Relax, Just Do It

hang-loose

“Relax” he signed to me again, appropriately the same hand signal as “hang loose.” I smiled and nodded, but I knew I was screwed. This is as relaxed as it gets, dude.

The dude was an indoor skydiving instructor. He’d told us in the beginning the key to successful flying is staying relaxed, so I instantly knew I was in trouble. The most relaxed I do is not squeezing my arm tightly enough to leave bruises (it’s happened before). I decided after the excursion that the for real skydiving I did last year was easier, since all I had to do was plummet through the air with another dude strapped to my back. None of this “hang loose” stuff.

Massage therapists have also yelled (read: slight exaggeration) at me for my inability to relax. I think I’m helping by holding my leg up for them…apparently not. So hard to please people these days. ūüėČ

My boxing coach was the first to say “relax as much as you can” to me. She was the first to see the why behind the tightly-coiled muscles…I was self-protecting. She went on to say – as she yanked and pulled on my lats, loosening my pain-emitting left shoulder – that it’s hard to give up control of our limbs, especially¬†if we had insecurities in our past. Just last night, after working some more on my improving but sometimes still screaming shoulder, she said I’m constantly sub-consciously guarding with that shoulder (makes sense. The heart’s on the left) and she doesn’t know how to get me to give it up.

Isn’t it funny how the very things we use to protect ourselves can cause the most pain? That’s because we were never meant to save ourselves, or others. There’s only One who can heal the original wound and free us from our self-medicating. But I digress.

Indoor skydiving. It’s fun. You should do it. If you struggle with relaxing like I do, then do the for-real skydiving. Also fun. You should do it. Moving on.

Sometimes it’d be really great to full-out relax mind, body, and emotions. The wear and tear¬†get to me. Song lyrics often flit through my mind, and one I’ve related to since 1995 is Jars of Clay’s “He” from their self-titled album, same year: “Exhaustion takes over / Will this someday be over?” For 21 years I’ve known exactly what they meant. It’s when life itself, the things you can’t escape, wear you down. It’s not, “I’m tired of this. I think I’ll stop now.” It’s when you’re weary in your bones, body and soul, from something you can’t quit, but must push through or wait to end. A painful past that taints your present. A loved one making harmful decisions. Chronic pain or illness. A seemingly impossible dream. Your own weaknesses and shortcomings that frustrate you. I can relate! And often I want to quit.

I actually say, almost daily, “I give up.” I don’t – I know I don’t – but I say it to vent steam, to alleviate the pressure. The exhaustion. Will this someday be over?

Yes. That’s the beauty of getting older and racking up more experiences. I know it will. It’s a lie that says it will always be this way. And even if it WILL, God is still good and working all things together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). I can repeat negative, feelings-based things (and admittedly, I often do) like, “I’ll never change, they’ll never change, it will never change. I’ll always hurt. It’ll never get better. It’s hopeless). OR I could speak the truth. I can speak back to my feelings, which are fickle and easily swayed:

“So let‚Äôs not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don‚Äôt give up, or quit.” Galations 6:9, MSG

I don’t have to listen to my defeated feelings. I can choose the truth in the Word: “Summing it all up, friends, I‚Äôd say you‚Äôll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious‚ÄĒthe best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” Philippians 4:8, MSG

NOTHING is impossible or beyond His lavish provision: “Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37, MSG

“God can do anything, you know‚ÄĒfar more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!” Ephesians 3:20, MSG

Every story containing Jesus tells me His desire is to heal and restore people’s bodies, minds, and souls. No one – myself¬†included – is beyond His ability or desire to heal.

I can even tell my guard-dog shoulder to relax: “And you? Go about your business without fretting or worrying. Relax. When it’s all over, you will be on your feet to receive your reward.” Daniel 12:13, MSG

A flight instructor’s “hang loose”¬† signal can’t get me to relax, but God’s signals through His Word? Yeah, I can exhale that tension now. Yeah, I can find rest and strength in the exhaustion.

And you can, too.

 

 

 

 

 

I Know How Paris Ends (aka Here’s a Recap of My Trip)

Paris¬†has¬†been¬†around¬†for¬†centuries,¬†surviving¬†multiple¬†wars¬†–¬†pretty¬†impressive.¬†Seems¬†nothing¬†can¬†take¬†this¬†city¬†down…¬†Am¬†I¬†setting¬†you¬†up?¬†Yes.¬†Because¬†I¬†know¬†how¬†this¬†city¬†will¬†fall.¬†Lung¬†cancer.¬†Cigarettes,¬†bread,¬†berets.¬†It‚Äôs¬†a¬†package¬†deal.

