If we don’t go skydiving what are we going to do with our lives?

Days turned into weeks turned into months since I last shared.  I begun exposing my deepest insecurities, my most private experiences and thoughts.  I dreaded someone reading them, judging me, making inferences about who I am or who I was.  I knew once I started I couldn’t stop and I knew once I stopped it’d be hard to start again.  However it constantly weighs on my chest that the beauty I find through pain needs to be spoken, written and exposed so as hard as I find it, I can’t stop.  

We left off on insecurity.  A deeply insecure young couple looking to succeed.  I wish I could say we worked through our insecurities and became successful and free, instead the insecurities ate at Travis until he festered a strange addiction that ended up destroying our life as we knew it.  I hated watching Travis seek approval from everyone around him.  He was desperate for love, affection and attention, anything to tell him that he wasn’t what he felt he was.  I noticed it when we were around our senior leadership, our friends that were mentors to us and most of all his father.  His voice would change slightly, more urgent, his words quick and his eye contact constant.  He begged for recognition and approval and it constantly broke my heart.  I knew he felt like he wasn’t good enough for his position, but I didn’t know the secret that was eating him inside.  

I often woke up in the middle of the night to him on his computer and my chest would tighten.  What is anyone doing in the middle of the night on the computer?  Just reading he would say, not meeting my gaze, quickly shutting off windows.  I wanted to believe him and I didn’t have proof of anything else, so i accepted it, I took the knots in my stomach as overreactions.

Insecurity made us feel like we couldn’t share our struggles, because we already didn’t feel like we were good enough, so how could we have real problems on top of not cutting it in life?  If we knew we weren’t good enough inside, the habits that controlled us would make us failures in everything.  Every time Travis and I would have a disagreement or fight Travis would say, we can’t talk to anyone about fighting, we have to appear as leaders, but what happens when you can’t be genuine about your hurts and problems is you can’t admit when you need help.  

Travis needed help.  We needed help as a couple, but we couldn’t admit it.  What could have changed if we would have admitted it?  I still need help now to make it through the trauma and pain that has happened since his arrest and I have no choice but to admit it.  When people start digging deep into my story about why I would be across the world from the girl’s father alone, I just admit what happened, because it’s not going to define who I am as a person if I don’t let it.  

We can’t forget where beauty grows.  It grows in interesting places.  It grows in pain and heartache, but it can’t grow when we cover it with plastic, fake feelings or, a facade.  

Recently a friend from the US came to visit.  I met him and some of his friends at the beach and they were talking about an upcoming skydiving trip they had planned, urging each other to make a commitment to it.  One of the girls enthusiastically stated, “You guys we have to do this, if we don’t go skydiving what are we going to do with out lives?”.  The rest of the group blindly agreed.  My heart shattered and tears came to my eyes so quick I had to walk away, because we all have so much more to do with our lives.  Our lives are worth so much more than a thrill or hobby alone.  

Through each heartache and pain we have the opportunity to make the world a more beautiful place.  If we can release our insecurity, realize we were forever created for a purpose our lives will represent the beauty of love, forgiveness and healing.  

Young girl, I might never see you again, but I want you to know your life is worth so much more.  Perhaps I should have given up when my whole world collapsed, I’m sure no one would have blamed me, but I believe my life is worth many more things than my pain.  I believe that there is beauty to be found.  

I missed being here and opening up and I am continually thankful to those of you that have joined my journey, we have only just begun.  

I’m wandering through a desert, possibly for 40 years…

We were young, we were scared and we were insecure.  The two of us being together was nothing short of destiny because neither of us thought we deserved the other.  Finding each other was like finding two of the same people with polar opposite talents.  Travis the artistic musician, me the bossy natural leader with a gift for organization in systems and leadership.  Our loyalty and commitment to each others gifts was so strong and passionate that neither of us would have ever listened to a negative word about the other. I’m sure to this day you couldn’t find any person who has heard me speak a bad word about Travis (minus “the incident”) and I know not one person has ever heard Travis speak the slightest negativity about me.  

