Articles on this Page
- 03/19/16--17:00: _I Love You More Tha...
- 03/31/16--17:00: _Sometimes, Self-Sab...
- 04/04/16--17:00: _I'm Tired of Compar...
- 04/14/16--17:00: _I've Got 99 Problem...
- 04/21/16--17:00: _"If This is God's W...
- 04/24/16--17:00: _The Bad Day: I Have...
- 04/30/16--17:00: _Plans After the Rac...
- 05/04/16--17:00: _She is More Than a ...
- 05/09/16--17:00: _Please Don't Call M...
- 05/18/16--17:00: _What Publishing a B...
- 05/21/16--17:00: _I Do Not Exist to I...
- 05/27/16--17:00: _Suicidal Thoughts? ...
- 06/05/16--17:00: _Hey Christians, I'v...
- 06/11/16--17:00: _Gangsters Don't Cry...
- 06/16/16--17:00: _In Response to I Am...
- 06/19/16--17:00: _Dear Everybody, Her...
- 07/02/16--17:00: _Loved Ones, Here's ...
- 07/10/16--17:00: _The World Race Is N...
- 07/13/16--17:00: _The F-Word: A Bruta...
- 07/19/16--17:00: _If You're Strugglin...
- 03/19/16--17:00: I Love You More Than I Hate Living With You: An Ode to Community
- 03/31/16--17:00: Sometimes, Self-Sabotage is a Good Idea
- 04/04/16--17:00: I'm Tired of Comparing Myself to Your Fake Instagram Feed
- 04/14/16--17:00: I've Got 99 Problems and a Mouse is One
- 04/21/16--17:00: "If This is God's Will, Shouldn't I Feel Peace?"
- 04/24/16--17:00: The Bad Day: I Have Confidence (Except When I Have None)
- 04/30/16--17:00: Plans After the Race: There's Always Room for One More
- 05/04/16--17:00: She is More Than a Prostitute
- 05/09/16--17:00: Please Don't Call Me Brave Anymore
- 05/18/16--17:00: What Publishing a Book (And Failing) Taught Me About Vision
- 05/21/16--17:00: I Do Not Exist to Impress You
- 06/05/16--17:00: Hey Christians, I've Got a Bone to Pick With Your Facebook Rants
- 06/11/16--17:00: Gangsters Don't Cry, Therefore I'm Mister Misty-Eyed
- 06/16/16--17:00: In Response to I Am Not Kayla Zilch
- 07/02/16--17:00: Loved Ones, Here's Why I Haven't Been Blogging or Texting You Back
- 07/10/16--17:00: The World Race Is Not God's Best for Me
- 07/13/16--17:00: The F-Word: A Brutally Honest Letter About Fundraising
- 07/19/16--17:00: If You're Struggling with Body Shaming, Read This.
"All I need is ten minutes to finish packing. Or maybe five minutes until I have a total meltdown, if people don't stop throwing their luggage on my bed. Please stop."
"I don't know where you want me to put this stuff!" someone behind me yelled, and tempers flared as an argument broke out. I could hear my heartbeat rushing past my ears, hands starting to shake as I threw all my clothes into my pack as quickly as possible.
I wish I could say that people heard my request and immediately quit throwing their blankets, bags and other nonsense onto the bunk bed I was attempting to move off of. But down the hall, another room was being taken over by squadmates eager to get their belongs unpacked, causing them to displace the team currently calling that space home.
And between jet lag, lack of food and the realization that 41 people were about to be sharing a single housing unit, emotions were running high.
THUMP. Something landed on top of the pile of shirts next to me, and I froze. What came next never gets any less scary or overwhelming: tunnel vision. Words stopped making sense, everything blending into one noise I couldn't discern.
"No, no, no. Not now, not here. Pull it.....together...just...pick up the...don't let yourself - "
I dropped what I had in my hands, scooted myself into the corner of the bedframe and curled into the tightest ball my body could form, cupping my hands over my head. And I sobbed.
Sensory overload meltdown.
Living in all-squad community on the World Race sometimes feels like an Olympic sport. Everything about the act of doing life alongside someone else is multiplied exponentially. The teammates you've grown to know and who know you are suddenly mixed in with dozens of others, and you have to fight for their time. The security of relational familiarity is removed, and the comfort of not needing to explain yourself or your actions more or less evaporates.
For me, the biggest struggle manifested itself in needing to explain some integration issues to people who had no idea how I dealt, or didn't deal with, an avalanche of new information. My team of five girls love me so well, and we have all taken the time to learn how each other operates. We consider one another's tendencies and preferences in the way we speak, touch and move around a space.
Instead of there being four other people to consider this month, there are 41.
41 different voices all wanting to give opinions when decisions are made. 41 different bedtimes, 41 bowls and forks in the sink following a meal, 41 kinds of hair in the drain, 41 attitudes and desires and interpretations.
My friend and squad leader Tabitha pulled me aside a few days into this month and asked if I was doing okay. (Insider info to future acquaintances: Tabitha is smart like that, and usually already knows the answer to the question she's asking you. It's best you don't lie to her.)
"Nooooooooooo," I breathed, and she nodded her head enthusiastically like she'd known all along.
"What do you need?" she asked, and I stared off at some irrelevant object in the distance, trying to look pensive.
"I have absolutely zero idea." The sounds of voices, dogs barking and motorbikes revving flooded the courtyard, even at the late afternoon hour. It was hard to concentrate, and I was starting to believe I would only survive the next month by hiding on top of a nearby storage unit until lights out.
"Here's what I want you to do," she said, tucking her hair back. "I need you to set some boundaries for yourself. They can be whatever you want, but you need to be looking out for yourself. If you don't wanna talk to anyone after....say, 8 o'clock at night, don't do it. If you need a day off, take it. You cannot let yourself burn out."
Burnout. I used to think these words only applied to leather-clad super seniors smoking low-grade weed behind high school during geometry class, or corporate CEOs who stayed late at their offices to close on major business deals. I never thought the term 'burning out' could refer to someone in the field of volunteering.
Bad news: it can. And if you're not careful, you will wake up one day and find that the very thing you have given your life to is now taking away your desire to live that life.
So I did something I'd never done: I set some boundaries. This was uncomfortable for me, because it meant that I was purposefully creating limits on what I would allow myself to give to others. It meant that saying "no" or "not now" were going to become a part of my vocabulary. That as much as I wanted to be perceived as fun, chill and limitless in love, I was going to burn out if I didn't start directing those energies in selective ways.
The love I have for each individual person on my squad is something I need to remember in moments or hours when I feel like I've just about bottomed out in my ability to wait in another shower line, when I lose my shoes in the monster pile by the doorway or find myself answering another inquiry as to why "my resting face looks so mad all the time". (Glasses. I just need my glasses.)
The moments of redemption come when you take a look around at your crazy, ragamuffin family of 43 and realise that it's important to see the forest for the trees. That for all the stress and inconvenience their amoeba of chaos brings you, the amoeba is comprised of individual humans, all of which who are just trying to do this thing called the World Race with as much grace and integrity as possible.
Just like you.
I am learning to communicate what I need, and then go and get it. No one else is going to give you permission if you don't first give permission to yourself. Believe that the people around you desire to see you thrive, not just barely make it though the day.
You can't give anything good if you don't have much to give. As selfish as it sounds, sometimes the most selfless thing you can do is take care of yourself before you try and take care of anyone else.
So go for a run. Go sit on the couch for two hours and do nothing more than count the cracks in the ceiling. Make pancakes in a wok on a 92 degree afternoon, just because you can. Establish lines in the sand, and love people enough not to let them cross uninvited. Whatever that thing is that you need to do in order to keep your love on - and only you know what that it - go on. Go get it. You and your squad will be better humans for it.
This is your permission slip.
"You liberate me from my own noise and my own chaos, from the chains of a lesser love."
- Audrey Assad, You Speak
113 days left.
I am not the same person I was when I came on the Race last September, you guys.
People told me that I would change. "Even more than you think you will," they said.
After six months of mandated weekly counseling, I thought I was finally reaching an arrival point in my walk with God. (Looking back, to think I ever believed this possible at 23, let alone EVER, is the real laughing matter.)
From what I've been hearing lately, you never really arrive. It's more of a continual mountain-climb of a life with checkpoints along the way. Lots of broken gear and pitfalls, but grace and mercy abounding at every turn.
I turned 24 a few days ago, and God's birthday present to me was an invitation to step away from the familiar, narrow, everyday view of myself, as He took my hand and allowed me a glimpse at my life from His broader perspective.
"Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her."(Hosea 2:14)
I've been spending a lot of God-time lately hanging out with Moses and the Israelites. And the Israelites were a pretty dumb bunch 87% of the time. God saved them from a whole host of chaos and at the end of the day, in their opinion, there was always something He could have done better. But I can be pretty dumb too, and that might be why I relate to their struggles so much.
After countless generations of oppression, slavery and bondage, God hears their cries and sends Moses to take them (all 6 million or so) out into the wilderness, to the land God had promised to them. A few days into the journey, this is the level of gratitude that ensued:
"Then they said to Moses, "Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt?" (Exodus 14:12)
Personally, I sometimes feel like the Bible lacks a little bit of creative imagination, so I like to make up tones and side-dialogue to bring it to life. I have no idea how the conversation actually went, but in my head, it went something like this:
"It's hot. I'm hot. I hate it here. I haven't seen a tree in three days. This manna isn't gluten-free. Where are we even going? (J's, helloooooooooooo.) Should we stop and ask for directions? Oh, wait, that's right - WE ARE THE ONLY PEOPLE OUT HERE."
As God was taking the Israelites from one place into another, there was a noticeable change in supply.
When they left Egypt, they left behind the familiar, the known. In the wilderness, they were so preoccupied with what had been left behind that they almost totally missed the new things God had. Where was the food? Where was their favourite street palm tree hangout? Their favourite corner booth with leavened bread 2 for 1? (I'm losing myself here. Reign it in, Kayla.)
In the last few weeks, I've been living in serious tension, as the season I've known has started to end. It was as if the leaves started dropping off the trees and in classic fashion, I was freaking out about it, running around with duct tape trying to stick them back up.
Seasons equate change. And change can be scary. But I'm once again learning that you can either embrace the change or kill yourself trying to push back the inevitable.
Just as shifting seasons require sacrifice of the familiar, a lot has been dropping away in my life. The forms of comfort, support and provision of last season have already died. The time for them has passed. What I've filled my arms with is now rotting and the stubbornness is starting to make me sick. It's time to let go.
I'm letting go of needing to use alcohol to cope. Not because alcohol is bad. Because recently, I've been dealing with some hard things, and have found myself using drinking as a way to dull down the tears I don't want to cry. The price for this, of course, is numbness. Lately I walk around like Cameron Diaz in the Holiday, praying, "Just one tear. Please, God, just one...eeergggghhhhhhh...!"
I'm letting go of a friendship I've been investing in with a great guy I met just before I left for the Race. For the next four months, we won't be communicating. And friendship is not bad.
But what if falling more deeply in love with God looks like a devotion so singular that it causes us to lay down what we think we deserve, trading comfort of a Divine romance?
I'm letting go of the fear of the unknown.
He is calling me higher.
He set me adrift in a life-raft, but it's time to learn to swim. He's asking me to stab the raft. Open water is a pretty risky place to learn, knowing that drowning is possible. And yet, I honestly believe that I'll discover strength I was unaware of - all because I haven't had to exercise it yet.
But for the first time in my life, I want the will of God above all else. I'll say it again: I want the will of God above all else. I want to be close to him and in his will more than I want the things I could otherwise have. Everything - people, job opportunities, relationships, preferences - are finally falling in line behind the desire to be as near to God as I can be.
I just don't have time or desire for anything they would try to take me away.