I¬†was¬†nervous¬†when¬†I¬†left¬†home¬†for¬†the¬†airport.¬†The¬†what-ifs.¬†What¬†if¬†I¬†get¬†sick?¬†What¬†if¬†it¬†doesn‚Äôt¬†live¬†up¬†to¬†my¬†expectations?¬†What¬†if¬†I¬†get¬†lost?¬†Etc,¬†etc.¬†I¬†let¬†God¬†know¬†I¬†was¬†scared.¬†And¬†just¬†moments¬†later,¬†at¬†the¬†bus¬†stop,¬†He¬†sent¬†me¬†a¬†distraction¬†named¬†Trae,¬†who¬†proceeded¬†to¬†hit¬†on¬†me¬†until¬†I¬†got¬†downtown.¬†He¬†was¬†harmless¬†&¬†sweet¬†&¬†calmed¬†me¬†down.¬†He¬†let¬†me¬†know¬†that¬†Paris¬†was¬†filled¬†w/male¬†models,¬†‚Äúsorry¬†about¬†that‚Ä̬†(not¬†sure¬†why¬†he¬†was¬†sorry.¬†He¬†said¬†sorry¬†a¬†lot,¬†though,¬†so¬†perhaps¬†it¬†was¬†a¬†reflex).¬†Fast¬†forward¬†a¬†10¬†hr¬†flight¬†and¬†I‚Äôm¬†standing¬†outside¬†of¬†the¬†Paris¬†airport,¬†waiting¬†for¬†my¬†ride.¬†A¬†truck¬†of¬†French¬†soldiers¬†pull¬†up¬†&¬†one¬†stares¬†at¬†me.¬†Hard.¬†This¬†wasn‚Äôt¬†a¬†normal¬†hard¬†stare¬†that¬†you¬†ignore¬†&¬†shrug¬†off.¬†I¬†felt¬†violated.¬†There¬†was¬†something¬†hostile¬†about¬†it,¬†whether¬†to¬†intimidate¬†or¬†prank,¬†I¬†don‚Äôt¬†know.¬†I¬†ignored¬†him,¬†but¬†was¬†feeling¬†pretty¬†great¬†about¬†the¬†trip¬†remainder.¬†Or¬†not.¬†Gulp.

I¬†spent¬†the¬†afternoon¬†picking¬†up¬†my¬†museum¬†pass,¬†buying¬†souvenirs/candy¬†for¬†friends,¬†sipping¬†the¬†famous¬†Angelina‚Äôs¬†chocolate¬†chaud¬†(hot¬†chocolate¬†in¬†a¬†tiny¬†cup.¬†Which¬†is¬†perfect¬†because¬†you‚Äôre¬†basically¬†drinking¬†a¬†melted¬†chocolate¬†bar.¬†Crazy¬†good.¬†I¬†got¬†it¬†twice),¬†and¬†strolling¬†through¬†Jardin¬†de¬†Tuilleries.¬†I¬†was¬†delighted¬†to¬†find¬†this¬†was¬†literally¬†across¬†the¬†street¬†from¬†my¬†hotel.¬†As¬†was¬†the¬†Louvre¬†(be¬†still,¬†my¬†heart!),¬†Angelina‚Äôs,¬†and¬†the¬†Musee¬†d‚ÄôOrsay.¬†As¬†I¬†walked¬†through¬†this¬†famous¬†garden,¬†I¬†heard¬†a¬†French¬†boy¬†ask¬†his¬†dad¬†if¬†they¬†could¬†eat¬†ice¬†cream.¬†I¬†understood¬†him¬†perfectly.¬†This¬†happened¬†a¬†few¬†times¬†over¬†the¬†week¬†–¬†I¬†could¬†understand¬†some¬†of¬†what¬†was¬†said¬†as¬†long¬†as¬†it¬†wasn‚Äôt¬†directed¬†at¬†me.¬†Otherwise¬†I¬†was¬†lost.¬†I¬†said¬†‚Äúdesole‚Ä̬†(sorry)¬†and¬†‚ÄúJe¬†ne¬†comprends¬†pas‚Ä̬†(I¬†don‚Äôt¬†understand)¬†a¬†lot.

Words¬†can‚Äôt¬†express¬†the¬†manmade¬†beauty¬†of¬†the¬†place.¬†Jaw-dropping,¬†awe-inspiring,¬†makes-you-want-to-weep¬†architecture.¬†I¬†was¬†overwhelmed¬†w/it¬†all.¬†And¬†approaching¬†the¬†Louvre,¬†the¬†whole¬†reason¬†for¬†my¬†visit…wow.¬†I‚Äôd¬†been¬†dreaming¬†of¬†visiting¬†there¬†all¬†my¬†life.

The¬†next¬†morning¬†I¬†was¬†up¬†early¬†(thanks,¬†jet¬†lag)¬†&¬†decided¬†to¬†enjoy¬†petite¬†dejeuner¬†at¬†the¬†hotel.¬†As¬†I¬†was¬†consuming¬†as¬†much¬†coffee¬†as¬†possible¬†–¬†oh,¬†and¬†some¬†croissants¬†–¬†I¬†noticed¬†the¬†music¬†that¬†was¬†playing.¬†Music¬†in¬†English¬†plays¬†a¬†lot¬†in¬†Paris.¬†The¬†songs¬†playing¬†that¬†morning¬†were¬†covers¬†of¬†American¬†songs.¬†First¬†was¬†‚ÄúFat¬†Bottomed¬†Girls‚Ä̬†w/banjos.¬†Alright.¬†But¬†I¬†nearly¬†spit¬†out¬†my¬†coffee¬†when¬†a¬†man¬†w/clear¬†diction¬†said,¬†‚ÄúOh¬†my¬†God,¬†Becky‚Ä̬†&¬†proceeded¬†to¬†sing¬†‚ÄúBaby¬†Got¬†Back‚Ä̬†jazz¬†style¬†(there¬†was¬†even¬†piano,¬†peeps).¬†What¬†just¬†happened?!¬†I¬†got¬†to¬†the¬†Louvre¬†15¬†minutes¬†before¬†open,¬†visualizing¬†on¬†the¬†walk¬†being¬†the¬†1st¬†in¬†line.¬†Buuut¬†there¬†was¬†already¬†a¬†line¬†when¬†I¬†got¬†there.¬†Dang¬†it.¬†I¬†made¬†a¬†beeline¬†for¬†the¬†Mona¬†Lisa¬†(tip:¬†get¬†there¬†early¬†so¬†you¬†can¬†see¬†her¬†w/less¬†people¬†&¬†then¬†move¬†on¬†to¬†the¬†rest)¬†&¬†then¬†explored¬†for¬†another¬†3¬†hours.¬†I¬†controlled¬†my¬†zeal¬†as¬†much¬†as¬†possible,¬†keeping¬†a¬†calm¬†exterior¬†while¬†squealing¬†on¬†the¬†inside.¬†So¬†many¬†amazing¬†works!¬†Sculpture¬†&¬†paintings¬†&¬†rooms¬†w/incredible¬†interiors¬†(never¬†have¬†I¬†seen¬†its¬†equal)!¬†I¬†saw¬†works¬†by¬†all¬†but¬†1¬†Teenage¬†Mutant¬†Ninja¬†Turtle¬†(no¬†Donatello).¬†The¬†Louvre¬†was¬†a¬†fortress¬†–>¬†palace¬†–>¬†museum,¬†so¬†even¬†the¬†building¬†was¬†a¬†work¬†of¬†art.¬†Afterwards¬†I¬†explored¬†downtown,¬†got¬†lost,¬†and¬†relied¬†on¬†the¬†map¬†to¬†get¬†myself¬†back.¬†I¬†like¬†getting¬†lost¬†in¬†strange¬†places,¬†though,¬†because¬†you¬†see¬†more.

