Monday, December 17, 2018

So I Have This Tattoo (a post about regrets)

I would like to blame my sisters-in-law for the weird, lopsided, kind of scary sun that permanently resides on my very-low back.  I would like to say that it's because they all got tattoos that year, and said, "You should get one too, Joy!"  I would also like to say that is my husband's fault because he said, "You should get a sun!"  I’d had an idea for what I wanted, but it involved Bengali writing, and everyone made me think the tattoo artist would get it wrong and I’d have some Sanskrit obscenity permanently imprinted on my skin.

But the truth is, I can't blame anyone but myself.  I was the one who drove downtown with my sister-in-law, the one who picked out the design and signed the waiver, who paid (ugh) the money and sat through the completely voluntary pain of it.  At any of those junctures, I could have put a stop to it, but I didn't.  Not even when I saw the artist who would be putting that ink under my skin, and I was pretty sure he was stoned.  He wore his sunglasses almost the entire time, but during the brief period he removed them, his eyes were completely bloodshot.  And anyway, how else do I explain how the sun isn't exactly a circle but kind of a sideways oval?

I had picked its location because I wanted a place that wouldn't stretch out if I had another baby (my wisest decision in regards to my tattoo because I've had three babies since then), or sag, and would typically be covered by my clothing in case I was in the company of people who might frown on such things (yet here I am now, talking about it in the internet. Oh, the irony.).  But then a friend called it a tramp stamp, a term I hadn't even thought of, but it makes me blush furiously every time I think about it because that wasn’t what I’d intended, and my kids like to tell random people that Mommy has a tattoo on her butt.  It’s my very-low back, guys!!!

Apparently you have to think of everything when you're going to do something permanent like a tattoo.  Who’d of thunk.

There are definitely worse things I could have done.  It's not that big .  And I have scars on my body — chicken pox scars everywhere, acne scars on my face, a giant scar that curves up the side of my leg from falling on a hike — that I didn't choose and yet will be with me forever.  On the one hand, I can laugh (a lot, honestly) about my tattoo.  But do I regret it?  Kind of.  Okay, yes, for sure.

I try to make decisions that will lead to a life that is free of regrets.  Sometimes I spend so much time considering decisions, I live my life with such intention, you'd think it would be impossible to make a poor decision.

And yet I do. Again and again and again...

I've found myself regretting many things.  A few years ago, when we still lived in Hawaii and Annalee was a new baby, we made a trip to California, and I honestly regretted most of it.  We saw our family (good), and made it a point to view some colleges (necessary, especially since Jayna ended up at one of them).  But we had Disneyland passes that were about to expire, and we built the entire trip around that — which backfired because those two days were unseasonably hot and unexpectedly crowded.  We had fun, but there were so many friends I didn't get to see, including an older friend who was battling cancer, and I wondered if I would ever get to see her again, this side of heaven.  I stewed about it for months, honestly, wrestling with my regret, and I still kick myself about it every now and then. 

Of course, there’s a lot more than that.  I regret silly things like poor fashion choices I made (so many of them).  I wish I hadn't cut my hair super short when I was nine years old because people thought I was a boy.  I wish I could take back a million things I've said, and countless times when I lost my temper.  I wish I'd known sooner what makes my face break out because that would have been a whole lot less painful, not to mention what it looked like and that it left those unsightly scars, and everyone was always offering advice, most of which only made me feel worse about it.  I regret the ways I've let my focus be shifted from God, my husband and children, sometimes, because I will never get back that wasted, narcissistic time.  

I'm not done yet... But I think you get the idea.  It seems that there are times in my life when I can admit my regrets and move on, but there are other times when these regrets clump together into an awful, ugly monster and shadow my life, making me feel incapable of making good decisions as I dwell in the past with wishes of how to go back and make it all better. I mean, basically just picture Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite.  

As we come to the end of another year, all the things I did wrong this year are coming to keep me awake at 3 am.  As I've been thinking about this, some thoughts have occurred to me.  I'm writing them down as reference to myself for future battles with the Regret Monster, but I’m sharing them with you as well, just in case you can relate.

1.  Regrets aren't all bad.  We say, "No regrets!"  We pin inspiring quotes about living a life free of regret — but to never regret anything, at least the way I see it, means to shut down our conscience, to disavow our mistakes.  That's not necessarily a good thing.  If we don't dare label things as "mistakes", we are more apt to repeat them.  Acknowledging them is key to growing.

