Emotional Puking on a Plane While Flying Over the Pacific

I didn’t know how to speak.

I don’t know where it began, but I know it hasn’t ended. My voice often feels stuck in my throat, throbbing in my body, screaming in my heart. Even now, on a plane headed for the other side of the world, truth and feelings push out on my ribcage, but they never feel like they can come out.

I think that’s why I started writing. It became this way of silently letting out the feelings in a way that felt safe. That’s why I often call writing “bleeding out” because it’s truly felt like that for me, like ancient pagan practices, but instead of me dying of blood loss, it’s purely imaginative and doesn’t leave scars.

At some point, I told myself I couldn’t say what was going on inside of me, my feelings, my desires, my secrets, my struggles.

They weren’t safe.

And I was right. Every time I opened my mouth, every time I dared to put forward truth, I was hurt, I was distanced from, I was punished.

“You shouldn’t put that online. People will judge you.”

“You’re too heavy! Why can’t you keep that to yourself?”

“What’s wrong with you? How could you let this happen?”

“I think this is demonic. We need to cast it out.”

(Yes, all of those quotes actually happened with colorfully dreary settings as backdrops to the eloquent monologues.)

It became too scary to open up my chest and let the words come out of my mouth.

But maybe I could write. Maybe I could write to no one, to everyone, and that would be safer than speaking to those I love. Maybe that would protect me and allow the pressure inside to release.

At first it was a journal, my secret safe place. But I couldn’t even say “me.” I used fiction to tell my story.

I couldn’t own it. It needed it to be outside of me, away from me, not touching.

After a few years of this, I put myself in the text, but I didn’t share it with anyone. It was my confessional.

Now, after many more years, I started sharing my story with others, blasting them on the internet like some psychopath in blogs and articles.

But never spoken. Never uttered in the presence of those close to me, risking a reaction.

If I write from afar, I never have to know. I never have to see if they cried or gasped, feared or shook, screamed or laughed. It’s in their time, their place, far from me.

Safe.

Even now, it was too hard to talk to a friend about the pain I was experiencing with her. So I wrote a text. A long text, so she could be angry with me from afar, and I wouldn’t have to see it.

Even now, I write a blog, soaring on a plane to start a new season in South Korea, to talk about how I feel because I feel that I could never tell everyone everything, tell them all the things I was feeling about this move.

So in other words, I was a coward and I’m choosing to bleed out online again.

And here’s the reason: I was scared anyone might ridicule the move, poke holes in it, not trust it. They might tell me I’m wrong and tell me to do something else. Or, they might cheer my name and tell me to trust the move, to keep going.

I don’t want any of that. They’re all judgments and come with their own pressures. The people who think it’s dumb are disappointed with you for committing to what you want. The ones that get more excited than you about the move add pressure because you better stick to this. If you don’t, you’ll look like an idiot and let them down. They both add to that pressure in the chest, but now it’s on the outside, and my ribs are cracking between.

In the end, I think I just want people to be able to truly hold space for me — something that I deeply love doing for others and yet can never quite feel like I’m capable of letting someone hold space for me, like I’m too heavy or awkward. It’s as though I’m that obnoxious love seat that weighs too much, can’t fit through doors, and has rounded edges from American Furniture warehouse that you bought on clearance and only learned on the hike into the house why it sold for so low. That piece of shit.

So instead, I hold myself. That way I’ll never fall, never be let down again. I’ll just sit on that poorly lit clearance floor.

Insert problematizing my broken relationship to the world and communication.

There’s this powerful movie called “Memories of a Teenager.” I just finished watching it. Truth be told, it’s the catalyst for this blog post.

The movie follows the story of a teenage boy whose life is falling apart. He’s not sure what he wants, not sure what’s going on with him, and as he dares to try and maybe share what’s going on with him, people pull away, even though they said they wouldn’t.

Drugs. Sex. Teen pregnancy. Suicide. It’s a lot, and no one understands, which makes sense, because he doesn’t even understand it all. But he doesn’t need someone to understand. He just needs someone to hear and not walk away. He needs someone to say, “Let it all out. Let out all the bad stuff trapped in your gut. Let it go. Purge it. I’ll rub your back and hold your hair. I’m not scared by it, and I’m not going anywhere.”

