoo on my foot, one that represented my choice, the choice for how to live my life gifted to me by God and my gifting of it back to Him. He gave His life for me and so I give my life to Him by living it for Him. Given the fact that it was her first time in a tattoo shop, she handled it like a boss… until the needle came out, which is when she decided to inform me that she got queazy easily and left to sit by the candy machine on the other side of the half-wall. “You’re supposed to be here for moral support,” my tattoo artist hollered to her jokingly, “you’re just going to sit over there during the painful part and eat Skittles!?” “Yep!” She yelled back, “and I’m enjoying every single one!” 

The two of us then went and met up with more girls where a party was being held for me. When we arrived, there were balloons in the shape of spades and I almost started crying. The party was at Kathliene’s house, the same house where we had our girl’s retreat, the same house with the purple-freaking-nail polish and the bad-ass axe. In fact, it was Julia, the one who saw me with the bad-ass axe that went with me to get my tattoo. It was an amazing night, surrounded by faces I had spent the summer with, faces that I had to decide if I would see for a few more seasons or not. The girls swam in the pool and I kept my fresh tattoo dry by sitting along the edge. We ate Mexican food on the rooftop at sunset. Kathliene pointed out the sun going down over the ocean, “JJ, that’s your sunset, that’s what God is doing for you on your birthday! To JJ, from God,” she kept saying. 

We went down to a little tiki hut in Kathliene’s front yard where I opened gifts, gifts that reflected the fact that the girls had gotten to know me: jars of peanut butter, scented candles, a journal for my “great ideas,” a necklace in the shape of California, a gift certificate to my favorite surf shop, a copy of “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” signed by everyone, a shirt that doubled as a dress so that I could “dress up while still being JJ,” and to top it off, a purple-freaking-birthday cake. I felt so known and so loved that words fell short. 

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For as ugly as it may sound, part of what made my summer so difficult was the fact that is was not all about me. But… in the moments sitting in that tiki hut the night of my birthday with all of those girls around me, I was so incredibly grateful that my summer had not been all about me. Life is so much more life-giving when it’s not all about you.

At the end of the night, Kathliene, her daughter, Aeriel, Oilvia, who joined our group the weekend of the girl’s retreat, and I all laid in the tiki hut as they prayed over me. I knew by the time they were done praying what my decision was… they knew too, well before I did, but they affirmed my decision. 

They walked me down to “the cloud,” the beat-up old station wagon I’ve been driving all summer, packed it full of leftovers, gifts and crazy balloons. They hugged and kissed me goodnight and I drove away with my choice in my head and my heart.

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I looked down at the bandage on my foot and I knew I couldn’t get a tattoo that represented the choice to live a life worth living and then take the easy road. I mean, I could, that’s my choice, but that tattoo would only haunt every easy step I might take should I walk that road. I tattooed my choice very intentionally to my foot as a representation that on days when I don’t feel my choice to follow Jesus, I will still walk in the truth of who He is, and He is a He worth following, despite what I feel.

I got home and I texted Evan. I had told him that morning that God was going to tell me His thoughts by the night’s end and as soon as I knew my decision, I would let him know. It went something like this:

JJ: So… I talked to God…

Evan: I can’t breathe

JJ: She told me to tell you what’s up!?

Evan: OH MY GOSH WAS IT OPRAH?

Evan: ALANIS MORISETTE?

JJ: Ellen Degeneres

Evan: Wow. Your timing is masterful even via text

JJ: Bahahahaha. That felt slightly blasphemous

JJ: Well…

JJ: OK…

JJ: You see…

JJ: The thing is…

Evan: OH MY GOSH

Evan: WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU

JJ: OK fine, I’m staying

Evan: MY EVERYTHING IS PARALYZED

JJ: BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I LITERALLY just LOLed.

Evan: JJ THAT IS THE SECOND BEST NEWS I HAVE EVER RECEIVED

JJ: Wait… what’s the first?

Evan: Ummmmm… okay I don’t actually know, I just didn’t want your head to get TOO bloated

JJ: Fair enough

And just like that, although not just like that at all, as it was a hard decision to make, I decided to stay. I chose the road that wasn’t all about me. I knew I had to let go of my cute little house in Portland, my fun city, my amazing church family, and my group of friends who I have missed more than I am able to express. My home. My comfort zone. My plan. I knew I had to let go of it all, and I knew I had to trust the Lord with it. I knew that just as much as the Lord had gifted me with my home in Portland, He was asking me to let it go, not simply because I wanted it and He wanted to tease me, but so that my hands could be open for something else that He wanted to gift me with, be it something tangible or a life lesson I could learn no other way. 

