I’m home this week in Pawleys Island, South Carolina. I love being near the ocean again. After a long stint in Southern California, my grown-up home is currently Chattanooga, Tennessee, a place with no ocean, but lots of charm, friendly people and a river that does the job for now. Chattanooga is home, but my childhood home will always be the beaches of South Carolina.
I love being home not just for the beach, but to hang out with my family; cooking for my mom, taking my niece surfing, and getting cuddles from Benny Boy, the family corgi. It’s part of the reason we left California, to not be quite so far away from family. The older I get the more I realize how much time I want to spend with family. In high school I was pretty much ready to get as far away as possible, and I did for a while, but over the last year I’ve been inching my way back closer to the east coast, at least in driving distance to my parents.
Chattanooga is close enough to Pawleys to drive down on the weekend, and far away enough that we still need a heads up if any family is planning on coming over. At this age, it’s the perfect distance. Who knows, as I get older it may feel too far, just as California started to feel once I hit mid-thirties, but for now, Chattanooga works.
I’ve loved getting to hang out with my mom. Her humor is sharper than ever and I can see more and more where I get my sense of humor from. It’s funny how her wit has been in front of me my whole life and it wasn’t until I started doing comedy later in life that I realized just how clever and comedic my mother was.
We’ve spent the days at the beach and the evenings watching Little House on The Prairie. Mom has quite the crush on Pa Ingalls. In last night’s episode, someone was sneaking around in the middle of the night outside of the Ingalls house. Pa ran out in a long nightgown holding a rifle. “There he is, Mom,” I said, “in his nightgown, ooooo!” Mom smiled, “yeaaaa, I wanna get me a nightgown… one with a Pa Ingalls in it!”
I literally laughed out loud… I do a lot with my mom.
For as much as I love coming home, it’s also bittersweet. When my parents divorced nearly 10 years ago they sold the family home and moved into separate condos. The four of us kids divide our time trying to figure out what night to eat dinner where… it’s not the end of the world, it’s a new normal we are fully adjusted to. But sometimes when I’m not trying so hard to be a grown up, it’s still a little hard.
Every time I come back to Pawleys Island, I drive by our old home, the house I grew up in and came home from college to. The house where I celebrated every birthday and Christmas as a kid, had sleepovers in middle school, and brought the boys I loved to meet my parents, as well as dumped the one I didn’t.
I loved that house, I had an entirely purple room… purple walls and purple carpet. I eventually covered the walls with so many Hanson posters, you couldn’t see a spec of purple. Some might have called it a shrine. I called it glorious.
The house pretty much sits empty now. It serves as a second home to some folks up north who only come down on occasion in the summer. They ripped the shutters off and painted the once beige colored house a dark navy blue. It looks different and yet the same.
I sat in the car and stared at the porch, a place I sat often, whether listening to music, praying to God, or hoping a cute boy would ride by on his bike. It’s weird how life seemed to take so long as a kid, thinking adulthood and relationships and everything I thought I wanted was so far away. At thirty-eight, as I looked at the porch that used to be mine, I realized it all went by in a blip.
No one told me I’d grow up one day. I mean, they did, but they didn’t. It’s an assumed part of life, we all know we’re going to grow up. But I don’t think we really know what that means or what it will look like. We don’t realize that not only will we get older, but we will look old, and we won’t be the cool ones anymore, let alone the young ones. No one told me there would always be people younger than me, reminding me how old I’m getting, calling me ma’am when I check out at the grocery store.
No one told me, I suppose, because they were busy going through it themselves, realizing how fast time goes and how short life is. Each generation adjusting as they go along, entering each new decade they reach for the first time.
As an enneagram 4, I’m prone to dwelling in the land of nostalgia, wishing for things to be the way they were, even if I don’t recall them as being that great… the mere fact that something is a memory often makes it great for me. Perhaps that’s why I drive by the old house, an attempt to remember and relive our family all hanging out together.
And with that, I drove to the beach and jumped in the ocean to wash it all off. The ocean reminds me that everything really is okay. And it is, I’m truly, truly grateful for the beautiful life I have. I’m even grateful for the the memories I get to relive even if just for a moment when I drive by my old house.
