My junior year of high school my youth group went on an adventure summer camp.
This was my mom's brilliant idea.
They should have a waiver that says, "If you are left-handed, clumsy, weigh a measly 115 pounds; if you do not often exude the characteristics of survival, bravery, or simple intuition and the monkey bars still scare you; if you wore leg braces as a child because you didn't pay enough attention to where you were walking; if insects, fear of fast moving water, heights, and a pervasive fear of snakes haunts you when you are within spitting distance of the wilderness; if you think Bear from the TV show Man Verses Wild represents every worst nightmare... if your name is Jenny, run- do not walk, away from this God forsaken camp."
But there was no waiver. Only a bunch of my friends who were going and my mom who clearly had no clue what she was getting us all into. It was her job to plan these types of trips and as her daughter, it was my job to go. You can't very well be a good minister if your own kid doesn't gleefully attend the events you plan; so there I was, the most clumsy, uncoordinated, fearful, puny, wimpy, whinny, why-aren't-we-on-the-beach camper to ever step foot on that camp ground.
(Did I mention we ate in a screened in an outdoor kitchen? Yuck stinking yuck. I hate camp food. I hate eating when there are bugs at my feet. I hate eating outside when I'm hot and all the men around me smell like locker room. And Bear,I don't care if I am dying- if those dead fish and octopus eyeballs and cow scrotum's that you eat taste anything like that macaroni and cheese did at that camp- I would willingly die a prideful, stubborn snotty-faced eater death.)
I almost died three times that week.
First time was repelling. Nope, not from an actual mountain face. Just from a 150 foot tall wooden platform. Those things are scary. I forgot what to do and I have pictures of myself handing upside down with a cherry tomato face waiting for the instructor to lower me to the ground. Thank God I was not a man in that moment or I would have lost all capability of reproducing little squirrels to populate the earth.
Second time was horseback riding. I almost died on a horse named MEANY BUTT. That was not his real name, but, I'm not sure that I know his real name so that will work for now. We each had a horse. There were about 150 of us on this trip together. All those people had normal horses. I had a spastic horse who hated that a bunch of city kids from the suburbs of Dallas were coming into their mountains to play cowboy for the day and get on their backs and pull their hair and call them Mr. Ed and kick them with our American Eagle shoes.
Nope, my horse didn't like that at all.
As we started into the mountains my horse changed his mind and took off running on the hill by the stables. I saw my very life flashing before my eyes. My gosh he would not wilt or wield or yield or halt or 'please, please horsey, please stop this isn't funny, I'm so sorry please just be nice and stop.' He wouldn't do any of those. By that time he's galloping around in circles on this hill and two instructors are on either side coaching me to pull the reigns this way and tap my foot that and relax... the horse can sense your fear.
Yea, I bet he can, I think I just urinated on him. And I'm dyslexic and I am doing it all backwards which makes the horse really mad and I cannot relax because I have a really big angry animal who is trying to make a point to suburban America teenagers underneath me and the reigns are really hurting my hands and I am pretty sure they are bleeding and me and this horse have not bonded, he hates me, he does not care that I am talking to him really nicely, and I hate my mom for bringing me to this God forsaken camp and now I hate horses.
The instructor tells me I will just have to dismount. This is a pretty way of saying, "jump off while he's having his little anger gallop and hope for the best kid."
I jumped. He ran off into the woods. I rolled down the hill and laid there angry. And then everyone at the bottom who had stuck around clapped and started with that team work I'm proud of you encouragement stuff... and let me tell you... that is annoying. As if wilderness camp was not enough, now I am at a happy people-you- can do it-let's try again-let's do trust falls for fun, wilderness camp.
They gave me a donkey. I still had to ride into the mountain. Except now it's gonna take me 12 hours with this thing... and then back to the cafeteria for more macaroni and cheese. Awesome.
Third time was white water rafting. And this time was a bit scarier. A bit more real. I was scared long before we ever started. I picked the raft with the biggest guys in the youth group because i reasoned that this would keep me safe and eliminate the chances of flipping over because of the extra weight. My friend Tim was on this raft. I trusted Tim because he was an Eagle Scout and lived at a Boy Scout Camp with his family and he was a trainer for the football team. To me, these all seemed like good qualifications for aptitude on the rafting course. A guy named Cody, a big ole' football player, was in the boat. One of my high school boyfriends, Jon, was on the boat and your high school boyfriends always protect you, right? :)
I am forgetting who all was in the raft, but it didn't matter, because we weren't in very long. We were going down the Ocea River. The place we let into the river was right where the damn opened up and was part of the Summer Olympic course the year prior. The most important thing they said, was to make sure we paddled the right way at the very beginning because you would either hit a level two rapid on the left or a really difficult level four rapid on the right. And the level four rapid was not really meant for puny high school kids from the city like us. That was a part of the Olympic course.
