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Kayla Zilch - Been there. Done that. Jesus is better. - The World Race

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    Every day at noon, the azhan, or Islamic call to prayer, echoes out from the halls of the Mosque at the city center of Ohrid, Macedonia. It’s impossible to miss, finding the ears of salespeople behind the counters of pearl shoppes, pedestrians jay-walking across one-way streets, and tourists who turn their heads, trying to discern the direction of the sound.

    The first time I heard it, it stopped me dead in my tracks. It freaked out a few of my teammates, who shrugged and walked a little further in the opposite direction, leaving it behind. The Statement of Faith, Kalimah, is one of the five pillars of Islam, and the man singing it over the loudspeaker always reads it as if it was the last thing he was going to do.

    Maybe that’s why it always turns my head.

    Maybe it’s because I watched devout Muslims stop what they were doing at the refugee camp at marked times during the day and drop to their knees to pray, regardless of where they were standing or what they were doing. “Why don’t they all do that?” A volunteer wondered aloud. All I could do was marvel, What are things we Christians do that demonstrate to the world just how seriously we take our faith?

    Or maybe it’s because sometime in the last few weeks, working with predominately Muslim men and families, I’ve continued to look inside my chest in order to watch this thing called a heart shift and grow in curiosity and love for the people worshiping Allah.

    If your only experience with Muslim people are the bleached and sanitized video clippings you see on CNN or FOX News, yet you’ve developed a viewpoint of the Middle East that leaves little room for argument, chances are you’re about as well-informed as a kid trying to drive a vehicle after watching a YouTube tutorial. For the sake of millions of Muslim and displaced refugees, please don’t lift your voice on behalf of the crisis or news headlines in the Middle East (or get behind the wheel of a car).

    Instead, take a closer look at yourself. You might look hard enough to realise that you are a refugee, too.

    If you’re a Christian, would you want Westboro Baptist Church to represent your religion? No? But why not? They’re on the news, they worship the same God you do.

    If you’re a frat boy, would you want the actions of the John Hopkins Sigma Alpha Epsilon boys who raped a freshman girl to be the representation brought to mind when people talked about your fraternity? Why not? You’re a pledged frat boy, too, aren’t you?

    If any of this sounds ridiculous or patronizing, it’s because it is. Seeking to represent a group of people in any way because of the outrageous actions of a few, regardless of religious affiliation or education, is absurd.

    Evil people will always find a way to be evil. And evil delights in nothing more than creating an atmosphere of fear so strong that it literally paralyzes good people from pushing back against the darkness.

    Christians seem to forget that the battle has already been won. Evil lost, and Jesus triumphed. Any battle that we fight here in this world is an opportunity to express a higher love and invite people into relationship with Christ.

    We miss that chance when we take it upon ourselves to decide who is worthy of honour.

    Now, Jesus never tells us to be idiots, or to be naïve. He took evil seriously, and so should we. But Jesus never let evil dictate where He went, how He loved, and who He welcomed.

    Right now, evil people want to create just enough fear to cause us to turn on one another. When we displace our fear to a group of people, a religion, or a crisis, evil takes another step forward.

    We’ve seen that evil is willing to die for what it believes in – hatred, slander, murder, oppression, and apathy.

    Most of us will never be faced with the explicit choice to choose Jesus Christ or to keep our lives another few years. The sacrifice asked of us instead is a daily one – will we push back the darkness with our lives now?

    God’s kingdom is in us. His courage is in us. His love is in us. And we choose when to advance it.

    Would you die for what you believed in?

    And, if not –

    Why exactly do you believe it, anyway?


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    It’s Thanksgiving, and you are now going to hear an unacceptably long blog all about the people, memories, and places I’m thankful for.

    So now that you’re here, grab your turkey and second helping of green bean casserole - welcome aboard the Feel Train, next destination: Feelsland.

    I’m thankful for the ways God is stretching me and uncovering things I’ve tried to hide away. He’s making me a better human, and I just hope that the growth never ends. Every time I fall down, learn a lesson and get back up, I don’t ever seem to remember exactly how hard I fell to get to a place of humility – I just remember how much better I feel once I’ve gotten back up, a little stronger, a little more vulnerable, a little wiser.

    A girl working in our ministry with us invited our team out to dinner a few nights ago, and she kicked off the conversation with me by commenting on my tattoos.

    “Are those tattoos?”

    I nod, smile. Proud.

    She pulls her eyebrows together so tight she basically gives herself a two-second unibrow.

    “You got those before you were saved, yah?”

    “Nope, I got them this morning.”

    The look she gives me could freeze ice in July.

    Internally, I gave her an eye roll that would have registered at 8.2 on the Richter scale, but as I’m venting about it to the team later, God calls me in for a time-out.

    Is she loud, a little rude, and abrupt? Yah, she is. Do I understand her and what she believes? Nope.

    I feel God saying to me, “Alright, so she’s grating, and has a few bats in the belfry. But you can be a few screws short of a working lightbulb, too, and I love you. Have some grace.”

     

    I’m thankful for the in-between moments, the funny situations and conversations that will never be significant enough to write a blog about, but are the bricks of the house that I store my World Race memories in. These are moments when all you can say to yourself is, “Yah…I am on the World Race.”

    It’s Tuesday morning, and I crawl out of our cave of the bedroom onto our balcony, breakfast in hand, taking my place balanced on a rail overlooking our hotel compound.

    “What’s that?”

    I look to my right and see another squad-mate reading two rooms down.

    “Apple and pickle baby food,” I reply, pressing the curvature of my plastic spoon against the roof of my mouth and pulling it out with a loud pop.

    Her face contorts in horror.

    I grin.

    I am on the World Race.

     

    It’s Tuesday night, and Lindsay is laying sprawled on a mountain of donated clothes inside one of the camp’s storage containers, newly dressed in a dark blue onesie. “I want to go to the bathroom, but I don’t want to go alone.”

    “I’ll walk with you,” I volunteer, and we venture outside to the cleanest bathroom stall on the property – a grove of olive trees.

    “Sing Sk8ter Boi to me,” she commands and I throw the light from my headlamp in the opposite direction, trying to figure out how the heck she’s gonna pee in a full body suit.

    “He’s just a boy, she’s just a girl, could not make it any more obvious…guitar solo!...nah, nah, nah nah…”

    I am on the World Race.

    It’s Thursday night, we’ve been on the same bus for ten hours and have been travelling for 25. Aubrey and I can’t find any cool things outside to comment on and our conversation has dissolved into a bought of motion sickness and an ever-expanding vocabulary of swear words.

    “Make it or break it: a guy who has no thumbs?”

    “Break it.”

    “He has a tattoo of his grandma on the side of his neck.”

    “Like…is it good?”

    “It’s like a jail tattoo. He’s been to jail.”

    “Yah…break it.”

    “Make it or break it: He only has body hair on one half of his body, has six nipples, loves Nicholas Cage, owns every Nickleback CD and did time for property arson.”

    “Should I maybe try and draw this guy?”

    I am on the World Race.

    Finally, and most importantly, I’m thankful for my team.

    I’m thankful for Taylor, and for her unspeakable boldness to sign up for a $17,000 mission trip while still young in her faith and trying to figure out how to serve God best. She has a sweetness that endears you to her almost instantly, and her heart for little children puts Christ’s compassion on display like a billboard in Times Square.

    I’m thankful for Emily, who is probably the most steady, stable person I know. She has an elegance to her that reminds me of ladies in old-time black and white movies; she always carries herself like royalty, but would make herself available to you at any moment, no matter when or why. If our team is a book, Emily is the gold-lined binding, gently yet firmly holding all of the pages and stories together.

    I’m thankful for Joy, the most generous person I’ve ever met, and her melodic voice that is always on the side of the broken and the oppressed. She carries an apple around in her backpack every day, in case a beggar approaches her and holds out their hand. Any time one of us gets sick or hungry, she is on her feet, bringing us essential oils, warmer clothes, homemade food, or giving us massages.

    I’m thankful for Tabitha, who is teaching me that good leadership often looks like walking alongside of someone, not standing over them. I never feel managed by her, but I always feel safe. Tabitha likes to talk about the fact that one day, somehow, she's change the world. A lot of people say that, but I look at her life and know that she absolutely will.

    I’m thankful for Felicia, and her confidence that inspires the people around here to love harder, live better, and try again. She is a pro at taking an idea or a suggestion and making it a reality. Where most people hear something interesting and simply comment on it, she sets the gears in motion and makes things happen.

    Furthermore, Felicia never gives up when she wants something, and for months she's asked me to end a blog with "Felicia Pena is awesome." It's also about time I ended this blog and let you get back to the Macy's parade.

    It's unbelievable to me that we are beginning month four in just a few short days. My Race is flying by. There's a lot over my shoulder to be thankful for, and I'm motivated in knowing that there will only be more adventure, more ministry, more memories.

    Loving having you all along for the ride. Happy Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for you.

    P.S. - Felicia Pena is awesome.


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    Everything I’ve ever read about how to spot a World Racer is true.

    It’s September 8th, a Tuesday morning at the Atlanta Airport Hotel North, and already there is a noticeable theme amoungst the 300 twenty-something’s milling around the hallways and conference rooms. You could throw a pen and hit someone with a loosely bundled cluster of dreads. Patagonia hats are the only things more commonplace than thick-soled Chacos, at least half of us have more than three tattoos, and flannel = everything.

    We definitely have a “look”.

    Walking down the hallways, you pass rooms with doors propped open, inviting you to pop in and say hello at any hour, with snippets of conversations ranging from “I have a jar of peanut butter, if we all wanna share a spoon?”, “I dropped a whole packing cube full of leggings,” and “My friend said she only got malaria twice.”

    When you join the World Race, you can expect to hear, see, and talk about certain things over, and over, and over again. Whether that’s your wardrobe, body modification, or your decreasing standards of cleanliness due to community living, some things form pillars of down-time conversation and in turn, inform your actions. So while I fully expected to come on the Race and get a chance to live for Jesus in the dirt while embracing my inner Burning Man wannabe, I didn’t expect to have quite so many conversations centered around personality tests.

    Now, when I wrote about this subject before, it was written out of a place of much frustration, most of which stemmed from some poorly-handled and surface-level conversation I found myself involved in only because of my MB results.

    Lately, however, I’ve begun to see the relational fruits of being on a squad that is extremely intentional with knowing and understanding one another – even if that looks like seriously over-analyzing internet quizzes. (Love you, Y-Squad!)

    The 5 Love Languages are as follows:

    Words of Affirmation

    Quality Time

    Gifts

    Acts of Service

    Physical Touch

    In case you aren’t familiar with Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages, they’re supposed to be the main ways we humans expresses love emotionally, and how we each best show and receive affection.

    When talk about "Love Languages" first started circulating the squad back at Launch in September, I only started really thinking about it when, one night during an all-squad hammock, someone rolled over and asked, “Who here has an LL of Physical Touch?” The response was, well, overwhelming.