I don’t want to have the bad stuff trapped inside, tossing and turning like this boy. I want to get it all out. So here’s another metaphorical dry heave of the soul.

I’m terrified to go to South Korea. I just spent the last year student teaching, and it didn’t go well. It was exhausting.

But I had a goal I wanted to see accomplished: to live abroad.

And I have this belief that I’m not right with myself and God and that a year away from everyone will force me to trust Him again.

And I have this need to prove that I’m capable of really hard things because I was never asked to do hard things as a kid. My battles were fought for me (except for the really dark ones inside me). So what’s harder than moving to the other side of the world, all by yourself, to do something you might hate with no one around you’ve grown to love and trust? I now TRULY have to rely on only myself, and I’m terrified I’m not enough.

But the fear is about more than not making it. Shoot, if I don’t make it, oh darn. Now I need to go back to the comfort and security of what I know. The bigger fear is if I make it, if I stay this whole time or longer.

I’m scared that I’m wasting time. We only get one life, and I’m 31, single, without kids, and now starting over in a new country.

WHY? Why do I need to prove something to myself? Why do I need to take yet another year to figure myself out? Why can’t I be everyone else who goes to college at 18, graduates and gets a normal career job, finds a partner, starts a family, buys a home, kills a bunch of house plants, raises kids, makes my life about them, ceases existing, then has an existential crisis when they move out?

Why can’t I be normal?
Instead, why am I 31, just finishing college and now moving to the other side of the globe where I don’t know anyone? Why do I need to prove to myself that I’m capable? Why do I need to prove that I can make new friends? Why do I need to try and trust God again all by myself in a country I don’t speak the language?

I’m genuinely scared about this move.

What if I’m seriously wrong and I waste another year where I don’t meet someone and my parents die while I’m gone and if they don’t die, they never get grandkids and then I’m alone in the world and when I get their age, I have no one to die with? That would suck.

Give a Brandon a year a broad and teach him how to have an existential crisis about everything and nothing. No children growing up and leaving him necessary.

I truly don’t know what I’m doing. This seemed like a good idea at the time. It seemed like maybe God would meet me on the other side of the Pacific. That we’d reconnect and I’d find myself and I’d show people I could do hard things and then I’d get a job that’s awesome because people see I can do hard things and I’ll be an international person who people are inspired by and I’ll find someone to marry in a nation far far away and God would be in it and there would be a happily ever after and all would be well as we ride on a white horse into the sunset.

All because I signed a contract to teach kindergarten in Seoul.

Super realistic expectations. They’re not over-inflated at all.

Because if I look at this very pragmatically, Seoul doesn’t make sense. My heart is for intentional community. My heart wants deep intimacy and joy with a person and people who also love Jesus for some crazy reason in spite of the bullshit that is the evangelical church and Trumpers and Southern Baptist racists.

If I were to build out community, pragmatically, I would stay state-side, approach people who want to live together, put our money together, buy a big house, and start doing this thing.

I would find a job that pays well and go on dates to find a person and I would plant roots.

But I’m not pragmatic. It’s incredibly problematic, especially when you’re trying to be a functional adult.

I wish my brain could be functional (and it fucking needs to at some point or I need a partner or good friends who will say, “Hey dingus! You should do this because it’s in alignment with what you want with your life and you’re not getting any younger” because my life is going to be a shitshow if not), but it’s stuck in the gear of daring to hope for idealism, of believing in magic and wonder rather than bricks and mortar and sweat. It’s no wonder my life keeps stalling out — my life is running on make-believe.

And then I think of Jedd who ran from pragmatism and biked from Portland to Patagonia.

Maybe Seoul is my Patagonia and teaching my bike. (Note to self: maybe actually pick a bike and go to Patagonia, seems more fun.)

And I think of Moses, who should have stuck around Egypt if the desire of his heart was to free his people, but he ended up in a desert for a couple decades.

(Are kindergarteners my fucking burning bush?)

But in contrast to these two lovely men and lovely moments, I think of the last time I tried to trust God: it was the last time I was living abroad. And if I’m honest with myself, maybe that’s the real reason I decided to drop everything and move across the world.

The moment was in Europe. I had just finished my time at YWAM. I prayed to God about not coming back to the States because I loved living abroad so much. It felt like home.