I’ll head back to my own home in Tennessee soon, a home I’ve been enjoying creating new memories in with my husband, Josh. But for now, the ocean is calling…. my home away from home, my happy place, with or without the big family house.
“Everyone wants to know the story behind the stories.” -Kramer
For any of my friends and pals who follow along on my Instagram…. Here’s a little bit behind why my previous (and more to come) onslaught of stories include asking people to help me win a surfboard via Instagram! And why this might be the only surf contest I could ever come close to winning 😂🤣.
I think I think too much. I think this because I think all the time. Think, think, think, it’s always happening no matter what I’m doing, even if I’m doing nothing, I’m thinking.
I’m thinking about everything all the time and maybe I can’t hit on everything at once, but you’d be surprised just how much I can hit on in a short amount of time and space. Even for a woman, I’ve heard our minds be compared to that of a plate of spaghetti, all over the place, I think I think more than that. Even in places where thinking need not apply, I’m thinking…
“Be present,” I tell myself, and for a few sweet moments I am, until the thinks creep back in and I’m too in my head to notice the wave that is about to take me out.
And it’s not always life changing stuff that has me thinking so much, sometimes it’s the mundane, the small and insignificant. What starts out as a small thought in the morning is a full blown attack on the front lines of my mind by lunch. Perhaps this is often why I need a nap after lunch, not so much because of the food baby in my belly but because of the incessant thinking that has me exhausted.
I was recently picked up by a Lyft driver and after a few minutes of what was meant to be small talk he turned around and looked at me and said, “you’re very strange.” I laughed and said thank you in the form of a question. “I don’t mean it in a bad way,” he said, “I just mean that you’re cut from a different cloth and I’m trying to figure out what that cloth is.” I agreed that I myself was trying to figure out what that cloth was. “I can tell you’re a thinker,” he said, “a deep thinker.” I laughed and agreed that in fact I was, sometimes to a fault. “And you think differently than the rest of the world, but that’s a good thing,” he continued. “Until it isn’t,” I said.
“Well, it’s good until it’s dangerous because if you think on everything that gets thrown at you, you’ll end up confusing yourself.” I agreed with him and told him there was a lot I was definitely confused about. I told him I was confused by my own truths on top of people throwing their truths at me. I told him I felt lost. We talked for the next 20 minutes of our ride and by the time we arrived to where he was dropping me off I didn’t want to get out of the car. It felt more like he was taking me to church than a music festival. If there had been an altar call option in the Lyft ride I certainly would have gone to the front. That 20 minutes will certainly be a longer story for another day as it might have changed the course of my life in a way I didn’t see coming. So naturally, I tipped him.
“If you’re confused,” he said, “go back to the basics. The only way you can know the truth is to go back to the basics of knowing there is nothing you can do or learn or be in order to be loved, you already are. Once you know it is the One True God who loves you, you will know the One True God. And in knowing God, you know yourself. People keep trying to find themselves when they already are themselves. You are fully you and you are fully loved, it’s you who has to believe that.”
I shook his hand and told him I thought he was an angel. He said he could say the same about me, but I think I was too confusing to be an angel, plus I didn’t tip that good.
And so I’m trying to go back to the basics, in a lot of areas of life, like riding in the white wash knowing it’s not that impressive but it brings me joy…
But mostly I’m going back to the basics in realizing I can’t earn my worth or value, and no amount of praise is going to fulfill the love that I lack.
I choose joy. I choose freedom. I choose mastering the basics before trying so hard to figure everything out all the time just so I can feel worth something to somebody. I’m already loved. It’s me who has to believe that. And the same is true for you. You are already so very loved, should you have forgotten, just go back to the basics.
Oh, and should you need a ride somewhere, I recommend getting a Lyft.
The ocean does not discriminate. It does not care what color you are, how old or young you are, how much money you make or don’t make, where you live, if you own a house or a van or a grocery cart. The ocean does not care if you are big or small, if you’ve been promoted or fired, if you started a non-profit or if you steal for a living, accomplish much or accomplish little. The ocean does care if you recycle or waste, eat healthy or McDonald’s, been divorced or hate divorce, are gay or straight, religious or spiritual, are trying to co-exist with everyone or if you hate God and people and kittens and puppies. The ocean does not care. The best and worst human in the world stand before the ocean and they are on the same playing field. They have no advantages over the other. They are equal. The power of the ocean wipes away all social status. The power of the ocean wipes away all differences and similarities between people. The power of the ocean wipes away all identity, which is to say, the ocean is incapable of being bias.