    Most people on the squad did. And there I lay, alone in my double-nester, blissfully unaware that I had just been introduced with what would soon become one of my biggest hurdles in loving and serving my squad.

    (Our first night together, when we fit 23 sleeping people into a one-bedroom apartment.)

    Hear me on this: it’s not that I hate being touched or that I hate touching others. It’s just not. Being touched by people I love is, to me, the most intimate way to demonstrate understanding and create a feeling of safety. But left to my own free will, I would never think to reach out and put a hand on someone around me. Personal space, to me, is as simple as that: there is a space, and that space is personal.

    Like, I will probably never wonder if you still love me if we walk past one other and you don’t stop to koala-hug it or reach out and squeeze my arm.

    But relationships are funny things; sometimes, they gently demand things you hadn’t planned to give away. Sometimes, if not all times, you need to place your priorities and those “But it’s just the way I am” preferences below those of the other person, for the sake of love.

    Last month, when I started understanding the importance of giving love in a way that’s understood by the receiver, I began going out of my way to make this happen in my squad. The first chance I took was with a squad-mate who got sick on a bus ride.

    Outwardly, I gently put my hand on her back, and scratched it while she sat with her head in her hands.

    Inwardly, though, the dialogue looked like this:

    I was freaking out. I was rubbing her back and actually turned and looked out the opposite window. I FELT SO AWKWARD.

    But that was okay.

    I felt pretty awkward the first time I rode a bike, too. Fell over a lot. In fact, don’t we all feel awkward the first time we do lots of things?!

    But if there is any reason to get way out of your comfort zone, it’s for the sake of love and relationship. And in order to show love to my squad, that has looked like being way more intentional with reaching out, and connecting through touch.

    For all future and current Racers: there is a right and wrong way to do this. Connecting through touch is different for guys and girls, and also between guys and girls – as it should be. Showing love shouldn’t be an excuse to feel up someone you think is cute, any more than me demonstrating my love through Gift-giving shouldn’t involve me continually giving things to advance my own agenda.

    The bottom line is this: sometimes, it's about you, and sometimes it isn't. And that in order to love well, you may need to be willing to try new means of communication, and have those super awkward moments.

    It’s also okay if your love language is not a physical one. While it’s true that the World Race attracts a certain type of person, it wouldn’t be the melting pot of diversity and giftings if we were all the embodiment of whatever stereotype exists. Introverts, extroverts, huggers, doers and intellectuals – we need them all.

    So bring your flannels, bring your peanut butter, bring your essential oils and bring your Patagonia. But don’t forget to bring your love. You might just find that in order to experience deeper community, you learn how to speak a new language.


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    Two days ago, I stood against the cement countertop of our makeshift kitchen here in White River, South Africa, and opened my laptop to start a new blog about our ministry in a new continent. Instead, I opened it, and saw the words no human being ever wants to see.

    Harddrive corrupted. Imminent failure.

    My thoughts instantly split off down two separate pathways.

    First - DRAMATIC, MICROSOFT. 

    Second - Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. Noooooooo. No, no, no.

    It wouldn't even start.

    And as I stood there and continued to stare blankly at the flickering keyboard and listen to it's unnatural whirring noise, I knew I had to make a choice. 

    My heart asks my head this every time something inconvenient happens lately: 

    "Is this okay? Can I live without [whatever it is]?"

    Strangely, the answer has always been "Yes."

    So far on the Race, I've had money stolen, had an ATM eat my debit card, and had my new designer camera bag ripped in transit from Atlanta to Istanbul. All of these things were deeply inconvenient, but that was all they were. They were just things.

    The concept of daily bread was nothing I had ever heard of, let alone lived by, prior to coming on the World Race.

    I blame this partly on my own self, and in part on the model of excess our culture has sold to us. 

    We don't want to be in want. You and I demonstrate this attitude in ways that we don't even realise - we carry our charger for our iPhones so that they never go dead and leave us in want of communication. We carry multiple cards, in case we want to make purchases that exceed our cash on hand. We go shopping for out-of-season clothing before the season arrives. We talk to multiple guys or girls at the same time, so that we don't want for companionship if one person fails to hold our interest or lets us down.

    Last month in Macedonia, God introduced me to the concept of daily bread; or, the attitude of accepting and being concerned only about what you need for that day. It started when we had a much smaller food budget for the week, and I found myself needing to use personal spending money to bridge the gap. This made me more uncomfortable than probably anything else I've done on the Race so far. (I get real weird about food, guys.) And not having enough food on hand for several days in advance filled me with sheer fear.

    What if I run out?

    What if there won't be enough?

    The very next day, Tabitha and I took a walk to a coffee shop in our little town to grab some internet and catch up with our families. Within moments, a woman with silver hair and large, bright eyes leaned over to us and asked, "Are you girls from America?" 

    Her name was Nady, and she was a guardian angel. 

    A handful of hours later, our entire team sat cozied up in her apartment while she ordered us pizza. As we sat sharing stories and laughing until our cheeks hurt, she sat upright and said, "I want you girls to give me a list. Anything you need, or think you'll need for Africa - give it to me. And don't be shy."

    Well, we were shy. But again the request came - "Where is your list?! What do you need? Let me help."

    Several days later, I stood watching containers of dried fruit, batteries, nuts, mosquito cream and tank tops glide down the faded black checkout line belt. "Thank you, Jesus," I whispered. "Thank you, thank you."

    I never in a thousand years anticipated meeting this woman. What she did for me was an answer to an unprayed prayer. 

    I am making up my mind right now that not having a laptop, or now any kind of personal technology, will be okay. It will be okay. 

    For the first three months of my Race, I had internet basically whenever I wanted it, and was able to communicate, write and browse without a thought that it might to always be that way. No longer being able to do those things we be a huge bummer - and it will probably make my ability to talk to friends and family, blog, and share my journey with you as a Story-Leader a whole lot harder. 

    But I want to be a girl who is willing to do hard things. And not just because I've been backed into a corner, or dealt a lousy hand. I want to side-step the frustration of inconvenience with grace. I want to jump over hurdles without the fear of falling and without waiting for a safety net. 

    I have absolutely no idea why God's plan for me involved me buying a laptop, only to have it fail after 5 months. But I know that everything happens for a reason, and I know that He has a plan. 

    I am not going to worry about potentially spending the next 7.5 months of my Race without technology, because today doesn't demand that kind of worry. With all my heart I believe that if I'm supposed to have a means of communication, God will miraculously resurrect my hard drive, gift me with some new technology, or stretch me in my ability to ask people to borrow things. 

    No matter what, He will give me exactly what I need - and whatever that is, it will be perfect, and it will be enough.


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    I got asked out by a girl for the first time last night. And I said yes.

    Let me back this up a little bit: here on the World Race, we’re all about demolishing cultural stereotypes . . . but maybe not in the way you’re thinking.

    December is women’s ministry month, maybe better known as Womanistry month (I personally cannot stand this awful car wreck of two perfectly decent words, but I’m in the minority here). That means that until December 18th, the ladies of Y-Squad are living and working without our men, here in South Africa. They’ll join us for Christmas, and the upcoming end-of-year debrief; but for now, it’s Estrogen City, population: 34 (plus a few cats, cobras, millipedes and cockroaches thrown in.)

    And we decided right out of the gate that we were going to be a community of women defined by the way we served and cared for each other.

    Get more than three girls together, and the natural assumption is that both fingernails and tempers will be lost. Well, we wanted to defy that – so on our first day here, we received a challenge from leadership. Ask one of the girls out on a date. Nothing fancy, you’ll probably use a rock for a chair. But set apart time and space to learn more about someone of your choosing.

    Shrena, the doll of a woman who called dibs on me, picked me up from my tent Friday night, took me to a picnic table covered in wildflowers, lit her only candle, and drew slips of paper from a heart-patterned coffee mug.

    “I asked squad-mates to write words on slips of paper, and figured we could take turns picking slips to start conversation!” she laughed, and I could only shake my head in awe.

    I reached into the mug and chose a small square of notebook paper, unfolding it between my thumb and pointer fingers.

    FAVOURITE MEMORY.

    “What?! I can’t even begin to pick one!” I laughed, leaning back against the picnic bench, my eyes searching the night sky.

    The first thing to pop into my head was something I hadn’t thought about in a really long time: a memory, years old, that I had with an ex-boyfriend.

    “Alright, I have one,” I smiled. “It was the first thing to come to mind, so it must’ve been for a reason, right?”

    I forget exactly what day it was.

    But I remember that I was 18 years old, and that I was wearing a sundress. Green and strappy, the skirt hitting just below my scraped knees, the rest of the fabric covered in a pattern of yellow wildflowers.

    My first boyfriend was a boy named Phillip, and at the time we had only been dating for a few weeks. Per my mom’s rules and per the unspoken rule that as the oldest child, you are guinea pig for your parent’s overly-involved ground rules, we were only allowed to spend time together in the presence of friends or family.

    This was immediately a hassle, and I don’t need to tell you why other than that we were in love. I didn’t know a lot about the word at the time, but I knew in my guts that I loved this kid. I couldn’t go thirty seconds without my mind wandering the curves of his face, or his gentle, shy hands.

    On this particular afternoon, we sat obediently in the living room of his parent’s house, watching brothers and sisters mill around, everyone there trying to pretend that we weren’t worth keeping an eye on but also very much aware that at the smallest opportunity, we would dart away like cats.

    Finally, a moment came. Whispering frantically, Phil guided me out the back door and to the corner of their property. We plunged into the underbrush, branches and thorns scraping our cheeks and arms, finally emerging on the other side into the sunlight.

    The elementary school baseball field and playground looked just like any other baseball field and playground, but on that day, everything was covered in a radiant, golden glow. The air was thick as honey and the wild summer grass grew high and itchy around out shins, and I started running, calling back for him to try and catch me.

    Of course he caught me. He held me by my waist and swung me around and around before we finally collapsed underneath a crooked tree, laughing while trying to catch our breath.

    In that moment, we were the only two people in the world.

    After we broke up at the end of the summer, I packed that memory away like a wedding dress, certain that I would never need or want to return to it again. It was over, I reasoned, and it held no more value to me. Dark clouds rolled in over those two kids alone on the playground, the sweetness and innocence of that Saturday stricken with the present reality that we were no longer those people. The memory didn’t matter. It was gone.

    Shrena listened quietly until I stopped talking, her face warm and gentle.

    “It’s funny how both of our memories have to do with men,” she smiled, recounting an evening years ago when she and her ex-husband came home to find several bottles of frosted white wine on their doorstep, a gift from a neighbour, and cooked a quiet dinner in the kitchen with nothing but laughter and jazz music between them.

    As we sat at that picnic table, we noted something strange: in spite of both relationships failing, neither of our recounted memories hinted of bitterness.

