We Fancy Ourselves Explorers

I fancy myself an explorer. Granted, I am exploring from a dirty airplane window that measures about 1 foot by 1 foot.  And, I am exploring behind layers of plexi glass from the safety of a seat that comes with a three course dinner and free wine.

It is the trapped person’s version of exploring.

Still, I explore like I am Christopher Columbus looking for a land called plentiful. I explore like a botanist scouring the hillside for all things yellow; like a paleontologist devours the land for bones; like an astrologist scans the heavens for stars that shine brighter than the average ball of fire blazing in the loneliness of space.

Where else can you see winter’s first powder on the top of the highest mountains? Where else can you trace the tiny blood vessels, streaks of red, pulsing through the Great Salt Lake? Where else can you see a quilt of land, square by square, and name it after every childhood friend that you had? Where else can you count the clouds and follow a river that cuts through a valley far away from any road or house or alley? Where else can you look and see nothing but baby blue for hundreds- thousands- millions of miles in front of you?

In a world where gravity ties my feet to a dirty ground and my eyes don’t often have the time or vantage point to scour the earth for treasures, I take my job as explorer of the heavens from seat 3E, American Airlines, Seattle to Dallas, very seriously.

From where I sit, every beautiful thing in the world belongs to me. Every mountain peak covered in snow. Every billowing cloud. Every city grid. Every river weaving through a land of plenty. Every plot of earth measured into perfection. First brown. Then green. Then the color of fall. Not quite dead. But not fully alive.


When I was a little girl you could almost always win a trip to NASA space camp in Huntsville, Alabama by being on some sort of game show on Nickelodeon.

I considered it the biggest failure of fourth grade that I did not secure myself a spot on the kid’s game show, Double Dare. Gone were my hopes of winning a trip to space camp. Gone were the visions that I would shoot into outer space with my sleeping bag, New Kids on the Block slap bracelets, and Lisa Frank notebook in hand, where I would faithfully document all my findings on the moon.

I had this dream of what it must be like to circle the earth and stare at the stars. To sink my feet into moon boots and feel the powder kick up around me as I went on my exploration for moon rocks and small critters that I would most certainly sneak back down to earth and give to my sisters as pets.

My dreams of exploring were not just moon based.

I found myself rummaging through my Mamaw and Papaw’s attic for lost family heirlooms (and I found them, the complete original series of Nancy Drew books), roaming through the woods in search of snake skins and dead animals (what explorer doesn’t poke around a dead carcass to figure out the precise cause of death?), and I desperately longed to explore my dad’s underwear drawer (keep reading, otherwise I’ve crossed over into creepy).

My mom was chaotic, unorganized, and disheveled. I followed in her footsteps, stuffing- and ultimately forgetting about- dirty clothes and plates of food under my bed in order to pass the “clean room” test.

My dad however was methodical, organized, and not nearly as lost in the world as my mom was.

And that made him a mystery.

Mom could never find scissors and scotch tape when it was time to wrap a present. But dad always could. He always knew where they were. So one day I followed him and I saw him sneak it out of his top dresser drawer where I knew he kept his whitey tighties.

From that moment on, I knew my dad was brilliant in a way that my mom and I would never be. And this made me curious. What other resourceful utensils does he have in his underwear arsenal?

Though I was terribly afraid of being caught and punished, the explorer got the best of me; I needed to discover the inner workings of my dad’s dresser drawers.


As I got older, the exploration changed.

I was on a quest to figure out life. I needed to explore love and lust and passion.  Meaning and purpose. Pain and suffering. And I needed to know once and for all what God had to do with any of it. Whether believing in Jesus or Buddha or the Dalai Lama, really made a difference.

Moon rocks were so much easier to explore.

So was my dad’s underwear drawer.

Life was so much less complicated then. When the thrust of my explorations were secret attics, the woods behind my house, and imaginary trips to the far side of the ocean where treasure troves awaited me.

Somedays I long to be that little girl again.

And somedays I am...

Sitting in seat 3E.

Naming the mountains.

Counting the clouds.