“Father,” I whispered to myself as I walked the cool spring streets of Berlin, cobblestone clicking beneath my feet as I casually sauntered by parks and bars, “I know this isn’t a need, but I really want to stay in Europe. Would you give me more money as a gift? Not because I need it. I don’t. But I want it, and I’ve been taught you’re a good dad who wants to give good gifts to his kids. So would you provide me more money to stay in Europe?”
“What if I didn’t provide you with funds and you chose to trust me anyway and stay in Europe?”

That sounded terrifying. But I wanted to try and trust Him, to see a miracle. So I posted stories on my Instagram, Facebook, and blog, saying “I’m doing a ‘journey of faith.’ (Yup, I fucking branded that shit) I’m hitchhiking through Europe as an act of trust, believing God will provide for me.”

By the end of the trip, I had all but lost my faith in God and had grown angry at Him and the church.

Some “journey of faith.” (This is why you shouldn’t brand things.)

That was the last time I lived abroad and that was the moment that cynicism hijacked my heart and has refused to let.

How does this connect to Seoul?

I’m a writer. I’m a sucker for a good story. For redemption. Even when life seems like it perpetually disappoints. And nothing says redemption and good story like going back to the place of pain and downfall to see God show up, to see God come through, to see the miracle. (I sound like a fucking preacher.)

Here’s the easy thing about preachers though: he says this shit while pointing to a book that’s been a best seller and points to stories where we know how they end and they point to God and how’s he’s so faithful and blah blah blah. Signed sealed delivered.

It doesn’t cost him anything (except maybe his dignity), and we all know how the stories end.

It’s quite different when the story being written isn’t finished and we have no idea how it’s gonna end and it’s your life on the line instead of a reputation. For all we know, this could be a pathetic tragedy instead of a magnificent blockbuster. (Please dear God don’t let it be a tragedy; I know you REALLY get off on that shit.)

I’m scared of going to Seoul to pursue the intangible because anxiety and the looming end of my existence and those I love scream, “Be pragmatic and get the fuck out of here!”

Here’s why I never said this out loud: I know my friends. Some of you reading this are saying, “This idiot is gonna learn real quick that Jesus is a joke.”

Others are metaphorically cheerleading, like the “great cloud of witnesses,” screaming, “God will be faithful to you! Whoot!” (This sentence is definitely written with the intention of being read in a sarcastic tone. If you didn’t read it that way, go back and read it again with sass.)

I hate them both, and I didn’t want either of them. I just wanted someone to hold my hair back and say, “We’ll be here if it crashes or soars. I’m excited for you either way.”

My friend Tyler did that for me. (Now that I think about it, maybe I first dry heaved with him rather than just now. Would you look at that! I spoke first and wrote second! Wonder of wonders! I’m growing up!) We’re not crazy close. Maybe that’s why it wasn’t as risky. But the moment has locked that man in my mind as trustworthy, and that moment was so special and helpful for me to move to Korea.

Instead of assigning a judgment, whether good or bad, on this move to Korea, he simply said, “I love your curiosity. You’re curious if God might be in this, and I think that’s beautiful. I don’t know what will happen, but I love your curiosity.”

I’m a pro at judgment. I quickly assess whatever is about to come out of my mouth and how the person will react to it so that I can package it in just the right way (or not say it at all) so that I will get the results I want.

But Tyler didn’t judge. He just let the bits jettison out of my guts and emotionally rubbed my back while I tasted sweet relief. But beyond relief, a trust was formed.

Trust is not manufactured in sterile factories where data produces expected results. Trust is formed in the clay with mud and muck and mistakes as two hands push and pull on the mess between them, unsure of how this will exactly turn out.

So all that to say, over this very long-winded blog post, I have no clue what’s gonna happen with Seoul. I get anxious. I truly do. And I feel like I may be wasting a year, a year I don’t have because life feels so short at the age of 31.

But I got curious…

Here we go.

Baguettes Onboard

I’m on a plane. I’m going overseas for the first time in my life. I’m flying Air France, and the woman across the aisle is eating a baguette with the pace of a sloth. As she watches her movie, eyes fixated on the tiny screen, she slowly breaks off another flaky bite. Gently, she places it in her mouth. Her jaw gradually breaks down every crumb with care and concern, as if she doesn’t want to disturb the bread before it meets an untimely end, as if every bite is an apology.