2.  That being said, dwelling on regrets won't make them better.  Living in Regretville doesn't fix anything.  Instead of replaying the scene ad nauseum where I said the totally wrong thing or lost my temper, I need to say, "Here's what I did wrong, so next time I will..."  I do plan to get my tattoo fixed someday (because it's fixable).  And most of my other mistakes also give me a chance to repeat them and this time, hopefully, do better. 

3.  Sometimes, regrets point is to apologies we need to make.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that the only thing that hurts worse than some of the bad things that have happened to me is that those who did them never apologized. I don’t want to be like that. When I’m regretting a choice I made or or words I said and I feel like I was wrong, I take the time and energy to apologize — if it’s at all possible.   

4.  It's important to distinguish between a true, regrettable mistake and a lack of perspective.  Tell me I'm not the only one who gets crazy hard on myself?  I want to be perfect and beautiful, and hilarious and kind and likable 110% of the time... And if I'm not?  If I realize I'm just a goofy dork with crazy hair and imperfect skin, and a smile that shows too many teeth (a dentist once actually told me that)?  ...I start to regret things.  Almost everything.  And that just gets exhausting.  Seriously, try regretting your smile and trying to change it.  It's almost impossible.  Just because my home doesn't look like a Pinterest-worthy mini-palace, I shouldn't beat myself up about having friends over.  I should still be able love and accept myself the way I am. Because ultimately, I should be grateful.  I have a wonderful home with plenty of clothes and good nutritious food on hand, as well as friends who love me generously in spite of my flawed skin, smile, hair and personality, and the best family in the world.

5.  Along these lines, when facing regrets, I need to believe truth, not lies.  I need to believe I'm not defined by my mistakes, that I can change things, and that I'm not doomed to repeat failure again and again.  Ann Voskamp writes in The Broken Way, “You are the most loved not when you’re pretending to have it all together; you are actually the most loved when you feel broken and are falling apart... when we’re rejected and abandoned and feel beyond wanting, Jesus cups our face: ‘Come close, beloved.’”  I am still loved in spite of what I’ve done wrong.  And if something really needs to not happen again, then with the help of God’s amazing grace, I can do that.  I have done that.  And the broken, imperfect things about me are places for His strength to be shown and His light to shine through.


I’d love to hear your thoughts about regrets.  What are some things you regret?  What have you learned?

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Our New Home

So here’s something funny.  Whenever I meet someone here (and since I’m relatively new still, this is usually at least once a week) and I tell them I moved from Busan, they almost inevitably reply, “Oh, I’m sorry.”  

I mean, I kind of get it.  It’s a big change.  Gone are the towering apartment buildings of my old neighborhood.  The area we live in is pretty rural, with lots of rice paddies and old villages.  My bedroom view isn’t exactly the “million dollar view” I used to have of Dongbaek Island, Haeundae Beach, Dalmaji, and so much water.  Instead, I look out at a private, quiet forested hill, surrounded by pine trees, feeling like I live in a treehouse.  While tourists used to pose for pictures in front of my apartment building, the only people in front of my house are the 10-and-under set, screaming and laughing and playing games.

But I don’t hate it! Not at all!  Now that it’s November and gratitude is on our minds especially as Thanksgiving approaches, I’ve been reflecting on the changes of this year and feel compelled to write about our new home and how we came to it.  

This past summer, as we anticipated our move north, closer to Seoul, I was feeling quite a bit a of dread and anxiety (referenced somewhat in this and this post).  I was moving by myself because Matt was extended at his job in Busan.  It was hard to get any information, though a couple people on Facebook helped tremendously.  I had hoped we would get to live on base after all the shenanigans with our property manager in Busan, but we were told that would be very unlikely as the base didn’t have enough housing yet.  I got sort of used to that reality and said, “Fine, as long as I don’t have to live in an apartment again.”  Because honestly, last winter in our apartment took so much out of me.  Then I was told that it was likely we would have to live in an apartment.  