He's freeing me from the bondage of lesser loves and inviting me into something wildly unfamiliar, promising only perfect love in exchange for a life lived completely surrendered to him.
And oh, what a worthy defeat it is.
You know you have a comparison problem when you're sitting in Georgetown, Malaysia, feeling boring because of a plant.
Most of you have read my pre-Race blog from last year when, after a brutal heart check, I made the decision to delete my Instagram.
I guess you could consider this Part Two, and hopefully the last time I'll ever talk about social media comparison, because it's way time this root has been torn out of my life.
I created a new Instagram this week. Why? Awesome question.
I'll tell you how it ends before telling you the beginning: It was a thoroughly terrible idea.
Wanting to begin my own blog at the start of summer, independently of Adventures in Missions and the World Race, was a fun idea at first. I could do the same thing I was already doing, but in a space I designed, a layout free of boxy orange and awful calibri font (sorry marketing, it's true). After asking around and talking to some fairly successful independent bloggers, the feedback was the same: getting yourself out there is necessary in order for people to know and care about what you write as a blogger. Having presence on other social media would help gain traction. So I very hesitantly rejoined Insta with the cautious hope that this time, my feelings about it would be different.
In short, I was stunned at how certain people I knew in real life depicted themselves through the lens of their iPhone. If I only saw them over the Internet, I'd never know they were struggling with finances, depression, breakups, or if they ever woke up with pillow creases on their cheeks and flyaway hairs. Everyone, every cup of coffee, every plant, every sunset, looked flawless.
After about twenty minutes of scrolling through suggested posts and "people you may know", my level of satisfaction in my sunburnt face, God and basically every aspect of my life in general had plummeted to sub-zero levels.
I looked down at my sweaty ministry outfit and headband hair, both of which had seemed so comfortable and appropriate this morning as I taught English classes to 30 beautiful refugee children, and felt like I was missing something.
And this is why I hate, I hate, I hate Instagram.
By unknowingly propagating a culture of perfection and narcissism where broken pieces are edited to gloss, finding true vulnerability is rarer than finding two pink Starbursts in a snack pack. Instagram has become a platform where we expect our friends and followers to affirm any image of reality we present.
The problem is, it isn't reality. Not really. Even the most candid of photos interrupts the flow of life, and is later run through so much post-processing that what comes out is a snapshot so beautiful it makes us ache for a reality we can't have - because it never existed anyway. I know, because I used to be the epitome of this. The height of my reality disconnect occurred last summer when I sat on my bedroom floor for almost two hours, taking the same shot over and over again until my smile, hair and stomach crease looked flawless.
One of my closest squadmates recently lamented to me, "I saw an Insta picture of someone in the Caribbean today, and I was shocked at the jealousy I felt. I'm in Asia. People probably assume I'm happy all the time...no one may ever know just how unhappy I have been these last few days, because all they see are the joyful, colorful photos I post."
The great paradox of the World Race is that you are - seemingly - the guy or girl who has it all. But in spite of achieving radical Christ-follower, cool world-traveler status and riding the wave of awesomeness that an Instagram full of international photos swears to deliver you, World Racers are the most normal, everyday people you will ever meet.
I know that because the World Race is not a part of my identity. Yeah, I'm "a World Racer," but in three months that label will be ripped off and it will go to the shelf to gather dust alongside my array of other earthly trophies.
God forbid my confidence in myself ever lies in what I am doing or where on the planet I am at any given moment.
I wrote out all of my accomplishments, awards and features this week in preparation for putting together a resume. Afterward, I just sat there, staring at the assimilated list, and honestly? - just kind of hated myself.
Because while it felt good to look at all I had accomplished, none of those things will make it past my death. One day, I'll die and everything I ever did will mean nothing, except to the people my courage and honesty have found ways to touch. My accomplishments will quickly be forgotten. No one will look at my Instagram. No one will wish I had hawked another weight-loss tea or name-dropped a celebrity or took a picture of my feet in some exotic sand.
And yes. It's really easy for me to get lit about girls and guys who treat their Instagram followers as if they live a superior life. But at home or abroad, how dare I ever believe that the only reason people ought to listen to me and not them is because I'm doing "cool", adventurous things. My little sister can hardly get out of bed but has more faith in God than I've had while living and ministering across three continents.
Full disclosure: my life is a semi-calamity most waking hours. (If you're new here: welcome. Grab a hard hat and some Swiffer pads.) Nothing about it is clean or polished. I talk to strangers more than I do my best friends and up until this morning, had no clue what a "countable noun" was. The majority of the time I very literally have no idea what is going on, let alone what time it is or where I need to be.
But just from what I can tell, being radically, ridiculously myself, flaws and all, has helped build community in a way I was never able to before I blew the lid off of my own fake reality.
We find idolization through good photos and elegant wording. But we offer freedom through unfiltered beauty and unfiltered life.
My life is not worth envying. And neither is yours.
I guess the question at the end of the day is this: what do you want to offer the world?
And what are you going to do about it?
It's 11:30 pm at night, and we have a mice infestation.
(photos: Aubrey Fite)
By this point on the Race, very little phases me on an individual basis. I sat ripping apart garlic naan at a local Indian restaurant last week and watched a rat the size of a shoe scamper along the inside wall before disappearing under a hot food cart. I sighed.
Understandably, not everyone's standards have been so thoroughly shredded. Right now, there's a mouse in Emily's bed, and she is NOT HAVING IT. I wake up the following morning to find her gone.
"Emily left last night," Aubrey correctly reports.
"Where'd she go?" I ask, hitting my head on the metal frame above my bunk for the third time this morning. "Home?" In my mind, I picture her stalking down the dark stairs of our dorm, out the kitchen door and toward the Malaysian border, arms full of bedsheets and contempt, not looking back.
"She went into the second room."
I nod while she continues, "Yo. We need to deal with this."
The next day, we're brainstorming ways to seamlessly end the life of a mouse we have caught in a sticky trap. People are yelling. Someone tries not to cry. I had volunteered to Frank-Underwood-it, but the idea suddenly seems a whole lot less interesting now that the subject in question is in front of me.
"Rat poison? Yeah, but Jess said this rat poison is different. She says instead of causing the mouse to die and rot in the wall, it will make its body decompose."
I imagine ten dead mice laying forgotten behind the thin white walls of our dorm, their bodies exploding into orange pixels and derezzing the way the light cycles did on the Tron grid.
Mice don't derezze, I remind myself, adding the thought to the wealth of inner side-dialogue no one will relate to. I look around the room at the variety of facial expressions, all embodying a this-isn't-actually-a-HUGE-problem-but-this-is-still-very-much-a-problem-and-I-want-it-taken-care-of-NOW, and a giggle escapes.
99 days. Roughly 14 weeks. That's how long I have left before nonsense like this will not be a problem anymore. There are days when I'm glad. Then, there are days when the truth of my rapidly-disappearing reality catches up with me like a runaway shopping cart banging the back of my heels, startling me back into the present with pain and a jolt.
"D. What sound does the letter D make?" My class of fidgeting 8 year-old Burmese refugees obediently monotones, "Duuuhhhhh. Duh. Duh."
"Good," I praise, pausing to wipe the sides of my face for rivulets of sweat. It's easily a hundred degrees, and the upstairs building that we call a school has only bedroom fans to combat the stifling heat. I take my black dry-erase marker and do a quick drawing of a duh, duh-dog on the whiteboard, turning around with a flourish to gesture at it. "What is this - " I tap the board with my marker - " a picture of?"
Ameera pushes her desk away from her stomach so quickly her pencil box falls to the ground with a metallic crash. "A DONUT!" she shouts, her dark brown eyes flashing with pride.
I let my arm fall to my side as she waits, eyes wide, for my congratulatory nod.
I give it.
Later on, I pick Vasni up and toss her in the air as crowds of children push past her to return their nametags, her petite form easily lost in the rush. She wants to touch a flower wheel hanging from the ceiling. I'm tired and don't want to lift her, but she grabs hold of my hands too tightly to resist.
I throw her up and catch her, her toothy smile displaying all its brilliance. Then, we sit quietly until the room clears out, her tiny fingers tracing my tattoos. "Triangle, line..." She taps the cross. "Christian?" I smile down at her, nodding. She buries her head in my arm.
Around this time on the Race, a lot of Racers start getting quizzed on personal regrets, memories, goals and lessons learned. Mine are pretty simple.
Do not come on the World Race if you want to see the world. You can see the world thousands of ways. Come on the Race if you want to serve endangered people groups, refugees, orphans, sexual abuse victims and ex-cons. Come if you want to have an unplanned mid-life existential crisis in the middle of the African desert and find yourself in the process. Come if you want to be shattered and rebuilt with a heart bigger than you knew your chest could fit. Because the truth is this: I came on the World Race thinking I would be saving people. But I've been saved in the process, every single day, by the very people I came to pour out for.
Some days, I'm just another backpacker on the commuter bus, just another face in the crowd and another naive American obviously out of place in someone's hometown. Some days, I eat creme brûlée for breakfast and others, I don't eat anything at all. Some days, I'm the carrier, and some days I'm the one getting carried.
But some days, I'm Teacher Kayla, demonstrating what sound frequency looks like by waving my arms like the ocean. I grade English homework, keep chairs from tipping off all fours and draw shapes on the whiteboard that get mistaken for doughnuts. I'm a botanist, a scientist, a linguist, a mathematician and creative problem solver.
I am loved.
What an honour it is to love out of the abundance I've been given.
I've never had a baby, and quite frankly, don't plan to for many, many years.
If I had to sum up what my spiritual life has felt like over the past seven days, though, I'd be tempted to say it felt like labor pains. Juno-level, barfing blue Icee into Brenda's urn, orange tic-tac-mailbox, Phuket-Thailand-sort of labor pains. Only, no infant. Just denial.
I haven't slept more than a few hours a night. This, however, has largely been my own fault: because God told me what to do after the Race, and I've been trying in vain to convince myself that I didn't actually hear him.
I walked out of my classroom a few days ago, slipped into an empty computer room, and shut the door. I leaned onto a desk, palms flat on the scratched wood, fingers digging into the underside, breathing heavily.
Why is this all so heavy? I'm not afraid, exactly. I'm not intimidated by "this". But why is it so heavy?
When at long last I gave up ignoring His promoting (a whole week ago), I was shocked to discover that the way I felt after responding with a "yes" made no difference in the state of my heart and mind. Post-prayer Kayla felt just as much uncertainty and mild paranoia as pre-prayer Kayla.
I dropped my hands, sat down, and stared at the ceiling, willing some invisible Package of Peace to descend, gift-wrapped, like the Sponsor care packages in the Hunger Games arena.
Later that day, I settled into the corner of a nearby coffeehouse, ordered a $2 omelet (I always forget that I hate eggs until it's too late) and opened my iPad. My first Storyteller coach is an alumni Racer-turned-blogger named Stephanie. While I'm almost certain our personalities and life stories are night-and-day, I identify with her writing; she always finds a way to take common struggles and give her readers permission to embrace the chaos.
Archives. April....2014, why not.
Waiting. I nibble some egg. Have the previously repressed, now-conscientious egg hatred-revelation all over again.
The page loads, and the words that headline the screen immediately cut me to the bone.
If This is God's Will, Shouldn't I Feel Peace?
This week, my heart has been aching with the heaviness of a calling, and the implications of what responding to that calling would be.
And for the first time in my life, after hearing God tell me to do something, I feel no peace about it. None.
When I signed up to do the World Race, one of the biggest confirmations that I had accurately heard God's voice was that I had this insane peace in my heart about saying "okay." God also played along with my prayer for confirmation through the words of others.
This time, though, it's so different.
He's not comforting me. He's just commissioning me.
This last week has been all about Him challenging me to step up a level in my spiritual maturity. It's not necessary that I feel Him to pursue what He's already told me to do.