Discovering a marbled lake that I am sure no other human has ever seen with the naked eye.


I choose to be an explorer in moments like these because I need to explore beautiful things in the midst of a life that is often laced with dark caverns I never planned on falling into.

Forced exploration is the worst.

I bet the people on the ground during Apollo 13 would agree with me.  Or maybe the team coming up with the escape plan for the recently freed Chilean miners know what I am talking about.

Exploring under duress is no exploration at all; it is forced survival.

Cancer. Chemo. Death. Dying. Pain. Betrayal. Longing. Unmet desires. Unfulfilled dreams. Questions of faith that sometimes seem to have no solid answers. Money. Guilt. Wearily raising children. Fighting for your marriage. A world that runs off of the constant ticking of a clock (did you know that Americans can give you the time, within ten minutes, whether they have looked at a clock in the past two hours or not? That’s how attuned we are to the seconds ticking away).

In the midst of this life, with our feet on the dirty ground, there are many times we find ourselves simply surviving.

So when we get the chance to be more than survivors...

when we get the chance to explore...

the laugh of someone we love. the smile on a child’s face. the way the new mattress cradles our body. the sound of our mother’s laugh. the way our dad pillages scotch tape away.  the way it feels to hold someone’s hand. the smell of fall. the touch of grass on the bottoms of our feet. the giddiness of playing in the leaves. the excitement of a new book. the easiness of a day spent on the couch watching football. a warm bath. a few minutes to sit on a bench and study the ants marching by. or taking 118 pictures of the world passing by under our nose in seat 3E...

We fancy ourselves explorers.

Because we get to.

Because we need to.

Because life is about more than simply surviving.

Long Live the Crazies!!!

First of all I'd like to thank the Denver International Airport for the free wi-fi, without which, I would not, at this very moment, be able to tell you about the flight I literally just walked off of.
United Flight 156.
Albuquerque to Denver.
Just when I thought all the funny had left my life...

The lady next to me strapped Tigger into the empty seat between us.

Then, she used hand motions and verbal reinforcement to teach him the safety rules.
I was so stunned at first I couldn't even laugh. But then, I had laughter steaming out of my ears and trying to come out of my eyeballs. I have not been this tickled in a long, long time.
She whispered things to Tigger the whole flight.
And she talked to her husband, in the seat directly behind her, the whole flight.
And she smacked her gum... the kind of smacking you would do if you'd possibly like to lose a tooth or if you'd like the pilot to hear you or if you believe your smacking, might, in some small way help the plane stay in the air... she did that kind of gum smacking the entire trip.
So did her husband.
And when his ginger ale came out... he slurped. The kind of loud, prolonged slurping sound that an Ogre or hairy bushy mountain man makes after he's sucked down rabbit-feet stew. He slurps and slurps. And now I'm trying to get secret pictures of Tigger and audio of the slurping so that the rest of the world can know that these people were real....
and then he belches.
The nastiest belch I've ever heard.
And I have never had to laugh so bad in my whole life.
I'm biting my lips and trying to take deep breaths, the kind you take after a bad contraction when you have just tried to push a small, slimy head out of your body... I was taking those kinds of breaths and I was trying to think of something sad. Anything sad.
I was trying to focus on the horrible smell that seemed to be lingering in my part of the plane.
Trying to think of my third grade birthday party where no one showed up except the next door neighbor who gave me a used Barbie doll with lice and caused me to have to take baths with my sisters for months while mom and dad tried to get critters out of our heads.
I tried thinking of that.
Death. I can almost always think of a good funeral... so I tried to think about death... and it was starting to work but just as I got my laughter under control and zipped up tight in my mouth, the old man behind me (the slurper's seat mate) who had literally been singing "da-da-da-dee-dee" in a grumbly low voice for the entire flight said,
"Well, now that we're in the air, I'll need to get my bag out. My wife packed a fresh meatloaf sandwich for me and my tongue is excited!"
I lost it.
Shoulders uncontrollably shaking. Legs bouncing. Hands hitting my knees. I could not control myself any longer. I buried my head in my lap and died laughing.
The lady next to me leaned over and began whispering to Tigger.
Up until this point I did not realize that he was a Native American Tigger wrapped in a traditional headdress and outfit, but I was at eye level with him now, and realized he was wearing a small backpack and traditional Native American garb.
And, let's not forget, he is STRAPPED INTO THE SEAT BELT.
I felt like I was trapped on a flight that would end up being a Stephen King movie. If the universe were to suck up a plane and keep it frozen in time to commemorate the weirdness of humanity... this was the flight. I was on it. And I was surrounded by the three biggest nut balls I've ever experienced in my life.
The flight was only 50 minutes long.
The old man ate his meatloaf sandwich, and on the way out, the teenager two seats in front of me pulled out a family size bag of Popeye's Chicken from the overhead compartment.
Full of chicken.
Meatloaf. Chicken. Tigger. And a lady who whispered the entire set of emergency directions to her friend and checked to make sure his seat belt was secure. Did I mention she reclined his chair?
She reclined his chair.
Long live the crazies.

