Cosplay, Connections, and the Worst Roads Ever

If I had had my way, the day would have started at 10:00 am, with the sun well up and me well rested. But there we were shoving t-shirts and socks into Ziploc vacuum bags and generally ignoring each other on account of it was 5:00 am. Adam is delicate with me at this time of day as he wants to live through it. He cooked fried eggs, poured coffee, and excessively burnt the toast, so we crunched our way through breakfast the morning of our Harley cross-country trip.

We pulled out of the drive, me waving the selfie-stick around, already realizing that dignity was a lost cause, and roared off to our first stop: Shreveport, Louisiana. We had planned around Shreveport’s Air Force base for us to stay the night inexpensively. While stretching our legs at a roadside gas station, chugging Red Bulls and wolfing down granola bars, Adam remembered he had a friend in the Shreveport area from his old squadron. He gave him a call, and Galen invited us to stay in his home instead of on base. Adam and I sighed with relief and gratefulness. The military life is chockfull of tough moments, what with deployments, 2-3 year moves, and general scheduling chaos, but as a perk you also get a cross-country network of family members with couches to crash on.

Completely exhausted, we rumbled up Galen’s driveway and squeezed Annie (the bike—a 100th annie-versary Roadking) into his garage for the night—a blessing in itself. Stepping into his home made me snort with laughter and took me back to Adam’s bachelor days: the kitchen counters strewn with empty soda cans, cereal boxes, drills, wrenches, drained wine bottles, pizza boxes—and pirate cutlasses.

Galen looked embarrassed. “There wasn’t a whole lot of time to clean up…”

I stopped him, “Doesn’t matter. We’re just thankful for military family who takes care of us.”

He sighed, “I miss the old squadron. Man, it’s good to see you guys.”

I paused at the island in the middle of the kitchen; it was transformed into what looked like a medieval tanner’s workstation. Several leather belts, some with buckles, some looking freshly cut, were stretched out across the surface, along with the various tools needed for dying and shaping the leather. Parks and Rec’s Ron Swanson had clearly invaded and taken over this B-52 crewdog’s kitchen.

But Galen grinned and swept a hand across his workstation. “Just cut a couple of these last week,” he said, indicating the belts. He bent over, and when he straightened again, he was hauling a massive roll of extra hide on one shoulder. “Got a great deal on this stuff. I’ve already cut a vest for my Jack Sparrow costume, and I’m thinking about another belt for my Wolverine one. Also gotta dye a couple of these a shade or two darker.”

Lamenting about how Comic Con attendees would always take photos of him in his cosplay creations and credit him online, he led us further into his home. The aforementioned Jack Sparrow vest was hanging up over the tub in the guest bathroom, and I couldn’t contain another snort of laughter. Having just completed dying the vest blue, Galen had left the room looking like some sort of alien murder scene. As rivulets of blue dye trickled down the side of the already indigo-filled tub, Galen chewed on his lip. “Yeah, I’d probably better clean that up for ya’ll in the morning. Sorry.”

He shrugged, and we followed him into the next room. Shelves of miniature Wolverines in his various outfits lined one wall. On another wall were several versions of bright yellow foam Wolverine masks. “Can’t see a damn thing in these things,” was Galen’s only comment, “I think I can fix that for my next event, though.” On the floor lay a pile of Jack Sparrow wigs with bits of bead and whalebone jutting out at odd angles. He picked one up and commented, “I think I can make this one look a little more natural.”

“You made all of this yourself?!” I asked, impressed.

He nodded, “Yeah, I mean, it’s not that good. I’m gonna make new versions. This stuff is crap.”

I just rolled my eyes at his humility. The creativity involved in all of these projects was just awesome. I never realized that cosplay was such an art.

After the tour was over, we headed to eat dinner, cracking up on the way over at Galen’s colorful and varied outbursts of profanity at Shreveport’s pothole-riddled roads. Our tailbones having just recovered from the ride in, we were relieved that it wasn’t just us. We had felt a little like pansies.

We ordered some much-needed drinks before dinner after a hard day’s riding. “To old friends in new places,” Adam said, raising his Glenlivet in a toast.

“To family,” I added as we clinked our glasses, all three of us warmed by the hint of the familiar in the unfamiliar.

We sat around and talked about old times and old friends back in Pensacola, Galen diligently checking in on each squadron member. He regaled us with stories of how he had convinced a civilian that a B-52 had an absurdly ridiculous mechanism (which was more suited to the Millennium Falcon than a ’50s bomber) that he had made up on the spot. I was crying with laughter as he described the civilian’s wide eyes and complete acceptance of his invention. “It’s the details that really convince them,” he said, “but the flightsuit doesn’t hurt.” After splitting a cheesecake for dessert, we asked for the check.