After we faced what felt like suffocating opposition and got married we started a new position in a new town with new people.  Our whole year of engagement was a transition, never feeling settled or secure in our lives.  We were always waiting for the “next big thing” to happen to us, and with Travis’s new job, we felt like it did.  Travis had a better position in our new church, we were more financially secure.  We had a lot more freedom as a couple and we didn’t feel the opposition and pressure that we had back home.  We began to form as a couple in our new found freedom and alone time that we had in a new city, without the pressure of judgement and opinion we had felt in our home.  Saturday nights after church we had this habit of crawling into bed as early as possible and talking about everything we felt the other had missed between the beginning of worship practice and the end of service which always turned into hysterical laughing from some witty anecdote about our bizarre religious upbringing or some unusually Pentecostal parishioner creating some drama that week.  We were happy and peaceful when we were together and alone, not under the scrutinization of many who felt the need to carry an opinion of our relationship.  The way we were alone felt like we were one person and it felt like there was nothing between us.  Sometimes when Travis would fall asleep I would stare at him, touch his eyelashes and wonder how I got so lucky to have him as my partner, my best friend, and soulmate.  Though we were happy together, it always seemed we were fighting as a couple against the world publicly.  Our home had so much crazy gossip about our relationship and as we moved to a new place we hoped we could be us without any boundaries.  Unfortunately, we weren’t fully aware how different our view of marriage and ministry was from the church we joined.   We had joined a ministry that employed single members of a family.  Travis and I had made the decision when we chose to live our lives together that we were a team and though I didn’t sing, I had gifts to bring to our life of ministry and Travis didn’t want to do ministry without me by his side.  From the moment we started in Sheboygan I was just his wife, I was never an equal or someone that had something to offer the church besides possibly nursery of which I was offered placement in the schedule immediately.  I felt like I had gifts, I had been a teacher, I led parts of our youth group at home, I went to real bible college, but I can honestly say I felt almost invisible.   Life seemed to be taking off for Travis and it was standing still for me.  During times of frustration I kept imagining it was my “desert place” and that I just had to work the magic formula of sacrifice, humility and gratitude to make it to “the promised land”.  I felt like if I just held on my day would come but truthfully in all that time, I never got there.  I continued to live in what I felt like was a transition, never really doing what I was meant to do, what my soul craved.  I can’t really put a name on it, but I wanted to change the world.  I wanted to see people’s lives turn out better after I met them and I felt like I wasn’t doing it.  

I drive through the desert every day on my way to school and I love it.  It’s my time of peace, transition, focus for the day.  I laugh because I’ve always been scared of the desert place,  it’s a punishment for those that complain about eating manna, but now I believe that I was never meant to live long in the promised land, and that’s not how life goes.  The desert place is where our life is.  Each and every mundane aspect of day to day life is what I’m meant to change the world in.  

I used to say I hated teaching and I never wanted to go back.  I’m not sure exactly where this idea came into my head because now that I’m back in the classroom I remember how good I am at it.  My students had an average score of 70% on a unit test they took the day I started.  Today they took another unit test and the average score was 92%.  I’ve been here 3 weeks.  My students are raised by nannies, waited on hand and foot by servants.  It’s a different mentality than I had as a student.  When they come into my classroom I don’t do things for them, and I’m not their babysitter.   They’re told they are leaders and are held responsible for what they do and what people around them do.  I love my students and they get the classic Miss Carmen nurture that is my second nature.  I wipe their tears, pat their backs and tell them they’re important, but ultimately I tell them they choose how important they become.  I don’t know if what I felt in my 20s was that I needed to be was famous or important or more respected.  I’m not sure exactly where I thought I was lacking as Travis’s wife and ministry partner, but I look back and I have no regrets.  I realize I was quite successful.  We did some amazing things together and I had some amazing opportunities, but while I was in the moment I felt incomplete.  I was wrong, I had the utmost of completeness and through it  I’ve learned there is no “next big thing”.  Rather than waiting for something big to happen I want to live happy in the present. Life is the desert, not the promised land and it’s definitely a beautiful place. 