No more, "If you want me to, send me a sign". He said, "You know the sound of my voice."
No more, "Give me peace about it." He said, "I've told you what to do. You don't need peace to act."
It's heavy. It's unexpected. It's hard to explain, still. But knowing that He's the one giving me this next step will be enough for me to move forward in faith.
Next time, I won't be so vague. (Not my style.) But please say a prayer for me. The heart of the Father is hard to bear at times and I want to walk this out right.
Now, if only I could find some orange Tic-Tacs.
April 25 has not been a great day.
I know plenty of people who very firmly believe that days, by themselves, are not inherently bad. These people believe that the day is what you make of it. And if you have a bad day, well. There was probably something you could've done to keep it from derailing and careening out of control.
I happen to belong to the school to people who believe that some days are just crap. They just are. Yes, I can get down with the old mantra, "This is the day that the Lord has made; I shall rejoice and be glad in it." What I'm asking you to consider is that some days require rejoicing in the form of not killing someone. I rejoice everyday. Today, I rejoiced that I made it out of bed and across the hallway to change my t-shirt. Then I rejoiced all the way back into bed.
I know why I feel this way, of course. I always know. It's one of my biggest blessings and curses. I am never unaware of what is going on inside my mind, or why I am feeling a certain way.
Today, I am feeling jealous, insecure, unstable, and run-down. Physically, I'm running a fever and emotionally am experiencing maximumly invasive heart surgery.
Our entire dorm needed to be cleaned. Team time needed to happen. All eight of us needed to be packed to catch a 30-hour train to Thailand the next morning. Our host had graciously invited us to spend the day at her apartment and make use of her pool, but the thought of spending yet another full day expending energy socializing and conversing around a dinner table made me want to crawl back under my throw blanket and grow into it.
"This is ridiculous," I finally announced, sitting up in bed. "I refuse to lay here one more second and be sad. I'm going out to get food and write."
On my way out the door, I bit it hard, slipping on the freshly mopped stairs. Emily came round the corner, gently helped me sit up, and held my bruised arms while I cracked, letting tears fall onto my flushed cheeks.
I started doing what I always do: stacking up the reasons why I shouldn't be unhappy against why I should be happy. And for the first time today, I realised that I've been doing it all wrong.
It's not about the comparison. Telling myself that I shouldn't be feeling badly because my mom is coming in three days, that I got nine hours of sleep last night, that we caught our 19th mouse, does nothing to shake the current sadness. It only makes me feel more guilty for being sad.
I'm not saying to camp out in the sadness. But before you can get over it, you need to go through it. You must feel it. There is no other way out.
A reader and friend of mine, Jami, left a comment in my newly-minted prayer group yesterday night.
"Hello my friend! I was praying for you last night and felt no need to pray for clarity or confirmation (those are my usual "go-to" God's will prayer words). Instead the word "courage" arose in my spirit and I just started praying for and declaring courage over you. I have no clue if this is helpful, logical, ridiculous, or left-field. But in celebration of courage, I'm courageously sharing. :) xoxo"
For some reason, this comment reminded me strongly of one of my favourite movies.
I grew up watching the Sound of Music on a two-pack VHS next to my mom. (If I recall correctly, we watched it so many times the tapes eventually broke.)
My wedding (should I ever have one) will very certainly contain the wedding march "How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria", with my name grafted in for good measure.
Fraulein Maria is my cinematic soul-sister. I feel this girl. Always wanting to make the world a better place, but more often than not, getting in her own way. Forever inspired, endlessly loving, but tripped up by misunderstanding and inappropriately self-sacrificing for the "right thing".
There's a scene in the film when she gives herself a musical pep-talk, pumping herself up for a huge task. I listened to it again today and nodded in agreement so hard my glasses slipped down my nose.
"It could be so exciting, to be out in the world, to be free; my heart should be wildly rejoicing! Oh, what's the matter with me?"
"I've always longed for adventure, to do the things I've never dared; now here I'm facing adventure...but why am I so scared?"
Sometimes, I'm I Have Confidence-Maria, flinging my carpet bags around my skirted hips, calling out assertive manifestos of confidence to anyone who will listen and heed.
Other times, I'm pitiful, wanna-be-nun Maria, running away from responsibilities because"I can't love him, I don't fit in, I don't deserve to be happy", laying on a third-floor flight of homeless shelter stairs in Malaysia, crying over life, the universe, and everything.
The good news? God loves both. He sees both. And He loves them just the same.
He wants us to acknowledge unhappiness, those unforeseen moments of unexplainable hopelessness, and the days when it's all you can do to get yourself into sitting position. Missionary or not, He wants to comfort us. He doesn't miss a thing.
I've written about the topic of rest before, about the importance of "being okay with not being okay". Full disclosure: I get really nervous to write these sorts of things. I get nervous anytime I write something that isn't on the brighter end of the blogging scale, or anytime I come forward with a present struggle and shortcoming. I worry that you guys will pass judgement.
Which, to be quite frank, is ridiculous. Never once in 16 months has anyone done this. Still, the fear lingers.
It asks, "Am I okay? Is this okay? Will this paint a picture more dismal than it actually is?" The Race is comprised of infinite moments of laughter, despair, hope, insomnia and boredom that few will ever witness first-hand. I try to be careful about what I choose to point to, knowing that your window is shaped by what I choose to highlight.
But once again, it's an invitation. An extended hand to say, "Hey, me, too."
If you need confidence and courage today, know you're not alone. And once you're done feeling it through, sit up, and reflect on how much you are loved.
This too shall pass.
Disclaimer: You may quickly reach a point while reading this blog where you think to youself, "Ahh, I know where this blog is going." However, God often writes the script of my life a lot like an M. Night Shyamalan movie: you really just don't ever know how it's going to end. I want to walk you through this particular blog-story in the exact sequence that it happened to me, in real-time, if that's alright.
(Hey, thanks for showing up this afternoon. I'm so glad you're here.)
This is a story...
It's a Tuesday evening in Georgetown, Malaysia, and God cuts through the end-of-day chatter and Bach cello suite rotations to tell me a small piece of news.
Go back to Greece.
I don't know how reading this just made you feel, but personally, I felt like God must've been short-staffed. Was I excited? Yes - but mostly feeling like He had, uh - forgotten how many other things He'd already told me to do.
Heyyyy there, God. There is a lot you've put on my plate. Bed and breakfast, book, now Greece? You sure you don't want to....I don't know, delegate a little more?
I tried to do what I've been guilty of many times in the past: asking God to confirm it through the words of others. But unlike the confirmation of the past, this time, his response was different.
You know the sound of my voice, Kayla, He said. Just listen.
Four days pass. I have trouble falling asleep for three of them. I get nervous any time I hear the words "go" and "pita bread". I find myself awake and online at 1 am Google searching flights to Athens for reasons I don't understand.
Still, I ignore it.
Friday afternoon, I get an email from the Powers-that-Be at Adventures. All of this happens in the middle of team time. So as Felicia is earnestly answering questions regarding her worst middle school hairstyle, I scan the email over with nervous enthusiasm, reading it several times before silently setting down my iPad.
The conversation lulls for a moment. I slowly, awkwardly raise my hand. (Not a requirement during team time. Not a requirement since fifth grade.)
"Sorry to interrupt - and this has absolutely nothing to do with the correct topic of conversation" (my hand still mid-air) - "but, I was just offered a Marketing internship with Adventures."
I explain the situation: I would be moving to Gainesville, Georgia, as part of a small, private program called The Fellowship. As the Marketing Fellow, I'd work alongside my mentor Meghan to collaborate on media projects, mentor CGA interns in Storyteller creative practices, edit the intern's books, and write a book, all while being intensively discipled in workplace leadership and professionalism.
Recruitment only. Like Special Ops. I briefly wonder if I'd have to wear a uniform.
Everyone reacts with just the right amount of excitement, surprise and "GET IT, GIRL."
So...why was I not excited?
Fast-forward three hours. Our team is at the Penang Prayer Room for a 4-hour midnight worship session. The worship leader, Josh, slows the set and talks to the room for a moment. "I don't know why, but in this moment, I believe that God has people he wants to send to specific nations. We are going to pray for those places right now."
My chest is gripped. Images of the internship email flash behind my eyes, and my stomach drops again. As the music starts to play, I weave through the room to the 15-foot wallpaper world map, picking out the speck that is Lesvos island in an instant. Leaning onto the wall, forehead pressed against the Indian Ocean, I cover Greece with my hand and begin to pray through clenched teeth.
Alright, God. Alright. I don't want to. I don't see a way. But if you want me to...I'll go. I'll go.
For a moment, nothing happens. Then, I feel the familiar promoting. The internship comes into my mind's eye, and the voice I've come to so easily recognize says just two words:"Next step."
Instantly, peace floods my heart. I feel Aubrey move in next to me, her hand finding mine on the map, gently pushing her fingers between mine and squeezing.
I return to my spot on the floor, searching for something to write on. On the back of a receipt for a cheese panini and a black Americano, I write the words, "God told me I'm going back to Greece. + the internship is the 'next step'." I set it on her knee and go sit down. A minute later, I look up and see her tripping over herself as she runs at me, sliding down onto my spot on the floor like a baseball player coming across home plate.
"KAYLA. Kayla Kayla Kayla!" She grabs both my hands. "He told me I'm going back, too. I'm going back to film it!"
THE NEXT DAY.
I'm chilling (figuratively, of course - nobody chills in monsoon-season Asia) with Felicia in the closet of a teacher's langue at our Burmese refugee school. She makes a comment that I almost miss.
"So my friend Jocelyn was invited to the Fellowship, but she's really on the fence about having to raise $12,000 to do it."
I turn to her with steely eyes and ask just one thing: "I'm sorry. WHAT?"
Peace = GONE.
Gone with the wind, gone like yesterday's application of deodorant. 86'd. Ciao.
I don't remember much of what happened the next hour, other than I was furious. You tricked me! I aimed my thoughts at God like poison-tipped darts. This is not what I was made to believe this was! I need to fundraise? We've talked about this! I want to be generous, not back in the fundraising boat!
I tumbled in through our door that same afternoon and banged out an email with the the subject line, "Insert Jeopardy Song Here".
SOS SOS SOS. I need to talk right now!!!! (Cliff notes version.)
And then I waited.
Bless them - they quickly called me back. I had a long conversation, in which I asked 27 pre-arranged questions and took pages of notes. By the time we hung up, I was only sure of two things: 1. I didn't understand why it made sense to do it, and 2. That I absolutely needed to obey and do it.
I wrote a blog about the few days that followed, and the days leading up to my final interview. Everything within me was at war.
This makes no sense. I know the things you've called me to do. Shouldn't You be encouraging me to do THOSE things? Why this first? Are you sure the internship is the "next step"? God, can I trust you?
The final interview was me sitting alone in a chair in a dim room, time zones away, our 2001 Samsung team phone pressed against my sweaty cheek.
I found myself saying things I didn't know I wanted to say.
Also, saying things I was immediately certain would label me a candidate unfit for the program.
I was asked what I felt called to do with my life.
Open a bed and breakfast, and return to Greece.
She asked what I was hoping to get out of The Fellowship, and what skills I needed to open my bed and breakfast.
"Honestly?" I said. "I don't know anything. I don't know accounting, marketing, or property ownership. I don't even think I have credit. I have a vision for what I want, but I don't know how to get there."
I could hear the smile in her voice, the well-practiced reassurance of someone having stood at the edge of many alumni's eager, formless dream.
"Kayla, The Fellowship exists for people like you, who have a vision. You come to us for eight months, and by investing in our dream for a little while, we disciple you to learn and grow in your ability to establish your own dream."