The¬†next¬†day¬†I¬†was¬†bright,¬†chipper,¬†&¬†ready¬†for¬†Montparnasse¬†Tower¬†(tallest¬†building¬†in¬†Paris)¬†&¬†Musee¬†d‚ÄôOrsay.¬†I¬†went¬†to¬†Starbucks¬†where¬†the¬†barista¬†&¬†I¬†shared¬†a¬†good¬†chuckle¬†when¬†I¬†tried¬†explaining¬†my¬†name¬†was¬†the¬†same¬†as¬†a¬†bee¬†(abeille).¬†Apparently¬†I¬†butchered¬†the¬†French¬†because¬†he¬†only¬†got¬†it¬†after¬†I¬†pantomimed¬†a¬†buzzing¬†insect.¬†Armed¬†w/a¬†grande¬†Pumpkin¬†Spice¬†Latte¬†avec¬†soya¬†lait,¬†I¬†marched.¬†And¬†marched.¬†And¬†marched¬†until¬†I¬†realized¬†I‚Äôd¬†miss¬†the¬†street¬†about¬†a¬†mile¬†back.¬†Oops.¬†But¬†then¬†I¬†wouldn‚Äôt¬†have¬†found¬†this¬†amazing¬†bowl¬†I¬†purchased¬†underneath¬†Les¬†Arts¬†Decoratifs.¬†#brightside.¬†I¬†walked¬†through¬†a¬†less¬†touristy¬†–¬†and¬†thereby¬†sketchier¬†–¬†part¬†of¬†the¬†city¬†until¬†I¬†reached¬†the¬†tower¬†&¬†got¬†a¬†360¬†view¬†of¬†Paris.¬†Hi,¬†Eiffel¬†Tower!¬†Pretty¬†cool.¬†Heading¬†back¬†to¬†the¬†d‚ÄôOrsay,¬†a¬†friendly¬†man¬†said¬†hello,¬†asked¬†how¬†I¬†was,¬†&¬†then¬†hammered¬†rapid¬†French¬†at¬†me.¬†He¬†ended¬†w/a¬†question,¬†and¬†catching¬†only a¬†word¬†(rest¬†or¬†meal…they‚Äôre¬†only¬†a¬†letter¬†different),¬†I¬†said,¬†‚ÄúDesole?‚Ä̬†He¬†replied,¬†‚ÄúNon…non‚Ä̬†and¬†turned¬†away.¬†Good¬†talk.¬†Two¬†other¬†guys¬†tried¬†to¬†get¬†my¬†attention¬†(I¬†think¬†like¬†the¬†guys¬†passing¬†out¬†their¬†CD‚Äôs¬†in¬†Seattle),¬†but¬†I¬†said¬†‚Äúnon,¬†merci‚Ä̬†(no¬†thank¬†you)¬†&¬†kept¬†moving.¬†They¬†kept¬†moving¬†with¬†me,¬†saying¬†‚ÄúExcusez-moi‚Ä̬†but¬†I¬†kept¬†going.¬†They¬†yelled¬†something¬†after¬†me,¬†but¬†joke‚Äôs¬†on¬†them¬†because¬†I¬†didn‚Äôt¬†understand¬†a¬†word!¬†(Tip¬†#2:¬†use¬†your¬†city¬†smarts¬†to¬†not¬†get¬†ambushed.¬†You‚Äôll¬†be¬†fine).¬†After¬†a¬†baguette¬†poulet¬†(chicken¬†salad¬†sandwich…they‚Äôre¬†big¬†here)¬†I¬†took¬†on¬†d‚ÄôOrsay,¬†the¬†Impressionism¬†museum.¬†A-ma-ZING.¬†Renoir¬†is¬†my¬†all-time¬†favorite¬†artist,¬†and¬†I¬†didn‚Äôt¬†know¬†they¬†had¬†his¬†painting¬†(the¬†picnic¬†one)¬†there¬†–¬†it‚Äôs¬†not¬†my¬†favorite,¬†but¬†it‚Äôs¬†the¬†one¬†that¬†made¬†me¬†love¬†him.¬†I¬†nearly¬†took¬†a¬†knee.¬†Degas,¬†Rodin,¬†Monet,¬†Manet,¬†Van¬†Gogh…all¬†there.¬†One¬†of¬†my¬†favorite¬†parts¬†of¬†the¬†museum,¬†though,¬†was¬†a¬†‚Äúfete‚Ä̬†(party)¬†room.¬†It¬†was¬†a¬†ballroom¬†w/gold¬†molding,¬†mirrors,¬†and¬†chandeliers.¬†The¬†2nd¬†day¬†I¬†visited¬†d‚ÄôOrsay,¬†I¬†went¬†straight¬†there¬†because¬†I¬†loved¬†it¬†so¬†much.¬†I¬†turned¬†around¬†to¬†see¬†a¬†woman¬†about¬†my¬†age¬†come¬†in¬†&¬†the¬†look¬†on¬†her¬†face¬†was¬†exactly¬†how¬†I¬†felt¬†–¬†pure¬†joy¬†&¬†wonder.¬†I¬†imagined¬†standing¬†on¬†the¬†side¬†of¬†the¬†room¬†waiting¬†to¬†dance.