To Adam and I’s loud protests, Galen motioned the server to give him the entire bill. We were blown away. Not only did the guy give us a free place to stay and great company, he also provided a free meal on top of everything else. Here’s to you, Galen.

Around 7:00 the next morning, Galen called us and asked if we wanted to grab breakfast somewhere. He was practically on a lunch break, having been at work on the base since 3:00 am. The Harley barely made it to the coffee shop after more spine-splitting Shreveport roads. Adam and I integrated a few of Galen’s vocabulary words to our opinion of Lousiana highways. At the coffee shop, we threw down breakfast burritos and chugged coffee with our old friend. We rode (bounced, got jostled?) away from Shreveport with a new appreciation for our generous military family, smooth roads—and for the art of cosplay.

 

 

 

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Gryffindor, Slytherin, and Harley Rides

I had the nerdiest identity crisis this week. I finally had the time to just sit down and explore J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore website. Of course the part I was looking forward to was taking the Sorting Hat quiz where I would find out officially which Hogwarts House I belonged to.

So I sat down with my laptop, palms sweating, heart beating rapidly over what was at stake here, and took the quiz. After I overanalyzed and answered every question, a big green screen popped up with my result: Congratulations! You have been sorted into Slytherin!

I was devastated.

So I took it again using a different email address. The same result appeared.

I couldn’t believe it. I was sorted into the house where the majority of dark wizards come from. I spent the next few days trying to justify the Sorting Hat’s choice: Merlin was a Slytherin. Maybe I’m the one who is supposed to redeem the Slytherins. Not all Sytherins are evil. But many Syltherins are cunning!

And don’t hear this as a knock on Slytherins because I know many of you are indeed proud Slytherins. But I knew that I wasn’t. I was a Gryffindor, through and through—or at least, I wanted to be.

Gryffindors are brave and true, first into battle and fiercest in the midst of it. That’s what I knew my identity really was, so I couldn’t figure out why I got sorted into Slytherin. But when I was lamenting to my brother over my fate, he reminded me that, like Harry Potter, I, too, had a choice: to identify myself with Slytherin or with Gryffindor.

I also have a choice in my spiritual life to identify myself with bravery. We’re told in our spiritual life to stand firm in the face of attacks from the enemy. And the enemy’s attacks typically come in two forms: attacks against the heart of God and attacks against your identity. There’s a reason for these attacks: if you knew who you really were in Christ, the enemy wouldn’t stand a chance.

In some small way, I felt like the goofy quiz’s result was a small (but cleverly evil) suggestion that maybe I wasn’t as courageous as I’d thought. Silly, I know, but the quiz’s results made me question who I thought I was. The enemy loves this. I have struggled with fearfulness my entire life: waking my dad up in the middle of the night for him to check under the bed, refusing to dive into the pool’s deep end as a kid—and even now, every now and then lying in a cold sweat when I hear a noise in the house. So of course courage feels like its vital to who I am because it’s who I want to be.

The truth of the matter is that courageous is actually who I was meant to be. Time and again in Scripture, God commands his chosen ones to not be afraid because He is with them. The apostle Paul also reminds us we haven’t been given a spirit of fear and that we’ve actually been given a spirit of power (I feel I can safely replace “power” with “courage” here). Courage is our true identity.

Courage is also why I’m going on this Harley ride to California: because I am terrified of it. It might be dangerous at times. It might be hard. It will almost certainly rain on us in literal and metaphorical ways. But think of what’s ahead of me: the Grand Canyon, the Rockies, the Pacific Coast. So much beauty and adventure. I’m a Gryffindor, aren’t I? Adventure is what I long for, but to get to adventure, I have to face my fears.

And sometimes I find myself questioning whether I’m going simply to prove something to myself. Maybe I am. But that way of thinking is also laced with lies about my having to make my own identity. The truth is that my identity has already been placed in me by God himself.

What I am doing with this Harley ride is walking in my identity. Acting (riding?) it out. I have a choice…and you do too.

Just like Harry Potter chose Gryffindor over Slytherin, I’m choosing courage over shrinking back. I’m choosing to adventure instead of to stay safely behind the walls of my home this summer.

Hardship awaits—that’s true—but what is even more true is that beauty and adventure does too. And they are infinitely worth it.