The very last thing I did before making it official was reach out to a long-term volunteer stationed on Lesvos. A little over a month ago, I saw a Facebook update that he was looking to purchase a hotel on the island, with the intention of transforming it into a hotel and retreat center for the volunteers assisting the refugee crisis. I couldn't ignore the similarities. I had to tell him my B&B dream, and ask if he was serious about his.
He messaged me back. He told me that if I ever wanted to come and help him, I was more than welcome, and that he planned on pursuing that dream. But not for another 8 months to a year from now.
Before I go, let me tell you exactly what The Fellowship is, and how I need you in this next season.
Approximately 10 out of every 300 alumni Racers are recruited for this program. Each Fellow is chosen for a displayed aptitude in a particular area (logistics, leadership, creativity, women's ministry) and paired one-on-one with a current AIM staff member in a corresponding department for the entirety of the program.
As a Fellow at Adventures, I'll be working Monday-Friday in the marketing department, under the intentional mentorship of my Storyteller coach. I'll collaborate with current marketing projects, assistant manage Adventures online blog, help CGA Storyteller interns write and edit the first draft of their books, write a book myself, and receive personal coaching into the financial and marketing side of running a business.
It's the next step in my ministry. It's a season for me to take everything I've learned about living a better story, and teach the next generation of Racers and alumni. It's a season for applying my skills and being allowed to truly flourish in my God-given callings.
It's everything I never knew to ask for.
In order to participate in the program, God and I need to raise the grand total of $12,000.
But this go-around is very different than the last one, because I've already seen Him do this. I'm still on the World Race, still walking out this dream come true. And I know that as long as I'm walking in His will, I'll be wholly provided for. I'm not afraid.
The costs break down like this.
* Housing (Fellows will live in community together)
* Program costs and curriculum (books, instructors, lessons)
* Monthly living stipend (personal bills, insurance, groceries)
* One leadership event during the program.
Have my stories blessed you over the last nine months? If your answer is a yes, I'm going to invite you to partner with me and my ministry. God isn't finished using me yet. This writing gig - it's only just begun. There is so much I want to teach and give to the next wave of Racers. You can financially support this next step in my ministry the same way you supported me on the Race; just click the bar at the top of this blog.
And please, feel free to message me with ANY questions. I'll be writing many more blogs about this in the days to come - but right now, I want to be where my feet are. And my feet are currently in Month Nine. Not a moment before or after.
That said - I need to put this 1,817 word baby to bed. Also, myself.
I'll be back in Detroit on Monday, July 25. I'll be moving into my apartment in Gainesville to begin interning and Storytelling on September 16.
Are you in?
Her name is Butterfly.
It's somewhere around 9:30pm on a Saturday when I first meet her.
The warm, tropical air pulls strands of hair from my bobby-pinned updo as the red light district in Chiang Mai, Thailand, begins the process of coming alive for the night. All around me, club music pounds, the neon of a thousand bar signs illuminating crowds of women and men crowded around bar rails and spilling out into the streets. My skin turns from blue to green to pink as we walk through the lights, at every doorway hearing the high-pitched inflection of a one-size-fits-all invitation: "Come here, honey!"
I glance back at the group of Racer parents walking behind me, nervously twirling a plumeria between my fingers. My prayer is simple.
One person, Lord. Just bring me one person you want me to love.
And that's when I see her.
Tall, lanky and delicate, the first thing I notice are her eyes: lost under kohl black liner and painted thick with mascara. She and several other women saunter down from the bar where they linger and into the walkway, greeting our group like its some kind of high school reunion. Her embrace catches me totally off-guard, and I start laughing as her hands wrap around mine, pulling me to a wooden table and motioning for me to sit down.
"What's your name?" I ask her, all but shouting to be heard above the bass from the speakers. She leans in close, says something into my ear, and then begins flapping her hands like wings.
"Butterfly? Your name is Butterfly?" I answer, and she nods enthusiastically.
I don't know the first thing about this woman, except that I love her immediately. She's up and down so fast that I almost lose track of her within the first 90 seconds of meeting her - standing, crowding more of us around the table, sitting again, gathering drink menus, passing menus out, and finally securing her bony hand on the top of my left leg. Aware that any time with her I want, I'll need to buy, I order a Coke, and tell her to order something as well.
I can't tell you we had any kind of good conversation; honestly, I barely understood five words that she said all night. But I love her. I immediately loved her, and I didn't even know why. Maybe it was the way her garbled, quiet words spilled out of her like bubbles in champagne, more musical than cohesive; or maybe it was the way she repeatedly insisted on clinking her glass with my bottle of Coke, giggling like a little girl each time.
And when the first man approached our table to draw her away, it was all I could do not to stand up and physically push him off .
Reaching over me to get to Butterfly, I watch as she lets him openly grope her, a smile too big stretching her thin lips. With a firm slap on her backside, he finally lets her go, and she drops back down into her seat next to me. Almost immediately, another guy comes up and repeats the exact same thing.
And another, and another, and another.
Thailand and I are at odds right now. Not all of it is entirely my fault, and most of it is actually God's. I'll explain.
Something I've never understood is "discernment". The dictionary defines discernment as "the ability to judge well".
Biblically, discernment is the ability to differentiate between good and evil, right and wrong.
Up until two weeks ago, I didn't have even a teaspoon of discernment. And that was fine by me. Frankly, it seemed like a sure-fire way to kill an otherwise good time. One of my sisters has a lot of God-given discernment, and when she brings that understanding into the spiritual realm, it profoundly changes situations.
I've known her to get physically ill when in places with Wiccan paraphernalia or when walking past certain Eastern trade stores at the mall. She's able to perceive the tiniest nuances in stories and people. No one can lie to her and succeed.
Last month, I asked God to give me discernment, and to grow my desire to see justice enacted for the oppressed.
Unlike some of his more tedious, lesson-first acquiesced answers, He went ahead and just gave me what I asked for.
So here I am, having gone from zero to so much sensitivity to what's wrong around me that I now cry basically every time the wind blows. And every time I watch a woman bought or sold, the amount of fire that builds up in me threatens to burn me from the inside out.
I look at women like Butterfly, women who have forgotten their real names, who they are and how to dream, and my mind feels heavy from the weight of her brokenness. Whatever evil brought her to the place of selling her body for quick cash stands in direct opposition to who she was created to be. A body is not a business, and she was created far too wonderfully to be purchased, used, and discarded.
To every other customer walking past her bar, she's just another middle-aged prostitute. But to me, she's a friend. And if I could somehow make her understand that when I look at her - when GOD looks at her - He sees past her hardened exterior of black makeup and five-inch stilettos, instead rejoicing in and cherishing everything in-between.
I notice the dark blue tattoos peeking out beneath her crop top. At 53, her faded ink has the water-colour-like effect of someone who has long ago aged with their art. I notice her sharp elbows and the contours of her exposed knee caps, limbs too bony to curl. I notice the photos on her cell phone - her daughter, my age, along with various clients and photos of her favourite flower.
Eventually, her attention is diverted elsewhere, but not before she asks to come have lunch with me at our ministry's coffee shoppe - a place where she could find a job and meet with our host about getting off the streets. I tell her we will find a time. One of my squad-mates chooses 4 o'clock the following day.
The next afternoon, we wait for almost an hour. She never shows up.
Galatians 8:9 says, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up."
My job here isn't to save anyone. It isn't even to get a girl to know Jesus. It's to be the face and voice of love in a city where they are called disposable.
And I might not be the Christian missionary girl who has earth-shattering success at the end of the month here, but my goal isn't to have big numbers. My goal is to have one. Just one. And if I can love one person intentionally and with devotion, I'll have done what was asked of me.
Sometimes - most times - loving one person well is all it takes to change the world.
"I was a heavy heart to carry, but he never let me down; when he held me in his arms, my feet never touched the ground."
- Florence + the Machine, Heavy in Your Arms
The day after the night when boats carrying 600 men, women and children capsized on the four-mile stretch of the Aegean Sea, I brought two bottles of wine to the Greek coast and drank myself into a black hole, praying to God that He would have mercy on me and not let me climb out.
I remember the sudden heaviness of my body, the leaden limbs. I remember waking up and not even realizing I had fallen asleep. Voices surrounded me, and various squadmates pulled my clothes back on as I cried and fought.
"What are we going to do? No cabs run out here."
"We need to walk. You get on that side and I'll get this one."
And so, with no shoes and vomit staining my clothes, we walked two miles up the coast to our hostel. I don't remember anything beyond the way my feet scuffed the cobblestone street and being suddenly carried up the hostel stairs, to a bed that wasn't my own. "People died today," I sobbed, the words falling like stones, heavy, recognition making it real. "People died today and I couldn't do anything."
The voices of a few squad-mates came through the fog from some place far away, reassuring me that it was okay, that nothing was my fault and no, no one was going to tell my mom.
I would go on to refer to this as one of the darkest moments in my life so far.
For years, I hid everything.
After a high school experience in which my little sister was diagnosed with cancer, my dad left, our family moved three times and I was hospitalized with depression, there had been enough strife. Once the storm settled, I was still planning on chasing empty things to cope with anger and loneliness - but no one would get hurt this time.
I was gonna do it alone.
And as time passed, it didn't matter if what I hid was big or small. It all sort of blended together in one big gray smear, where no one person knew more than a few truths about me.
I'd lie about a bad hangover being the flu, and in the next breath try to sell someone on the authenticity of my relationship with God. "I did a twelve-hour bible study this weekend! Did you know the Greek word for truth is 'aletheia'? As in, 'Aletheia and Kayla Zilch go together like snowstorms in July'? Biblical etymology is so satisfying. Coffee?"
I must have been nauseating to be around.
I didn't talk about anything that would require vulnerability. My emotional reward would come in the form of bystanders commenting, "You are so strong, Kayla. You are really handling [fill in the blank] well."
My version of "handling it" is how I ended up halfway through my Race before realising that although I was light years away from who I used to be, drinking was still my method of coping with strong emotion. And I wish I could tell you it only happened once, but it didn't. Drinking to suppress repeated itself two more times over the months - the only difference being, I hid it better.
The final morning I woke up hungover and aching, I talked to God for a really, really long time.
Afterward, I went to find my team leader. She sat with me, and together we waited in silence for several minutes.
Say something, I told myself. And just as quickly: No! Fight! Don't give up!
I took a deep breath. "I have a drinking problem. I'm afraid to feel. And I need to tell someone, because I need accountability."
The thawing out has been slow.
I had to give most of my secrets away, and expose the ways I hid things. I had to learn how to cry without apologising, and to stay in the moment with a horrid, painful emotion - fully aware, fully feeling.
The girl who came on the Race was not a writer, not confident, and not living free. But as the months have gone by, I've changed.
And as God's worked on healing my heart, the most obvious change has been in my appearance.
As my heart softened, my appearance has softened.
I tried so hard to give off the appearance of a tough girl, because on the inside, my heart was paper-thin. Beauty scared me because it required vulnerability, and I had no confidence in my femininity. Getting past the hard exterior was like initiation: if you managed to get in, then I'd begin to be my true self. But I buried my compassion, emotion and beauty deep. Living as the real Kayla? Too risky.
Clothing and haircuts were like armor to me.
As I've allowed myself to be loved and more fully known, the hard shell has gradually dissolved. Hats became braids, jeans became skirts, a buzz cut became a....whatever my hair is doing right now. I haven't cut it in 8 months.
My friend Leslie once said, "The more I know about you, the more I'll love you. Tell me everything."
Fighter mentality and loner mentality get mixed up a lot. I've frequently mistaken my dedication to shouldering a burden alone with being 'strong'. Dear reader, whoever you are, know this: true strength isn't fostered in secrecy and loneliness. I am learning this slowly.
The price for a life lived in total vulnerability and truth is the willingness to own the less savory, sometimes downright-awful choices we've made. I was an idiot to ever let drunkenness make an appearance on my Race, let alone stick around so long. But my desire to live a life free of secrets means a commitment to grow through every pitfall.