And just like this French woman with her movie, I’m transfixed. This woman has taken easily 20 minutes to consume one baguette — the same amount of time it’s taken me to inhale my whole meal. I don’t even remember what I ate. But I remember that woman, and I remember that baguette and how slow and sultry she consumed every bite.

That moment happened over a decade ago, and it’s still so vivid in my mind. The woman took time and attention to enjoy every second. She enjoyed every bite. She enjoyed every scene. She was enjoying and experiencing and living.

Not me, and I don’t think most people either.

Make it through the work day. Make it through the week. Make it through the semester. Make it through this life that apparently we all hate and are just trying to survive.

Our culture, since we were terribly young, has taught us to survive rather than learn, enjoy, experience.

“Here’s this information. Absorb it as fast as you can. We have a test at the end of the week.” Our goal has become surviving the test, not the knowledge it’s meant to measure.

“Here’s the syllabus for this semester’s course. You’ll have one midterm and one final exam. Here’s a breakdown of each grade, so you can plan how to pass (aka survive) this class.” Our goal has become a decent GPA so we can one day graduate rather than glean from our professors.

“Here’s this week’s list of tasks. I need them done by the end of the week, or you’re not making quota, and you’ll be written up.” Our goal has become surviving the week, so we can keep the job we hate, rather than doing a job we appreciate, knowing our work matters.

Then the weekend comes, and we get blitzed, watch Netflix, and get as many errands done before Monday comes.

Repeat.

We have been conditioned to survive. Not live. Not experience. Not savor. Especially when hard emotions, problems, relationships, conflict, etc. confront us. We want it over as quickly as possible, praying we’ll survive, instead of feeling every second like that woman felt every second of that movie, like every bite of bread, tasting every flavor, even the bitter parts. We pick up speed while numbing ourselves, hoping for the current moment to be over rather than experiencing it with eyes wide open, senses tingling, tongue dripping with saliva in anticipation.

We don’t salivate for life. We brace for it.

And when life seems tolerable enough or forces us to take a breath of wonder, we poke our heads up from the sand and ask, “Where did my life go?”

It’s been passing behind your closed eyes and clenched fists and braced body. It was right here, all along.

Here’s the problem with surviving life — none of us survive. In spite of all our spinning and running, clamoring and clawing, we all come to the same destination: death. And humans pick up speed to arrive. We pick up speed to make the long road trip end, conclude the painful conversation, get the test over with. We rush to arrive. But the arrival, the destination of life, is death. That’s the finish line for all of us. We literally can’t survive. It takes us all, regardless of how hard we run, how successful we are, how many toys we gobble up for ourselves.

Life can’t be about surviving because it’s literally impossible, and yet we spend every waking moment trying to. You can’t. I can’t. We can’t.

So if life is not about surviving or finishing, if life is no longer about the destination, it must be about the journey, and not just the parts we like.

Every waking second is whispering a lesson to be learned, a love to be experienced, a sunset to be seen, a conversation to be shaken by.

It’s about now. This second. Nothing else matters. Nothing else actually exists. And this is the moment that the Divine is found. God is not found in the arrival.

“I am the I am.” Not will be. Not has been. The Divine is experienced in this moment, in this second, and what is that Divinity whispering in the bowels of your being? Where is God calling you to be present? To show up?

“Where are you?” He calls from the storm as He called to Adam and Eve in the garden.

Step into the light. Bare your nakedness, your lack, your skin and sin, your holiness and holes, your shadow and gold. All of you is needed for this moment, and you are commanded to be present.

“Stand firm then with the belt of truth.” With the belt of the truth of who you are, every part.

But being present is genuinely hard. It takes bravery to truly show up. Just like our forefathers and mothers, we cover up, hiding the parts that embarrass us, numbing the parts that hurt us. But every nerve is needed — both the hair on our neck that makes us quiver with pleasure and the calloused fingers that remind us to pull away from the fire. It is needed, and if we don’t feel, we’ll miss the joy of the moment, we’ll burn in the blaze.

