The Grand Canyon

Long overdue video posts from the road!

Well we made it through the Grand Canyon! It was Jackson and I’s first time to see this big crack in America and it did not disappoint! Between seeing the sights, learning how to communicate and finding ways to bear the heat, we’re learning a lot about America… and ourselves ūüėĀ On the road again, but had to pay homage to the raddest canyon I’ve ever seen!

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.

 

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My friend Richard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 ūüôā

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.

Merry Christmas

After a rough last few years, I stand by the claim that God is good… and that you don’t need a lot of money to have a good Christmas.
The family unit can be a hard and beautiful thing. I’ve spent the last few years avoiding the hard, which has left me missing out on the beautiful.
Thank you, God, for the gift of coming home this Christmas… it’s been beautiful.
I love you, family.
Merry Christmas from the middle child.

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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waiting it out

The waiting period. The in-between. The unknown.

I am in a state of limbo in what feels like every area of my life. I am currently in the process of moving out of my beloved little cottage in Portland, Oregon, and though it is the cutest of places to be, it’s not home any more, and so I’m there, but I’m not really there. With half of my stuff inside its walls and half of it hauled off to Goodwill, for as cute as my little cottage is, I find myself not wanting to be there. Remaining in a place that is no longer home feels tortuous the longer I stay there. I almost feel like the house is taunting me, “see how cute I am, remember how comfortable I am, everyone else wants to live here, see those ducks, you’ll never find anything as good as me!” While I may be a bit on the weird side, I know I’m not being taunted by my house, but instead of enjoying the last few days there, I find myself wanting to just rip the bandaid off and get out.

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Existing in a state of one foot in and one foot out sucks. And so it goes with my little cottage on the duck pond in Portland‚Ķ one foot in, one foot out, and I’m not quite sure how well I am handling the tension. Since I know my time there is ending, I want to “just be out,” but I can’t “just be out” if I don’t go through the process of moving out. I think this is true to life in many other instances‚Ķ we always want to “just be” somewhere with someone having something, but we often don’t want to go through the process it takes to get there. We don’t want to do the work.

Allow me to correct myself, I don’t want to do the work.

Time and time again I have told stories of getting close, but not close enough; of trying hard, but not hard enough. I have too many stories of “almost,” of that one time I almost did this or almost did that.

If you’ve followed any of my blog up to this point, you know that I recently flew back to Portland to pack up my belongings, after which I will head back to San Diego to continue working as an intern at a church for the rest of the school year. And if you’ve followed any of my blog up to this point, you also know that I recently bought a VW van to not only drive back to San Diego, but to live in while I am there, attempting to live what I preach, which is not “live in a van,” but “follow Jesus.”

And fret not if you think following Jesus means living in a van, He’s too creative to tell everyone to do that.

Now that I think about it, perhaps I should take a step back and start even simpler than “follow Jesus,” perhaps I should start with¬†get to know Jesus. Find out who He is before you decide to follow Him, because as you follow Him, you are going to find life to be more beautiful than you ever expected AND more difficult. People leave out the difficult part when telling other people about Jesus. It is often implied that if you follow Jesus, He is going to solve all of your problems and you won’t struggle anymore. I am here to say that since following Jesus, all of my problems have not been solved. I have been helped through many of them and set free in most cases, but not instantly, and not without a struggle. It is in the struggle that I find most people give up. They hit their first roadblock on the Jesus highway that they expected to coast through life on and they say “never mind, I thought it was going to be easier than this.”

I was one of those coasters, more than once, on more than one occasion, essentially saying to Jesus time and time again, “never mind, this is too hard, I’m gonna take a nap or another route and maybe catch up with you later.” Honestly, I think I was one of those coasters up until last week. Sort of. I’ve been clinging to Jesus for a good ten years now, but my patterns seem to repeat themselves. Instead of having ten years of experience following Jesus, I think I have one or two years of experience ten times. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the exaggeration is needed to make the point, that time and time again something gets too hard and I pull out. I pull out, and feel good in the moment that it’s not hard any more, but it’s only a matter of time before regret sets in for not following through, especially once I realize I have to start over, which is much harder than just pushing through the tough stuff.

I am an expert at asking God for forgiveness, not just because I am a sinner in need of a savior, but because I am so well practiced in the act of giving up. Giving up means passing on what God has to offer you and when you pass on what God has to offer you, you find yourself saying “my bad” with more sincerity than Eve with a piece of forbidden fruit in her hand.

A week ago, hours after landing in Portland, I found myself shaking the hand of a man who was selling me a VW van, dropping it form $2500 to $1800 simply because of my reasoning for wanting it. I did not ask him to drop the price, I told him what I believed Jesus had called me to and I think (whether he knew it or not) Jesus told him to drop the price. And while I didn’t even know how to drive stick-shift, nor did I actually have $1800, “something in me” told me to shake the man’s hand and tell him I’d have the money by the following night. Actually, my friend Liz told him we’d have the money by the following night and so I sensed she was trusting the Lord to follow through just as much as I was. Sure enough, hours before going to pick up the van, we had the money in full, some of it loaned, some of it given, much of it drained from everything my bank account had to offer.

I know it sounds like a crazy move, sometimes I still check my phone to see if certain people have called yet to tell me I’m being dumb, but I can’t shake the fact that Jesus asks us to do crazy things all the time, and more often than not we ignore them simply because they are crazy. Or at least I do. I’m not saying go out and buy a car you can’t afford, please hear me say I am saying nothing close to that, I am only saying don’t ignore the crazy just because it’s crazy… at the very least, take it up with the Lord.