Changing the world, instead of it changing me

Meeting Travis felt like I was meeting my future.  I wasn’t positive why I felt so drawn to him, but I was positive no matter what my feelings, I was inadequate.  Travis was the golden boy of our church, the recent graduate of Hillsong Leadership College, the talented songwriter with famous friends and pretty much I considered him out of my league.  I’m not sure where it began but at some point in my journey through charismatic christianity I started to feel quite juvenile in my walk with faith.  There was the beginning of my blessed entrance to Pentecostalism where I received the Holy Spirit at a youth camp.  “IT’S THERE SISTER, SPEAK IT,”  the camp preacher bellowed as he shook my head, my hands raised, tears streaming down my face, a desperate craving for the tongue that seemed so elusive and so necessary for my entrance into faith.  Once I received it I expected something more to come out of it, maybe something more earth shattering, visions of heaven, angels or possibly a foreshadow of the one world government*, my deepest fear of my youth.  Unfortunately, nothing like this happened.  I was striving for it, but I just assumed I wasn’t as spiritual as the rest of my vision seeing, slain in the spirit, weeping friends.  Most likely there was something I wasn’t understanding, I probably didn’t read the bible enough and you know my mind really wandered during prayer and praise and worship, I probably just wasn’t pressing in enough and the real spiritual people can pray and sing for around 4-5 hours and I was usually losing focus around 4-5 minutes.  With all these thoughts I still really wanted to be in ministry, I can’t even define what driving force was behind it but I knew I wanted to influence something, somehow.  I took a few steps to begin my world changing ways.  In college, I applied to be a resident advisor, I was denied, alright maybe that’s just not something I’m supposed to do, I thought, it wasn’t “God’s will”, maybe I should be a Chaplain, again denied and this one was really shocking, I mean I told the girl interviewing me I could speak in tongues.  Between these two rejections I had pretty much deducted that I wasn’t really set up for anything too important in life.  Seriously, what great leader or pastor is denied a college position?  At this point in my life I started to line up that something must be wrong with me.  Well, there was that one time I drank 5 rum and cokes at a party and spent the rest of the night throwing up in the bathroom, I bet the interviewer had a check in her spirit about that.  Never mind it was the first and last time up to that point I ever touched alcohol, but there were also the three guys I had kissed, fully clothed with no roaming hands, but this is I kissed dating goodbye days**, pretty much I was the woman at the well in my eyes and probably those of every person around me.  I was supposed to save my lips for my future husband.

Around this time, my middle brother (Trevor) was in a car accident which ended up causing sever brain damage and physical limitations, but I was taught during trials this is the perfect time to press into God, so I did.  I prayed, I recited verses, cried, had friends pray, recite verses, cry.  We were going for a full recovery here.  God had spared his life, now we needed his health.  Trevor woke up, and wasn’t a paraplegic, but I wouldn’t actually say it was a miracle.  He’s alive, but in a different capacity than most would think is rewarding to live.  Why does God miraculously heal some and not others?  Faith obviously, and I apparently didn’t have enough.  I didn’t have enough to save my brother, become a chaplain and most likely really be anything that mattered.  I had screwed up somehow, I didn’t have earth shattering visions and God’s audible voice in my ear, I never fell on the floor moaning in the spirit clutching my belly, I just wasn’t worth it, and I wasn’t going to be anything.

This bizarre controlling spiritual doctrine haunted my mind for the next two years.  There was even a girl at college who after a particularly moving campus church came to me to ask for forgiveness because of how much she judged me and how she basically thought I was a horrible person.  I’m looking back on this and thinking WTF did I do?  How many 23 year old virgins do you know?  And we’re not talking technical virginity here.  We’re talking no oral, no orgasms and NO SEX.  Now I know sex isn’t the only sin, but I’ve never done drugs, I definitely wasn’t a mean person or this huge gossiper that told horrifying stories about people.  I definitely wouldn’t call myself an angel, however most of my friends I tell these stories to now think my few nights of drinking mixed with the occasional “hook-up” (kissing, little roaming of the hands, fully clothedness) is a joke if I call it my “party days”.  This behavior and the odd encounters I continued to have with those much more spiritual than me however solidified in my head that there was no possible way I would ever amount to any sort of spiritual leadership or gifts, and it definitely didn’t amount to me having a chance with the worship pastor at our church.    Now there is a split debate on this topic among those who watched me grow up.  A select number of people believed that Travis wasn’t good enough for me and that I could do better, these people were my parents of course, my youth pastors growing up, a lot of friends from school who found him arrogant and quite a number of other church members who just didn’t care for Travis that much.  However, the spiritual elite at our church saw Travis as their spiritual child and warned Travis that I was “chasing his anointing***”, “controlling” and probably a few of them were hoping their daughters would end up his wife, and they were way more spiritual than I was, much more fit for a pastor’s wife.  I believe even at the next church we went to a girl that attended the same college I had heard some elusive rumor about me which to this day I’m not sure what it was.  Now here I’ve confessed my most horrible grievances so apparently one of them deeply offended someone at college who felt the need to share with this girl, who I feel the need to add shamelessly flirted with Travis right in front of me and even tried to get him to go to dinner with her without me.  Whichever the case I never felt good enough for him and this was solidification after solidification, in fact I think the bible says you only need three people to confirm it.  Let’s face it, at that point I had been drunk like 10 times and with all the extra kissing I had done pre-marriage I was convinced I was the woman at the well and jezebel combined.  I actually think in the charismatic world you can kiss your way out of being a virgin so my hopes for a music pastor husband should have just gone straight down the tubes.