“We must go on and take the adventure that comes to us.” – C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

What adventure do you need to embark on to walk in your identity? Be brave, friends. Be who you really are.

(Img saved from insider.pottermore.com)

Rest and M ‘n Ms

I hugged both of my parents as they walked out of my front door on their way back to South Carolina. They had been down for a rare visit, and my husband and I thoroughly loved ushering them around our Florida city on their vacation. Our days were really full—with golf games and restaurants and cooking special dinners for them.

As soon as they walked out, I found myself cleaning up the kitchen almost immediately (I’ve mentioned my inner neat-freak before), scrubbing the table, loading the dishwasher, washing the coffee pot, wiping down the stove. Then I threw a bundle of towels they had used into the washer and started those too.

I’d been planning to start working on some school lesson planning for when we return in August. After all, we’ll get back from our epic Harley trip with just a few weeks to spare until school starts again. *sigh* So I’ve been wanting to get a jump on things and get most of my work out of the way. I grabbed my teacher edition textbooks and sprawled out on the couch with my laptop and a pencil.

And then suddenly I found myself getting back off of the couch and going back to my bedroom with my laptop in hand, telling myself that I would work better in there anyway. Obviously we all know where this is going. I passed out asleep after playing around on Pottermore for a few minutes (I recently found out that I’m a Slytherin when all along I thought I was a Gryffindor and am suddenly needing to reevaluate my life—but that’s a blog topic for another day!). I woke up in a panic, realizing I had still gotten nothing accomplished.

Then, of course, there’s the voice that’s like, “You need to spend time with Jesus. You haven’t gotten to do that enough lately either. That’s your real priority.” So I dutifully gathered my Bible and journal and sprawled out on the floor ready to hear from God. I promptly fell asleep right there with my face down in the carpet (which was full of Great Pyrenees hair—classy, I know). Anyone sensing a pattern here?

Finally, berating myself about my utter lack of spiritual discipline, I confessed my “sin” to God and asked him what I really needed to do better. Rest, was the immediate answer. Now, of course, I’m going, “Yeah, ok, as in, ‘Come to me all you who are weary, and I’ll give you rest.’ I will definitely just push through and spend more time with you because that’s how I will rest. That’s what you really meant, right? Do more. Try more. Spend more time with him.” So then I ask him again, “Ok, what do I really need to do to become closer to you?” Again, he replied, Rest. Again, I was confused.

I come from a family of hardworking women, a legacy I’m very proud of. Women who push through, even when circumstances are difficult, even when they don’t feel like working anymore. They get things accomplished. I’m proud of that legacy. They are amazing women. They have inspired me to work hard to achieve things in life, and I’m grateful for that.

But sometimes I get the “hard-work” mentality confused with true spirituality. I punish myself emotionally when I don’t accomplish enough in a day or when my kitchen is coated in a thick layer of dirty dishes. I feel guilty when I don’t write in my journal or read the Bible in a day.

Jesus didn’t die for me so that I could still be riddled by guilt and striving, though. He said I’d be free. He said his burden is light. I think of the scenario with Mary and Martha, and Martha (aka Melissa) is so very worried that her meal won’t be perfect or that her house wasn’t spotless. And there’s Mary who’s just enraptured at Jesus’ feet, sitting with him, talking with him: actually building relationship by giving herself a break.

So when I heard the Holy Spirit tell me to rest, do you think that maybe he actually meant it the way it came out? I love that our God isn’t always mysterious. And that he doesn’t require us to spend time with him a certain way in a certain manner.

Sometimes he’s just like, “Invite me in while you lie on the couch and read your fiction novel.” How cool is that? He just wants to be with us. He’s not a demanding taskmaster. We have permission to just rest and know that he’s still just as present when we’re not working or when we’re not doing something that we would personally consider “spiritual.” I think it’s spiritual if he’s right there with you, don’t you?

I sighed, got off the floor, got back in bed after grabbing some M ‘n M’s, and I ate my M ‘n M’s while watching Hart of Dixie for the next three hours. And you know what? He was right there with me. I felt free. I had been going and going and going so much that this was the first break I had given myself in weeks. I felt like I had stumbled on (been dragged into?) a small aspect of what Jesus meant when he said that we are free indeed and that his burden actually is light. Our God lets us rest.

Rest this week, friends, and invite him into your relaxation. Give yourself permission to let go and be refreshed. He’s just as willing to hang out with you while you watch your favorite tv show as he is when you scrub counters or crunch numbers. And I think he probably likes M ‘n M’s too.