Warning Signs

I adhere to the universal signal of flashing my lights so that oncoming drivers know there is a cop running radar ahead.

I do this because I believe in the universal theme of being warned.

(Though, yes dad, I suppose the posted signs are fair warning enough).

I can’t stand it when I have passed 29 miles of bumper to bumper- kids out on the median playing frisbee- truck drivers have called it a night and abandoned their rigs to smoke a cigarette with other drivers- woman’s having a baby on the side of the road- highway is shut down until Easter- kind of traffic and I know that I have no way of telling the poor unsuspecting drivers headed into this nightmare to STOP.


There really should be a universal signal to let people know there is upcoming traffic the same way there’s a signal for letting people know a cop is hiding in a bush past the next intersection with his radar gun. It’s just the proper, kind-loving thing to do.

I have tried creating a new signal.

I really have. I sit in the front seat and stare at the people with bulging, terrified eyes (which Ryan says will get me confused for a kidnapping victim if I’m not careful) and I wave my hands back and forth and mouth out the word S*T*O*P* and NOOOO.

(This is a practice I swore I would never do because, as I have explained numerous times to my mom, “MOM that’s embarrassing. Nobody knows what you are saying when you are mouthing to them from a different car. You just look like a crazy lady. Even if you are using hand signals at the neglect of your own steering wheel and giving them a thumbs up and vigorously shaking your head to tell them that you like their license plate or their dog is cute or making the pumping motion so they know their gas knob is opened or their kid is hanging out the back window. They honest to God don’t know what you’re saying).

But there I am in the front seat and I am terribly concerned about getting the message out that people need to turn around.

Ideally, in a perfect world, I would have my own public announcement system attached to the roof of my car along with bright pink flashing lights and an LED screen that gives people a fair warning that they’d rather hear finger nails scratching a chalkboard and then have to floss their teeth with big sheets of aluminum foil than continue on.

Ideally, in a perfect world, they would then nod their heads at me and raise one hand off the steering wheel in a friendly wave of human camaraderie, the way my Papaw would greet every single car that drove by him whether they paid any attention to him or not; and cars would turn around in droves. Because that’s what happens in a perfect world… someone gives you a warning.

Everyone wants a heads up right?

That’s why we have websites like Tripadvisor.com and other outlets that allow us to shoot straight with each other. And while I am quite sure there are a lot of people out there with pent up anger that turn to these online sites to spew rage, seek justice for their product gone bad, or dish out their passive aggressive opinions, in the beginning these online sites began as useful warning tools for the public.

Don’t go here, go there.

We have signs on the highway that tell us ‘20 minutes of traffic from this point on’. Signs at Six Flags that tell us how long we have to wait to get on the roller coaster. The GPS gives us the ETA. We have a count down for Christmas. We take numbers at the deli so we can constantly gauge what is coming next: number 29. Pastrami on rye. Number 28. Tuna. I only have to wait through 7 more orders. We even get a countdown at the DPS. Seven more miserable people in front of me before I go pay the state money to take a really bad picture that will haunt me for years. Still, something about knowing how many people are in front of me and watching the numbers disappear on the screen makes the whole thing bearable.