    It’s taken me several years and an 11-hour plane ride to Africa to come to the realization that just because a person is no longer a part of your life, it doesn’t mean the beautiful memory you created with them cannot remain beautiful. That just because heartache and pain came later, the pain doesn’t need to inform that perfect moment when you were unapologetically happy, when heaven touched earth, when you were in love and wore the glory of it like expensive jewelry.

    I’ve re-read the book Siddhartha by Herman Hesse every month so far on my Race, and one paragraph stands out to me more loudly each time. Siddhartha has lived most of his life in search of his identity, moving from place to place, person to person, trying at every intersection to put his “old self” behind him and move on. He’s an old man living next to a beautiful river before he finally comes to this realization:

    “Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time? That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.”

    Instead of viewing life as a series of chapters to be written and closed, he understands life as something much more fluid: a river. A series of moments that each inform the next, a continual, uninterrupted stretch of days all adding up to a life.

    As Christians, we know that our “old selves” have been buried and our sins forgiven in light of the cross. But how many times have you done something stupid, vowed never to repeat the mistake, only to find yourself doing it again at some later point? We say things like, “That wasn’t like me, I would never do that again,” and then we do. The shame snowballs and we try to draw deeper lines in the sand, dividing our pasts from our present and future, instead of having grace for our humanity and looking for ways to grow through it.

    It’s been five and a half years, and I still think about that day in the field and can feel my chest grow warm.

    And you know – I think that’s okay. I think it's okay to remember, because remembering and staying stuck are two different actions. I’d like to think that if that boy ever finds himself thinking back to that particular Saturday, that he also takes a pause and finds a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth.

    I've spoken with too many divorcees, owners of failed business enterprises and permanently disabled men and women to concede that a life lived in a state of perpetual forgetfulness is, in a round-about way, a life unlived. Because when it comes down to it, time - an illusion or not - is all we really ever have.

    Instead of viewing life as a journal to write in, flipping regretfully past old entries and circling back to smudge out certain lines, maybe we should see it as a river: a body of water where we each come to spill our glass full of moments like water, all running together, and always moving forward.


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    I have been to hell, and it is the third stall of the Johannesburg bus station women’s bathroom.

    After making a dash from the pigeon-poop covered station waiting room seats, down the hallway to wait in a line 17 deep of women all as worried as me about missing their bus, I ducked into the first available stall and shut the door.

    Well, I would’ve, had the door actually shut. Whatever. So there I am, and I’m doing my bathroom thing, one foot propped up against the door and the other trying to hold my weight over the blackened toilet seat, sincerely concerned about the intestinal fate of whatever poor soul was in this stall before me - this toilet doesn’t appear to have any way to flush itself.

    Job done. All I want to do is wash my hands and return to the timely comfort of my bird-poop seat.

    Bursting out the door of the stall, I keep my offensive hands clenched and eagerly punch the sink faucet handle, positioning myself to receive a cool stream of water.

    Nothing.

    Even though in the trenches of my frazzled mind, I understand that this is likely the only result I will receive, I persist in punching the faucet, like something in my anger or desperation will magically cause water to come bursting forth.

    Punch. Punchpunchpunchpunch.

    This is how it ends, my brain whispers. One hour you’re on the World Race in a bus station avoiding crapping pigeons and the next you’re standing at a broken sink with dirty, bloody hands, about to miss your bus.

    My foot hits against something hard. I glance down, a dirty mop bucket full of water being used by the maid to wash the floor.

    I look down at the water, and back to the sink. Then down at the water.

    Sweet Jesus.

    I plunge my hands into the water, and immediately pivot to make a beeline for the exit door.

    “AY AY AY AY AY! Whatchu doin’, eh?!”

    Before I know it, I’m five years old again, getting an elementary lesson in personal hygiene. This maid has me by the skin of my elbow, and is dragging me back to the toilet I’ve so desperately tried to repress. She kicks open the unclose-able door and motions to the un-flushed toilet.

    At this point, all social graces are gone. I just washed my hands in your mop bucket, girlfriend, I want to yell. Consider making a list of hygienic priorities. Instead, I pull my elbow skin from her grasp and look her straight in the eye.

    “Yah? IT DOESN’T FLUSH. I know, I’ve tried. What would you like me to do?!”

    Bathroom Maid gestures at me to watch her, and leans over to flush the toilet.

    Punch. Punch.

    (You and I already know that nothing happens.)

    I’m already halfway down the hallway.

     

    Hello from Africa.

    Europe is now in the rearview mirror, and I’ve been living on the property ground of a local church in my two-person tent for over a week now.

    Can I tell you a secret?

    The pit of a bathroom in the Johannesburg bus station looked more beautiful to me than any church in Europe. I would chose Africa, with all its red dirt, alien bugs, flash thunderstorms and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches a hundred times before I would choose a hazy café in Europe. Here in Africa, everything moves a little slower. Europe moved slowly, too, but the slowness of the pace seemed to stem from the poison of depression. Everything dragged and people were always late; but you got the sense that no one really wanted to be anywhere or do anything, anyway. Here, time slows down and moves in accordance with the sun – lazily, eager to soak in the joy of every moment, lingering and also knowing exactly when to let go and continue on.

    Last Friday, our team had our first opportunity to travel into a nearby village and put on a Christmas party for hundreds of HIV-positive children. Most of these kids had never seen a bounce house in their lives, and watching crowds of beaming six year-olds struggle to get their footing inside one of the blow-ups was better than any episode of AFV. In spite of a yard full of colourful toys and balls, most of the kids just wanted to be held and played with.

    We were more than happy to oblige. :)

    I’ve already fallen head-over-heels in love with this place. Not only are the locals vivacious and outgoing, the land itself looks like the Garden of Eden. Trees of every shape, flowers of every colour and plants of every texture burst from the ground and reach for the sun with twisted brown hands, the sun responding to their adoration by calling them higher and higher.

    I’m dirtier, hotter and more out of control than at any point on the Race so far, but I’m thriving. I sweat through my clothes on a daily basis and, yes, my towel smells like cheese. Not the good kind, either. But for the first time, I don’t feel that I’m operating in survival mode. I’m letting go, and taking each hour as it comes.

    And, man. Are those hours beautiful.


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    1. Toilet paper is not a right. 

    2. To attain peanut butter is worth any cost or sacrifice.

    3. No, there is no schedule.

    4. When stranded on the side of the road, approaching cars at a nearby gas station and negotiating the price of a ride to ministry is acceptable.

    5. Giraffes are friends, not food.

    6. 2 Rand and 2 Rand cents are not the same thing.

    7. Things are given and taken away. Like the Wifi.

    8. You can always fit one more person in the van.

    9. Children will be confused when your tattoos don’t rub off.

    10. Team time = tick checks and swatting termites with pans.

    11. You listen to the weather channel just to remember what it sounds like to hear someone speak in perfect English.

    12. Old women chase you off cement steps, shouting that your sitting on them will somehow destroy your fertility. 

    13. When dressed in refugee reject clothing, don’t be surprised if you yourself are also mistaken as a refugee.

    14. “Doing laundry” consists of swirling your clothes around in gray, soapy water for five minutes.

    15. Should you decide to launder and hang your down sleeping bag, odds are it will be left in a thunderstorm and blown into the dirt road. At which time a squamate will say, “What is that red lump in the road?” To which you will reply, “I think that was my bed.”

    16. Every old women’s unmarried son is supposedly your future husband.

    17. Flight attendants will not understand when your reaction to the airplane food is, “This is the best meal I’ve eaten in three months!”

    18. Whether or not the water at restaurants is free is always the source of imaginative speculation.

    19. The only time you will be truly alone is when you are in a closed bathroom stall. Sometimes, you go into a bathroom stall for this very reason...

    ...but you love your ridiculous, dirty family of 44 other nomads just the same.

    LOVE YOU Y SQUAD.


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  • 12/29/15--16:00: Jesus Wants You to Nap
  • It's the start of month five, and I am tired.

    I don't think I realised just how much this was the case until I typed that just now, and tears started to well up in my eyes.

    I'm really tired.

    I got off our 4 hour bus ride yesterday from our month four ministry in White River to debrief in Pretoria, dumped my backpack on the first bed I saw and curled up tight.

    Right now, you might be thinking, this girl is on the adventure of a lifetime, seeing some of the most beautiful places on the planet... and she wants to talk about how tired she is?

    Yah. I do. And I'm not apologizing for it, either.

    Instead, I want to create space for you to relate.

    I sat on the wrinkly paper bed at the doctor's office a few days ago and tried not to throw up as a white-haired African nurse stuck a brown Popsicle stick too far down my throat.

    "Doesn't it ever become too much? To have lived in five countries in the last four months, never staying, always moving - it doesn't seem healthy."

    Reflexively, I shook my head no; even though at the moment, she LITERALLY had a point.

    Truth is, I could sleep for two weeks straight.

    I woke up missing home for the first time several days ago, and even though I'm proud it took me until month 5 to start missing familiar love, the missing is hard to put away once it's bubbled up.

    So much is changing. The year, for one thing, and you and I have got at least THAT in common. Team changes will be revealed tomorrow afternoon, so the people I live and work with will be brand new. Goodbye, Team Embrace the Chaos/Left Arm Tat/Every Taco Counts. Goodbye, five woman who know my morning hair, bathroom habits and tickle spots. And, most significantly, my sister is preparing to undergo brain surgery in a few weeks, and I'm trying to lay down the burden of worrying whether or not the sister I left in September will be the same girl I come home to in July.

    I'm tired - body, mind, and emotions.

    During month one, Felicia and I did a thing called "Jesus Vacation". Supposedly it's a way to consciously stop whatever you're doing or stressing about and find a way to be with Jesus. This type of improvised, imaginative "you-time" works well with Race life, where the closest you ever get to being alone is saying, "I'm going to the bathroom."

    This is how it works: you close your eyes (or, if you're an eyes-open processor, like me, you look into the middle-distance), and you imagine yourself somewhere alone with Jesus. This idea might be weird to some of you, and that's because it is weird.

    Still, I tried it.

    The picture that immediately dropped into my head is a European cobblestone street, lined with tall, old white buildings, flags flapping from balconies and blue sky stretching for miles. But the street is packed so tightly with people coming and going that I can hardly see the road. I'm dressed in my favorite outfit, dark jeans and t-shirt, my leather jacket wrapped around me like armor and a backpack strapped between my shoulder blades. Everything is loud, people push, and I push back, lost in the transit of bodies, unseen.
    And then, there's Jesus. He's a head above the crowd, He's wearing a leather jacket, and he moves through the crowd straight towards me. He doesn't say anything as He throws his arm around my shoulders and pulls me close, except, "Let's go."

    When Felicia pictures herself with Jesus, she's at her home in Rio Rancho, watching Netflix and drinking blue Gatorade.

    Sometimes, I wish my relationship with God was more of a Gatorade love - a love marked by that easy trust and comfort. I'm 23 and kind of wish my Jesus didn't need to come rescue me from the middle of a crowd like a lost kid at the supermarket.

    I wish I didn't get tired.