The¬†next¬†day¬†I¬†headed¬†to¬†Starbucks¬†again,¬†hoping¬†my¬†barista¬†friend¬†was¬†there.¬†I‚Äôd¬†say,¬†‚ÄúRemember¬†me?‚Ä̬†&¬†we‚Äôd¬†share¬†a¬†laugh¬†over¬†my¬†name.¬†Instead,¬†it¬†was¬†a¬†very¬†nice¬†girl¬†who¬†spelled¬†my¬†name¬†‚ÄúBise.‚Ä̬†Alright¬†then.¬†Off¬†to¬†Notre¬†Dame!¬†It‚Äôs¬†just¬†as¬†majestic¬†as¬†Disney‚Äôs¬†Hunchback¬†of¬†Notre¬†Dame¬†illustrates.¬†I¬†loved¬†it,¬†it¬†was¬†stunning.¬†I¬†waited¬†in¬†line¬†to¬†then¬†climb¬†the¬†bell¬†tower.¬†I¬†was¬†terrified¬†climbing¬†those¬†interior¬†stairs.¬†No¬†problem¬†jumping¬†out¬†of¬†a¬†plane,¬†but¬†nearly¬†paralyzed¬†by¬†stairs.¬†ūüôā¬†In¬†my¬†defense,¬†I¬†messed¬†up¬†my¬†tailbone¬†twice¬†on¬†stairs,¬†so¬†we¬†have¬†bad¬†blood¬†between¬†us.¬†The¬†view¬†from¬†the¬†top¬†was¬†spectacular.¬†I¬†especially¬†loved¬†the¬†gargoyles,¬†both¬†on¬†top¬†&¬†from¬†street¬†view.¬†I¬†imagined¬†what¬†life¬†was¬†like¬†for¬†the¬†clergy.¬†That¬†was¬†what¬†I¬†loved¬†most¬†about¬†Paris¬†–¬†the¬†dreaming,¬†putting¬†myself¬†in¬†their¬†shoes.¬†Then¬†it¬†was¬†the¬†Musee¬†de¬†L‚ÄôOrangeries,¬†which¬†was¬†more¬†Impressionism,¬†including¬†a¬†whole¬†wall¬†of¬†Renoir!¬†I¬†then¬†rested¬†in¬†Tuilleries¬†w/gelato¬†from¬†Amorino¬†(a¬†chain¬†sweet¬†shop).¬†A¬†nice¬†man¬†walking¬†by¬†wished¬†me¬†happy¬†digestion¬†&¬†we¬†chatted¬†a¬†bit¬†in¬†English¬†when¬†he¬†realized¬†immediately¬†I¬†wasn‚Äôt¬†French.¬†It¬†was¬†a¬†nice¬†break¬†in¬†the¬†people-watching,¬†of¬†which¬†there‚Äôs¬†plenty.

On¬†my¬†last¬†full¬†day¬†I¬†visited¬†the¬†Louvre¬†&¬†Musee¬†d‚ÄôOrsay¬†again.¬†I¬†did¬†a¬†drive-by¬†of¬†my¬†favorites¬†but¬†explored¬†new¬†areas¬†mostly,¬†including¬†Ancient¬†Egypt,¬†my favorite¬†from¬†history.¬†I¬†saw¬†a¬†real¬†mummy,¬†people!¬†It¬†was¬†a¬†little¬†creepy¬†taking¬†pictures¬†of¬†a¬†body,¬†but¬†also¬†cool¬†(note¬†to¬†self:¬†name¬†future¬†band¬†‚ÄúCreepy¬†But¬†Cool‚ÄĚ).