The van has been in the shop for the last few days and the waiting period has been tortuous. It’s in the silence of not moving forward that the voices creep in, “give up, this is crazy, you can’t do it, you’ll disappoint people, you’re a let down.” Sitting here writing those voices out, I realize that the voice of God sounds nothing like that. There’s no way I could follow God if I listen to the voices that sound nothing like His.

People have come out of the woodworks to support me and the van and the road God has me on. Honestly, the obstacles have been worth seeing God show up in the most unexpected ways by the most unexpected people. And if that stands true, that the obstacles are worth seeing God show up, then I can’t back out when more obstacles surface, I can’t give up because it gets too hard or I hear a snarky remark from someone who thinks I’m crazy… even irresponsible. People thought Noah was crazy. I think he was too… you’d have to be a certain degree of crazy to say the voice of God told you to build an ark for a flood that was going to wipe out the earth in the middle of a drought.

Why do we seem to think Bible characters are just that‚Ķ characters‚Ķ ? They were people just like you and me, struggling to decide whether or not they heard right when the Lord told them to set slaves free, close the mouths of Lions, kill off giants, take on armies ten times their size, knock down walls with the sound of their voices. And just because we live in a day and age or culture that doesn’t look the same as it did back then, it doesn’t mean God doesn’t still show up in the craziest of ways, asking us to do the craziest of things‚Ķ things that not only seem crazy, but flat out stupid. Perhaps I struggle more with feeling like this whole thing is stupid more so than crazy. Stupid because with everything else that is going on in the world, how could any of this possibly matter?

But… if I believe in a Jesus who cares just as much about the one lost sheep as He does the rest of the flock, then I have to believe it matters simply because He cares about me. I matter to Jesus. He cares about the condition of my heart… and the same goes for you. If I could drive any point home it would be that all of this matters to Jesus because it involves how I view Him, and how I view Him is going to dictate how I live my life, and how I live my life is going to reflect the condition of my heart and it is my heart He is after.

I knew going into this whole process that the van wasn’t the point, and I thought maybe that meant letting go of the whole idea. But I think it is the opposite, I think simply because the van is not the point, I can’t let go of the whole idea. The whole idea is that I’m trusting Jesus on a crazy path‚Ķ a path that will offer outs along the way and I have to decide whether or not I will press in or bail. I can’t say I’m trusting Jesus on a crazy path and then as soon as it gets hard say “never mind.” I mean, I could, and believe me, my muscle memory tells me to do just that, but I need to exercise a new set of muscles, ones that don’t give up just because something gets hard.

I can’t say thank you enough to the people who have stepped in to help, I couldn’t have made it this far without you, even just in my spirits. I talked with the Volkswagen people this morning who gave me a list of things that need to be worked on, along with a finish date of next Wednesday, and while the price tag on it made my jaw drop, I already have 90% of it covered. The mere fact that other people are responding to my requests for help tells me that I am not the only one God is prompting on the matter, telling me to move forward. I have to listen to those voices that come with each deposit of money that say “get it, guuuurl,” “go do God’s work,” “Jesus shows up every time it looks hopeless.”

Those sound more like the voice of my God than “give up, pull out, this is crazy, this is dumb.”

Get behind me, satan.

I’m writing down every name that has reached out as I thank God for them in prayer and ask that He blesses them and responds to their faith.

I sincerely mean this when I say you can help in more ways than money. Yes, I am still a few hundred dollars away from covering the costs, but you don’t have to give money to help. Honestly, pray, pray, pray‚Ķ first and foremost that I make it safely back to San Diego. Share the videos I’ve posted, the links, put the word out there so that other people might follow the story the Lord is writing. Share with other people what it looks like to trust God, to see what happens when He shows up, not just in my story, but in yours.

For as crazy as it sounds, I’m learning not to give up on myself in the process of not giving up on this van. Much like myself, the van needs a lot of work, and for as much as I want it to just be fixed (like how I want to just be fixed), I know it is going to be a process. I can’t give up just because the process got hard.

One of the ladies supporting me, whom I’ve never met, had this picture posted on her Facebook timeline and it so perfectly captured the process of this van, but more so the process of life‚Ķ especially life with Jesus. If you do decide to follow Him, count the costs and brace yourself…

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I have more stick-shift lessons ahead of me, so I am at the very least thankful to have that time to practice, as well as say goodbye to friends instead of rushing in and rushing out.

The waiting period is just as much a part of the process as the highs and lows, and I’m learning how not to give up just because I have to wait. And I’m not sitting idly by while I wait, I’m hustling while I wait, keeping my mind right and my thoughts on Him who is busy at work, even when I can’t see or feel Him working.

And since I’m waiting, I’d like to take action in other ways, I’d like to pray for you. I have plenty of time and a mighty God, so if there is something you’d like prayer for, anything at all, I mean it with all sincerity when I say please email me (jenniejoybarrows@gmail.com) or comment below.

I would love to pray for you while I wait on the Lord, and He would love for you to know that you are not alone.

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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‚Ķ 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‚Ķ 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‚Ķ 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‚Ķ 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”‚Ķ 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‚Ķ “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‚Ķ 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‚Ķ

“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‚Ķ 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‚Ķ and don’t worry,¬†God doesn’t call all of us to live in a van‚Ķ 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‚Ķ 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‚Ķ “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.