I'm not sure what happened because it happened so fast, but I remember seeing my friend Tim hit his head on a rock and get pulled downstream. My instructor was yelling instructions and that was when Jon disappeared. I think Elizabeth was in the boat and she disappeared. Cody was gone. And I saw my paddles swept away and I vividly remember the rush of the water over my head. I was pinned in between two rocks now, still in the raft, and I couldn't catch my breath because the water kept coming and coming. It pounded down on me and rushed over my head. It was so strong. It was beating me. I knew it was beating me.
I'm drowning. I'm drowning.
Oh my God I'm drowning.
The instructor catches my eye. He is on the shoreline now. Someone is coming for you, he says. Look at me. Stop panicking. You have to breathe. Do what I tell you to do. Go under water when I count to three. When you come up, blow out and take a huge breath.
1. 2. 3. Go
Do it again. Someones coming. Go under... now.
By that point there are all kinds of people on the side of the river and I am having this out of body experience. It was so slow. So long. So labor intensive. Every single breath was a conscious decision. Go down. Hold your breath. Come up. Breath. Do it again Jenny. Go down. Hold your breath. Come up. Breath. Do it again Jenny. Focus. Keep your mouth closed. Close your eyes. Breath.
I'm not sure how long this went on. But eventually another raft came by and they pulled me from the two rocks that had me pinned and pulled me into their boat. Once we regrouped I learned that Tim was bleeding out of his head and had a concussion. The other guys were cut and banged up. But we were all OK. I was too scared to cry. I was just in shock.
I will always remember those moments because that is, I assume, what it feels like to fight for something.
I'm not even sure if the event was as perilous as I remember it or not. But I felt that it was. I felt that I was losing control. I felt myself fighting to breath. To keep my head above water. To hold my breath. To listen to the voice of the guy on the side who kept telling me someone was coming for me. I knew I was fighting. To someone else, say a professional rafter or swimmer or professionally brave person, this may not have been a fight at all. But it wasn't them, it was me. And for me, it was a battle.
A bad week or two or three...
The past year or two I have been fighting. And I know it.
Maybe not anything too huge: I'm not fighting cancer or divorce or poverty or the complete destruction of my homeland.
I'm just fighting the constant flow of water beating down on me. Little tiny blows that when taken one after another begin to threaten my endurance, wear down on my body, and try to steal my joy.
This past week was one such week. Taken separately, even with just a week or so in between, it might have been more manageable. But taking it all together reminded me of being in that river, coaching myself through one breath after another.
Last Friday my little high school car died. I knew it was coming and since my parents made the sacrifice of giving us their extra vehicle and choosing to carpool, it was just a minor inconvenience. But then we drove 14 hours round trip with a 10 month old, played six times that weekend, got back exhausted on Sunday night and my parents car died on the way home. That one was unexpected. It was 25 degrees outside, Annie was freezing, and I sat on the side of the access road with cars whizzing by me and thought, "Both cars are completely dead. Now what do we do, there is no money to get either fixed?"
Monday I got a letter in the mail from the IRS. It said something like, delinquent self-employment taxes and we're seizing what's in your bank account to make a payment on your behalf. Wowey wowie, am I going to jail??? It said something about cars too... little do they know. Please take my cars, please!!! You never think you are going to read that. I mean, we are upright, patriotic, responsible, self-employed citizens who have just had a really hard year; run out of emergency savings; live off a little budget; and got behind. Now I feel like a criminal.
I get the Carepages update that Jenny Bazaillion has passed away. I never knew her but I felt like I did. I prayed fervently for her. My heart was invested. And I invest my heart deeply... for better or worse. The sting of death got to me that day. Tuesday my cousin serving in Afghanistan was hit by a roadside bomb. It was days before we were able to know the extent of his brain damage. I grieved for his family. My aunt who has been fighting breast cancer, my cousin who had a miscarriage this year, and now this? Wednesday was nice to me. Thursday I brought Annie to the doctor to check on her ears because she had an eardrum burst two weekends ago. The doctor said surgery.
Will April work? We leave in two days for a 30 city tour. "She needs surgery first thing in the morning," he says. She needs tubes. But more than that, she failed her hearing test and her ears are full of infected fluid that has to get out before it spreads.
The billing lady came in... that will be $2,000. Your deductible has not been met yet. My heart sinks again. I spend that afternoon on the phone with an organization that helps artists who have financial emergencies. I won't know for two weeks the say. But I need $2,000 tomorrow. Before surgery.
I hear that voice from the side of the river. You cannot panic. You have to breath. Someone is coming for you.
Friday morning Annie has a seventh sense, she knows what's about to happen. She is wide awake by four a.m. We leave for the hospital at 5:30. She is in surgery at 7:30. We are home by ten with a groggy, uncomfortable kiddo.
I go to lunch with my good friend who has known me for years. She seems nervous and doesn't eat her food. She begins to tell me she doesn't know what else to do for me as a friend. That I am spinning out of control. That I am joyless and have been in angst ever since I have known her. How my problems are the same as other middle-class Americans problems, but I can't handle them because I am a depleted emotional mess.