Life… was not meant to be survived in some numb stupor, it was meant to be experienced, to be felt, to be tasted; it was meant to teach and bewilder, to humiliate, to break us down and build us up; it was meant to take everything as it gives us everything, as we show up for the world in truth, ugly as it may be because life gives of itself when it’s both beautiful and boring, inspiring and crushing. Like life, you must show up in all that you are and give it all so that when we leave, we leave our essence behind. Don’t stuff yourself away in Pharaoh’s tomb — in your heart of hearts — collecting dust and decay as your horde yourself from the world; give yourself because that’s the only way you live on. By giving, we become eternal, and eternity comes to those with open hands, to those who embrace every moment because eternity is now.

“Stuff your eyes with wonder,” he said, “live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic that any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that,’ he said, ‘shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.” 

Fahrenheit 451

Coffee and Existential Dread

I’m walking through the streets of Berlin on a cold spring day.

“Turn right. Now left. Keep going. Now right again.”

The voice is anything but a voice. It’s a feeling… something in my head… my heart… God.

For months I have been engaging with the Holy on this personal level, inviting Him into everything, especially a spring Saturday morning where I’m looking for a cute coffee shop to read and journal like every other basic Christian white girl. “I just love coffee and the Word.”

As crazy as it sounds, He had done it before. A few months back I was led to this coffee shop that was built into the walls of a sunken garden. The moment was so precious. A fountain. Roses. A tasty cup of coffee. All in a hidden location. The moment smelt of mystery and destiny.

Now, I was off again, trying to trust that “still small voice,” but this time, I was lost.

All around stood huge brutalist buildings, none of which had a cafe for me to shelter from the cold. Block after block, complex after complex, and nothing.

My heart began to sink and anxiety filled my chest.

Then, the haunting thought crept up from the depths of my subconscious:

“Maybe this voice is just myself. Maybe I’m making this whole thing up.”

And just like a knot in a beautifully woven sweater, in the smallest most insignificant moment, my faith began to unravel.

Surely if one lost latte was enough to make my faith crumble, we can safely assume it probably wasn’t a faith worth saving, but this wasn’t that simple.

Years of build up had come bursting forth because of one final, gentle exhale.

Pastors passionately rebuking me for sin, all while having an affair.

Leadership refusing to disciple me but happy to leverage my talents for their egos.

Missionaries boldly screaming at me to have more faith and lie about what’s in the Bible.

Starving children attending the church of a fat pastor.

An Indian women weeping in her wheelchair as I prayed for a new leg she had lost, whimpering through breaths, “Why won’t God give me my leg back?”

The latte was too much.

Maybe this was all one big manipulative scheme that had existed for thousands of years to make people obey the whims of leaders. Maybe I’ve been wrong about my faith. Maybe this was all a lie.

And it all came crashing down.

It’s been nearly eight years since that moment, and not a day goes by that I wrestle with trusting God.

The same questions that awoke over a cup of coffee continue to haunt me:

Is He there? Does He exist? Can He be trusted? Or am I utterly alone?

And, to be honest, I don’t know. At times I have felt sweet relief, a fresh warm wind that curls around my hair, caressing me with hope. Other times, I’m lost in the depths of my despondence, screaming into a cave with not even a reverberating echo, a sound-proofed studio, my please absorb into the foam of existential uncertainty.

And if He’s not there, I need to take care of myself. If He won’t look out for me, I need to remain vigilant.

I need to struggle, alone. I need to fight, by myself.

And this shows up everywhere.

I take personal inventory and find a job that will be stable and pay my bills rather than dreaming and risking. I get on dating and hookup apps in an attempt to find a partner or not feel alone for a few minutes because not having a God is only made more painful by not having a partner to walk this earth with.

I feel so alone in any attempt at walking through this life.

I miss the days of dreams. I miss the days of trust. But how does one put the sand back in a broken hourglass? And just like that hourglass, I feel like my time is running out. 20-somethings are allowed the luxury of existential dread. A 30-year-old is not. I’ve got to get my shit together, find a career I’m passionate about, know what I believe, and have a partner to journey this life together with like yesterday.

The anxiety of it all is exhausting. I miss that “still small voice.” I miss His leading. I’m tempted to trust one more time, to risk one more time. But what if there’s no coffee at the end of this spring day? Can my heart take another disappointment? Because hope deferred is more painful than hopelessness, and I’m caught in the tension.