Image By Evan-Amos – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11926907

 

 

Killing Our Heroes

Alright, so here’s some philosophy and theology for your Monday.

My husband and I watched Logan this week, and we were ready to be awed. (FYI this post contains spoilers for those of you who haven’t seen the film yet.) The film was rated incredibly high, reviewed well, all of that. Truthfully, though, I was a little saddened when I walked away from it, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.

So, here’s the deal: one of the movie’s opening scenes finds Logan chatting with Professor X. We love Professor X. However, this version of Professor X is senile, bitter, and drops multiple F-bombs throughout their conversation (I’m no prude—believe me: it was excessive.) It turns out that the medicine Logan has been providing for Professor X makes him senile, and he does eventually sort of come back to himself. But I feel like something was lost here.

Then there’s Logan, and, yes, I know that Logan’s character is supposed to be angry and a little on the broody side, but he dies without ever having this character flaw resolved. And he’s our hero.

So let’s talk about heroes. No, they are not supposed to be perfect. They’re supposed to have some kind of flaw so that we can relate to them on some level. That’s just good writing.

Have you noticed the trend in movies of killing our heroes lately? Is it just me?

Because what I’m talking about is not just killing our heroes on literal level. I’ve also been made aware of how common it has become to take down our superheroes on a moral level as well. Think about it: Captain America: Civil War, Batman vs. Superman, and now we have Logan. And those are just the few that come to mind.

Now those of you who are into the comic book side of things will tell me that these movies are just following the storyline of the books. I know. What I keeping thinking about is why even the writers of those books felt the need to make our heroes’ morality questionable.

This trend goes all the way back to the Greeks and their gods and heroes. Their chief god, Zeus, is a perpetual adulterer, Aphrodite starts a war over vanity, Apollo attempts to rape Daphne (a human girl). Hercules murders his family in a fit of rage. Why do we do this?

Why must we add character flaws to those we admire and worship? Part of it, I think, has to do with relevance. We want to be able to relate to them on some level and have them understand us.

The other part of it is that maybe we think perfection is impossible. Everything in the world is so screwed up, we cynically agree. We will never be able to relate to heroes or gods. Why even try?

But Christianity changes our perspective. Scripture says that the reason we so desperately desire to be like the gods is that we were originally made to be that way.

The driving need to relate to heroes, I think, comes from a deep, often-untapped DNA in us derived from God Himself. We were created in His image. We were created to be heroes, to be warriors, to be the powerful force that defeats evil. Through Jesus, we are given this authority and might—and even perfection through his sacrificial death. We did kill our hero—that, too, is in us.

But the truth is that Jesus came to earth not only to die but also to be able to relate to us. We didn’t drag him down to our level; he chose to climb down here with us. How beautiful. The difference between him and most heroes comes in how he lived. Jesus walked the roads of Jerusalem perfectly; he never sinned, not once. And yet thousands and thousands were drawn to him. They saw a little bit of themselves in the god-man somehow. He still managed to relate to them.

Now, believe me, we tried to find flaw in him. We tried to make him look like us. The Pharisees tried to trap him so often, it wasn’t even funny. But it never worked. The only thing that worked was a botched trial and false accusation. Kill him! We don’t understand him!

People have been so deceived by the lie that says that if we drag our heroes down to our level, then maybe we will be able to relate. Maybe, too, we won’t feel this insatiable longing for perfection if we just assume that they, too, are flawed and capable of messing up.

But that’s so twisted. The truth is that we don’t have to believe that perfection is impossible. We don’t have to just accept that this is as good as its gonna get. Jesus made us a way to relate to heroes by drawing us to himself, but what’s even better is that we get to become heroes. And when we drop the idea that perfection is impossible without God, ironically and beautifully, in our surrender God now sees us as perfect through his Son.

We don’t need to cynically kill our heroes. We now have hope for humanity. Our perfect Hero already died for us so that we can relate to heroism on a whole new level and cause evil to tremble.

 

 

 

 

Courage

Did I tell you that my husband and I are planning an epic road trip this summer? Because I’ve told everyone else: we’re riding his 2003 Roadking Harley all the way to California and back to Florida.

In fact, I think I’ve informed just about everyone I’ve encountered lately. We even told the cashier at Best Buy about the trip as we were checking out. But honestly I think that was because we were buying a selfie stick, and we felt like we needed to explain. Yes. I know. I judged myself.