The community part is the hardest part for me. Homes rot, restaurants close, toys break, all that stuff expires, but people… how am I going to let go of the people who have been my family since the breaking up of my own family? I know, I know I am not limited to only having a good community in Portland, I know community can be found and created here in San Diego, so perhaps there is more to it. 

I guess it is this: when I am most honest, perhaps the most uncomfortable spade for me to call a spade, as it is a topic I steer clear of talking about at all because it involves the breaking of my heart and the bruising of my pride, is the spade that I am terrified of letting go of that one person who still has my heart, even though he let go of my hand. That one person who is in Portland, where our hands still might not meet again, but would at least be more likely to do so than in San Diego. Nothing in me wants to admit that someone has my heart, in part because I pride myself on being an independent woman who doesn’t get hurt by romantic relationships (God and I both laughed at that one), and in part because that one person has already told me that God asked him to let me go.

At the beginning of the summer he told me he would wait for me, and it’s been nearly a month since he let me know he wasn’t waiting anymore, for reasons I understand and even support, but it doesn’t mean I’m not hurt by it… or angry. And I’m allowed to be there just as much as he’s allowed to be where he’s at, I’m just praying that God sees me through it so I don’t drown in it.  I could just as easily not mention that part, the part about being let go of, it would certainly save face, but being real about the depth of what hurts now is only going to give God all the more glory in the long run. Bringing people into the hurt allows people to see God at work. Nobody does healing the way my God does healing, and so I can say with confidence that I am hurt, knowing my God will heal my hurt, in one way or another. 

After all, I can’t manipulate my way back into the arms of the person I want to be with, I can’t “accidentally” turn the right corner and run myself into him, and I certainly can’t live my life that way. I have to actually live my life, even if parts of it hurt right now. And I can’t keep making my life all about me. 

On top of which, I don’t want to create a pattern of bailing when things get hard. Truth be told, as much as I hate to admit it, I think that’s my pattern. I ask God to give me strength and endurance and the ability to love people even when it gets hard, expecting Him to zap me with said feelings, and when He doesn’t, I bail. Maybe instead of zapping me, He is giving me an opportunity to put into practice the act of pressing in when it gets hard instead of bailing out. If I wait until I feel like pressing in when things get hard, I will never press in, I will bail every time. I don’t want to keep bailing on people. 

So, I’m moving, which might sound like I’m bailing, but I think it is the very opposite. For as many challenges as I may have faced this summer, I have come to love the kids I have been working with and I can’t bail on them now. I still see Portland as my home and a place I will go back to at some point, but I also see that I’m not done here yet. I don’t know where I will live or how I will get around, I don’t know how God is going to come through this time, but I know He will. I know you will, Lord. You always do. The barista at the coffee shop where I am sitting just offered me the entire pastry case to take home… muffins for days! Breakfast for me and whoever’s path I cross has just been provided for!

This is me following You, right, Lord? This isn’t me being irresponsible or careless, right? All I heard was “follow me” and this is the direction I saw you walking, at least for now, and so all I knew to do was to say “OK fine, I’m staying.” You know me, You know my heart, correct me if I’m wrong or if You find any fault with my choice (unless you find fault with my choice in being tattooed, it’s a little late for for that, but I’m pretty sure you’re okay it, New Covenant and everything), I just can’t help but think that you are walking me towards continuing to invest in the lives of people in front me.

Part of me is scared, yes, that’s human… when the course of your life takes a completely different direction than the one you thought it was taking, it’s only natural to be a little scared, if not a lot scared. And when that scared voice starts to get louder than God’s voice, I turn my eyes and tune my ears to Psalm 91 and re-claim my choice: I’d rather follow Jesus with a little fear in my bones than not follow Him at all. 

At thirty-one years old, still with bare feet and dirty hair, I am running hard after Jesus, trying desperately to reach out and cling to Him, and would consider it an honor if only just to touch the hem of His garments. I cannot fathom that being a disappointing choice. 

If God really has said to me, or any of us for that matter, “Thou mayest,” then I say to Him…

“Thy will be done.”

I don’t say that lightly. I take that claim very seriously. My hope and my prayer is that the life I live will say more about who I believe Jesus to be than any amount of words I could ever say.