The Enemy wants to get us alone because he knows we're most vulnerable when we're isolated. I've fallen prey to this lie countless times, but you don't have to.
A friend of mine bought me a Giving Keys necklace the week before I left. The word etched into the key reads BRAVE. I took that necklace off today and laid it next to my sugar snap peas, for the first time feeling the absence of its heaviness.
If anyone needs it, send me an email and I'll mail it to you.
I don't need that reminder anymore. Lately, I'm thinking I need a new necklace - one that reads 'BREATHE', 'LET GO' or just 'CHILL THE %#*$ OUT'.
But BRAVE? I've got that.
I don't have anything to prove to anyone nowadays. Biblical strength is beautiful that way, because it's SO backward. Paul told the Corinthian church, "I'll boast all the more gladly in my weakness, so that Christ's power can rest in me. It's when I'm weak that I am truly strong."
Jesus died for this - the alcohol, the insecurity, the pain, the fear. That means you and I don't need to shoulder the struggle alone.
From one outrageously stubborn human being to another . . . won't you take off the identity of brave and strong, trust others to truly see you for what you are, and let yourself be carried for a little while?
The mural above the stairs leading to my bedroom punches me in the metaphorical gut every time I climb the steps.
Thailand has been a month of intense outreach, assertiveness, lengthy days, and radical self-discovery. A lot gets revealed in a woman when you put her in the 110-degree Asian summer with full sunshine for hours on end. This month has been a time when several people have pulled up a chair, simply to sit with me and chat about the vision for my, well, life. And if I've ever met someone worthy of speaking authoritatively on vision, it's our host, Pi Emmi.
Emmi is a force of nature. The first morning we woke up at Zion Hostel, she spent close to six hours orienting our teams on ministry logistics and telling us her story.
Emmi founded Lighthouse in Action several years ago, and it was the manifestation of a dream years in the making. At three years old, she watched her father murder her mother in front of her eyes.
(Just let that fact sink in for a minute. Are you aware in this moment that you have something to be thankful for?)
Following this tragedy, she was raised in abject poverty by grandparents as a village outcast, and was eventually given over to the care of a visiting Christian missionary who challenged her to make something of her life.
Today, her cafe downstairs gives jobs to girls who have been rescued out of sex trafficking, and our team gets to play a part in doing just that. Emi's dream took years to realise, but she's waking up every day and turning the wheels, making that dream happen.
I woke up today and was faced with a reality of a different sort: after barely being published 24 hours, the book our squad wrote while in the Philippines during Month Seven needed to be removed from distribution immediately.
Something about host relations, communication, and timing. I spent a short part of the morning on the phone with our squad mentor, who broke the news, and the better part of the morning hiding in the corner of a local diner, processing it all.
Two and a half months of work, editing, planning. All the sleep both lost and willingly sacrificed. All the free time spent doing read-throughs and carefully catching every stray word before correcting it and setting it back in its rightful place.
This was never "my" project, although at times I definitely acted like it was. Everything about the process of writing and editing a book brought me to life. People thanking me for my help was weird - like thanking someone for eating a chocolate ice cream cone.
No problem, man. Even without your recognition, I'd still be doing this anyway.
And as the dust settled from the fallout and the realization that it was all over, that the book very well may go away forever, all I could think about was the amount of time and effort gone to waste.
And guys, I hate wasting my time.
If I see that a relationship, a plan or a Netflix show isn't going anywhere, I have no trouble cutting my losses and not looking back.
But this was different. My heart was sunk deep into this book. Our squad spent weeks writing it and had been waiting much longer for it to be published. Giving up would mean I'd failed.
Or did it?
Respect, honor and kindness. These words have been bumping around the inside of my head non-stop for the last 48 hours. They're funny concepts, because they only achieve real value status once applied under less-than-ideal situations. But as a friend of Jesus, displaying them is not optional. Even when they're not deserved. Even when I'd rather not - because God knows I've been on the receiving end of all three when I deserved them the least. And love isn't love unless it costs the giver something.
Stay committed in your decisions, but flexible in your approach says Tony Robbins, some guy whose organization spams my email inbox on a daily basis. One of my friends says his goal for the year is to "Change the plan, not the end goal".
It's good to know what you're willing to fight for.
And it's good to fight for something.
It's also good to know when to stop.
Following the few necessary conversations and deciding to pull the book, I went out for coffee with one of my squad-mates. We've been casually tossing around the idea of writing a book together - a totally separate project - chronicling our entire 11 months on the Race.
The voice in my head instructing me to begin again grew louder in volume.
As of today, project Czarina and Vegan Farmer Co-op Barbie Write a Novella (working title) has officially begun.
Five days ago, I submitted some articles ideas to an online magazine. Two days ago, Elite Daily accepted me as a contributing writer.
And in case I've forgotten, I'm writing this blog from a cafe in Thailand. I'm living and doing ministry in Thailand.
Good things are happening.
Moral of the story (if this blog had to have one):
A vision's failure to launch doesn't always reflect on the value of the dreamer. It's also pointless to sit in the remnant. There's a world outside armed to the teeth with color, texture and sound, waiting to be spun into existence.
Every creative setback is just an opportunity to redirect that anger and frustration back into the creative process. Resistance and failure are powerful motivators.
Keep moving forward.
"Believe in your flyness, conquer your shyness."
- Kanye West
Most of you know that my mom came to visit me here in Thailand at the beginning of this month. For those who didn't know, that's a real shame, so here she is.
Eileen Zilch. She's wonderful, wise, and my very best friend.
Having my mom spend five days living in my Race world was exactly what I needed to finish this journey well. And on the second-to-last day of her being here, we sat on her hotel bed, where I proceeded to break down and unload all the weight I was unaware I'd been dragging around.
"I don't mind the way God made me. I don't mind being different. I'm just tired of being misunderstood."
For those who don't know, I struggle with some sensory and social integration issues. Prior to the Race, it was nothing I ever felt the desire to talk about, because...well, honestly, it didn't affect me or others negatively.
But, The World Race, man. It'll getcha.
At my best, I'm perceived as creative, idealistic and caring. At my worst: passive, self-absorbed and detached. The World Race took all of my best and worst qualities and turned up the volume on them until the levels were nearly deafening.
For months, I've been living in a state of insecurity, unsure of how much Kayla was too much. I wanted to be consciousness as to the preferences of others, but in doing so, I was filing myself down to be the least offensive version of Kayla possible.
I was deeply unhappy and deeply uncertain of my value on the team.
Flash forward two weeks. We recently had a double-team meeting centered on one very uncomfortable topic: judgement.
The situation was this: working with people involved in the sex trade is emotionally challenging. And each night this month, we have all been given the choice between going into the bars to build relationships with girls, or staying back to pray and worship on behalf of those going out. Whichever one we chose was completely okay.
Me? I've been choosing to stay back more than I've chosen to go out.
And over the course of several days, resentment started building. The people choosing the bars over prayer were feeling obligated to continue going out and those staying in were feeling misunderstood by the people going out.
The elephant in the room finally got too big to ignore. A conversation needed to be had, and we all came together to be uncomfortably honest with one another: in one way or another, we were all feeling judged.
It was around this time that God and I decided it was time to take another layer off the top of my onion-self and gave me an opportunity to voice all of this to the group.
So with a racing heart and sweaty armpits, I said the following:
The World Race was not created for people like me. I don't always do the right thing. By nature, I play nothing safe, and fundamentally don't understand people who do. I need to know that when I have options, make a choice and self-govern, I'll be given the benefit of the doubt, instead of being automatically thought of as lazy and rebellious.
The way I see it is like this: we're all out in the middle of deep, open water. Ocean = life. And we're all paddling to stay afloat. Most people are leg-swimmers, kicking hard below the surface. For these people, all the action of keeping head above water happens out of sight. Their hair is set, they breathe through their nose, and everyone around them compliments them by saying nice things like, "You're handling this so well! You really make this look effortless."
And then there are the arm-swimmers. (I recently made the switch.) Every struggle, every victory, and every panicked moment is on display for the people around me. Nothing looks effortless. I talk about stuff like porn, alcohol and loneliness. And if you're close enough, you get hit by my splashing.
I'm not so different from the leg-swimmers; after all, the goal of everyone out here is the same: stay above the water. I just go about it without a desire to mask the struggle.
And I'm 100% done with being made to feel that I'm the only one.
Because it isn't me versus the team, teammate versus teammate, paddlers versus splashers. We all bat for the same coach. Judgement and false identity exist to threaten the foundations of the common goal.
And as long as I am honoring others, demonstrating respect, and speaking truth in love, I'm okay.
That said, true Kayla would like you to know the following.
I trip. A lot. I'm physically awkward. I won't hold your baby but I'll touch a plumeria like its made out of glass. In a world filled with subtleties and overtones, I miss 98% of what isn't reported directly to my face. One time it took me almost 40 minutes of staring out a bus window to realise it had been snowing the entire time. I'm oblivious to anything that doesn't concern me and hyper aware of what does.
True Kayla got legitimately upset last Friday while painting, after a certain dance-y song came on. I laid in the middle of the bedroom floor as I painted and had a moment of mild, sincere despair that no one else was experiencing the blue and green waves I was seeing as the song played. But when I voiced this to the people standing over me, no one told me that I was weird or asked if I was possibly on acid. They just smiled.
Just being me.
Dear everyone: I do not exist to impress you. You have no right to ever make me feel lesser than because I wear my heart on my sleeve. For you, appearing composed may be your glory. Mine is living a life of infinite vulnerability. I'm more concerned with that girl or guy on the verge of making the switch from shame and secrecy than I am keeping my sh** together, and I'd rather make a mess doing it than look pretty doing nothing. Perfection serves no one but itself. I'm never going back to that lifestyle.
And in the words of my squadmate Shrena (who came to tell me this following my conversation):"Keep splashing. Because you never know how close those around you are to making the switch. We need to see you being fully yourself."
I don't know about you...but I'm gonna keep splashing.
I grew up reading Nancy Drew detective mysteries. For a long time, I actually thought I wanted to be a forensic scientist or maybe a criminal psychologist. Obviously, my life took a slightly different turn, and now I just write blogs.
But something every story had in common was this: the closer Nancy got to solving a case, the more frequently the bad guy would try to derail her or make an attempt on her life.
Evil starts getting frantic when truth makes too much progress.
Three days ago, I was sitting on the steps of our hotel at a Leadership Development weekend here in Siem Reap, Cambodia, weeping into the phone.
"I want you to consider the possibility...that it's time to be done. That you've done enough, and that God wants you to come home and heal."
Those words, spoken by my mom, were the permission I needed to drop the facade of cool, calm and collected Kayla that I've been struggling to uphold for weeks.
Because, you guys, I have not been okay.
For the past three weeks, there has been an all-hands-on-deck, every-man-to-his-weapon attack unfolding against my mental health.
I've woken up every morning by the internal thump of my heart racing. Not helping the matter is the fact that everywhere I've slept for nearly a month has allowed me to be woken up by the sound of a door slamming, locals loudly arguing, or a child screaming down the hallway. I'm (now, currently) struggling to breathe, to sleep, and my appetite has all but vanished (and this is really saying something, folks).
And then, there's that voice. Uninvited, intrusive, and undeniably evil.
The voice that says, You're a pain in the ass.
No one else needs what you need. Why are you so preferential?
Why are you always in the way?
No one cares about what you have to say.
You're not needed here anymore.
This can all be done without you.
Go kill yourself.
This is the blog that no one back home wants to hear - the blog where a Racer talks about spiritual warfare, about hitting rock bottom, about being tempted to cash in and go home.