    I wish I could say this was easy, or that this week I pondered the Bible more than I did cuddling in a blanket fort or Applebee's You Pick Two. (Mozzarella sticks and spinach artichoke dip.)

    Something I've seriously wrestled a lot with through all this has even the fear of being perceived as a hermit, that people who don't know me won't want to live with me or even be my friend because I can't bring myself to leave the couch most afternoons this debrief. THEN. This fear was realised when another squad-mate made an off-hand comment that a flaw of mine was the fact that I'm "a recluse".

    Aubrey laughed when I told her that, put her arms around me, and shook her head. "You aren't; and that's also not a flaw. The way you process is beautiful. Don't worry about what other people think when they see you taking what you need."

    If there is a moral to any of this nonsense, I guess it would be this: I'm learning to take what I need. That you don't need to ask permission to rest, when the time comes.

    Maybe for you, resting means mingling in a crowd, or surrounding yourself with as many people as possible. Maybe, you rest the way that I do: with pages of Wikipedia bookmarks, Fleetwood Mac and an empty room.

    In the words of the great Carly Brown - "You do you, Boo." 

    I'll be in dorm E, if anyone needs me.

     


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  • 01/01/16--16:00: Human: A Manifesto, of Sorts
  • It's the last night of month four debrief. WILD, right?! In classic World Race fashion, I finally unpacked my pack completely and only today found the best spot in town for a flat white; now we re-pack and move along. Tomorrow morning at 7 am, Y-Squad will leave on a 23-hour bus to Zimbabwe for another month of African ministry.

    (To anyone back home, this means that for the next two days, all mild situational inconveniences and complaints of traffic on I-96 will be met with an eye roll so hard that you will not survive.)

    Say a prayer for us!

    After a few days of learning to settle into our newly assigned teams, Team Eurocreme (or, perhaps better known to you as our Squad Leaders, Heather and Benita), asked each team to creatively unveil their new team names to the squad at our final session. 

    It should be noted that all credit to this manifesto belongs to the flawless Kayla Garrison, who suggested we write a spoken word piece as I was fretting and brainstorming possible interpretive dances and a round of Jeopardy. 

    She knows me. And I'm really grateful that our women were cool with letting me step up and contribute to the group in this way. My favourite way.

    So, without further ado......

    ________________________

    Loneliness was the first thing God called "not good".

     

    You and I were not created for solitude. The need to be known runs deeper than any fault line, as we search for community and acceptance in other individuals the way a college kid searches for their car keys when they realize they are ten minutes late and low on gasoline.

    No two of us are exactly the same, in spite of what personality tests or clothing tags may say. There is no combination of letters or numbers that could add up what it meant for the creator of the solar system to sit down and dream about giving you breath.

    When you look at me, see the love that it took to create me.

    I was thought of apart from you. I was thought of in relation to you.

    And now, seven of us have been gifted to one another. The question at hand is a gentle request for three months of insane courage: will I let myself be seen?

    There is no mold, because there is no requirement. There is no timeline for growth, because growth doesn't bow to a schedule. Instead of the burden of expectation, we wrap one another in a mantle of grace. There is no fear in love, because perfect love casts out fear.

    We ask hard questions, provide honest answers, and never assume.

    We are willing to make mistakes, to try and fail, and we provide the space to fall. We take a sledgehammer to the culture of perfection, and we lay down our armor as we dare to live this life fully alive, fully known, and fully....human.

    Introducing Team Human. :)


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    The following is a recounting of the travel day that will forever and always go down in history as perhaps the most hilarious, outrageous, and physically and mentally taxing day of my World Race so far.


    Times are subject to guesstimation.


    Names have not been changed to protect dignity; if you did the thing, you own the thing.

    I know I do.

    ________________________________________________________

    Sunday, January 3rd.

    6:30am - Pumba's Backpacker Hostel. I wake up to the sound of another squadmate tripping over haphazardly-placed luggage. I can't really be irritated, though, given that 1. I don't actually live at this hostel, I technically live at the other one, down the street; but I don't like it and choose to sneak into a spare bed here each night and do the walk of shame back each morning. And, 2. pretty sure it was my luggage she tripped over.

    8:45am - Kayla (the other one), Taylor, Greg and I power walk across town to do last-minute grocery shopping at the Pick-n-Pay, with the intention to be waiting at the store the moment it opens at 9. While waiting outside, I buy Taylor and I two muffins for breakfast. The next morning, I will not remind her that I bought her this muffin, eating it when I am too hungry to "just drink more water".

    9:35am - Everyone is finishing hugging goodbye, but our squad is never truly "done" saying goodbye until everyone has been squeezed at least three times and someone's gotten their face licked. I stand next to my pack and shout, "If you need to hug me, you need to do it RIGHT NOW, otherwise I'm putting on my backpack and then you're gonna have to work around the straps."
    I get my face licked.

    10:10 am - The Gautrain to Park line. Even though there are plenty of open seats on the train, I prefer to stand, forever convinced that one day a bystander will see my feet braced like the skateboarder I wish I was and think, "Dang, girl's got great balance." The train goes over a bump, and I crash into the seat back.

    12:15pm- After an hour of sitting curbside on our packs, our two teams have piled onto the bus that will eventually take us to Harare, Zimbabwe. Taylor has an assigned seat downstairs next to a stranger, and after one look at her panicked face, decide that, no, sorry - she is going to sit up here next to ME.

    12:35pm - The man who my adjacent seat actually belongs to finally boards, and I tell Taylor to play dead. He leans over her and asks me if this is seat 9A. I shake my head no. He points to the seat, and I follow his gesture. SEAT 9A. I blank, completely unable to conjure anything to say other than the most shouted phrase in the lines at the Syrian refugee camps. I sigh apologetically, nodding towards the dead girl next to me: "Family. Family. Baby."

    12:40pm - 10:30pm - I make a series of short hourly videos with the intention to send them to my friend Alex once we arrive. I never send them. Alex, I will send them. Highlights include: Mall Cop 2 playing on a loop (but only the first half) and the ongoing sounds/NVH of a bus seat next to an open window when there is no internal air and you are traveling at 70 miles an hour.

    10:30pm - The bus pulls into a heavily paroled compound at the South African border, and we are emptied from the bus and directed to walk to the opposite side of the lot. We funnel into a poorly lit parking lot of sorts, where hoards of men, women and children are packed and waiting in lines that wrap the lot twice.

    10:40 pm - 4:10 am - For the next 6 hours, I alternate between standing and when my pack gets too heavy, laying down. This is a both a blessing and a curse: every 15 minutes or so, the line jolts forward, and the girls wake me up to grab my things and walk forward a few steps. The ground leaves a film of grime along my left arm and shins that Joy mistakes for a bruise. Kayla Garrison sits in a small puddle of some mystery liquid and makes no move to get up.

    4:20 am - Passports stamped. We clamor back onto our bus, which drives us a few blocks to the Visa processing site. We fill out our forms in line, borrowing pens from each other and writing on backs.

    5:45am - Our whole team has our Visas, except for Kayla. Around the station, teammates are falling asleep leaning on countertops and walls, and someone commands me to go back to the bus under authority that "you look like death". I smile, and a weird sort of laugh-scream comes out of my throat. Apparently when death laughs, it sounds like a microwaved hamster.

    7:15 am - 1:00pm - Kayla finally gets her Visa. We drive another 8 hours to Harare, where our ministry host will be waiting to drive us another 2 to our ministry site. I settle back into my seat and close my eyes. Just as I'm drifting off, Mall Cop 2 comes on.

    1:15 pm - Harare, Zimbabwe. Because we are now 8 hours late arriving, the car our host had called for us has left. Pastor Maza arranges for us to catch another public bus, instead. We pile all our gear into the back of a pickup truck, obediently sit on it, and are shuttled across town to another station.

    2:30 pm - Public bus. The bus seat I'm squeezed into was probably designed to sit one person, but I am currently sharing it with a mother and her young son, the terry cloth fabric on the seats soaked through with someone else's sweat. The mom helps the boy drink orange Fanta, the bumps in the road causing it to start spilling down my leg and side. "Sorry, sorry," she says, trying again. More orange Fanta. "Sorry!" A little more. I smile and think, I could catch hummingbirds if I wanted to.

    3:40pm - The bus stops suddenly in the middle of the dirt road, and we are motioned to get off. Pastor helps us stow our packs in a waiting car, and we begin walking after it. A mile or so later, we come to a fenced house best described as the Paper Street house from Fight Club. We drop our bags and collapse, motionless, on the dusty floor.

    I glance up at the yellowed curtains blowing gently in the humid breeze, and decide immediately that I love it.

    Someone points to the rat hole next to the floor and whispers, "What are the odds you'll put your hand in there?"

    Welcome, month five.

     


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  • 01/07/16--16:00: Glory In the Dirt
  • "I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things by Christ, who strengthens me."

    - Philippians 4:11.

    Day three.

    I've now been in Kadoma, Zimbabwe for three days, and every day I'm finding a new reason to fall a little more in love. Some countries and towns you live in and pass through during the Race will demand a little more effort than others, a little more intentionality to embrace.

    Zimbabwe was a love at first sight kind of love.

    I know this sounds crazy. I am living in a house that, by our American standards, should be condemned. There are gaping cracks in the molded ceilings, walls and flooring, making walking in the dark a bit of a game. Any light fixtures hang forgotten from whatever outlets that once gave them life, and our water is daily pumped and stored in old soda bottles and plastic bathtubs. I share the floor with cockroaches, mosquitos and spiders. For 16 hours of the day, I am sweating my face off, driving around in a tiny truck doing door-to-door evangelism. We are all back to eating cornflakes and PB&J on the daily, and I may or may not have had a panic attack after our team was accidentally left in a locked van on an 85 degree day.

    But like any good lover, it redeems itself by possessing moments of insane beauty and stability.

    Yesterday, the bathtub that doubles as our water reservoir was full of stored water, so I had to take a bucket outside to find a place to shower. I came to a quiet cement room at the back of the property, hung up my clothes on a strand of barbed wire, and did a bucket shower in the shade. As I was drying off my hair, I looked around at the golden hour sunlight, the wind in the trees the only noise existing. No background rush of cars, no electrical hum of appliances, nothing. Tiny birds alighted on nearby branches like I was an African Cinderella. I'm not making this crap up - and I swear, time stood still for just a minute.

    Today, I woke up at 6:30 and climbed a mountain with Pastor David and the girls, sitting on an assortment of red rocks while we took turns worshipping and reading scripture while the sun bathed the landscape in yellow light.

    This place is dry tinder, laying in wait for that spark that will ignite it into a fire.

    God woke me up in the middle of the night our first night here, and told me to pray for courage for our team. Being the great Christian woman that I am, this greatly annoyed me, and for a minute all I could think of was how I was now aware of the bugs crawling over my legs and feet.