I reached out to a couple realtors (property managers but they’re called realtors) in the area, and they made me think all the good places were being snatched up as I was stateside, but I wasn’t about to sign a lease sight unseen.  The soonest we could get away to go house hunting was about a week after our return to Korea, which was just a few weeks before school was supposed to start.  The day before I was supposed to leave to come north, I’d gotten more bad news, and I couldn’t get a room in base lodging or for that matter even near the base for our house hunting.  I was kind of at my wits’ end — or near it, anyway — and I sent a series of discouraged texts to my parents, big sister, and best friend stateside.  They all wrote back that they were praying, and goodness knows I was praying too, but it felt pretty futile.

I went for a run in the gym, going as hard and fast as I could until there was just no energy left to be anxious and worried.  Then I returned to the apart-hotel room we’d moved into, prayed for the umpteenth time, took a deep breath, and typed up a message on a Facebook page, introducing myself and asking if anyone knew of a particularly good realtor and good places to look for housing.  I got several really helpful answers, and one woman in particular sent me a direct message that ended up being a total game changer.

“There’s a five-bedroom house next door to mine that’s open right now,” she said.  “It’s quiet, there are hiking trails nearby, and there’s a creek and playground and tons of kids.”  She also told me about a realtor several of the neighbors used and loved.  I had an appointment arranged within minutes.  

This realtor could not have been more different from the one we’d used in Busan.  She spoke excellent English and greeted us so kindly, offering ice-cold bottles of water as we drove from house to house.  We’d talked about what we were looking for beforehand, and she seemed to “get it” exactly.  In all, we only looked at three houses — very “House Hunters International”-esque — but she said she had a longer list that were “villas”  (townhouses with no yards or outdoor areas) and apartments, and she didn’t think we’d like them as much as the houses she’d shown us.  We felt we’d seen enough, too, and really it was down to two houses.  One was the house my new friend had messaged me about.

And that’s the one we ended up with.  As the realtor put it, the other house was bigger, but this one had the best neighbors, and after having a downstairs neighbor that would growl at us in the elevator and complain to management often, it feels like the nicest gift.  They showed up with hugs and food and gifts as we moved in.  There’s lots of space for running around and playing. The kids are outside when the weather is good until the sun has set — and sometimes later! — and they’re dirty from head to toe when they finally come inside from playing in the woods or down at the playground or creek.  It feels like they’re doing the kinds of things kids are supposed to get to do again.

Another big change is that I also started homeschooling the youngest three again about a month into the school year (if you remember, I homeschooled when we lived in Hawaii, and I’d actually missed it these past two years!).  I had wanted to make a decision when school started, but since that was less than a week after we moved in, I just could hardly think straight.  But I found that this was one case where I don’t think it hurt anything to decide to homeschool when I did.  The dust had settled, and I could reason more clearly.

Then there are other changes, like how I have a dryer again.  Living close to a commissary — rather than a couple hours away — means I have pizza and frozen yogurt in my freezer again, which is both convenient and delicious.  Some of the changes are both good and a little sad.  I miss the conversations I had with the owner of the pizza place I went to on Friday nights... but I know I won’t miss the walk through the frigid wind to get there in a couple months!  My friends here mostly Americans, which is wonderful, but I remember fondly the birthday parties I attended in Busan where “Happy Birthday” was sung in English, Korean, and Norwegian.  I miss the international community I was part of there, and the diverse stories and perspectives I got to hear.  

But there’s so much more open space, and the beauty, patterns, and rhythms of the countryside are a welcome change.

It was still a challenge to move here without Matt.  We had two months of a “commuter marriage”, though thankfully that’s over now!  It could definitely have been worse.  When we were doing our safety inspection with the realtor, the superintendent of our neighborhood and his wife came to meet us.  They are the sweetest couple.  “Don’t worry,” they told my husband, “we will take good care of your family while you’re in Busan.” And they did!

Anyway, as I sit here, reflecting on gratitude this Thanksgiving week, I’m humbled and awed once again at the goodness of God.  And I want to point out that it isn’t because this move turned out exactly the way I wanted it to six months ago.  I still had to move before Matt, we didn’t get base housing, no lightning bolt and voice from Heaven told me to definitely homeschool.  There were many moments of anxiety and tension and worry.  I’m not saying all this to point out my holiness or goodness — since I’m so, so grateful anyway — because actually the opposite is true.  I fought, I stressed, I complained to God (and people) pretty much every step of the way.  But now, when I look around and feel the peace, contentment, and gratitude for how He has worked things out, I feel pretty silly for all the grumbling.