She questions if I spend any time with God. She wonders how much I turn it on and off with her, what part of me is true. She suggests that I get my needs met by comments from my blog or by talking with people before and after shows. That I fulfill my needs through people rather than do what I do because it's what Jesus has deeply put into my heart to do. She tells me I need help. By the end I realize her opinion of me is very little. After all this time I think we are equal friends and partners in crime but it turns out I am sucking the life out of her and I am just an emotional basket case that needs her. That needs anyone who will love me.
I am humiliated in the middle of this busy restaurant. I am fighting back burning, stinging tears. I have never been so embarrassed in my life. I want to seek out the truth in what she is saying, but right now I'm just so tired, right now is not the time. I couldn't have been more shocked if Ryan would have told me he was really a woman or President Obama ended up being a Chinese citizen. :)
This is what it feels like to kick someone when they are down.
This is what it looks like to be one of Job's friends in the bible. The ones who mean well but do such horrible damage.
And yet, I hear that voice.
The Warrior is a Child
Breath Jenny. Someone is coming for you. I am coming. Do what I tell you to do. Take another breath.
I spent that whole day in bed. Mourning. Wondering. Do I drain the life out of people? Am I in it for all the wrong reasons? Am I crazy? Was this week hard or am I just an emotionally, depleted, narcissistic, wimp? Do people get the impression that I think I am slaving away in music because I want to be known as a martyr for God? Do they not know that I will gladly take the money, the mountain tops, and the ease as soon as it comes my way? Gladly. And I will go on the biggest shopping spree ever and buy a new car and eat out at a fancy steakhouse!!!
Have you ever had a moment where you thought you were fine, but someones words bring you to your knees and all of sudden you doubt everything and wonder if perhaps, maybe you are the person they say you are? Am I who she says that I am?
That's when He comes in and screams NO.
YOU STOP IT. YOU DO NOT GO THERE.
Take another breath. Focus on me. Nothing else. No one else. Go under. Come back up. Breath. Do it again. Keep going.
So maybe you are tired of hearing about the blows over the last year or so. The shingles and illnesses, the emergency surgeries, the unpaid bills, the stolen van, the family that moved all over the country before Annie was born, the stolen van and gear again, the wrecked van, the exhaustion, the doubt, the year that the line "till death do us part" became a command and not just a romantic simplicity, the little tiny blows that seem to keep coming and coming...
Maybe you are tired of hearing about them...
Well, I am tired of living them. Blow by blow living is not my desired mode of operation.
But I am not joyless. I am not depleted. I am not finished. I am not raising the flag of defeat nor am I trumpeting my tiny blows as a badge of pride. I have yet to crawl into a hole somewhere with my ice cream and ipod and not come out. I am just fighting.
And in the midst of the fight (which everyone faces, big or small) I am breathing. I am listening to that clear, strong voice that tells me someone is coming. And I believe it. And I am actually quite happy to fight.
Someone has come. I am not alone.
I believe life won't always be this way, but even if it is, I will stand in the presence of it all and try to be honest and transparent about the blows (though one day I would love to go a month or two without any drama to report :) ). I will treasure the beautiful little moments and I will strive to see the big picture. The picture that goes way beyond this one tiny little blip of history. I will love deeply and feel deeply. I can't help it. I am freaking emotional. I am passionate. I'm the wear my heart on the sleeves kinda gal. I will fight for my marriage. My daughter. My joy. My ministry. My friends. And I will trust. I will lean into the words of Psalms 23.
The Lord leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me.
It doesn't say how long that valley will last. It just says a valley. So my apologies to anyone who is annoyed at the length of my current valley. So am I!
I am not dying. My life is no where near as hard as a lot of people's. But that doesn't mean the blows aren't nothing. To me, they are. Your blows are hard for you too, no matter what shape, form, or size they come in. But they are not what defines us.
Because there is a guide on the side of the river saying that someone is coming.
And while we are waiting on that someone, we see such perfect glimpses of love and beauty. We take breaths we didn't think we could take. We find hidden strength that fights hard on our behalf. We see faithfulness. We see miracles. Promises. We see redemption weaved into our stories.
And we are not just in a valley...
We are experiencing the beautiful mountain peaks at the same time. Those moments of grace. So technically we are living in the in between. Neither valley. Nor mountain.
We are living in a valleymount. A valtain. A movalley.
And we hope for the disease to be cured and for the parents to fall in love again and for the baby's illness to have a name and have an answer and for the jobs to come back and for the lost daughter to come home to her mother who longs to see her and we keep breathing and we keep living and loving and we keep at it...
Our stories are the stories of redemption. We are never just in a valley.
And that's enough to help me fight another day...
And this week is going to be dedicated to showing you some of the beautiful things I have been seeing lately in the midst of the fight. I hope they make your heart happy and strengthen your faith!
Fight Another Day
(The NEW single from the NEW Addison Road road album Stories, coming out in June... coming to a radio station near you soon... sorry... I had to say it, I had to, I totally exploited this heartfelt entry, I know, I know. I am sorry.)