I find this to be both a beautiful and terrifying fact about the ocean. I want the ocean to favor me because I quite fancy it, but the ocean doesn’t seem to care how much I love it, I am given no favors, neither are the lifeguards, the coastguards or even the Navy. Build your ships as big as you want, the ocean can still sink you. Ocean beats rock, paper and scissors.
One of the mysteries behind the ocean is how it can so easily make you feel alive and yet so quickly terrify you with its might that you find yourself standing on the shore, watching its power, both admiring and hating it because you feel so weak before it. I don’t mean wading in the pools that form at the ocean’s edge, or even boogie boarding in the “safety zone” of the shallow white water, if there were to be a “safety zone” in the ocean; never assume to fully understand the ocean (just when you think you can read it, it switches up on you). When I speak of the terrifying power of the ocean, I speak of the place past the white wash, where the people on shore look smaller than your finger nail, and getting past the break is more than half the battle, at least for me. If you can get past the break there is a whole different sort of ocean than the one that washes up on shore; there is a whole different sort of world. Past the break people play on top of the ocean, and people playing on top of the ocean is practical magic at its finest.
Surfing takes faith, and I’m sure some surfers wouldn’t say so, they’d maybe boast about their skill, but the best surfers I know are the ones who boast about the power of the ocean and how humbled they are before it. The best surfers I know have faith, and it shows in the risks they take riding on top of the waves and the humility they have to get back up after getting knocked down. (The best surfers I know also have fun and are nice to kooks).
I’m still trying to figure out how to work with the waves instead of thinking they are working against me. With surfing, I’m finding out what I am made of, and the sum of my parts are not as pretty or confident as I often charade them to be. It’s scary to not only face the ocean but to face your true self, to find out what you are made of. “It’s like squeezing a sponge,” my friend said to me, “that’s how you find out its contents.” Learning to surf is like being squeezed and finding out what you are made of. And so it is with how we handle the tough stuff in life, things not going our way, being beat down, rejected, or simply forgotten; how we act or react to the tough stuff in life will reveal what we are made of… being squeezed will reveal our contents.
I will be the first to say that I haven’t always acted or reacted well to the tough stuff. Accuse me of being the first to wave my angry fist at God and reject Him for not giving me what I want, or more specifically who I want. When someone breaks your heart, your contents get revealed real quick. Really sane people turn out to be psycho when their hearts get broken. Really brave people turn out to be cowards and really happy people turn out to be depressives. True stories, one of them being mine. But with surfing I’m learning that my past doesn’t have to define my present, and my response doesn’t have to be the same that it has always been. I don’t have to give up on me just because someone else did.
“You’re not good enough, JJ” I hear in the white wash as I tumble under water. I get back up, I paddle back out. “He didn’t want you, JJ” I hear again as I’m held under. I get back up, I paddle back out. “You’re not worth it, JJ.” I get back up, I paddle back out. “Get serious, JJ, give up.” I get back up, I paddle back out.
“Not giving up” hasn’t ever really been my pattern, I’ve given up on many things, all too easily, but surfing is giving me the chance to not repeat my patterns and to develop a character that isn’t just confined to the ocean but lived out on land.
Sometimes I wonder if the ocean is trying to reject me. Sometimes I wonder if God is trying to give me a tutorial about not being lukewarm and allowing me to see what it would feel like to be spit out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16, trust me, you don’t want to be spit out of God’s mouth). And sometimes, when I can remember that God is good and He is in fact in control, I wonder if God is allowing me to grow, to be shaped and molded into the woman He has created me to be, no matter how much the growing pains hurt. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever get it, and sometimes I do, sometimes I catch a wave and for about four seconds I’m convinced I could go pro. And while they don’t last long, those four seconds feel like forever, and those four seconds are sometimes all I need to keep trying no matter how many times I get knocked down. For as harsh as the ocean can be, it can be three times as much magnificent. The power of the ocean is not just something to fear, it’s something to marvel at.