During the summer, I actually said the words, “[With this move] I keep saying, ‘Okay, it will be fine as long as this or that happens.’  And God keeps saying, ‘Lower your expectations. Nope, lower still.  Lower.... L o w e r....’”  Now, on the other side of the move, my change-resistant soul bows humbly at the words, “‘If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?’”  Emphasis mine, because hi, that would be me. (Matthew 6:30 NIV). 

I’ve received so much more already than I ever thought I would — sweet neighbors and new friends, a lovely house surrounded by natural beauty we wouldn’t have had on base (sorry, but it’s true), a sense of quiet peace and assurance that I’m doing the right thing homeschooling my younger kids at this point in time.  Once again, I see how God provides not exactly according to our plans or what we tell the world we want but according to exactly what our hearts need.  

And I am so very thankful.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

WRWE: Beginning of Fall

“My favorite poem is the one that starts ‘Thirty days hath September’ because it actually tells you something.” ~Groucho Marx

Well, thirty days for September plus seventeen for October were not enough for me to get the Watching, Reading, Wearing, Eating post that I was planning done. In my defense, the first half of October was a little crazy.  We made another trip to Busan for my husband’s Change of Command ceremony, for one thing, though we didn’t have time to check anything else off the bucket list. I have also started homeschooling Lilly and Wyatt (again — I used to homeschool when we lived in the States), and that required a whole lot of my time to get the ball rolling.  

I thought about just skipping it for September except there are two particularly important items I wanted to mention, plus the fun stuff for wearing and eating.  Also, we are doing a film fest in October that I can’t wait to tell you about — next month! 😉

So here it is. I can’t really call it the September edition, so the WRWE “Beginning of Fall” edition.

Watching:  the hands-down best thing we watched in September was the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? about Fred Rogers.  I’m usually the last one to see stuff, but if you haven’t watched this yet, why not?! It’s so good. I cried all the way through it — but also laughed more than I expected to.  It is the most inspiring thing I’ve watched in a while, making me so badly want to a better neighbor — not just to those living literally next door but in the broader sense of the word— and also a better friend, better wife, better mother.

Reading: I read a couple fun light and fun fiction books in September at the recommendation of Janssen Bradshaw at Everyday Reading. One was To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and the other The Summer I Turned Pretty, both by Jenny Han, which took me back to my high school days.  (Check out Janssen’s reviews for them here and here.) 

I’m glad I read two more or less lighthearted books before taking on Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening by Manal Al-Sharif.  This is a very important and bravely written book, but gosh, it was hard to get through.  I feel physically ill when I read or hear about children being hurt, and this book addresses many things including child abuse and female circumcision. So you can imagine the state I was in reading it. I’ve read and learned quite a bit about Islam in college and since, besides being born and spending my childhood in a predominantly Muslim country.  But this was still eye-opening and informative to me, so I can imagine most everyone would learn something. The overall message is so inspiring and hopeful. I highly recommend it. 

Wearing: September had the most wonderful weather. Seriously, if you’re thinking of a trip to South Korea, September might just be the perfect month for it! I started reaching for jackets in the mornings and evenings, though — just lightweight ones like this sueded-knit moto jacket from Old Navy. 

 I love these moto jackets so much, I actually have two — this and a fleece one I traveled with this summer that was just perfect for places like San Francisco 

and the California coast, 
which can still be very cool in the summer.  Both of mine were purchased last year, but you can find similar ones here and here.

Eating: Sometimes I just want a quick lunch. But I’m vegetarian.  I don’t always want PB&J, and I’m trying not to eat much cheese for several reasons, including that dairy, it seems, is not a friend to my complexion.  I came across this recipe for a sort of tuna salad redux, and then I simplified it even more.  I take a can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drain and and mash them up coarsely using a potato masher.  Then I add two tablespoons of vegan mayo, one tablespoon of Dijon mustard, one tablespoon of minced onion, and a tablespoon or two of minced dill pickles and stir it all up. It’s delicious, and easy- chickpeasy. (Too corny? Sorry.)

Anyway, I have some fun posts planned, and hopefully now that we are finding our groove, I’ll have them up soon! In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you! What have you been watching, reading, wearing, and eating?

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Busan Bucket List

Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person that knows a really great secret.  When I arrived in Busan, I was often struck by how pretty it was — the striking architecture of the bridges, the vibrant flowers adorning the roadways, so many trees and green spaces, the way the neon lights of the city looked like jewels in a treasure chest from my apartment at night.  But it seemed like not that many people knew how great it was — at least in West.  