We don't like to tell you about this particular thing. It makes us sound ungrateful, selfish, and over-dramatic. It's important that someone bring this up, though, because the alternative is painting a false picture of how oppressive the spiritual atmosphere of a country can actually be, and what it can do to the person unprepared.
Over the course of the Race, I've seen Satan try to repeatedly hit me hard in a specific area. Identity. Body image. Coping skills. And each time, I stood up and hit back. But at this point in the Race, it's the 29th round. All enthusiasm and personal strength was used up around intermission. I'm at the point where I've taken so many left hooks that I can no longer finish this thing unless someone gets in the ring and fights for me.
But God isn't tired. God isn't done.
So there we sat, mom and I on the phone, crying Kim-Kardashian-ugly-tears and asking God where to go from here.
And then, you know. The power goes out. Because, Asia. Our phone call drops, the stairwell I was sitting in was plunged into darkness, and I could hear the shrieks and scuffles of people on the stairs trying to get outside into the open air.
And it was there I waited, alone, letting the tears sit on my cheeks, staring into nothing.
Kayla, come talk with me.
This voice sounded so different from the other one, the mean one, that I almost didn't recognize it at first. I followed it to the rooftop, and started praying at the top of my lungs.
Every verse I've ever spent time reading about God's strength came flooding into my consciousness. I started walking back and forth, audibly speaking them into the humid air.
Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will walk and not stumble. They will run and not grow weary.
For we run the race marked out for us with perseverance, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
A broken and contrite heart, you, oh Lord, will not despise.
For we were not given a spirit of fear but of love, power, and a sound mind.
Surely he has borne our grief and carried our sorrows.
He restores my soul.
"God," I said aloud, "If I stay, I need you to promise me that this won't only be my victory. This will not be another item on the Series of Unfortunate Events that you've asked me to overcome in my life. I need you to let me touch someone with this story. You need to display Your glory through me. I won't stay any other way."
He promised me He would.
So I'm sorry, Y-Squad, but that power outage was for me. It was all me. God really wanted to get me alone. He loves me so freakin' much that he shut down an entire Asian city for an hour to prove it.
I woke up the next morning in more physical pain than any morning so far. Thoughts immediately came pouring into my head like hate letters, and my heart started racing all over again. I flopped over onto my back and looked up at the yellowed ceiling.
Jesus, I prayed, You've got mail.
This depression is not mine. This anxiety is not mine. I don't claim it, I don't want it, and it can go back to the pit of hell where it belongs.
There's gonna need to be some reworking of what my Race looks like in order for me to finish strong, but I'm not letting shame get a foothold there.
I'm staying. Because soon, this storm is going to break, and there will be a sunrise and a story more beautiful than any assurance of homely comfort.
Stay tuned for victory.
Lorde's hit song, Tennis Court, contains a lyric that captivates me.
"It's a new art form, showing people how little we care."
Part of me wonders if she wrote that after scrolling through her Facebook newsfeed on a midweek afternoon.
She probably didn't. But that lyric perfectly illustrates one ugly, uncomfortable truth: you and I just don't give a damn anymore. About anything.
And I want to disarm the impending counter-argument before it even starts: no, we don't care. How do I know this? Just click over to the lovely blue interface of Facebook, and the point is made.
The useless debates, fear-mongering and unchecked facts swirling around social media today regarding everything from zoo animals to lesbian overtones in Disney sequels have come to embody the full extent of our involvement in cultural injustices.
People today are caught in this weird in-between state of feeling appropriately strong emotion, maaaaaaybeeeee speaking out about it...but then allowing themselves to feel a sense of accomplishment for doing absolutely nothing.
We'd rather believe that the world will right itself if we just say the right prayers or fact check Sally's mom on a comment thread.
Christians are guilty of using the New Testement story of Jesus overturning the temple market as justification for being downright mean. Someone no longer a character in my newsfeed posted a political article under the pronunciation that, "I don't care if this offends you, Jesus flipped tables so I'm gonna get angry about so-and-sos political agenda!!! Hillary is scum!!"
Around that same time, I came across a headline that read, "Jesus flipping tables isn't an excuse for your online political rants. Anger should be the exception, not the standard."
That, and the simple fact that you are not Jesus.
I apologise if this is news to anyone.
Anger is an emotion created by God, meant to be used on behalf of injustice and oppression. You and I are being lousy stewards of the resources and emotion God gave us if we only use them to elevate our opinions on social media, citing Matthew-something as justification for what is actually pride and malice.
Our emotions were never meant to live and die on social media. They were meant to rile us so much as to put us on a plane, write a check or take a public stand.
I'm sure there was at least one individual who, inspired by the recent death of 700 refugees on the Mediterranean Sea, chose to radically uproot the comfort of their life to devote their time and energies to pursuing justice and protection for future crossings.
Me? Personally, I can't name anyone.
Most of us closed the Facebook app, satisfied with our cardboard argument and naive finger-pointing, and went back to our place in the sofa.
America, people are suffering and dying, and we're hoarding the resources to make it stop.
The false sense of accomplishment we get when we are validated on social media doesn't create change. Your status doesn't create change. Your comment thread doesn't create change. This post doesn't create change. It can only inspire it.
You are the change.
We came into this world with the resources available to combat evil. We live in the first world. You are reading this on a digital screen while connect to wifi, meaning you are 76% more connected than most other nations in this world.
And we are using that privilege to do...what, exactly? To hold off boredom, to argue?
So why are our faces dry?
What's it going to take in this day and age, where every resource is available and known to you, if you can't find something to fight for?
When we get to heaven one day, Jesus isn't gonna look at our intentions, our feelings, and he sure as heck isn't going to look at our Facebook feeds. He's going to look at how we showed His love in action.
One man famously asserted, "All it takes for the forces of evil to prevail are for a few good people to do nothing."
Yah. I agree.
Jesus doesn't really care what you think about the gays vs. Christian debate (and let's face it, that's exactly what we have has allowed it to become).
He doesn't care how you feel about endangered animals being shot and killed.
He doesn't care about your opinion of female genital mutilation, transgender bathroom laws, drowning refugees, gun control or Donald Trump.
He cares what you're doing about it.
So....what are you doing about it, anyway?
"When you're lost in the universe, don't lose faith. My mother says, 'Your whole life's in the hand of God; nothing has changed, He is the same'."
- Hand of God (Outro), Jon Bellion.
Today, if you don't mind, I'd like to talk about feelings.
When I last left my blog, I told you guys that I'd been struggling hard with feelings of depression, not the least of which involved suicidal thoughts.
I want to tell all my readers who weren't able to see the transform in person, or follow me on Facebook: I feel more alive now than I've felt at any other point on the Race.
Two weeks ago, I woke up without a racing heart for the first time since Thailand. Hesitant at first, I gave the irrational peacefulness a skeptical eye.
I really AM going bananas. Last night, I was drawing Sharpie sketches of hazmat suits in 1,000 shades of black and today I could barf glitter.
The spiritual atmosphere of Cambodia is the only thing more toxic than its air. This country has a history darker than its star-less sky. Generations here are still young enough to remember mothers and babies being dragged off to S-21, tortured, dismembered and murdered under the Khmer Rouge.
At the risk of sounding like the guy from Ghost Hunters, I'll just say one of our girls was woken up the other night to see two tall black figures standing at the foot of her sleeping pad. Another guy woke up to feel something pulling at his feet. Squad-wide, nearly everyone has walked, or is walking though, what I felt two weeks ago: suicidal thoughts. Anger. Trouble sleeping. Eyes swelling shut.
Evil is real here.
Yet I've thanked God every day since that night that He gave me the long-sightedness to remain.
My teammate Faith (proud cohort/the better half of #fayandkayarebae) likes to frequently remind our team, "Your emotions are not reality".
I am easily moved. But if emotions were natural disasters, capable of creating change, most descend like hurricanes or a tidal wave - build, break, silent. Mine feel more like earthquakes, shifting things suddenly from beneath. Unpredictable and entirely hidden, until a building or two falls down.
Sometimes a song comes on Spotify and all but knocks me sideways with sentimentality. I'll lay on the ground - literally stop and get down on the ground - and imagine I'm somehow a part of a Woody Allen movie where I get married to the person I love and spend my days hiding away in a log cabin in the mountains (obviously we built this) and sitting in cinematic silence around a bonfire (built this too) with red wine and our shelves lined with photographs, mugs and antique driftwood. surveying our physical manifestation of my "future life" Pinterest board, I softly cry tears of joy and he silently rests his bearded cheek on my back. There's a lot of lengthy cinematic silence. We are beautiful and happy.
Then the next song to play is a rap song. And suddenly I look around and wonder, What the %#&$ am I doing laying on the floor?! I'm a strong independent women. I have companies to become CEO of. G-650 jets waiting to commander. I will single-handedly redirect trading initiatives in 36 countries and restore global peace to the UN while simultaneously reuniting all the stray dogs of the world with their owners and do it without ever taking off my black stilettos or smudging my lipstick because I AM A QUEEN.
Emotions are fickle, yo. Combine that fallibility with the presence of manipulative evil, and you've got a stirred pit.
My feelings say, I'm not needed here.
My feelings say, You can't make a dent.
My feelings say, You're probably going crazy, and try to slap labels like PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety on my chest like Chiquita Banana stickers.
My feelings say, "Like Chicago weather, in two hours we will be entirely different for no legitimate reason at all. Best pack an umbrella, lifejacket AND a snowsuit when you step out in the conditions today...if you dare."
God says, "I haven't given you a spirit of fear." (2 Timothy 1:7)
God says, "I have delivered your enemies into your hand." (Joshua 10:8)
God says, "What you intended for evil, God is now using for good, for the saving of many lives." (Genesis 50:20)
God says, "I am the same: yesterday, today, and forever." (Hebrews 13:8)
Reader, if you're going through doubt about your purpose right now, can I encourage you for a minute? Remember where you've been. Remember what you've been delivered into. And lastly, remember where you're going.
Feelings change. God doesn't. If He's given you a word or calling, it's gonna be redeemable longer than those $20 Quick Cash coupons they dish out at Kohls. His promise for you never expires. You might be freaking out, but He's not. Instead of looking at the situation through your eyes, ask Him for His. He's got 20/20 vision.
My feelings say, You're tired, Kayla. Yah, but so what? I have ten months of victories to testify to the fact that when the going gets tough, He who is within me is stronger than he who is in the world. I'll be fighting my way across this battlefield with this absurd peace, my pastels, piles of glitter, whatever.
The world is fundamentally evil. Shine your light anyway.
Want to hear a funny joke? Comparison.
(There's no punchline.)
I closed my iPad several days ago and leaned forward onto the wiggly cafe table I called my afternoon workspace, steepling my fingers in front of my mouth. One of my squad-mates had just bravely told me that the reason she had stopped posting blogs was because...of me.
Or, rather, due to fear of being compared to me.
Last month, my squadmate Tabitha also posted a blog along similar lines.
I read Lindsay's messages over and over before clicking to her blog, titled I Am Not Kayla Zilch. Minutes ticked by, and it wasn't long before comments started trickling in: first from mutual friends, then a reader of mine, then the World Race CEO himself.
Reading their confessions and feedback, I was overwhelmed with love for them. And then my heart began to ache.
I felt like I was reading about a version of myself I'd never encountered before: some weird clone of the actual Kayla, who wrote her internet graffiti with one hand on the keyboard and the other swirling a glass of rosè, sighing out metaphors. Her words, though well-received, had somehow become a measuring stick fellow Racers believed they were falling short of.
But that's not what made me angry.
I was angry that Satan had been working so hard to use a gift we each had as a means to divide us.
Satan is one lazy son of a gun, you guys. If he can stir up chaos within the body of Christ by causing us to compare, you can bet he will. All it takes is one lie: you're not good enough, for us to start judging one another, talking down to ourselves, and ultimately hiding our giftings away. After this lie takes hold, he can pop a lawn chair and let us destroy one another, without his help.