Though I didn’t think he’d ever see anything in me, I still fell hard.  I moved back to Wisconsin after graduation and every time he was near me my heart beat a little faster and those magical butterflies churned excitedly.  I spent the whole summer after graduation imagining I had destroyed my life by going to parties at a neighboring college  during my senior year of college and single handedly ruining any chance of God ever using me or Travis ever noticing me.  I believed I wasn’t good enough for ministry, for Travis, or of ever being significant.  Life had dealt me an interesting hand and I had played it wrong, but it’s not quite how it worked out.

Years later Travis would tell me he fell in love with me the minute he saw me and that he had no hope of me ever reciprocating his feelings.  He said he believed that he would never be good enough for me and I would never notice him.  He told me how he made excuses to be near me, to call me and to find places that we would both be at without making it look like he was looking for me.  After our first date he went home and told his mother he was going to marry me and that he never believed he would be complete in life, in ministry without me by his side.

In a few hours I start my new teaching job.  I’m scared, I’m insecure.  I’m thinking maybe my choices of not keeping up with education and teaching trends are going to give me a disadvantage.  I’m remembering what it’s like to have to explain why I’m divorced at 30 with two children under the age of 3 who don’t see their father and how I’ll mention, yeah it’s horrible but no I don’t hate him, he’s actually still my friend.  I’m looking at my schedule wondering how I’m going to pull it off.  I’m worried about the other teachers liking me, the students liking me, whether or not I’ll like the job or just wish I was back at Starbucks making miracle lattes and the truth is, I need to stop.

I’m happy, I’m nice, I love people, I’m a good mother and all I owe the world is to try and make it a better place.  I chose to change the world by letting my pain become beauty, compassion, and peace and to me this is the right choice.  My life will continue to change the world by me being honest and telling it who I am, what it made me, what I still can become and the best choice for me is to never again let the world change or define who I am and what I was made to be.

*The one world government is a christian doctrine issue that claims that one day there will be just one government in the world  and Christians will be forced to die for their faith, quite scary for a young child to imagine and one of my deepest fears growing up.  

**I kissed dating goodbye is a book that was popular when I was growing up which began an odd doctrine where you never dated anyone or kissed them just one day met them and married them.  It eliminated what christians like to claim ruins marriages which is previous relationships that weren’t destined for marriage.  

***AHHH the elusive anointing.  Super spiritual charismatics like to claim that certain people are more anointed or better than others.  Travis had a gift of singing and writing songs, it was considered his anointing and they were most likely claiming that I was attracted to his gift and the power, or fame it would give me as his wife.  If being invisible counts as fame or power that’s cool, but as any “famous person’s” wife or pastor’s wife and you will know there is no fame or recognition in the position and you are not even seen most of the time.  I recognized that even in my juvenile spiritual youth.  

Falling in love with a city

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I can remember the first time I fell in love like it’s a movie I’ve seen a hundred times.  I had walked into church and saw Travis playing the keyboard, singing his heart out.  I had never met him, I didn’t know who he was but I knew I loved him from the moment I saw him.  Some people deny love at first sight, and no the feelings associated with that moment weren’t the same exact feelings I felt on our wedding day, but I hadn’t felt that way until that moment and I knew our destinies were connected.  Life happens and people make mistakes, unfortunately some mistakes shatter marriages and change the love we feel for another person and ultimately that happened once Travis’ choices led to such destruction.  His choices didn’t erase what I felt for him or saw in him.  What he did wasn’t who he was and I was quick to see that.  At first I believed that it meant we should stay married, that divorce wasn’t the right choice, but eventually I felt the damage was too deep, the destruction too great and the price we would have to pay as a family too much.  As his wife I loved him, as his ex-wife I love him.  He’s still my friend and he’s still the father of my children, a huge support in my life, my love for him is still strong but it’s changed.  