    But as I rolled over and looked around at our team sprawled out in the dark, I got the sense that us being here was important. Really, really important. That God would not have brought us to this place unless He had a love for these people that was greater than our love of comfort.

    It's only day three, and already I am learning what I am capable of enduring. I'm so grateful I serve a God who is willing to take me to my self-established standard of comfort, and then walk me past it. I'm thankful that when I've decided I can't possibly handle another sandwich, bus ride or mosquito bite, He allows me just one more, and I realize that in Him, I'm stronger than I ever knew.

    Once again, I'm growing, I'm stretching, and I'm being emptied out. Over and over again, I feel the Spirit saying, "I love you. I love you. Tell my people I love them."

    And with one look around at all the beauty, opportunity and joy around me - how could I not?

     


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    "He wants to know if you will come pray for his brother."

    It's sometime in the early afternoon on Thursday, the blazing African sun provoking rivulets of sweat to run down my back and neck. Gathered underneath the shade of the single tree in this village compound, my team and I smile and shake the hands of the men and woman who call this place home.

    Huts thatched together with bits of reeds and branches lean haphazardly, as if the simple act of merely standing beneath the midday sun has exhausted them. Trash and smoke blow in the breeze, and children play in the red dirt at our feet, torn clothing hanging from their frail bodies, their eyes the only thing more wild than their hair.

    The man asking us to pray comes up behind us, and our ministry host has to translate his request before we understand what he is asking.

    Immediately, I volunteer, and so do my teammates Andrea and Kayla. In silence, we follow the man towards a dark brown hut, allowing him to enter before us.

    I'm instantly hit by the smell. Body odor, dirt, and something sour all mingle in the thick air; and as I look down, I see a small man laying bent on stained blue blanket.
    Kneeling down next to him, I look into his face, soaked with sweat and creased in pain. Flies disturbed by our movement begin buzzing around the room, clusters of them settling onto the man's curled feet and hands.

    "Can we lay hands on you?" Kayla asks him, watching his face as her words are translated. The man, who's name is James, slowly nods.

    The three of us take turns asking God to heal him, asking for complete restoration of his broken body, and then we open our eyes.

    "What is it?" we ask, as James suddenly starts to pull himself up into a sitting position, trembling from head to toe.

    Our translator struggles to relay his garbled words, turning to us and saying, "He says his feet feel hot. Like they are on fire."

    "How does his body feel, right now?" Kayla asks, her hand never leaving his shoulder.

    James stares at his feet and legs with eyes wide as golf balls. "He says he feels different. He feels better. No more pain."

    It's as if someone has hit a button and suddenly sucked all of the oxygen out of the room. Andrea and Kayla start praising, laughing, but I sit back onto my heels, tears pricking the corners of my eyes until the scene before me is one big grey blur.

    God, you just used me to heal this man. So why am I not celebrating?

    Did I not believe that you would?

    On the van ride back, my heart flies to my 22-year old sister at home in Michigan, preparing to undergo her third brain surgery. From the time we were middle-schoolers, she's battled several chronic illnesses, including brain cancer. Sickness has taken away her ability to drive, to be in the sun, parts of her memory, half her eyesight, and the ability to live life spontaneously as a young adult.

    If I had a dollar for every time I've prayed for her, for all the times I sat next to her hospital bed and asked God to work a miracle to heal her, I could have fully funded my entire squad.

    But today I crouched next to a man I'd known for two minutes, prayed once for his healing, and God decided to do what I asked?

    God, what the hell?
    Thank you for healing this man; but what about your daughter?
    Am I praying wrong? What haven't I done, or asked for?
    Don't you care?

    Laying on my sleeping pad that night, I knew I had to make a choice. I believe that doubt and asking questions are both cornerstones to any deeply-held faith. But I could sense that my confused heart was hardening in bitterness, keeping me from rejoicing for this healed man.

    Am I still good?

    Even if I don't heal your sister, even if I don't give you what you're asking for, even when you don't understand the plan . . . am I still good?

    If Alexandra were reading this right now (which she probably is, because she's my number-one fan), she'd probably remind me of one of her favorite verses:

    "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Because of this, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest upon me. For the sake of Jesus, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and chaos. For when I'm weak, then I am strong."

    There isn't a resolution to this, not yet.

    I'm still very much searching and wondering and at times, grappling, with the concept of God's sovereignty. My potato brain can't wrap around all He is, and right now I only see pieces of the ultimate plan.

    Right now, all I can do is keep loving, and continue to believe that at just the right time, He will show up again.

    He will. 

     


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    I lost my virginity when I was 21.

    I actually hate the phrase, "lost your virginity," because it makes it sound like virginity is a thing you can lose track of the way your mom loses your socks in the dryer. The phrase itself invites someone to think of the now non-virgin in question as a sort of kamikaze martyr, alleviating them of responsibility for what was most likely a very intentional decision: "And then she lost it, poor thing, never to find it again."

    I want to be brutally honest: this is not the way it happened for me. At 21, the V-card was burning a hole in my pocket and I was nursing seriously a broken heart. Right around the time my parents decided to get divorced, I met a guy. And given that both my previous relationships, although PG at best, had ended in some sort of sexual shaming, I decided that this was a perfect opportunity to get rid of my status as a college-age virgin. Tired of relationships being defined by the sense of shame surrounding physical affection, my innocence was a hurdle I wanted demolished.

    He had been with over thirty other women, and I didn't love him. I didn't care. The night that it happened, I drove home with my foot out the window, stopping at the drive-thru to order French fries and not thinking about it again until the next morning. Proud.

    I had heard a lot of Christian rhetoric about girl's hearts being like a plate of spaghetti and a guy's being like a waffle: female emotions all run together, forming a big, tangled plate of carbs, each touching and informing each other. Men's emotions are waffle boxes: you can open and close them at will, one at a time.

    I wanted a waffle brain. I wanted the light switch, the on/off button, the type of heart that could decide when and who to care for, not being influenced or shaped by emotion.

    And for a while, I got it. I dealt with the pain of the divorce by keeping the relationship secret for almost 8 months, convinced that all sex would ever be for me was a way to assert a sense of power over someone. I felt nothing, and I liked it that way.

    And then I met Joe. Tall (as a girl standing 5'11, this was a huge selling point), funny and endlessly creative, I fell hard and fast. Breaking off the transactional relationship I had, Joe and I started dating that same week. Something was different about this relationship than the one before: I actually really loved this guy. (At least, I thought I did - more on that in a minute.) So when I finally initiated the conversation about if our relationship was going to be a physical one or not, I found myself in a situation I'd never been before: I loved him so much that I wanted to wait, and do it right.

    By this point, however, it was too late.

    "I don't understand, and I don't agree," he said, sitting uncomfortably in the passenger seat of my little Toyota Prius. "I love you, and I think I should be able to show you. Anyway, you gave yourself to that other guy, and you didn't even love him. Don't you love me?"

    No amount of parental cautioning or common sense could've saved me in that moment. And as manipulative as the rationale was, to me it made sense. Quietly beckoning to the sense of shame I kept hidden in the basement of my heart, I told myself that he was right. It wasn't fair. And so, afraid of losing him, I gave in.

    I want to stop right here and tell you the same thing that I told a group of 150 high schoolers this morning from a dusty podium stand: any guy or girl who tries to tell you that they can best love you by requiring a physical act is a liar.

    Love - the real stuff, the perfect love of God - is unconditional. It disarms desire by carrying no requirement. Whatever cheap version of that the world is offering, I want nothing to do with. I spent way too long with guys trying to push their hands up my shirt after a kiss, offended and angry when I said that sex wasn't something I wanted. And I'm sorry to say that on several occasions, I allowed a guy to look me straight in the face, say,"I just don't think I can commit myself to you if we can't have sex,"and I gave it up.

    My team leader Felicia is one of my dearest friends, and I so admire her ability to listen to me express exactly where I'm at in any given moment. Several times this month, I've asked her to pray that God gives me a spirit of deep conviction for my sexuality; because, I'll be super real: being a missionary does not mean that you automatically attain saint status and are supernaturally freed from all your vices.

    Sex had become something I really liked, and was something I was, quite frankly, indifferent about. I just don't think things are inherently sacred; I'm a believer that sentiment and value come from the value that we choose to assign.

    The problem is, this worldview doesn't line up with what God has to say about sex.

    "I need a serious sense of conviction, because I just don't care," I said, waiting for her to drop some Old Testament Bible verse on my head like a brick. Instead, she just smiled and grabbed my hand.

    A few days pass, and I'm curled up in a matted velour chair at our hosts house, trying to put pen to paper for the message I'll share at a local high school the next morning. "Please be bold," the pastor says. "Many of these kids are poor and selling themselves into prostitution. They need to hear truth."

    What I found myself writing was by no means original or groundbreaking. I started writing about love. And in doing so, I realized that it had been a long time since I felt like I had a hold on what love actually was.

    "Love is patient and kind. Love does not get jealous or brag; it isn't arrogant or rude. It isn't irritable or resentful; it doesn't celebrate evil, but celebrates the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never fails."

    Slowly, something amazing started happening. It was not a lightening-strike moment, or even a steady, hourly moment-by-moment development But I woke up the morning I was supposed to deliver the message, and had an unshakeable sense of being loved.

    I had been praying for conviction, a sense of "bad behaviour" to scare me into sexual morality, but what God gave me instead was a confidence that could have rivaled Beyoncé herself. All I can say is the girl who allowed guys to impose conditions on their affection and so-called "love" feels very far away now.

    Friday morning, I climbed on stage and looked into 150 gorgeous, sweaty faces, and found myself growing more bold with every single word. Love will never make you feel afraid. There is someone willing to wait for you. Dream bigger than before.

    One of my favourite quotes in the history of ever is from the Tarantino film, Django Unchained. Django is on a journey to rescue his kidnapped wife, and has this conversation with a man he picks up along the way:


    As much as my sweet tooth aches to say it, this kind of ridiculous, outlandish love is the stuff that I'm worth. Even if a guy would climb the mountain and walk through hellfire to find that I've slain the dragon myself, I'm worth the journey.

    Anybody who would give up a chance at a relationship with me because they couldn't have my body is someone I want nothing to do with.

    Because, you guys, I know what I bring to the table. And it's awesome.

    I will bring random outbursts of outdated 90's punk rock into awkward silences. I will bring macaroni and cheese and cinnamon red bean chili to your parents holiday gatherings, and stay long enough to help them do the dishes afterwards.
    I will bring trails of freshly washed clothing all the way from your laundry room to your closet because I just might stop and ask you to dance along the way. I will bring you delirious laughter, I will bring hope to desperate circumstances, and I will bring stability to chaos.
    I will bring love.

    And right now, I'm saying this to you as much as I am to myself: don't settle. Be brave. Know what you're worth.

    In this way, you can look at the guy or girl who you know isn't right for you, and say,"Goodbye. I am leaving because I am loved."


    0 0

    I'm on my way to the trash pit when my host mom stops me as I'm walking out the door. 