And for that reason, I choose…

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to stick around for a little while longer. 

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I thought I’d clear my head. I needed a place to write and I needed to redeem my $40 gift card, so I came up with the perfect idea to go to the outdoor mall in La Jolla. Fit with couches and fire pits and the exact shops where I could redeem the rewards I receive for using my credit card to pay off hospital bills when I’m feeling adult-ish, I figured I’d go do a little redeeming and a little writing at the outdoor mall.

I was on the phone when I pulled into my parking spot and remained there as I finished my conversation, along with nearly half a bag of chocolate covered blueberries, unbuttoning my shorts so I could feel just a little more comfortable. Yes, much like Al Bundy, I often unbutton my pants when eating, and it matters not where I am, be it at home on the couch or discreetly under the dinner table at a nice restaurant, if food is going in, buttons are coming undone.

I tried to tell myself it was okay for eating as many as I did, after all, it was only half the bag instead of the whole bag and the bag wasn’t all that big and I certainly didn’t want to obsess over a serving size, but such is the life of a girl plagued by a history of eating disorders; never knowing how much is too much or how much is not enough, and one bite over or under the maximum or minimum is enough to offset six years of recovery.

Nothing involving food ever feels normal. Last year one chocolate covered blueberry would have been too much. This year a whole bag of chocolate covered blueberries doesn’t seem to be enough, and that mindset can change from week to week, day to day, hour to hour. I make choices, because we all have them, choices. I make choices as best as I can to eat my meals and fit in a snack and allow myself the luxury of having dessert without clearing out an entire pastry cart, but I’d be a liar if I were to say the choices were easy or came naturally.

I wish I could explain the way my mind worked, mostly so I could feel understood, mostly so I could feel more free to talk about a struggle without fear, without guilt, without shame. What is a simple question for most people, “what should I eat today?” is a monster of a voice that haunts me day in and day out. The monster brings with it whispers of shame, shame about my body, and guilt, guilt for wanting to eat something that tastes good, and fear, fear that I might lose control, fear that I might not be good at anything else other than eating healthy and losing weight, or God forbid, fear that I might get fat.

I don’t like admitting that, in fact I hate it, I hate it in every way possible, but if we’re going to call a spade a spade here, then I have to stop telling my recovery story as if it is all past tense: “Once upon a time I had an eating disorder, I went to treatment, I got better, I relapsed, I got better, God is good, the end.” Yes, yes, yes and no, no, no. It doesn’t work that way, “this happened, the end.” Maybe it does for some people, who am I to say it doesn’t, but if there is anything that I feel I have the authority to say as a leader, which is a position I find myself in currently, or that I have the authority to say as someone who knows JJ best, which is also a position I find myself in currently, it’s that as a leader, as a JJ, as a girl on “the other side” of recovery twice now, I don’t have it all figured out.

I don’t have it all together. I have not arrived. Leaders don’t get to be leaders because they discovered some secret of happily ever after and then set about to lead other people into the land of happily ever after, I think some leaders think of themselves that way, but I think those leaders should be dethroned. I think they should be dethroned because they give the impression that as one ages gracefully they get all their shit together, clean it all off and figure it all out. And maybe I’m wrong, maybe I need to be dethroned, I’m certainly open to that, but for me, even as a leader, a leader in human form, I am still in the throws of my story that involves a lot of “I don’t knows” and “how comes” and “why God whys.”

When I was in high school, most of the leaders seemed to have it figured out. They never shared their own struggles, they just shared that God was good. But why? Why did they think He was so good? Because the Bible said so? Lots of stories paint pictures of really good characters and tell really good stories, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to give up my life and put all my hope and faith in a well written story… not even as a story teller am I going to do that. Why did they think God was so good? It can’t be just because the Bible said so, that’s like reading about an ice cream sundae and telling everyone how good it is but never actually knowing if that’s true or not because you’ve never actually tasted it…

“How do you know the ice cream sundae is good?”

“The food critic said so.”

“So you’ve never tried it?”

“No.”

“So you don’t actually know if it’s good or not from personal experience?”

“No.”

“So then why should I listen to you? Maybe you should order the ice cream sundae and actually try it before you tell me I should order it because it’s good.”

Or something like that. Leave it to me to use a food analogy.