It’s hard to sum up my trip at this point. I think I’ll continue processing it over the coming days. I’m incredibly blessed to have been there, to make a dream reality. So for now I leave you with my wisdom should you travel to Paris one day. #yourewelcome

What to Know (aka I Like Making Lists):

—¬†The¬†streets¬†are¬†narrow,¬†so¬†Parisians¬†adapt¬†via¬†tiny¬†cars¬†(which¬†have¬†suspicious¬†marks¬†on¬†the¬†backs…parking¬†=¬†bumper¬†cars)¬†or¬†old¬†fashion¬†bikes¬†or¬†Vespas¬†w/blatant¬†disregard¬†for¬†vehicles¬†&¬†pedestrians¬†alike

—¬†Speaking¬†of¬†vehicles¬†&¬†pedestrians…cars¬†are¬†crazy¬†&¬†pedestrians¬†must¬†walk¬†w/reckless¬†abandon/preparedness¬†to¬†jump¬†back¬†for¬†your¬†life.¬†I¬†like¬†to¬†think¬†I¬†blended¬†in¬†w/my¬†nonchalant¬†street-crossing

—¬†Style:¬†leather,¬†black,¬†boots.¬†Women¬†have¬†long,¬†limp¬†hair¬†(very¬†pretty,¬†clearly¬†not¬†obsessed¬†w/volume¬†like¬†Americans),¬†no¬†make-up¬†or¬†a¬†red¬†lip.¬†Men¬†are¬†shorter¬†and/or¬†slight¬†w/super¬†cool¬†hair/facial¬†hair¬†combos.¬†They¬†sling¬†their¬†jackets¬†over¬†one¬†shoulder¬†or¬†tie¬†sweaters¬†around¬†their¬†necks.

—¬†Do¬†your¬†homework¬†before¬†you¬†go.¬†I¬†was¬†grateful¬†for¬†articles¬†that¬†let¬†me¬†know¬†to¬†always¬†say¬†hello/goodbye¬†in¬†shops,¬†not¬†to¬†expect¬†ice,¬†&¬†to¬†use¬†French.

—¬†Waiters¬†are¬†snooty¬†no¬†matter¬†how¬†nice¬†you¬†are¬†or¬†how¬†much¬†French¬†you¬†use.¬†They¬†will¬†get¬†annoyed¬†w/you¬†if¬†you¬†don‚Äôt¬†understand¬†their¬†attempt¬†at¬†English.¬†Is¬†this¬†a¬†generalization?¬†Probably.¬†But¬†this¬†is¬†my¬†list,¬†so¬†deal¬†with¬†it.¬†ūüôā¬†Everyone¬†else¬†was¬†nice.¬†I¬†think¬†making¬†an¬†effort¬†goes¬†a¬†long¬†way¬†(read:¬†don‚Äôt¬†be¬†the¬†obnoxious¬†American¬†demanding¬†your¬†own¬†way.¬†When¬†in¬†Rome…). Smile¬†&¬†say¬†‚Äúbonjour‚Ä̬†&¬†‚Äúmerci‚Ä̬†a¬†lot.¬†Worked¬†for¬†me.¬†One¬†security¬†guard¬†was¬†gruff¬†w/the¬†people¬†in¬†front¬†of¬†me¬†but¬†smiley¬†&¬†jokey¬†w/me.

—¬†‚ÄúTake¬†away‚Ä̬†=¬†‚Äúto¬†go.‚ÄĚ

—¬†Elevators¬†are¬†called¬†ascenseurs.¬†Not¬†important;¬†I¬†just¬†think¬†it‚Äôs¬†funny.¬†Makes¬†me¬†think¬†of¬†Jesus¬†ascending¬†into¬†heaven…in¬†an¬†elevator.

—¬†Bring¬†extra¬†euro/euro¬†cents¬†for¬†tipping.¬†I¬†thought¬†like¬†in¬†the¬†US¬†paying¬†w/credit¬†card¬†would¬†allow¬†you¬†to¬†add¬†the¬†tip.¬†I¬†thought¬†wrong.¬†Embarrassing!

—¬†Bathrooms¬†(toilettes)¬†smell¬†like¬†they‚Äôre¬†not¬†clean.¬†I¬†witnessed¬†public¬†bathroom¬†cleanings¬†TWICE¬†–¬†so¬†it¬†happens¬†–¬†but¬†someone¬†forgot¬†to¬†tell¬†the¬†odor.¬†Some¬†streets¬†don‚Äôt¬†smell¬†that¬†nice¬†either.¬†But¬†hey,¬†it¬†makes¬†you¬†imagine¬†living¬†in¬†the¬†Medieval¬†Ages¬†while¬†you‚Äôre¬†looking¬†at¬†centuries¬†old¬†architecture.

—¬†Quasimodo¬†does¬†NOT¬†live¬†in¬†Notre¬†Dame‚Äôs¬†bell¬†tower.¬†I¬†know,¬†I¬†was¬†disappointed,¬†too.¬†Thanks¬†for¬†nothing,¬†Hugo. ūüėČ

—¬†Bring¬†walking¬†shoes.¬†Paris¬†is¬†only¬†6¬†miles¬†across¬†&¬†thereby¬†super¬†walkable.¬†I¬†looked¬†up¬†directions¬†to¬†everywhere¬†I¬†wanted¬†to¬†go¬†beforehand¬†(since¬†I¬†don‚Äôt¬†have¬†international¬†cell¬†service)¬†so¬†it¬†was¬†super¬†easy.