One of the greatest gifts the World Race has given me is the gift of self. Another word would be confidence. Freedom from shame. Brazenness. This Holy Spirit-induced ability to live a life free of concern has radically influenced my writing, and it's God who gets every scrap of glory for it. I came onto the Race a broken, deeply insecure girl, having never written anything outside of a journal.
But the transformation didn't happen overnight. It was the sum total of every feedback session, every 48 hour travel day, every stomach bug. Every piece of dirty laundry worn just one more time, every day lived with the absence of a mirror. Every reader comment, every morning bent over the Bible instead of a phone, every spontaneous sermon delivered from an African pulpit, every text read and not replied to.
And there have been several times when I myself almost gave up writing out of a sincere belief that I wasn't good enough, or because the person I really wanted to read my words didn't care what I was saying.
If you're reading this right now, can I tell you something that you might desperately need to hear? There will always be someone who doesn't want us.
As a woman who has spent a shameful amount of time trying to convince others I and my giftings are worthy of love, please, never do this. Not only because the act itself is impossible, but because you're better than that.
Acceptance and rejection are deeply factor-based actions. Some people dig our drumbeat, some don't. It's just life. And we are wasting our time trying to engage the few people disinterested in our stories and better off using that fierce, persistent energy to love those people who we never had to ask to show up.
At the end of the day, would you rather rest knowing that the people in your corner got there without any persuasion on your part? Or would you rather have a trophy case full of hearts you managed to steal, but only after months of dedication, haircuts and perfectly timed humour?
1 Peter 4:10 says, "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms."
Grace in various forms.
Tabitha bears God's grace in her ability to speak to a situation not for what it is, but for what it could be. She's a dreamer, but one of those rare people who is also a doer. Her mind considers all parts of a story before coming up with a solution. The world needs to hear her voice.
Lindsay embodies the gift of speaking the truth in love. In a backwards world where love and truth are often pitted as enemies, Lindsay brings them together by challenging people out of a real desire to see them climb a little higher. I've crossed mountains with her by my side. The world needs to hear her voice.
So now I'm talking to you.
If there is something you love to do, please, for goodness sake - do it. If you want to write, write. If you dance, dance. If you feel called to become a cupcake maker or engineer or a certified clown, do it with all your heart.
It doesn't matter if you're "good enough". The very act of bearing a talent eliminates the need for a prerequisite or a permission slip. You're in. You've already been deemed "good enough" by the Creator Himself. He's waiting to see what you will do with the piece of Himself he's trusted you with.
We need to hear your voice.
What is it you want to say?
I love lists. (If you know me, this probably goes without saying.)
And right around this time on the Race, squad-mates are realising that this whirlwind of a journey is very rapidly coming to an end.
Some are dealing with this by diligently keeping countdown apps on their phones. Some weirdos have quit doing basic tasks like laundry and shopping for shampoo.
Some just aren't dealing at all.
But most are just trying to figure out how to carry everything they've learned and experienced back home with them, and walk the next season of life out well.
This isn't meant to be a manual, exactly - more like, in an ideal world, these are a few ideas I'd like everyone back home to get familiar with, in hopes of preventing one of those weird post-Race meltdowns in the Wal-Mart toothpaste aisle we Racers so often hear about.
all photos: Czarina Tabitha Turner.
1. Ask me,"How was your year?"
For the love of all that is holy - unless you're prepared to answer the same question - DO NOT DO THIS. PLEASE. The size and scope of a year can't be retold, only personally experienced. In time, I'll tell you everything you want to know. But coming home after a year abroad has me in a current emotional state that could best be described as that split second between starting the blender and realising you forgot the lid.
Processing takes time. What I need is for you to give me the freedom to speak, and the freedom not to. I swear I'll eventually make it up to you, complete with bizarre accents and useless fun facts.
2. Place vague inquiries (i.e., "Soooo, Africa?")
One friend back home always opens our conversations with, "I'm not going to ask any questions. Just talk, and know I'm listening to whatever you decide to say." As a result, I've probably told this person ten times more than I would tell anyone asking rapid-fire questions.
It's also hard to gauge how much someone actually wants to know. Africa? Do you want the Cliffnotes version of the continent and the average seasonal temperature, or do you want to hear about that one time our team hit the height of boredom and tested the psychological probability of intentionally peeing your pants behind the host's laundry line?
I drift a lot in conversation. If there's an international curiousity you're dying for me to debunk, by all means, get specific. Otherwise, give me more space than the evacuation radius of an atomic bomb.
3. Take me to crowded places.
My teammate Faith flew home for a week last month to attend a family funeral. Later, she told me with tears in her bright green eyes how overwhelming it was to simply stand in a crowded room full of people speaking English.
Especially for Racers coming off the field after living in remote areas (s/o to the Vietnam teams in "the fish village", you guys are the real MVPs), being able to understand the conversations happening all around you can be overload. Doubt this? There have been months on the Race where I've streamed the Weather Channel online just to hear someone speak perfect English.
If you could make places like quiet cafes, parks and your homes available, rather than sweeping me into concert venues or crowded restaurants...I'd love you for it.
4. Say, "I totally know what you mean."
In the LEAST condescending way possible (and even then, still likely condescending): you don't. Unless you have actually done the World Race yourself, this statement is a well-meaning stab at an empathy that is, ultimately, misplaced.
I used to think the times I had traveled or done missions work allowed me to empathize with people who were living aboard as missionaries; now I see how totally wrong I was. The best way for me to love and validate those people would have been to let them share whatever they needed to share, and simply listened. People don't always need our assurance that they are mutually understood - they need to know they've been heard.
5. Assume I will hang out with you.
(Said to the tune of the Smiths): Ask me, ask me, ask me! Especially for those of us moving rapidly from one season to the next, we may only have a few weeks or months until we need to pack up and leave again. If you want to see me, I'm really gonna need you to say so, because I probably want to see you, too.
At the same time, please understand when I'd would rather spend the day with my mom, my plants, or a copy of Hitchhickers Guide to the Galaxy. Coming home to churches, youth groups, co-workers, boyfriends, girlfriends and extended relatives puts a huge expectation on Racers to be social with everyone. We want to share ourselves wisely. Also, slowly.
1. Expect me to struggle.
I've left you, and everything I've ever known, for a year. I'm about to come back to the exact same things, but I'm very different now. Adapting to the same life I had pre-Race after experiencing a lifestyle of radical nomadism...will probably take some serious time. I might want to get decked out and eat at every restaurant on Main Street. I might want to stay home and eat pb&j (unbelievable, I know).
I might want to sleep on the floor. I might want to sleep in bed next to you. I might fall asleep in random places. I might forget to wash my hands, brush my hair or take my shoes off. Grace.
2. Expect me to succeed.
I've adapted to at least 11 different countries, cultures, foods, languages and weather patterns. My squad and I are bringing back an incredible amount of diversity and flexibility that will help us love, work and grow in ways we couldn't before. Expect us to do things we've never done, to handle situations with new wisdom and have a fresh perspective on conflict and communication. The change we've gone through amazes even us, and we can't wait to show you.
3. Suggest adventure(even if that adventure is XBox Live or wine on the sofa).
The community that is the World Race is spontaneous and largely unplanned. While some of us crave structure, many have learned and come to love doing things on a whim. I will love you extra if you take the time to make yourself available.
And feel free to turn me down when I suggest an 11pm hangout 30 minutes in advance or a road trip the following day; in time, I'll get better at rounding my edges. But know I likely just want you to experience a part of my new wild heart.
4. Tell me about your year.
Just because I left and had a life-changing experience doesn't mean I expect you to have remained the same. Life still continues for everyone back in the States. I want to hear all about the ways you've changed and what you've spent your time doing. Let me celebrate with you, and know you have complete freedom to be as proud of your last 11 months as I am of mine.
5. Know that I really, really love you.
It's no secret that the true heroes of the World Race are the people who didn't come on the field at all. Mom, siblings and best friends - you let me go for 11 months. You put your dreams for me aside and picked up new dreams, better dreams. You sacrificed energy, finances, sanity, and probably more than one sleepless night in order to help propel me through this journey of a lifetime. While I've been out in the world serving, having victories, having defeats and "finding myself" (whoever the heck that is), you've been supporting me 13,000 miles away. Your letters and photos have anchored me. Your phone calls have reminded me that I haven't been forgotten. I love you.
I'm so glad to be coming home.
Some of the best dinner party stories my family has of me revolve around me baking something and completely forgetting an important ingredient. One time, it was a cake, and I forgot flour. Another time, it was cornbread, and I forgot sugar.
And then there's the time I messed up Jello.
It's been a few years since I've had any yearning to compose this particular dish, but if I recall correctly, Jello calls for exactly two ingredients: water and Jello powder. Rocket science it is not.
And to this day, I have zero freaking clue how I managed to botch it. But, uh, I did.
I messed up Jello.
My standard (albeit, uncompleted) high school education had not prepared me for the task at hand. In addition, the job had been commissioned by my then-boyfriend's mother, which only raised the stakes. I stared into the warbling bowl of dye and began to wonder why classes like Armenian Philosophy hadn't been replaced with something more applicable, something more along the lines of Domestic Cooking for the Beginner College Girlfriend.
Anyway, the Jello didn't work. Half an inch deep and darker than grenadine, it cemented into the pan, refusing to be pierced even by a steak knife. Panicked, I stashed it in the freezer (???) so his family wouldn't learn about my embarrassing inability to effectively combine water and sugar, and also out of a minor paranoia that his mom would phone the Secretary of State and suggest they revoke more serious, judgement-oriented tasks, like, say, operating a motor vehicle.
Thinking about the World Race ending has me feeling like I did after making that Jello. Uncertain. Unprepared. Questioning myself, questioning everything.
"Isn't it pretty simple? Get off the plane, sleep for a few days, tell stories, fall back into rhythm?"
"Or maybe it's not. Maybe I'll spend a week sleeping off jet lag, only to wake up and find out that seven days was enough time for everyone to feel accustomed to my presence again. Life will continue going on around me, and after a few catch-ups, I'll spend the summer carrying a year's worth of stories and questions that no one will want to hear repeated."
I'm guessing that, like most things in life, it'll be hard to prepare for, and I won't know what to do until the morning I wake up in my bed for the first time in a year.
And maybe it's too soon to ask for this, especially given how flakey I've been lately, but please - if you can, give me an extra helping of grace.
If I've stopped replying to almost all texts from people back home, it's only because I'm too busy soaking up the presence and joy of the women around me.
I only have 19 more mornings to wander downstairs and see Faith sipping coffee with one hand and flipping through her Bible with another. A handful more opportunities to lie head-to-head with Felicia and watch late-night Gossip Girl reruns, or eat sandy French fries and find hermit crabs on the beach with Aubrey.
They say, "the way you end one season determines how you begin another." I want to end The World Race mentally present and wholly satisfied in whatever I'm doing at any moment.
Life here in Vietnam is worthy of a movie, and I really mean that. This month, we take turns working shifts at an English speaking coffee shoppe, anywhere between two and four hours a day. Our hostel is a five minute walk from the beach, maybe.
When I go to work, I jump on a single speed land cruiser and pedal 5 miles across the bay bridge and through the city traffic, always amazed to make it alive, sweat gluing my clothes to my skin. Last night Felicia and I swam out away from the coast and floated on our backs, watching the stars come out through the clouds, the neon hotel shoreline reflecting off the surface of the moving inky ocean like a broken kaleidoscope.
Right now, I'm exactly where I want to be. And if you're like me, you can count on one hand the number of times you've ever felt that way in life.
I need to let go of the fear that you're going to forget how to love me.