    "What are you throwing away?" she asks, her short, dark body blocking my exit with her hands outstretched towards the contemptuous items in my arms.
    My breath catches in my chest like the skip-skipping of a worn-out vinyl as she gasps and pulls the objects into her palms - two plastic cartons of molded, week-old grapes that I had bought and forgotten at the bottom of the freezer chest. Dispensable objects that I had purchased out of the supposition that "I should probably eat more fruit", on top of all the other bagged and bottled nonsense I blew my weekly spending money on.
    Within six seconds the entire family is gathered around her and I'm edged out of the clamoring of hands, each reaching into the grape pile like they've never seen a grape before in their lives. My next thought is probably also yours: what if they never have?

    I back away, my face red with shame, the receipt for the chocolate cake I just bought for the housekeeper heavier than a sack of rocks in my pocket. $6.50 for a cake, thanking her for spending her free evening doing my hair. Her reaction had been equal parts delight and uncertainty; she hadn't even picked it up. I wonder how many cartons of grapes $6.50 could have bought her, how many pairs of socks or liters of gas or trips to the doctor's office. A boy in church this morning shared that his leg had been run over by a tractor when he was 16 and how he had to wait two days in agony before finding enough money to walk himself to a hospital. I bet he would rather have had money in his hand than a cake in his kitchen.

    I live in a decaying house infested with rats and every night I swear it's the last night I can hold myself together. But every morning when we take out the garbage to the shallow pit in front of the property, I see at least one family member digging through our trash for salvageable goods, and I'm reminded of the fact that six months from now, this won't be my normal.

    For these people, however, it will be the only life they ever know.

    In six months, I'll be back in my mom's house on the second floor, with three pillows and a closet full of of nonsense, my favourite restaurant the same 18 minute drive away, the Bloody Mary's and margarita doughnuts arranged on vintage yellow tables with floral centerpieces.

    In six months, I won't wake up with swollen legs from bug bites or stomach aches from too much bread.

    In six months, I'll have the option to pretend that I never saw some of the things I've seen on the World Race. But, here's the thing.

    When you love something, it always leaves behind a token. You can bleach and scrub the halls of your memory from top to bottom and leave the windows open throughout the night, but there will always linger remnants of what used to be.

    My decision is not to let these stories, these people, become the temporary interior decoration of my mind and heart. They aren't place-holder trinkets to be removed or taken down when the next exciting season of life comes along, and they aren't dinner party conversations when you finally run out of things to share about yourself. They are people, and the moments us Racers had with them, however chaotic and frightening, were moments when we brought heaven to earth.

    Their sometimes dreary colours will clash with the the chromatic gloss of life back in the USA, where we can turn our faces from the broken as easily as we turn television channels.

    It will hurt to feel. It will hurt to remember.

    But if all you did with them was share an experience you planned to forget, why did you bother looking into their eyes at all?

    22 year-old Amir told me that he cannot write under the name his mother gave him for fear that his poetry describing the persecution of gays in Iran will land his family in prison - or worse. So he sticks with memorizing his poems to recite to me as we sit on cement blocks a few hundred few from the sleeping bodies of 2,000 displaced refugees, families forced to share a single travel blanket as gravel from the parking lot digs into their children's shoulder-blades and backs.

    In Greece, I looked into the bloodshot eyes of seven year old kids, lips blue from the cold and clothing caked with dried saltwater, grasping at packets of crackers with trembling fingers. I pulled a soaked baby girl from the arms of a terrified teammate when her face turned white and her voice cracked, "I....I don't think she's breathing." Stripping her down and pulling my coat around her limp body, her gray skin against my tan chest, I looked up at the chaos unfolding around me and was filled with white-hot anger. This child did nothing to deserve this. She was brought here because of a war she didn't cause and political corruption she never participated in. Her mother is dead, body lost in a nameless grave on the dark ocean floor, and her missing father handed her to us because he couldn't bear to hold death in his arms. And, praying brokenly, I clutched her cold body, headlamp illuminating the sheets of rain coming down on the heads of the thousands of people waiting for a chance to meet me, waiting to see what I had to give them in hopes of providing just one evening of relief.

    I could tell these stories a thousand times in the most animated of ways, and it will likely still do little more than make any person safe at home shift uncomfortably in their chair.

    They didn't hold her. They didn't feel her body weight in their forearms. But I did.

    How dare I try to forget?

    Sitting protected from responsibility in coffee shoppes, our narcissism is a luxury that goes unchallenged. I have been wrecked for the ordinary. The American Dream is no longer big enough for me, because I've seen God's face in six different countries and it doesn't look like the clean-shaven face of a corporate executive or the Sephora-caked cheeks of an A-list movie star. I've had sleepless nights and shaking hands and at times, nightmares that confused themselves with reality. But God has given me the opportunity to come close to brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers that most people, wealthy or not, will never meet.

    How dare I try to make my heart a more comfortable place by sacrificing the investment of time and conversation they entrusted to me? How dare I hide myself behind my old comforts, or try to dress myself up into a girl who's less offensive and flatters your sense of apathy?

    I refuse.

    I will keep saying hard things. I won't lose my love, and I won't turn my heart off. I will continue to make you shift in your chair, to feel something burn deep down when you would rather let someone else answer the call for help. The faces of thousands of rejected men, women and kids hang on the walls of my mind like the world's biggest bulletin board. 

    Instead of asking for prettier faces, I want to ask for a bigger wall. I want more heart space.

     What about you?


    0 0

    Dear Kayla Elizabeth,

    I miss you.

    It's been five full months of traveling and I'm so proud of you for every last bizarre, joyful, messy, tear-filled moment. The girl who spent 12 hours a day up a tree or wandering alone through state recreational parks took a chance with what she believed herself to be capable of, and is doing the World Race.

    Thank you for believing in yourself. Thank you for taking a shot at this whole blogging thing back in October 2014, when you got an email asking you to blog 800 characters or less once a week for the next year and a half...even though you had never written before.

    Thanks for trading Victoria's Secret, organic groceries, girl's nights and Chicago road trips for Walmart undies, Walmart EVERYTHING, TV dinners and countless doubles. Thank you for keeping a full time restaurant job and breaking off casual relationships, even as all your friends were graduating into careers, getting married and buying houses, because you knew in seven months you would leave it all behind.

    Thank you for staying on the field through a death in the family and through Sister's brain surgery. And thanks for being willing to grow through the pain.

    Here's the thing, though, darling - you're burning out. The purposes that you used to live for and the causes you champion have burned so bright for so long that they've started to burn you up. You spend too much time listening to everyone else's thoughts and problems and not enough to your own. You get mad about stupid things (ugly-crying on the floor of the Zimbabwe YMCA when they gave you a fish instead of a rice plate? What was THAT about).

    You've forgotten how to share.

    I miss you - the real, authentic Kayla. I miss the girl who woke up before the sun to go to hot yoga every Tuesday and Thursday mornings. The girl who refuses straws at restaurants and carries a glass jar of water like it's attached to her right hand, the girl who passes metal mugs over the counters at local coffee shoppes to get soy hazelnut lattes made in them. I miss the girl who makes her own chocolate, clay toothpaste, deodorant, and forages for spring water while spending 2 months protesting major corporations by buying strictly local.

    I miss the girl who used to dance in the rain. Lately, you walk around the puddles, sometimes only laughing a few times a day.

    So we are going into the wilderness. Just you and I. And I want you to bite down and hear me in this, because it's going to hurt a bit: you need to get yourself back. And like most things worth having, it's not gonna be easy, or instant. You need to turn down the voices of everyone back home, even of your readers, and turn up the volume on God's.

    We're going to figure out how to recover from Greece. We're going to spend more time in nature instead of your head. We're going to peel back the layers on your cynicism and exactly why you so hate being touched; because not all hands are out to hurt you and being the little spoon in a team trampoline nap time actually kind of rocks.

    For the next 24 days, we're going to focus on the stars. We're going to go without any electricity, running water and Internet, staring into the mountains instead of into blue light. Africa doesn't believe in coffee or coconut oil or grass fed butter, but it does believe in freedom. And, babe, we're gonna get some.

    So find your notebook and pens, hang up the phone on family turmoil, and trust that readers will still be waiting to hear from you come March.

    We've got some work to do in the wilderness, and you won't come out the same as you went in.

    Let's do this.

     


    0 0

    I'm going to barf. Dear Jesus, please let me barf.

    The rest of the squad is situated out on the front porch of our ministry building, and I'm curled up inside, a migraine threatening to spilt my head in two. The increasingly-violent sound of rain battering the tin roof above me has escalated to near-deafening volumes, and I feel tears prick at the corners of my eyes as I fight back another wave of nausea.

    Here in Lesotho, we share everything. This also means that if one person gets sick, it's only a matter of time before everyone is sick. For the past six days, a nasty stomach virus has been going around, and I'm the latest recipient. Teammates make their way back inside, and I try my best to lie still as I become aware of a roof leak directly above my bed, forming a small, hateful puddle on my sleeping pad. I grab a dirty coffee cup and angle it to catch the drips, sighing as more drips materialize around my blankets.

    "Uhhh...guys, what's that?"

    From the back entrance of the church, a puddle of dark brown water has begun to creep across the floor, gaining speed and snaking in between plastic chairs and toward the ground laid head to foot with mattresses, laundry, laptops and blankets.

    For a minute, no one says anything. We stand frozen, watching the water move across the floor, unable to comprehend what this means.

    "It's flooding!" Aubrey shouts, and like snapping out a daydream, everyone is immediately on their feet.

    "Move the chairs! Get the speakers up off the floor!" All 21 of us begin throwing items from the ground up onto whatever elevated surface we can find, only to realize that the roof has begun leaking in countless places. A boom of thunder shakes the building, giant drops of dirty water trickling down from between cracks in the tin roof, pooling on keyboards and books. The muddy river is now pouring in from the closed door, and people begin screaming as it rushes over things remaining around the room.

    Stacked mattresses are now half an inch deep in water and shoes begin floating away, the majority of us clothed only in t-shirts and shorts, feet now covered in mud as we shiver and splash our way to the leaking doorway. One of the boys, donning a headlamp and a rain jacket, forces open the door, and is met with a surge of floodwater that pours down from the doorway and into the already flooded interior of our room.

    People pick up brooms, mops and any other tool they can find and begin forcing the water across the room towards the exit door. It feels like an eternity passes before I can look down and see the colour of my toenail polish again.

     

    One of the girls comes into the scene, unzipping her windbreaker and wiping water from her eyes.

    "Four of the tents are completely underwater, and some are flowing away," she reports. I do what I know every other person did in that moment: pray one of those tents wasn't mine.

    Lindsay nudges me. "Wanna go check?" With nothing to put on other than a denim overshirt, I slip and slide out the door in bare feet, squishing through mud and standing water. "Jesus, Jesus...." I whisper as I come to my tent, which has taken a noticeable beating. I bend down and unzip my rainfly, hands trembling as I shine a light inside.