—¬†Crossbody¬†bags¬†are¬†your¬†friend.¬†Backpacks¬†tell¬†pick¬†pockets¬†you¬†don‚Äôt¬†care¬†to¬†hold¬†onto¬†your¬†valuables

—¬†If¬†you‚Äôre¬†going¬†to¬†Paris¬†for¬†museums,¬†get¬†a¬†pass¬†in¬†advance.¬†I¬†did¬†through¬†Travelocity¬†&¬†picked¬†up¬†the¬†voucher¬†in¬†Paris.¬†That¬†beauty¬†let¬†me¬†breeze¬†by¬†others¬†standing¬†in¬†line¬†for¬†hours¬†–¬†au¬†revoir,¬†suckers!¬†J/k,¬†sorry¬†for¬†your¬†wait…¬†–¬†and¬†get¬†right¬†to¬†the¬†art.¬†My¬†pass¬†was¬†good¬†at¬†50¬†museums¬†for¬†4¬†consecutive¬†days.¬†#jackpot

—¬†Police/soldiers¬†carry¬†some¬†serious¬†weaponry¬†here.¬†At¬†one¬†point¬†I¬†thought,¬†‚ÄúIs¬†that¬†an¬†AK-47?‚Ä̬†No¬†wise-cracking¬†John¬†McClanes¬†here.

—¬†They¬†have¬†really¬†good¬†Italian¬†food.¬†I¬†had¬†delicious¬†lasagna¬†&¬†spaghetti¬†carbonara.¬†Baguette¬†sandwiches¬†are¬†good¬†when¬†you‚Äôre¬†in¬†a¬†hurry¬†&¬†they¬†rely¬†heavily¬†on¬†bread¬†for¬†breakfast.¬†And¬†snacks.¬†I¬†saw¬†a¬†small¬†girl¬†on¬†the¬†back¬†of¬†a¬†moped¬†gnawing¬†a¬†baguette.

Come Fly With Me

Ah, vacation. My body woke me this morning saying, ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs 5:30 – time to get up!‚ÄĚ To which I responded (inspired by John McClane of the Die Hard series), ‚ÄúNo, body, I‚Äôm supposed to be on vacation. Sleep!‚ÄĚ So for the next 2 hours, I drifted in the twilight zone between sleeping and waking; dreaming, thinking, puzzling.

Eventually my mind turned to yesterday‚Äôs flying trapeze class. How could it not? When I stretched, I felt tightness extending from my shoulders to my armpits. When I looked down, I saw deep bruises (I bruise extremely easily. Seriously…look at me hard enough and I‚Äôll bruise) behind each knee. I could still feel the light bruise by my navel from the safety harness, the ropy red lines on each palm from the bar.

Last year, as a sort of bucket list activity – and a NASCAR fan – I did a stock car ride-along. A slightly banked track, a professional driver, and G-forces from hurtling 180mph filled an adrenaline-rush void. This year‚Äôs replacement? 2014, my year of risks? An activity requiring signing a waiver in case of disabling injuries. Sounds like a good idea…

I rehearsed yesterday‚Äôs tricks as I stretched. That first fly…I never felt anything like it. It was both terrifying and exhilarating, but from a distance. I think my brain was in denial and tried to convince itself, on some level, that this wasn‚Äôt happening. Somehow I got through the run and dismount, wondering how I was going to do that again.

I did. Again, and again, and again. And I was scared every time. I was the eldest of the students – there were 3 other previous fliers (around 12 and one in maybe her early 20‚Äôs) and then 3 siblings visiting from Dallas. They were 1st-timers like me. We became quick friends, bonding over our mutual fear and excitement. The youngest was an adorable 6-year-old girl, then a girl and boy around 12 or so. We went through ground school, walking the steps before we did the tricks in the air. I was voted to go first – thanks, guys — then they followed in birth order. From my own experience and watching my fellow classmates, I learned how illogical fear can be. There are multiple safety checks in place – you wear a belt fastened tightly beneath the rib cage (I got an idea of how a corset feels) and ropes are clipped to this belt. You get clipped in 1st at the base of an interminable ladder (which reminded me each time I climbed that I‚Äôm not crazy about ladders…), then when you reach the platform, you‚Äôre clipped in twice more. The person on the platform grips you from behind, the ropes you‚Äôre attached to are controlled by the ground caller – who can adjust the ropes to soften your landing, there‚Äôs a net to catch, and mats beneath that.

It‚Äôs fail-safe. And yet, I fought fear each time I climbed that ladder. On the platform, I wiped sweat from my palms. Each time the gentle voice of the platform person coached me: ‚ÄúShoulders back, toes over the edge, really push your weight forward, Bees. It will make it easier…I‚Äôve got you.‚ÄĚ My brain refused to accept that pushing my weight forward over a ledge was a good idea.

Then came the calls: ‚ÄúReady (bend your knees)!‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúHep (jump)!‚ÄĚ The rush as you jump and sail through the area hanging by your hands. At the top of the first swing, the next call: ‚ÄúLegs up, hook the knees!‚ÄĚ I pulled my knees up and over the bar between my hands. Now hurtling backwards, and at the top of the next swing, one of my favorite parts: ‚ÄúHands off, arch back!‚ÄĚ This should have terrified me, throttling backwards, hanging only by the crook of my knees, but this part reminds me of dance, just while airborn. My ballet training kicks in and I arch my back up towards the ceiling, head lifted, and reach my arms straight out in front of me. Swinging back again now, ‚ÄúHands up!‚ÄĚ- stomach clenching again as I have to look up at my knees to grab the bar – ‚ÄúLegs down!‚ÄĚ – now hanging straight again, toes pointed (thanks again, ballet) and pushed behind me – then my favorite – the back-flip dismount. The call: ‚ÄúOk, back-flip on the next swing. Kick forward, back, forward, hands off, tuck knees!‚ÄĚ and I‚Äôm rolling backwards and into the net.