When things start to click I gain a little confidence and just as I am about to say “I think I got this,” a new day comes with new waves, and the ones I learned to ride yesterday aren’t the same waves today. Apparently God’s mercies aren’t the only things that are new every morning, so are His waves. On these awkward new waves (of course I blame the waves), I feel stupid for ever thinking four seconds of bliss was going to earn me a sponsorship of some sort. I feel as though I am back to square one: I suck and I’ll never get any better… at anything. Maybe he was right, maybe I’m not good enough… for anything.
I get back up, I paddle back out.
God tells me not to fear, but I take one look at the ocean and I find myself bathing in fear, loofah and all. The book of Matthew tells a story about Jesus in which He rebukes the wind and the waves and they listen. The wind and the waves were raging, people were freaking out, Jesus tells everyone to chill, including the wind and the waves, and everyone does… including the wind and the waves. The storm took a chill pill because Jesus said so. “Who is this man that even the wind and the waves obey him?” is also what I would have said should I have seen Jesus calm a storm (Matthew 8:27). While as humans we’ve got nothing on the power of the ocean, the power of the ocean has got nothing on the power of Jesus. Dang. That’s a lot of power. Do I live like I believe Jesus has that much power currently in this day and age? Honestly, not really… and I’m tired of talking about a Jesus I sometimes don’t believe.
There’s this other part of scripture where Jesus says “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father” (John 14:12). I’m gonna level with you, in my mind, if I have faith, be it the size of a mustard seed, I too can rebuke the wind and the waves and make them chill out, in the name of Jesus, right? Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe. Is it for the good of others or myself? Truth be told, myself. And yes, I tried it. I tried to do what Jesus did and I told the wind and the waves to calm down in the midst of being terrified while paddling out. I wasn’t even nice about it, I simply commanded the waves to chill out in the name of Jesus. And then I got knocked out. Not literally, I was still conscious, but the ocean must have found my attempt at being like Jesus so cute that it mustered up a big hug for me and wrestled me to the ocean floor until I screamed “UNCLE!” Uncle being Jesus. I ended up screaming for the guy I was trying to imitate. Funny how life works like that. We’re called to be like Jesus and we’re told to call upon His name. When your attempts to be like Jesus are out of selfish ambition, you’ll end up calling upon His name real quick.
And the same goes with healings and raising people from the dead. Jesus did it, I can too, right? I think I think so, but is it for my good or the good of others? If I’m honest, some people I’d like to heal (for my own good, because I love them), and some people I’d like to curse (for my own good, because they hurt me, and my flesh still wants revenge when my spirit says no). And if I were to selectively heal people due to my own personal bias, that’s abusing Jesus’ name, right? And hasn’t Jesus’ name been abused enough, misused and misrepresented enough? People hate other people in Jesus’ name and it’s heartbreaking.
And so what is this verse about doing greater things than Jesus? Maybe it is about healing and raising people from the dead and rebuking the ocean, but maybe it’s about something even greater than those things. Maybe it’s about really loving people, showing kindness and grace and mercy, even when it’s hard and we don’t want to. Maybe it’s about forgiving the people who have hurt us instead of cursing them. Truth be told, I’d rather have the power to rebuke the ocean than forgive someone who has hurt me. I was betrayed. But so was Jesus. Jesus knew He was going to be betrayed and He still sat at the same table with the guy who betrayed Him.
Many of us want to be like Jesus when it comes to miraculous signs and wonders, but not so much when it comes to the miracle of forgiving someone who has done wrong. Maybe I should just speak for myself. Jesus Himself posed the question, “For which is easier to say, ‘your sins are forgiven,’ or to say ‘get up and walk’?” I’d rather heal all sorts of people than forgive that one person. But that one person matters. True forgiveness is hard. But Jesus did it and He said that we would do the same works and even greater ones than He. He forgave people and then He healed them. I don’t know the theology behind it all, all I know is two issues came up when people needed to be healed… having faith and forgiveness. I think Jesus was quicker to forgive than He was to heal, and as a result of having encountered such forgiveness, people were healed. I think Jesus touched people’s hearts more than just their physical bodies.