When I landed in Dubai for my second visit in August I fell in love again.  There was something about the smell of the sea and the people from every part of the world that inspired me, gave me energy and drew the passion of art and culture that’s always been in me out.  There are times now when I’m walking down the beach, or sitting outside a restaurant looking at the skyline that my breath is caught and I realize I’m in love with this country.  I’m inspired by the sound of different languages, the beauty of other cultures and the deepness I see in the eyes of those around me. When I gaze at the sea, or stop and listen to the sound of traffic below my building I’m positive my destiny is once again intertwined with something and this time it’s a country.  

An End to my Emotional Vacation

Sometimes it didn’t feel quite like an emotional vacation.  Dealing with people has it’s ups and downs, but fortunately serving coffee was a lot easier resolved than serving Jesus.  You didn’t like your result of my prayer?  Well we can try it again… Your miracle hasn’t arrived, well we can get more faith, read a few more verses, but it’s not quite quantifiable… Your latte has too much foam?  Let me re-steam that soy and let it sit for a while before I pour it on your shots sir.  Perfect solution, perfectly quantifiable.  Still a little ticked?  Let me give you a certificate for a free beverage next time.  Instant satisfaction, instant solution.

Sure Starbucks had it’s moments.  There was my last day where I walked into a remodel disaster, dust crusted in my $25,000 espresso bean hoppers… black water leaking from an unknown source making huge puddles all over my cafe and bar areas, but we made it work until an older gentlemen well into his 70s tried to crawl over the counter screaming at me that his friend had almost slipped on said puddle even though we had mopped the area 3x in the last hour, the leak would not subside and I’m sorry sir, but coffee production stops for no natural or remodel disaster, and no sir, I’m not worried about a lawsuit, I make about $9.05 an hour, no one is going to try and sue me.  Managing the crisis was quite easy compared to my past careers.  There is slightly more pressure in determining if a client is going to hurt themselves if you send them home instead of hospitalize them for suicidal tendencies and then there is the eternal damnation associated with working in the ministry.  Quite a bit of stress if you imagine the blood of the unsaved on your hands, the fall of the youth you work your heart out trying to urge them to be world changers, leaving their mundane existence of sin and self deprivation.  Yes, these stressors were a little more urgent, had a little more substance than creating the semi-dry cappuccino… or a latte with no milk (don’t ask), but I loved it, I couldn’t imagine anything else and I didn’t, this was going to be my life, end of story.   Then in the midst of this life of insane pressure, having my wonderful daughter Clare and conceiving my amazing Eden, I became a mobwife.  Not exactly the life I had planned, but things happen, life goes in directions we don’t plan and so I went to a place I’d always found calmness, completeness and happiness, God was there inside me, but on the outside, I went to Starbucks.

The last 5 years the church world moved from pastors and managers to leaders.  We attended leadership conferences and I even did my second graduate degree in Organizational leadership.  When I interviewed at Starbucks I used my coined phrases of “leader” vs “manager”, encouraging my partners to “excellence” with “leadership” and “coaching”, and my soon to be manager asked me if I had been coached by a friend who was a district manager for Starbucks in another state.  I laughed because it’s just who I had become.  “Be a leader or die” was my mantra, and luckily it landed me my emotional vacation.  There’s something about a job that every day you can work hard at, utilize routines and functions properly, succeed and then go home and never think about it till you clock in the next day.  Unfortunately it’s not reality, because no one can support themselves on $9.05 and hour and you definitely can’t support two girls but Starbucks was wonderful because it gave me and the girls benefits we needed and the freedom I needed to spend as much time with them as possible.

So here I am announcing to the small amount of people I have let back into my life after my life crumbled that I have reentered life in more than one way.  A friend said last year after I reopened a facebook account and posted a picture of myself that it seemed that I had reappeared into the world after being hidden for a time.  It’s true, I felt so exposed, so vulnerable for so long that I couldn’t bear being anymore open about even mundane things in my life.  As I gradually began to feel more confident that my life was not a disaster, but a place of strength and beauty I started to feel more comfortable telling my story and sharing who I was.  What happened to us did not define us, but it refined us.

Here I’m inviting you to share our journey through pain, love, laughter and beauty.  It started years ago, and it hasn’t ended yet.  A new chapter has begun and it begins with the girls and I making the cross global journey to the United Arab Emirates where I will once again teach 4th grade, where I will continue to crossfit (with my negotiated modifications) and where I will continue to grow in yet another interesting place with the best gifts I have been given, Clare and Eden.