But despite the selfie-stick-buying, there’s just something that makes me feel a little hardcore when I mention the trip. A little adventurous. It could be that the 21st century is wearing on me, and I think it’s adventurous to ride at 70 mph across the country, staying in air-conditioned military base hotels and friends’ homes. But part of me knows it isn’t that at all.

I think there’s some part of me that goes way back that longs for adventure. Like, in a deep way. I crave it. I desire it.

When I was younger, I would read the Lord of the Rings novels by Tolkien and just eat them up. I was dying to become like Eowyn when she disguised herself as a man and rode out to battle to defend her country from evil. Her boldness inspired me like nothing else. I’ve always loved shooting bows, and my brother and I used to play sword fights.

I think, like my dad, the idea of the cowboy has always stirred something in me as well: being out alone on the range, nothing between you and the stars. Sometimes when I’m riding at night on the Harley, I’ll just look up for a second and be blown away at how close the stars feel.

It’s something eternal in me that longs for stuff like this, longs to grab the stars, to fight evil and win.

But you want to know something else? I’m scared. I’m so scared. Scared to ride out into the desert. Scared we won’t come back. Scared of ….who knows?

But without the fear, it wouldn’t be adventure. I think of Eowyn, her shaking hands desperately trying to keep hold of her sword hilt as she stared down the Ringwraith captain. But she swung her sword anyway. Heck, she rode out anyway to begin with.

And I think it was that initial riding out that started to develop her courage to the point where she could stare at the darkest form of evil and not blink. It all started with her first choice to ride out, despite everything telling her she couldn’t do it, she wouldn’t make it.

So maybe the longing for adventure is a longing for courage. The thing is, I know I have courage, and I think Eowyn knew she did too. She just had to will herself to ride out and find it. And she did, and she was totally transformed.

So I’ll ride out on my own adventure to California, on my own steel horse, and find my courage too.

 

 

Messy

The day my husband left for a TDY, I purged the house. He walked out the door, and I waltzed over to his nightstand and whisked away the piles of flight plans, road maps, and junk mail that had gathered there for months. I scrubbed the kitchen counters, not quite managing to get the red rum punch stains entirely out. The dishwasher was loaded exactly the way I like it, and the coffee pot was actually hand washed and not simply rinsed out for the next morning’s use.

When my husband sleeps, I am fairly sure he performs jiu jitsu routines in the bed on a nightly basis. The bed always looks as if a tornado has hurtled through our bedroom until the covers are twisted into one chaotic mass. We call this his “fighting ninjas.” Most days I don’t even bother making up the bed; it’d take way too much time. I mentioned to him the other night that I had actually gotten to wake up in a neat, orderly bed every day this week. He replied that I must have a terrible ninja infestation now.

Often this week I’ve remarked that my life has been so much cleaner with him out of town. In fact, it would be cleaner in general had I never met him.

The chaos that man has brought into my life is unreal. Deployments. TDYs. PCS-ing to a new base every few years. Never knowing what time he’ll be home from work. His getting stuck in some other state due to a weather cancel on an out-and-back flight. Calls at 2:00 a.m. from a flight student who’s puking and can’t make her 6:00 a.m. briefing.

And did I mention my 110 lb holy terror of a Great Pyrenees? He leaves gigantic puffs of white fur clouds all across my floor, drools all over the carpet, eats T.V. remotes (and other vital objects) every other week, and generally creates bedlam in my would-be orderly household.

Maybe my cleanliness is an attempt to control a single aspect of my life when so much of the rest of it is out of my hands. Maybe it’s just a holdover of perfectionism. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ve had to rely on God a lot more since I’ve met my husband. I’ve even caught myself praying for my ridiculous dog. In any case, I know I’ve had to embrace the mess and just relax.

It’s a chipping away at my soul that’s been happening, I think. A kind of gentle carving away at the need to be perfect, to be presentable at all times. And I think it’s taken me some time to realize this, but somehow the beautiful mess that’s been my life since my husband entered it has made me more human.

It’s made me more relatable. Because imperfect people don’t relate to those who appear perfect. That’s why Jesus was so attractive to messy people like addicts and prostitutes. The perfect people didn’t need Him.

Gosh, may I not be perfect so I need Him more and more. Messy lives are so much easier for Him to enter into than “perfect” ones.

Will it still drive me a little crazy to wake up on a regular basis to a bed and a house that look like a ninja battleground? Yeah, probably. But it’s also a weird reminder that God is at work here—even amidst the white fur clouds and flight suits all over the floor. So I’m okay with the mess.