And doesn’t the Bible even say, “taste and see that the Lord is good”? How? And why? Why did all my leaders tell me God was so good? If it was because that’s what they were supposed to do, fine, I can’t fault them for doing the best they could with what they thought, but if they really believed that God was so good, I have to assume it’s because they experienced Him. They felt their Father reach down and pick them up out of the muck and mire and wash them off and set their foot on a rock and keep their feet from stumbling and put a new song in their mouths.

I have to assume it’s because they experienced their Father’s healing hand in some way, which means there had to be something they had to be healed from. You can’t tell me God is good and not tell me why you think so. Well, I take that back, you can, but it won’t mean much to me. I think Dumbledore from Harry Potter is good, but I’m not going to live a life devoted to Dumbledore, nor am I going to believe his words as ultimate truth, especially since while he might have amazing advice, the man prefers acid pops.

For me, as a leader, it’s not enough to just tell the kids I am working with that God is good. Yes, that is true, God is good, but why? Why do I believe that? Because I sang about the B-I-B-L-E being the book for me in Sunday school? And it’s not even just the kids that need to hear why God is good, it’s that I need to hear it too, I need to be reminded, for as much as I might hate voicing my struggle, it gives me a chance to also voice my hope and be reminded of who God is and how far he has brought me. Maybe some people have sweet stories of experiencing God in the comforts of their struggle-free life, and if so, good for them, I can’t write or re-write anyone else’s story, nor can I continue to compare mine to anyone else’s. When it comes to our stories, God is just as much in the Blockbuster hits of summer as He in the sweet children’s books, we just have to look for Him. And we have to tell our stories. We have to tell our stories, not as once upon a time, but as here and now. And while our stories might have started as once upon a time, no one on this side of eternity should include “happily ever after” because our stories aren’t over yet.

Life hits and it hits hard and just because you make it through one tough season doesn’t mean you are prepared for the next one. Are you stronger? sure. Able to handle it better? possibly. Experienced? absolutely… but prepared?

How can anyone prepare for the death of a loved one, a cheating spouse who vowed to be committed, a child being sexually abused, a mental disorder that rips a family apart, a DUI, a drug overdose, an aggressive eating disorder, an abortion, an addiction of any sort… the list goes on and on. The list goes on and on because we are in a broken and fallen world and yet so many of us are walking around with smiles on our faces, telling people God is good as we struggle in silence, surviving our way to the day when we can tell people about what we’re struggling with as a “once upon a time” story.

God is good, and while the Bible does say He is good, I’m not here to say God is good because the Bible says so.

God is good because He is faithful. I don’t want sweet gifts and flowers, I mean I suppose I do in some ways, while giving someone a gift that dies isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, sometimes it’s nice to have a sunflower light up a room, but not as a replacement for faithfulness. I’d take faithfulness over flowers any day. Gift giving doesn’t make someone good, faithfulness makes someone good. I don’t want you to shower me with flowers when you cheat on me, I want you to not cheat on me, keep your flowers and “just” be faithful. Maybe I say that from a place of experience and maybe not, but more so maybe.

And so it is with God. Why do I associate His goodness with gift giving, warm fuzzies and holy hugs? Whether He gives me a new job or a shotty car, a restored relationship or money for rent, that is not the determining factor for how good He is, or even if He’s good at all. He is good because He is faithful to me. He is good because time and time again I have doubted Him, abandoned Him, rejected Him, denied Him, betrayed Him, disobeyed Him, tried to devalue Him, attempted to manipulate Him, repetitively cheated on Him as I’ve sought out other gods to live for, and yet even still He has been faithful to me. He has picked me up, dusted me off, washed me clean and set my feet to dancing. He has clung to my hand when I’ve been too weak and tired to cling to His.

He has whispered His love to me through the setting of the sun, a ripple in a pond, the splatter of a rain drop, the butt of a fire-fly lighting up and the crunching of autumn leaves in crisp October air. He has shouted His love to me when I’ve been too stubborn to listen for the whisper through the crashing of an ocean wave, the rolling of thunder, jolts of lighting through a dark night sky, the sound of a piano meeting that of a guitar and a sweet voice echoing through the walls of a restored church, and even through the loss of something I once held dear as He held me closer than I’ve ever been held before.