Forgiving someone means you are loving them, even when you don’t really like them, and loving them might do just as much for you as it does for them. Giving and receiving love changes people. I think that is why forgiveness is powerful. It heals. It changes people.
Saltwater heals too, which is initially what got me out into the ocean, wanting to surf, wanting to take my mind off of things, wanting to heal from past hurts. I started to surf to face some fears and live my life and learn some lessons along the way. My faith has increased, as has my awareness of my need for Jesus… I scream for help a lot, in fact I scream “JESUS, TAKE THE BOARD!” the way Carrie Underwood screams “JESUS, TAKE THE WHEEL!” It just doesn’t sound as pretty. “Help” is one of the most powerful words I know; it solicits a response, sometimes in the form of a friend and sometimes in the form of a lifeguard. Yes, I have a story about that.
The ocean is dangerous and beautiful. It’s not at all safe and at the same time hosts children of all ages with great care. It’s powerful and capable of anything. It welcomes everyone without discrimination and will just as quickly humble anyone who thinks they stand above another. The ocean is a mystery to me and I have a reverent fear of it. I love the ocean, mostly because I think the ocean was created in the image of the One who created it. Scripture comes to life when I am in the ocean and in that sense I feel like I get to know God more and more each time I come out of hiding and face my fear, face my true self and the contents of which I am made.
It’s funny, what I have learned the most in surfing is not yet how to pop up faster or duck dive accurately (my last attempt gave me a slap in the face and shot me back about ten feet), and I still haven’t learned how to muster enough faith to rebuke the wind and the waves. What I have learned the most in surfing is that trying to be like Jesus doesn’t mean trying to produce visible miracles; trying to be like Jesus means loving the very people who hurt and reject you, which might not mean doing life with them, but certainly forgiving them. That to me, is a miracle. In the same way we stand before the power of the ocean on equal grounds, we stand before God, no matter what we’ve done, on equal grounds. All have fallen short. All of us are called to forgive just as we have been forgiven.
I simply wanted to learn how to surf, but I learned that no amount of saltwater will wash away the pain if you don’t forgive the one who has hurt you.
And much like learning to surf, or even life for that matter, forgiveness is a process. If you find you can’t do it right away, that’s okay, start there by saying you can’t. You gotta start somewhere and I think honesty is the best starting point. You can only change that which you are honest about. So start with “I can’t,” ask Jesus to meet you there, and never, ever, ever give up.
Get back up, paddle back out.
It’ll change you and you’ll change the world if you love like Jesus (or at least somebody’s world, and that somebody matters, even if that somebody is you).
I’m trying new things… or at least trying to try new things.
Often times I let the fear of not being good at a new thing keep me from doing that new thing, but I’m realizing more and more that the fear is less about my capability and more about what other people think. Like with anything in life, when you start something, you probably won’t be excellent at it right off the bat, but it you keep at it, little by little, over time you find that you can do it, and then one day you find you can do it well, and then one day… most excellent.
I’m tired of living my life in fear of what other people think… “is so and so proud of me?” (probably not, they hate tattoos), “am I working the right job?” (probably not, I should make more money), “will I be made fun of?” (most definitely)… but living in the what-ifs of other people’s thoughts is no place to live… it’s not living at all, it’s functioning at best.
At thirty-one years old I’m facing some fears. One of my fears is also one of the things I love the most in life… the ocean. Moving to California and living a block from the ocean, I’ve realized very quickly that you can’t have surfed on your dad’s longboard on the east coast 12 years ago and then come out here and call yourself a surfer. The first day I took a board out to “refresh” my “skills,” I had my ass handed to me by the ocean. It’s intimidating being out there with people who’ve been at it their whole lives. But I’m tired of living in the wake of other people’s intimidation. And so I go out, as often as possible, and I get my ass kicked, sometimes I even get made fun of, but I know the only way to get better at it is to start being not so good at it, and then keep doing it.