    Everything I own is floating in four inches of muddy water. Everything. Like an iceberg set adrift, my big pack is the only recognizable item, it's red straps protruding from the fray. The rest of my belongings - makeup, toiletries, Polaroids, souvenirs, books, all my clothes - are either underwater or floating.

    Lindsay turns to me, her blue eyes wide. "I think," she says solemnly, "that this would be a good time to sing a song."

    An hour later, with my tent emptied out and storm beginning again, I load my soaking wet clothes and pack back inside, nearly everything else too brown to identify. The only thing more covered in mud than my tent is me. I stumble back into the church shivering head to toe, the lightening once again cracking across the night sky. Some teammates are crying, holding destroyed journals, letters, gear and memories they'll never be able to recreate. Others are walking barefoot in the layer of leftover mud, checking on one another in quiet, gentle voices.

    "Everyone is safe." I'm not sure who says it, but the atmosphere of the room is suddenly a little lighter. Each person has lost at least one important item that can't be replaced, most more - but none of us have more than a scratch to show for it.

    The adrenaline has worn off and my migraine has come back, my vision blurring over as I sink to my knees on the dirty floor.

    From the doorway, my squad mate Cassidy raises her hands towards the raging storm, throws her head back and yells, "God is SO COOL!!!" As if on cue, another roll of thunder rips through the room. For zero reason, I start giggling, releasing a breath I didn't realize I'd been holding.

    I'm sitting in mud, again. The few things I own are either ruined or damaged. The solar power is out. I really, really have to pee. But taking another look around the room, I have one of those special Race moments when important things come back into focus and in a burst of clarity, I remember exactly where I am, what I'm doing and of the insane, cinematic masterpiece that my life has become.

    I'm Walter Mitty, the Hobbit, Don Quioxte. I'm still living my dream.

    I'm on an adventure.

    "Hey guys, guess what? We're on the World Race."


    0 0

    A few years ago, my friend Brendan told me that he could always tell what was going on in my life at any time based on the state of my hair. 

    I sat on the edge of his bed while he sat on the edge of his desk chair, some friend from film class standing in the doorframe and his then-fiancé, now-wife Andrea's pixelated face watching over us all between glitches in their 93-minute ongoing Skype call.
    Strange thing, relationships are.
    Gone were the days of Taco Bell on his couch while binging on superhero movies, of chopping wood and lighting fires in the backyard using his mom's old Avon fragrances while listening to Explosions in the Sky. We now almost always sat in the presence of Andrea's glowing face, our conversations now a triad think-tank.

    I stared at her wiggly expression, then back at Brendan, his socked feet dusting the tops of his fringed carpet as he spun in half circles between her face and mine.
    "You can not," I replied, all too aware of the 18-inch wig of pin-up style mocha hair crouched atop my head, sweating underneath a blue SnapBack.
    The idea to purchase a wig, of all things, came to me a week prior while I lay on my mom's couch watching STARZ and drinking boxed wine like Gatorade. At the time, I was depressed and a borderline alcoholic with nothing better to do on a Saturday night other than get drunk and watch Twilight marathons. Kristen Stewart looks great in that wig, I mulled. I would look great in a wig.
    I would have stabbed myself in the leg before I owned up to that.

    "My hair just needed a break from styling. I'm trying to grow it out."
    "It probably fell out because of how much you dye it," the guy in the doorway, who later introduced himself as Alex, said.
    I shot a look at this unwelcome stranger who had no authority to be weighing in on the distressed state of my hair follicles and brushed a strand out of my eyes.
    "Yeah. Maybe."
    Brendan made some noise that indicated that he knew his point had been made.

    Since the time I was fifteen, I've cut and dyed my hair at least 80 times. I used to think this was a harmless form of self-expression; what I've come to realise is that I did it to maintain some sense of control.
    Only people who paid attention to the life events corresponding to these changes caught on.

    Today, February 29th, marks more than a halfway point of my World Race. My tendencies to control my environment have officially manifested themselves in full force, and I'm embarrassed to say that some of them have come to define moments of my Race. In addition, some of them have just been downright weird.

    At any given moment, I have two containers of peanut butter on my person. Why two? I don't know. Daylight robbery? Thirty people spontaneously all need a sandwich at the same time, and God forbid I come up short?
    Did I need to pack and carry 230 individual feminine hygiene products into gallon-sized ziplock bags? Are periods strictly American?
    Do I actually have to keep salt in my carry-on?
    Like, do I really believe that the next country won't know what salt is?

    After hours of mental deconstruction, I think the majority of the happiness I found in my life in the States came from the knowledge that at any given moment, I was in control.

    At home, I chose who I hung out with, when I woke up, when I went to bed, what my entertainment was; what, where and when I ate, if I had a job, what I wore, and the healthcare accessible to me.
    I can only name one thing from the aforementioned list that I currently have control over, but here's the thing - I'm happier than I've been in a really long time. And for the first time, this happiness is organic, not stemming from a perfect balance of ideal situations or the promise of an easy day.

    It's coming from a conscious decision to keep my heart where my feet are.

    I attended Brendan's wedding shortly before leaving, and towards the end of the night, Alex put down his camera and asked me to dance. I remember this primarily for two reasons: I was immediately reminded why I never try to make small talk ("Sooooo...what was your last funeral experience like?") and also because he said something that's fundamentally influenced the way I've thought about my Race.
    "What is the single biggest thing you're learning in life right now?" I asked, carefully maneuvering my bare feet outside the radius of his black dress shoes.
    He thought for a long moment, then finally smiled and said: "I'm learning how to live in every present moment."
    I drove home that night with my mind buzzing, arms too full to hold the weight of a hundred nuanced moments, making it the first time I can say I "left it all on the dance floor".

     

    While you're in the thick of it, it can be really frightening to allow yourself the gift of presence. And World Racer or not, the journey from the beginning of anything to its inevitable end is chock-full of moments where you will totally lose control.

    With equal distance both behind and before you, you have neither the comfort of looking back on your progress nor guarantee of smooth sailing ahead. The days fallen away still tell you nothing of what to expect in the days to come and your uncertainties stand with equal height both in front of and behind you.

    The invitation extended to you is a simple one: show up. Just, show up.

    Whatever it looks like, whatever time of day or weather pattern or community you find yourself in, be present.

    Because space opens up with you open your hands and release the need for control. Your pack will be lighter, your heart will beat slower, and you'll start to notice the way the clouds drifting over the sun leave patterns of shade on the ground. You might lose your title as Team Hoarder and you will definitely have moments when you'll want to tell yourself, "I told you so" when people don't come through. Be present anyway.

    At this moment, I'm laying on a public beach on the coast of Durban, South Africa. My teammate and best friend is sprawled out beside me on a $4 Zimbabwe market sarong, her red hair catching the wind. Jon Bellion's voice swells and fades with the crashing of the waves, and I can lick the salt from my sunburnt lips.

    I choose to be present here.

    After all, I only get one shot at this moment. Why not let it give all it has to offer?

    (My hair will thank me, too.)

     


    0 0
  • 03/04/16--16:00: God, You Want Me to What?!
  • "I can look in almost any direction and say, 'That's the way to go.' But I've learned, this is how to stay."- Andrea Gibson, Jellyfish.

    Sometimes I forget that I can't out-dream God.

    Our marketing lead and my writing coach, Meghan, asked me at the end of last month what I want to do when I get home. My first thought was, it's only month seven. My thought immediately following that thought was, holy crap, it's month SEVEN.

    As I prepared to come on the Race, I dodged questions from older, more concerned supporters and friends about what exactly I planned to do when I got back from my journey around the world. (My family was actually great about this, and never once asked. Major points to you guys.)

    Depending on my mood at any given moment, my responses ranged from "Move to Hawaii and learn how to surf," to "Stand in Walmart and weep" and "Sleep for a month." I felt like a contestant on Jeopardy, slapping the buzzer with a knee-jerk reaction: "What is, Have a Quarter-Life Crisis?"
    Funny - none of those answers seemed to provide anyone with much comfort, least of all me.

    In response to Meghan's question, I finally answered, "I want to get a writing job. One where I can work part-time from home, but also have an office in a community workspace. I want to be able to travel for stories. I want there to be coffee, palm trees outside my window and I don't want to have to wear shoes."

    During our week-long stint in Albania during month two, I was walking back from town next to my squadmate Kris, talking about her love for the elderly. "I cannot wait to get to a season of life when I go can give to missionaries the way I've been given to. They gave to my trip because they knew they could no longer go - but I could. In a sense, they were trusting me to do it for them."

    As she was saying this, I glanced at a tree on the side of the road, birds flying into its branches and settling into its shade. Something about this particular scene touched a deep place inside of me. "I wanna be like a tree," I blurted.

    Kris looked at me, waiting.

    "I mean, I want roots. I don't know. Is that weird?" I kicked a rock with my shoe, fighting the urge to chase it and kick it again. "I'm out here traveling the world, and this is exactly what I want right now. But I also want to be a tree. To be a safe place for birds to come to, to rest in. Right now, I'm a bird; I can go anywhere, as long as I have a few trees. Sometimes, though, all I can imagine is having stability and getting to that point where I can be a giver, instead of an asker."

    And then God dropped an apple on my head. Literally.

    Okay, not literally - that would have been beyond cool; but He more dropped an idea on my head. And ideas are a lot heavier than apples, let me tell you.

    It was a Friday afternoon of this past month, and I was laying on the couch at a local lodge, reading Donald Miller's book Scary Close while the rest of our squad sat on Facebook. I think I've read this book at least eight times on the Race so far (what this habit says about me, feel free to interpret); but this go-round, one small, insignificant sentence stopped me dead.

    "The rest of the time we laid around by the pond and read our friend Shauna Niequist's book Bread and Wine and wondered what it would be like to someday own a bed-and-breakfast where we cooked all the recipes from Shauna's book. Shauna makes everything sound - "

    BOOM.

    Lindsay made eye contact with me from across the room, expression mirroring mine, and very slowly took out her left earbud.

    "You look like you just saw a ghost."

    I continued to creepily stare at her for another long minute, eyes wide, wondering what I had just experienced.

    What? God, you want me to what?!

    I want you to open a bed-and-breakfast.

    If you've never heard God speak to you before, then this concept will probably sound weird and vaguely Sci-Fi. But I know God's voice, and I know He said this.

    The only thing I could think to ask in response was, "Uhhhh...where?"

    Any place you choose will be the right place.

    And then he logged off.

    I got back to our ministry site that evening and stood at the kitchen sink, robotically scrubbing dried cheese from my dinner plate. And I thought back to my senior year of college, when my school's president tasked me with developing a business model for a fictional non-profit. I'd dreamt up a camp for intercity kids and college students, a place where they could come and rest while learning how to conserve and live off the land. While opening a camp was never my true desire, the passion to create a safe place was. I just didn't know what that looked like yet.

    Joy came up next to me, and I lowered my dish.