We fly and fly – scared each time, despite knowing we‚Äôre safe – until we‚Äôve gotten our tricks down enough to try a catch. We go through ground school for how the catch will work, and we have a lot more questions this time. What happens if we miss the catch? No prob, the ground controller has us. So, when you say, ‚ÄúLegs straight!‚ÄĚ from hanging upside down by our knees, back arched and arms reaching in front, we‚Äôre supposed to release our legs from the bar before you catch us? Right. So we‚Äôre just flying through the air for that second before you catch us? Right. Ohhhhh.

The trepidation factor goes to a new level. We rehearse the moves and calls on ground, then I‚Äôm up first. My platform buddy is soothing, asking if I‚Äôm breathing. ‚ÄúTrying,‚ÄĚ comes my strained reply. The other instructor is now swinging crazily from the opposite bar. He makes the calls: ‚ÄúReady! Hep!‚ÄĚ I jump, complete the first tricks, hands off and arch back, then the moment of truth: ‚ÄúLegs straight!‚ÄĚ I release the bar and he catches me, we complete one swing, then ‚ÄúSit!‚ÄĚ I push against his arms and drop to the net, yelling ‚ÄúThat was awesome!‚ÄĚ the minute I land.

It was amazing, and I wasn‚Äôt the only one who thought so. The boy went next, and after he completed the catch, he was grinning for the first time all class. The middle sister wasn‚Äôt sold, though. She watched us and said, ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think I can do that.‚ÄĚ But the boy and I both said, ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs easier than what we‚Äôve been doing.‚ÄĚ

That hit me hard this morning. The absolute scariest thing we did yesterday was also the easiest Рwe let go and just trusted that no matter what happened, we’d be ok. I felt God tell me that my relationship with Him is just like flying trapeze. I like to be in control Рor at least feel like I’m in control Рbecause I want to be prepared for whatever happens. I walk through life scared, wiping the proverbial sweat from my palms, not fully trusting that I can throw my weight forward despite all the safeties in place.

This morning‚Äôs night stand devotional read: ‚ÄúThe eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.‚ÄĚ Deut 33:27 (NIV) He‚Äôs the safety net, the ropes, the harness, the controller. The past couple of months He‚Äôs been telling me, ‚ÄúLet it play.‚ÄĚ Never have I been more aware that I‚Äôm a make-it-happen person. But amazing things have been happening since He, in essence, called ‚ÄúLegs straight!‚ÄĚ He‚Äôs been catching me and taking me on exhilarating rides. He‚Äôs trustworthy. He‚Äôs good. And His plans for me are far better and more exciting than my own.

‚ÄúLegs straight!‚ÄĚ

Maybe Not Today, Maybe Not Tomorrow

I‚Äôve had several revelations over the past month. Not grandiose revelations, but rather simple, ‚Äúduh‚ÄĚ ones. Mercifully, they haven‚Äôt been accompanied by condemnation, but rather gratitude. I‚Äôm so thankful for simple yet profound revelations that make life 10 times for enjoyable.

One such revelation: I’ve avoided the money trap my whole life. Meaning, I know that being rich wouldn’t make me happy. Sure, having enough to pay your bills, save, and enjoy life is crucial to well-being, but I knew that money couldn’t make me happy in and of itself.

All this time I‚Äôve been patting myself on the back for so cleverly avoiding the money trap, totally oblivious that I was ensnared in another ‚Äď the ‚Äúif/then‚ÄĚ trap. Sure, money couldn‚Äôt bring me bliss, but if___, then___, and then I would be happy.¬† When I pay off my car, when I learn the drums, when I teach a university class‚Ķguess what? All of those have come true ‚Äď I‚Äôm literally living my dreams ‚Äď but they don‚Äôt make me happy. This then leads to guilt, confusion, and a scramble to find something else that will make me happy.

It‚Äôs a total trap. Happiness is no more dependent on circumstances or accomplishments than it is on money. But I wasn‚Äôt just chasing after an elusive future happiness ‚Äď if I achieve ___, then I will be happy. I was also making myself miserable by applying if/then to my past. ‚ÄúIf only I had said that instead, then I would have gotten the outcome I wanted.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúIf only I hadn‚Äôt done that, then this would have happened, and everything would be great.‚ÄĚ

What I was thinking last night as I drifted off to sleep was inspired by Semisonic‚Äôs ‚ÄúClosing Time‚ÄĚ: ‚ÄúEvery new beginning comes from some other beginning‚Äôs end.‚ÄĚ ¬†We talk about ‚Äúsomeday‚ÄĚ a lot ‚Äď someday I‚Äôll get there, someday I‚Äôll be the person I want to be, someday I‚Äôll be happy. How differently would we live if we remembered that today is yesterday‚Äôs ‚Äúsomeday‚ÄĚ?¬†

Spending the present if/then’ing my past and my future isn’t getting me anywhere. Instead I’m stuck beating myself up over past perceived failures (or what I could’ve done better) or longing for a day when I’ll be happy.

But I realized, as simplistic as it is, that no matter, I can be happy today. I can be happy because I‚Äôm completely and utterly loved, accepted, approved, and romanced by my Creator. I can be happy that in Him I have all I need, and anything else ‚Äď work, dreams, accomplishments, relationships ‚Äď just add to my happiness. They‚Äôre not the sole contributors. I can wake up in the morning thinking of my to-do list or bemoaning the monotony, or I can wake up excited for the adventures and love notes God has for me that day. I‚Äôm not so na√Įve that I think this won‚Äôt require work at switching my thinking. I‚Äôve been in the habit of thinking one way for a long time, and it‚Äôs going to take practice forming a new habit. But I‚Äôm pleased with the results so far, which will only motivate me to keep going!