I think in general we can take the blows if you just shoot it to us straight.

Six months of chemo? Twelve? Ok. I can do it.

My company is putting me up at a shoddy hotel for two months? Ok. I can do it.

We have to live on a budget this year? Ok. I can do that.

27 minutes before I get to my exit five miles down the street? Ugghh. Annoying. But at least there is an end in sight. A goal. A set your eyes on the prize. At least there is a warning. And I am convinced, with warnings we can weather anything. (Because it makes us feel like we have some control.)

But it’s the unknown road that I seem to be on lately.

The road feels desolate. There are no road signs, no mile markers, no countdown clocks, warning signs, no websites where well meaning people can tell me what to expect. No girl with an announcement system, pink flashing lights, and an LED screen on her car that says, “Warning: Hell is straight ahead of you. Turn around.”

And maybe that’s good, because I’d take the road to Canada and forget the original plan all together. I’d go somewhere safe. Somewhere with lots of bright lights and police officers and countdown clocks and warning signs. I’d take the easy road and not look back.

People have said a lot of amazing things about Ryan and I this week. How we have encouraged them to keep going in the midst of their own trials. How we have been a part of renewing their faith because we are what it looks like to persevere under fire (literally). How we will be blessed for not quitting and how we are doing this amazing thing for God. And I just want to say, “thanks, but no thanks.”

I can’t be anyone’s poster child for what a warrior looks like.

There’s an old song by an artist named Twila Paris that has always stuck in my heart and the chorus says:

“People say that I’m amazing, strong beyond my years. But they don’t see inside of me, I’m hiding all my tears. They don’t know that I go running home when I fall down. They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around. I drop my sword and cry for just a while. Cause deep inside this armor, the warrior is a child.”

The warrior is a child.

That’s me.

Put me on a highway without warning signs and throw some curveballs… like a fire that takes away my favorite pajama pants, my daughter’s only embroidered baby gifts from her baby showers, and my new make-up, and you will see me fall apart.

My vision is limited.

My faith hangs on by threads.

My endurance for roads deplete of road signs is waning.

My mind tells me to go home. Go to a place where warning signs are a part of everyday life and the next step is always, mostly certain.

And then my God, that voice that speaks quietly to me, that is constant even when the Bible seems to make little sense, Christians seem to embarrass me, and I wonder if I’ve made it all up… even in the midst of my small, defeated faith, my God who is very real and very near to me shows up on the plane ride from Atlanta to Chicago… on Sunday, when I am very much missing being in a place where I can worship.

The sky is beautiful. The clouds are puffy like marshmallows and the sparkly blue-sky dances on as far as my eyes can see. I am lost in the beauty of this perfect day. And yet minutes later, as we descend through the clouds I realize that Chicago is wet and nasty. The sky is full of dark clouds and the city looks dreary from 20,000 feet.

And I hear His voice. “You want to tell them it’s a beautiful day today? It is, isn’t it?”

That was it. Nothing booming or profound, just a single thought that God clearly floated through my mind and into my heart. It might be rainy in Chicago today, but it is beautiful 33,000 feet above Chicago. The sun is out and shining… even if they can’t see it.

There’s your warning sign Jenny. You don’t know the scope of what is going on in a single moment. Your eyes cannot see it. Your mind cannot perceive it. No clock can tell you. No estimated time of arrival. No game plan. No warning. No weather channel can tell you that it is miserable on the ground but beautiful above the clouds.

Your vision is limited. But mine is not.

You have to trust me.

You have to trust that.

The road is not desolate. There will always be a warning sign… because I see what you cannot see. And I give the signs. The warning signs that tell you no matter what the road looks like on the ground, there’s something else going on beyond your vision. And detouring to Canada won’t change anything.

It’s cloudy in Chicago today baby.

But the skies are dancing and I am watching them. I see.

I can give you your warning signs… trust me.