The fear that I won't have enough time to catch up, or won't be able to. I need to know that right now, this moment, is the only time I'm expected to exist inside of.
So...well, that's all for now, really.
(Annnnd I'm gonna go jump in the ocean again.)
My heart hurts today. Or maybe it's my stomach.
Acknowledging fresh emotional pain, a noticeable lack of fruit in my diet, and managing the mystical, magical act of "re-entry" - the process of returning home, which, like raising a child, comes with absolutely no instruction manual whatsoever - has got me some sort of crazy.
It's the act of saying hello to a new season, and goodbye to another - all in the same breath.
And like the way summer slowly melts into the cool of autumn, the majority of my surroundings and lifestyle still remain intact. But above every passing hour hangs the hint of a shadow signaling the sunset on many patterns and ideas. Around every corner, between the branches of lush greenery, yellow leaves rustle in the changing wind. Like a ball slowly rolling, the change is slow now, but gaining momentum and picking up speed, a force impossible to stop, creating new paths and breaking down anything premature or not fully developed.
Life is changing, and there's nothing I can do except let it happen.
(all photos: Tabitha Turner)
The thought of going home produces a whole wide range of emotions spanning from unimaginable joy to steely apathy to fear so dark it leaves me immobile, literally.
In my head, I picture myself two weeks from now, sprawled across the carpet of my mom's living room, alternative blasting from our battery-charged portable speaker, verbally tantruming, "What do people DO all day?!"
A lot of life has happened on the Race. A lot of life happened to me, and a lot happened to people close to me.
Since I left last September, my grandpa died, and two of my best friends got married. One sister underwent double brain surgery, and the other moved out of my mom's house - to Poland. My best friend left to study abroad in England. I did something I swore I wouldn't do: I fell for a friend of mine, and then let that person go to someone else.
When I was in Greece, I made a deal with God.
Crouched over yet another heap of unpacked clothing and gear, I stared out the balcony window at the Aegean Sea in the distance, straining to hear the waves. It was 3 o'clock. Boats were probably just starting to launch, carrying the mid-afternoon wave of refugees across the hellish 4-mile stretch of ocean.
God, I can't get up off this floor unless you promise me that there is something better.
I can't leave this place - not until you tell me anywhere else is more worthy.
His response to the Kayla sitting balled atop a small altar of REI paraphernalia nine months ago is the same response I got last night at 2 am, as I lay awake with a head and stomach churning like the heavy-duty spin cycle on a front-loader.
It's the best you ever had, but it isn't the best.
I think you and I forget this a lot.
We're scared to let go of something, be it a season, a person, or a sweater, out of fear that parting with it will leave us emotionally bankrupt and mentally unbalanced. It's because we haven't yet seen what's ahead.
If I only knew what was in front of me, I'd be cool to let go.
But this is the best I've had. How do I know that trading in means trading up?
I spent six years of my life dreaming about the World Race. Which means, you guys, that I'm literally sitting in my dream today. It's 5:46pm on a Monday afternoon in Vietnam, and I'm sitting in my dream. In two weeks, it will be remembered and relived through this blog.
It's the best you ever had, but it isn't the best.
God's promises for me aren't despair, grief, or emotionally eating my way through the first few weeks of being back in America. No, no no. Quite the opposite, actually.
He takes us from glory to glory. Mountaintop to mountaintop.
That doesn't mean we don't get hurt or knocked down, but it means we don't stay down. His plans for me are establishment in peace, and purpose through obedience. The assurance that no matter how costly the sacrifice, I'm never in this life thing alone.
So, 'Merica - even though you're a bit of a hot mess these days, and I have no idea what kind of shenanigans await once I get back to you - I'll greet you with a smile and a wink.
This story is rapidly ending, but thank goodness basically everyone expects a sequel.
God and I are just getting started.
"And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart."
A few months ago, I felt a sense of relief in knowing that following the end of the World Race, I'd be free from fundraising forever.
HALLELUJAH JESUS. The days of t-shirts, letters and garage sales are permanently behind me, and I can take my place in society as a contributing member, paying forward all the generosity I've received.
I opened my journal and started making a list of all the things I was going to do once I had secured a job: take my mom to Europe. Host a dinner party for my biggest World Race donors. Put a down payment on a car that isn't ten years old. Actually have a car.
I didn't know it then, but everything was about to flip on its head.
While in Lesotho, Africa, I voluntarily went 3 weeks without using wifi. During one particularly long Friday afternoon, as I sat paging through a Donald Miller book at our village lodge, God told me to do something.
Open a bed and breakfast, he said.
And as far as I was concerned, that was going to be my track post-Race. That was it. I got out my list and wrote "build credit to secure a property loan." I even started browsing listings in my city, letting my mind run wild with possibilities and dreams of wrap-around porches and wine on the terrace.
Two months passed, and God came knocking again. But this time, what he said sounded borderline bipolar.
And like an old boyfriend showing up on your doorstep, my greatest love and greatest heartbreak was ushered back, center stage. All I could do was stare in disbelief.
Most of you guys followed my Race journey during my time in Greece, working with Syrian refugees. For those who didn't, here's the Cliffnotes version: it ruined me.
Greece was one of the hardest things I've ever experienced, and the only thing harder than being there has been being away from it.
That same week, I got an invitation to the Fellowship - an incredible eight-month marketing internship with Adventures that would allow me to grow professionally and spiritually in the direction of those callings.
God said, Do that, too.
The price of walking in obedience? Fundraising a cool $12,000.
Three callings, two months apart. B&B, Greece, internship.
I would've felt more confident making a dessert out of tarter sauce, whipped cream and garbanzo beans than I felt about making those three things fit together.
Fundraising is scary for dozens of reasons, but the scariest part isn't fear of failure.
The scariest part is having to tell people why they should care about what you're doing.
(photo: Hunter Young)
I'm gonna be back in America in a week or so, and for the past several days, the only thing I've been interested in doing is denying that fact, and the start of the Fellowship.
Why? It hurts.
It hurts to see the last 11 months of my life close out like a storybook, soon to take its place on the shelf of past experiences. It hurts to once again be in a posture of receiving, when all I want to do is give.
It hurts to have so much compassion and anger for the oppression of the Middle East, to hear questions like,"So, when are you returning to Greece?", and know I'm being called to spend the next 8 months learning and serving in Georgia first.
And since we're being honest here, I'll tell you that I've recently started skimming over articles and photos of refugees any time the pop up in my newsfeed. My teammate Aubrey made another video of the Greece/Macedonian border today, and I didn't even want to watch it.
I write a lot about the insanity of turning a blind eye to media and the reality of worldwide oppression.
I think I'm finally beginning to understand why people do this.
Caring hurts. Waiting hurts. Obedience hurts. Giving, whether financially or by engaging emotionally, changes us - we're left with a deficit as proof that we loved something enough to sacrifice for it.
The Fellowship is going to equip me in every possible way to make the dreams of opening a bed and breakfast and returning to Greece real.
From the classroom to conferences - to sitting at a desk editing blogs and managing websites, or coaching fellow Storytellers on how to write a book - this internship is God's next step for me.
Greece will still happen. My B&B will still happen.
The next 8 months are going to be a time of radical growth, education, and servanthood.
I know God's timing is perfect.
So if this is something you believe in - if I'm someone you believe in - I'm asking you to partner with me in this next act of helping bring Heaven to earth.
I need $3,000 by September 1st to begin.
Are you in the Detroit area? I'll be back in Michigan from July 25th until September 14th. If you want to hear more about The Fellowship and my Race, shoot me a Facebook message, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send a tagged carrier pigeon. Let's grab cappuccinos and build the Kingdom together.
Disclaimer: This is not a traditional World Race blog.
It doesn't give the details of my latest adventure white-water rafting or talk about a meaningful day of ministry. This is something God gave me on a massage table in Vietnam, on the third to last day of my Race.
As the girl covering me in lemongrass body scrub made contact with every joint and intersection of flesh on my body, it was pretty much impossible to ignore that almost everything hurt. I flinched and adjusted so many times that she started to ask, “Pain? Okay?” each time she switched regions and found new bruises. My right ankle, from pinning my foot between my bike pedal and the sidewalk curb. My hips, from bearing the weight of my big pack. The insides of my knees, from sleeping on tiny beds and being compelled to curl and stack my knees on top of one another.
Battle scars everywhere. But even so, abounding beauty. And my respect for my skin-swathed vessel, although totally less than perfect, filled up my chest until tears pricked at my eyes.
I had never worn a two-piece swimsuit in public until I got on the Race. Weird, right? Maybe you're thinking that a mission trip shouldn't be the place for a girl to find freedom in wearing a swimsuit. But for me, it was a big a breakthrough as an addict flushing their coke.
I gained 25 pounds in the last 11 months. Three years ago, that fact alone would’ve derailed me. But the amount of compassion and love God has given me this year for my body alone stands as a testament that He can redeem anything. My body has been my greatest sacrifice during the Race, and also my greatest victory.
I'm not here - on the Race, in life, or otherwise - to look pretty or fit a certain standard. I was given a body to glorify God with. And He’s best glorified when I stop hating it, starving it, resenting it. He loves me, therefore, I'll love myself. So feel free to switch my name with yours and make the word “bikini” into any word you need to – sundress, skinny jeans, whatever. You know what that thing is that calls you unworthy – read this and know there is a God who calls you more than enough.
And if you know someone who needs to hear this, pass it on.
Dear Kayla Elizabeth,
PSA: Regardless of what women's magazines tell you or what degrading memes appear in your Facebook timeline this summer, you are not required to have a perfect body in order to wear a bikini.
Women have overcome too much in society and economy to let something as pithy as bikini body standards regress us.
Your body is beautiful, no matter what. There is no "but". There is no "as long as".
There is no exception.
Don't allow yourself and your sense of worth be dissolved down to an assortment of limbs and organs. Thinspo movements like thigh gaps and "bikini bridges" blur the line between health and crippling dissatisfaction, passively and dangerously propagating the idea that women are more valuable by occupying negative space.
Your body is your vessel, created uniquely for you by God Himself, and you have a duty to maintain it. However, you are more than your temple. Your body isn't a mobility device to carry around your brain.
Think, while you can. Form thoughts with the God-given organ behind your face and speak the words that formulate with your mouth. Use your hands to reach out to the poor and run in the direction of the truth.
If you have an Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, you have a voice, and you can use it to advance a cause you believe in. If you have a social media platform, you can use the presence you have to build others up instead of tearing them down.
You're above catty comments and body shaming, both given and received.
Here's something I guarantee no women's magazine or online fitness forum will ever, ever tell you: You are flawless. There isn't something more you need to do to arrive.
You've already done enough. You've already been accepted. There is no one to compete against. No one will ever be you. No one else will ever be able to offer what you can.
When we buy into the spirit of competition that says "her body is better and more desirable than yours or mine", we are attacking the integrity of the very foundation of femininity: women are beautiful in their diversity.
As a society, we see enough degrading messages about our bodies, and plenty of companies are lining their pockets with the money they make by exploiting our insecurities. So do something radical: love your body. Honor your temple. Honor one another. Don't wait another day for permission to look in the mirror and be “good enough”.
That woman you wish you could be? Send her a genuine compliment, because she's not your competition.
Raise other women up; and in doing so, you'll find yourself raised up.
We aren't caught up in any movement that we can't influence, should we choose to. We create the tide.
So decide right now to accept yourself. And out of that self-acceptance, extend the love to others.
Your freedom could be the kinetic confidence another woman needs to set herself free from the mindset of perfectionism.
Because perfection is for Rolex watches and airplane windshield installation.
Perfection is also boring. You're not boring. You're marvelous. One of a kind, actually.
Wear whatever the heck kind of bathing suit you want and walk in the knowledge that you were made by a God who looks past the shell to the heart of the woman inside.
Love her fiercely.