Teeter-Totter

Agony and peace in the silence 

An odd blend

Sometimes choppy

Sometimes smooth and creamy, refreshing in its softness

The stillness a blessing and curse

I wait in the solitude

Antsy

Restless

Assuaged

Relaxed

It’s in this place I’m met by my deepest fears

my deepest longings

And while teetering between the two,

I’m met by my deepest revelations

Agony and peace in the silence

My blend

An acceptance of where I’m at

An allowance to just be

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

I was reading the below text this morning:

19¬†‚ÄúThen, just as the¬†Lord¬†our God commanded us, we left Mount Sinai and traveled through the great and terrifying wilderness, as you yourselves remember, and headed toward the hill country of the Amorites. When we arrived at Kadesh-barnea,¬†20¬†I said to you, ‚ÄėYou have now reached the hill country of the Amorites that the¬†Lord¬†our God is giving us.¬†21¬†Look! He has placed the land in front of you. Go and occupy it as the¬†Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you. Don‚Äôt be afraid! Don‚Äôt be discouraged!‚Äô

22¬†‚ÄúBut you all came to me and said, ‚ÄėFirst, let‚Äôs send out scouts to explore the land for us. They will advise us on the best route to take and which towns we should enter.‚Äô

23¬†‚ÄúThis seemed like a good idea to me, so I chose twelve scouts, one from each of your tribes.24¬†They headed for the hill country and came to the valley of Eshcol and explored it.¬†25¬†They picked some of its fruit and brought it back to us. And they reported, ‚ÄėThe land the¬†Lord¬†our God has given us is indeed a good land.‚Äô

Israel’s Rebellion against the Lord

26¬†‚ÄúBut you rebelled against the command of the¬†Lord¬†your God and refused to go in.¬†27¬†You complained in your tents and said, ‚ÄėThe¬†Lord¬†must hate us. That‚Äôs why he has brought us here from Egypt‚ÄĒto hand us over to the Amorites to be slaughtered.¬†28¬†Where can we go? Our brothers have demoralized us with their report. They tell us, ‚ÄúThe people of the land are taller and more powerful than we are, and their towns are large, with walls rising high into the sky! We even saw giants there‚ÄĒthe descendants of Anak!‚ÄĚ‚Äô

29¬†‚ÄúBut I said to you, ‚ÄėDon‚Äôt be shocked or afraid of them!¬†30¬†The¬†Lord¬†your God is going ahead of you. He will fight for you, just as you saw him do in Egypt.¬†31¬†And you saw how the¬†Lord¬†your God cared for you all along the way as you traveled through the wilderness, just as a father cares for his child. Now he has brought you to this place.‚Äô

32 “But even after all he did, you refused to trust the Lord your God, 33 who goes before you looking for the best places to camp, guiding you with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day.

— Deuteronomy 1:19-33 (MSG)

I was struck by how closely my own response to life sometimes mirrors that of the Israelites. God was giving them amazing land, replete with good things…and they turned it down because the scouts mentioned the size of the people/cities. They even went so far as to say that God must hate them, the same God who delivered them from Egypt, dropped food from the sky, gushed water from rocks, and annihilated whole armies for them!

That seemed ludicrous to me until I realized that I do the exact same thing. God will do something incredible for me — provide resources, give me a needed word, send a friend my way just at the right moment — and then the next month I’m declaring God hates me because something doesn’t look the way I think it should. How quickly I forget how powerful, miraculous, and for me my God is, all because of the size of problem! As if God is intimidated.

What scout’s report have you put in front of what God said He would do? He is for you. He didn’t bring you out this far only to abandon you!

Who Cares?

Last¬†week I was listening to my favorite song from the musical, “Rent” (read here for info on the musical http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rent_(musical)) — “Will I.” The song is sung in the round, and the lyrics are very simple:

Will I lose my dignity?

Will someone care?

Will I wake tomorrow from this nightmare?

I get stuck on “Will someone care?” How many of us ask that in our day-to-day lives? Will someone care that I’m hurting? Will someone care about me, in spite of my broken state? It seems like the answer is “no,” that so many people want other people to be easy, pulled together, and ready to serve them. Don’t get me wrong — the greatest fulfillment in life comes from using¬†one’s God-given talents and gifts to help others. However. I can’t help but wonder sometimes if that’s all I am — no, all I’m allowed to be — to other people.

I’m quite certain you can relate. We all have those moments of feeling drained of all we are with no one pouring back into us. When this happens, I start resenting both people and my talents. I become depressed over how empty I feel, wondering when it will be my turn to be taken care of, to be fulfilled, to have what others have that I want.

I had a “moment” last night when I poured out what I was feeling — what I didn’t even know I was feeling until¬†the eruption was triggered¬†— to God. I let it all out, surprised that this torrent had gone unnoticed within me. I realized as soon as it was over that while the emotion was very real, the thoughts behind it were wrong. Some day my visions and dreams will be realized, but in the meantime, I am still blessed. I have AMAZING friends who love, support, and encourage me. I have a God who cares about the tiniest of my concerns and who reaches out to me in the most loving ways. I have a good job, hobbies, passions, and purpose. I’m going to be alright.

Whether or not “someone cares” in the particular way I want them to at that moment, I’m going to be alright!