I both love and am terrified of surfing. I get out in the water and I sing, I sing and I pray and I find myself having to trust God in a whole new way. I find myself having to choose to believe that He is in fact in control of the ocean and He’s got me. Sometimes I have to wonder if He does got me… west coast waves are different, they’re bigger to say the least, and my noodle arms are not in the habit of pushing and pulling against the ocean. I’ve been tossed and turned and held under for much longer than I am comfortable with. I’ve come up gasping for air only to have the next wave topple over me. My prayers go from “help me!” to “come on, man! give me a break… although not literally!” Ever heard the song Oceans? It’s a good one, look it up. I sing “as your love wave after wave crashes over me, crashes over me,” and it puts a whole new meaning to the song. “Thank you for loving me, God,” I say as I see a wave of love heading my way to crash over me, “could you please love me in a different way right now?” And then I get toppled.
Swirling around in the power of the wave I can only begin to imagine the power of God’s love for us. I’m rendered helpless by the ocean as it overtakes me. I think God’s love is like that. People talk about God’s love as if it’s fluffy and safe, I think it’s powerful and scary and totally unsafe… like a wave. But when you learn how to ride with the wave, you experience the goodness of lining up with something so powerful and scary and unsafe. I think when we truly experience God’s love it does render us helpless, it leaves us shocked that we could ever be loved the way that we are. I think God wants to jolt us into being rendered helpless every now and again, if for no other reason than for us to realize or to remember that there is nothing we can do to earn that love. Even the best surfers in the world get their asses handed to them by the ocean; they could never be could enough to master the ocean because it’s not their ocean, it’s God ocean. And likewise, we could never be good enough to earn God’s love because it’s not our love to earn, it’s His love to give. So we can’t master the ocean, but we can continually keep showing up, get in the water and learn how to line up with the ocean’s power for our good. Unsafe becomes a place of trust and awe and wonder.
I’m still a beginner, so I’m not the best, but I’m trying. I have good days and I have off days and they all matter because they all make up the process of getting to where I want to be. Some days are hard and I’m embarrassed, but much like with life or even my relationship with God, it’s not a reason to throw my hands up and say “I quit!” just because things didn’t go my way. And when I’m most honest, I feel like I don’t even deserve praise for trying as I’m currently experiencing a minor set back. Fear has crept in the last week after getting stuck in a large set and having my board slam down on my head (lesson learned: always cover your head). I’ve slowly crept back to the comfort zone of the shore, and I think that happens in life when things start to get uncomfortable, naturally we want to find what’s comfortable. I’ve spent the last week beating myself up about being in the comfort zone, but that does me no good. What might help is catching my breath in the comfort zone, taking the pressure off to think I even have to master something or do it well enough in a certain amount of time, and find the enjoyment for it again, which ultimately is what will draw me back into the water, the fact that I love it. But if I see it as another task to perform or master, constantly feeling not good enough, I will stay right on the shore lines where I don’t even want to be.
My enjoyment for Jesus is what draws me to Him, not the tasks I think I have to do for Him. And so it is with surfing, and the new things I am trying in life, the approaches I am taking to not live in fear.
Alongside surfing I’ve picked up the ukulele, given to me by the high schoolers I used to work with. I’m not the best at it, but I love it, and that is reason enough to keep doing it. I see videos of other people playing perfectly and it is almost enough to make me wonder “why bother” as I’m just not as good as them. But I do bother because I love it, no matter how good someone else is, and if I spend my time comparing, I become so self-focused that I lose enjoyment for what I love and the ability to appreciate someone else’s talent. Someone else’s success is not my failure, and so I can praise them for how great they are instead of trying to compete with them. When competition is removed you find camaraderie, and where there is camaraderie there is community.
This video was made right where I am at in life… trying. I haven’t mastered anything, but there are enough videos of people who’ve mastered things. I figured maybe just maybe, if the process really is that important, I should be more willing to let people into the process instead of showcasing my gifts once I’ve mastered them. I’m inviting you into the process, not just of my life, but of yours, and encouraging you to share your process with other people, if for no other reason than connecting, relating, and not being so alone. You don’t have to be onstage to be good enough… you are good enough right where you are at, in the process of becoming you were meant to be, which in some weird way is who you are now, but also who you are becoming (I don’t get how it all works, I just know you’re good enough now and God ain’t done with you yet). Don’t give up. And don’t be afraid to fail, I guarantee you it is part of the process.
“Fail forward,” a friend said to me this week and I liked that… and I did.