    "I think....I think God told me to open a B&B," I whispered, as if the mere act of stating it aloud cemented its truth.

    I was immediately reminded why I love telling Joy these things before anyone else.

    Her green eyes grew so big I thought they were literally about to fall out of her head, her musical voice hiking up two octaves as she reached for my wrist.

    "Kayla! That's amazing! Ooh - I have goosebumps!" She pulled back her shirtsleeve, every hair standing on end. "You will be so good at that. Remember how you said you want to see palm trees from your window? And you love being in your home. It's perfect."

    I act like God doesn't know I want to write a book, have a real job and move out of my mom's house. Like He doesn't hear me talk about wanting to temporarily move to Hawaii or California or travel to all 50 states with a boyfriend, carrying $4,000 of camera equipment in the back of a $1,000 car.

    Turns out His dreams for me are the only ones bigger than my dreams for myself.

    So.

    The girl who barely has $1,000 in savings is gonna start a bed and breakfast.

    Pray for me.


    0 0

    "Yes, a man is a dangerous thing. So is a scalpel. It can wound or it can save your life. You don't make it safe by making it dull. You put it in the hands of someone who knows what he is doing."

    - John Eldridge, Wild at Heart

    I've always been a romantic at heart.

    If you were to ask me to my face, however. HA. Chances are I wouldn't actually say this (I might actually say the opposite, then immediately change the conversation to discuss the many versatile uses of Chipotle's nacho cheese).

    The older I get the more I've learned that this isn't a popular opinion to share, even as the film industry seems to pump out more romantic comedies each year and ads almost always show you pictures of a man and women happy in love as the by-product of whatever they're trying to sell you. Go look at billboards and commercials for jewelry, dishsoap and powder foundation, if you don't believe me.

    PAM cooking spray and Helzberg diamonds know something we spend our whole lives denying: that at the heart of each guy and girl, there's a desire to be loved.

    I was raised by a strong woman who had her strength stripped from her by a fearful man. For years, I watched my mom kill herself trying to do enough good to somehow earn my dad's love - or, at the very least, stave off his anger.

    The message I received through this model of marriage was a clear one: if you stay quiet, stay busy and stay out of the way, you'll be rewarded with love.

    When I finally started dating, I really had nothing to go off of in terms of what to look for in a guy. And when you have no fixed destination or vision, well, they say that any place you arrive at will be the right one.

    (Spoiler alert: applied in this way, Alice in Wonderland was definitely wrong.)

    After my third serious relationship failed, I got sat down by my oldest friend for some tough love.

    "Kayla, have you ever stopped to ask yourself if you treat your boyfriends the way your mom treated your dad?" she asked, hands clasped around a steaming caffe mocha.

    That single sentence changed everything for me.

    Lightbulbs started going off in my head like 1920's camera flashes, years of bad habits suddenly illuminated by startling bursts of clarity.

    In the matter of a few hours, I figured out the toxic formula I had unknowingly carried into every single relationship I'd ever had.

    Kayla's Recipe for Relational Failure:

    A guy would express feelings for me.

    I would reciprocate; we went on a few dates, before beginning a relationship.

    A few weeks in, I'd realize that the handsome, charismatic guy I fell for had some serious interpersonal issues, which I viewed as an opportunity to help fix instead of as red flags.

    I would invest countless hours, dollars and strands of gray hair into attempting to remedy his personal brokenness.

    After a period of time, he'd get tired of my Pygmalion project, express that he didn't want to date a weak woman, and we'd break up.

    And on and on it went.

    Before our lattes had gone cold, I had worked out that I had a crippling fear of dating a man who challenged me in any way - so I played it safe, only dating guys who I knew 'needed' me. Joke's on me, of course, because no one wants to be seen as another person's fixer-upper. But I thought I was restoring balance to the universe by avoiding men with strong, healthy characters and instead partnering up with guys who I could play the role of caregiver for.

    News flash: twenty-somethings acting like mothers to their BF's might be the most un-hot thing in the universe. It's no wonder that these guys were scratching their heads, wondering where the girl they fell for went. She was at Meijer, buying $60 worth of groceries before coming home to wash their laundry.

    Even typing that out now makes my skin crawl.

    I used to believe that being the center of someone's universe was the epitome of love. I used to think the most romantic thing someone could say to me was, "You're my everything."

    Okay, first of all, there are a hundred million logistical errors in that statement. There's just no way that one person can be everything to anyone. Secondly, it puts an enormous expectation of perfectionism on the receiver of those words.

    In his book Wild at Heart, Eldridge writes,

    "...I have counseled many young men who break up with the women they are dating because they had made her their life. She was the sun of his universe, around which he orbited. A man needs a much bigger orbit than a woman. He needs a mission, a life purpose, and he needs to know his name. Only then is he fit for a woman, for only then does he have something to invite her into."

    No kidding.

    I was teaming up with guys who, at the core, were great guys. But their lack of direction, ambition, and strong character set the stage for a role I was never meant to play.

    Here's what I know: I'm an adventure. But I've been on that one before, and I know how it ends. I want an adventure I can take part in. I want a chance to exercise my strength and a relationship where I both rest in the knowledge that my best is enough and also be challenged to give my best. I want to be confident enough in my God-given femininity to let a man be a man. 

    I want to step into something bigger than myself. 


    0 0

    "I hope if everybody runs, you choose to stay. And I hope that you don't suffer but take the pain, hope when the moment comes, you'll say, 

    "I, I did it all.

    I owned every second that this world could give,
    I saw so many places, the things that I did;
    With every broken bone, I swear I lived."

    - One Republic, I Lived.

    Every morning when I wake up in the little town of Bulakan, Philippines, I'm smacked in the face by a wall of humid air. And every night before I go to sleep (somewhere around 3 am), I strip down in a cement bathroom and pour ladle after ladle of well water over my face and head, trying to wash away the stickiness that leaves me smelling vaguely like a fermenting onion.

    The heat is impossible to escape. It's the first thing I notice before I open my swollen eyes in the morning and the last thing I'm aware of before I drop off to sleep at night, my sweat leaving a body outline on my sleeping pad like a murder scene from C.S.I.

    It's no secret that Asia is freakin' hot, man. It's also not a secret that by this point on the Race, many people are worn out, run down, and realising just how much they wish they could go home. Losing squad members never actually seemed like a legitimate possibility until, for a variety of personal reasons, two of my seven teammates packed their bags on Friday night, caught a bus, and left the Race to return home to the United States.

    I laid on my sleeping pad last night and thought back to the beginning. Back to Training Camp, back to the 3,457 message Groupchat our squad kept in the days leading up to Launch. I thought about all 45 of us seated around white tables in the ballroom of the Atlanta Airport Hotel North on the night of September 5th - kids too clean, restless and excited to appreciate what we were about to leave behind.

    Since then, we've lived and worked in eight countries. We've seen people healed of sickness and saved kids from drowning. Grandparents and friends have passed away, and funerals have been missed. God has placed clear callings on the lives of those who sit and wait to hear His voice. Our squad keeper of the Groupchat has since gone home, along with four others. A few of us have fallen in love.

    Time has passed.

    Now, more than ever, I'm noticing that the way I choose to view my circumstances, surroundings, and ministry has the ability to make or break my Race.

    This includes the people I surround myself, the conversations I engage in, and with the words I let leave my mouth.

    So, let's back up a little to that first paragraph.

    Yah, it's like the ninth-circle-of-hell-hot here. Sweat runs thicker than blood. But this is also my favourite country of the Race so far. Our host, a Connecticut native named Dave, has thirteen children, and gave up his wealthy lifestyle of free enterprise when he opted to take his kids on a trip to Guatemala instead of buying a new Mercedes-Benz. While working in a city landfill ministering to families living on top of trash, his ignorance of poverty imploded. 11 years later, he's living in the Philippines with his wife, traveling the world to facilitate mission trips, in between publishing books to help young missionaries tell their stories. (Did I mention that we're currently working on publishing a book?!)

    This tiny town is never short on excitement and laughter. There's a 7/11 a few miles down the road, and jumping onto a motorbike sidecar to get there is almost more fun than walking out onto the busy market street with a mango Slurpee in one hand and a bag of hot Cheetos in the other.

    Striding into the courtyard of the town high-school and being greeted by hundreds of teenagers cheering and hanging out the second-story windows just to get a photo of you makes you feel like Harry Styles probably feels any time he raises an eyebrow or coughs in public.

    Yesterday as I was taking a nap on the floor of our church building, I woke up to the sounds of nervous chatter. "Is my sister here? Where is Sister Kayla?" Before I knew it, I was surrounded by ten girls from said high school class, their long black hair falling into their shy eyes and they scuffled for the spot closest to me. "We took a taxi to come visit you," they confessed, looking at me nervously for my reaction. "We missed you today!"

     

    If there was any doubt in my mind as to the value of my presence here, it evaporated with those words.

    When I came on the World Race, I did it because I heard God call me to it. He had a plan for me, and this was a big part of it. I was like an athlete on the sidelines of the game field, jumping up and down, trying to get the coach's attention. If only he'd put me in. Just put me in! This is all I want. I'm ready to play.

    I'm on the field at last, and the team I'm going up against is bigger than any rival I've ever faced. Suddenly, it's very easy to second-guess my ability and even my decision to come off the sidelines.

    The following statement might not be a popular opinion - but I don't believe God calls people into things He isn't willing to help them complete. He doesn't call people onto the Race to change His mind later on. So if this is you right now, dear Racer, here's what I want to say.

    I don't believe He means for the Race to be a seven-month thing, a two-month thing, whatever. It's an 11-month thing, just like it once was to you, when you climbed on your first airplane with your pack on your back and the world at your feet.

    He isn't caught off guard by the heat, or by homesickness. He knew you'd find that guy or girl, he knew your mom would get sick and he knew your best friend would have to move up her wedding. But His timing is perfect. Just like Esther standing in the outer courts of the king's throne room, you were made for such a time as this.

    And, guess what? If you do go ahead and choose to opt out early, he isn't surprised by that, either. There's grace and growth stateside, because the God of the nations is also God of the United States (even when it's hard to believe). But he has you here for a reason. My mom used to say that I could choose to grow through a crappy situation, or I could quit. The choice was mine, but I'd keep receiving the same test in different forms until I decided to buckle down and pass the damn thing.

    No, I haven't experienced homesickness yet, and option of going home hasn't even crossed my mind. But I've got skin in the game, too, and if you've followed my Race you know exactly what those struggles look like.

     

    Right now, I'm hurting a lot. A lot. But that's okay.

    I'm learning that sometimes, the bravest thing someone can do is remain. Just, stick around. Don't run. The fight isn't always in the action, but in the lack thereof.

    My Race is changing, but just for today, I wanna stand still with open hands, even in the moment of extreme loneliness and confusion. This part right here, where I can stand on positivity, anticipation, and fearlessness, is up to me. It's my move.

    And I'm choosing to remain.


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