I have encountered the Lord in ways that most people haven’t, at least in the western hemisphere, and I’m not saying that to brag, I’m saying it to paint the picture clearly, that if anyone has been given a reason not to give up on the Lord due to their very real encounter and experience of Him, it’s me. And yet, even still, I have found myself ever so close to walking away from the only consistent, reliable, life-offering Savior I’ve ever known. And I say that to say, even though after all He’s done for me I’ve come close to betraying Him again, and in many ways do betray Him on the day to day if not by mere thoughts I entertain while I think He’s not looking (thoughts that if entertained long enough turn to action and action that leads to betrayal and one more mess to clean up); even though that has been our story on more than one occasion, with more than one mess to clean up as a result of my own spills, He has walked in with a dish towel, or sent someone to Fred Meyer to buy one for me, and He has set about to cleaning… loving me, cleaning me off, cleaning the mess around me and loving me still.

The hardest part about the cleaning process is when He, my Savior, my Dad, rubs all the gunk off of my person. I remember watching a toddler get spaghetti sauce wiped off of his face once. His mom wanted to clean him up because a) what mother leaves spaghetti sauce caked to her child’s face? b) I’m pretty sure the sauce crusts over and makes it harder to get off if you leave it there, and c) it creates more of a mess if the kid runs free in the living room with spaghetti sauce all over his face, leaving traces of it on the couch and everyone’s favorite chair. I watched that kid squirm and whine and I was quite annoyed that he didn’t just sit there and wait for his mom to finish helping him. He was actually making the process take much longer by all of his squirming and whining, and his mother practiced way more patience than I would have by continuing to wipe him clean as she spoke sweetly to him. I wanted to slap him. This might be one reason why I shouldn’t have children.

For as annoyed as I was by that kid, I’m not that far from him, except say twenty-plus years. I make a mess, leave a trail, try to cover it up and forget that I’m caked in it. My Savior Dad comes in to clean it up and wipe me down and there I go, squirming, whining, complaining about the discomfort of the wiping process. I lose sight of the fact that He’s cleaning me and I focus on the fact that He is making me uncomfortable, especially when the mess is so thick that it needs a scrub brush. “OUCH! STOP!” I yell, “YOU’RE HURTING ME!” And He continues to scrub away my gunk because He cares more about my well being, my whole person and the whole person I am becoming much more than He cares about my present comfort. He refuses to leave me caked in my own mess, and so He scrubs and scrubs and I yell and yell and even run out of the room a few times to try to get away from Him, but He chases me down and refuses to give up on cleaning off His daughter. He wants better for her… and He wants better for you.

I moved to Southern California earlier this summer still caked in a bit of my own mess. I took on a leadership position still caked in a bit of my own mess, and it’s not that we can’t be leaders and have messes, to be human is to be messy and so it goes, even for leaders. It’s that I thought as a leader my mess would have to be past tense from here on out. It’s that He was taking too long to clean me off and so I tried to run into the living room and start playing with my toys, but He chased in after me with that Fred Meyer dish towel and said He had more wiping to do. He is relentless in cleaning His children off and maybe one day my mess will be past tense, I don’t know, but for now, God has called me to lead a group of kids while still in the middle of being cleaned off.

God is good not because He lets me sit comfortably in my own mess (which really isn’t all that comfortable if I sit in it long enough), God is good because He is faithful, and no matter how long it takes He refuses to give up on cleaning off His daughter and growing her into the woman He created her to be.

I have believed some ugly lies over the course of my life, lies that have dictated poor choices I have made. God is good because He is taking me through a process of cleaning out those ugly lies so that I won’t keep repeating those poor choices. The process, for me, is a long one, and one that looks crazy to other people. And I’m still in the middle of it. I didn’t get healed in Portland and then move to California to tell everybody about it. I mean, I did, that happened and is happening, but what is also happening is the continual process of being healed, of being cleaned up and cleaned out so that no messy residue is left. And perfection won’t be reached on “this side,” I get that, but it doesn’t mean He won’t attempt to keeping cleaning us off while we’re here.

My God is so, so good because He has a messy-ass daughter that He delights over and refuses to give up on (and believe me, she gives Him a run for His money, He’s had plenty of legit outs). My God is faithful, which is all I could ever ask for or want from a savior, a friend, a lover and a father.

My God is so, so good because He is faithful first, and then He looks at His spaghetti-faced daughter and while holding her still and cleaning her up, He surprises her with glorious sunrises, blades of green grass, a hot cup of coffee, a swim in the ocean, a tree with welcoming arms to climb, a story to write, a hand to hold, and every so often, a sunflower or two to light up the room… because like I said, even in the midst of my darkest hour, my God is good.

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I love you, Dad.

Love, spaghetti face.

 

 

pretty messy people

June 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

———–

June 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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