Finally, though, word seems to be getting out.  I’m not the only person who thinks that it’s a beautiful and interesting city.  Busan played a key role in one of the most popular movies this year, Black Panther.  This past summer, the city topped Lonely Planet’s list of places to visit in Asia for 2018   

There’s a “Busan Bucket List”.  It includes Tajeongdae (which I wrote about here), Gwangan Bridge which was part of my husband’s daily commute, Gwangalli, Haeundae Beach and Dongbaek Island, both of which I could see from my apartment and walked to frequently.  But there were lots of places I hadn’t been to — Beomosa Temple, the UN Memorial Cemetery, Jagalchi Market, Haedong Yonggungsa (aka Temple by the Sea), Gamcheon Culture Village, Songdo Beach and Busan Jin market and much more.  And when we returned from the States at the end of July, I realized it was high time I saw some of these places.

First up was Haedong Yonggungsa, aka the Temple by the Sea, aka The Most Beautiful Temple in Korea.  

Set along the rocky coastline with the turquoise water, it really is an exquisite place.
In August, it is also maybe one of the most crowded places, and it is exceptionally hot.  There was lots to look at and contemplate, and also, much to our relief, a market selling Korean street food and icy cold drinks right outside the temple.  

We also got to to Gamcheon Culture Village.  This is an artsy little corner of Busan with lots of murals and swoon-worthy photo opps. 
There is also The House of Peace, which is basically a room with words of peace written in it.
And the Gamnaegol Happy Power Station — Happy Power is something we need more of, am I right?
Gamcheon, though, is mainly about the art.  
One of the critiques I’ve heard about it is that it’s just a place to pose for Instagram pictures.  Wellllll.... kinda yeah.  
Check out Exhibit A: this was the line to pay roughly fifty cents to pose for a picture. 
 If you thought you could come up and just pose for free, think again: there were signs everywhere warning of the always-watchful CCTV.  

While there’s maybe nothing inherently wrong with going to a place just to take pretty pictures, it’s not exactly a purpose that translates well to kids.  The minute we got out of the taxi, my younger ones were complaining about the heat and kept saying, “So what’s there to do here?”

“Ummm, take pretty pictures.” (Obviously!) 

“We don’t wwaaaannnt tooooo!”  It’s toooooo hot!”

Then we found a cute little shop that sold *****GIANT MACARON ICE CREAM SANDWICHES*****!! 

 They were huge and delicious and refreshing.  Oh and also, there was water.  After that, my children decided they wouldn’t disown me — yet — and I even got a few smiles in pictures.  

And we actually got a little adventure because the taxi ride was longer (read: more expensive) than I’d anticipated + I had less cash on me than I’d thought.  Also, there is no global ATM, it turns out, in Gamcheon even though it is a main tourist attraction.  The nearest one is in Jagalchi.  We did have our metro cards so we were able to take the bus to Jagalchi and took out money to take a taxi from there to our place.  (The metro would also have been an option, but my kids were running out of patience, so forty minutes at least on the metro was daunting.) 

I couldn’t get the kids to go to Jagalchi even though the bank was right outside.  Jagalchi is a fish market, and I remember that when we were moving to Busan, I read something that said it was, and I quote, “quite possibly the stinkiest place on earth”.  (I wish I could remember where it was to cite it properly! Sorry!) So that is, largely speaking, why my kids didn’t want to go.  Besides, Haeundae Street Market has lots of fish for sale too, and we’d spent plenty of time there.

The third and final stop I managed to visit was Busan Jin Market.  This is a fabric and hanbok (traditional Korean dress) market.

You can also buy some Korean handicrafts there.  

The hanboks were so beautiful, made of stunning fabrics. 
 I would have taken much longer and spent probably way too much money, if not for my younger traveling companions.  So while they didn’t always smile for those pictures I wanted, they kept me from buying a lot of things I didn’t exactly need!  I have to say, they were very good sports, too, especially since the market is indoors and air conditioned! 

But even with our efforts, there are still places on the bucket list that we need to see.  Fortunately, we’re in the same country still, with lots of friends to visit, and plenty more of Beautiful Busan to see.  I’m so thankful for my time in this stunning city, and I hope word really does get around that it’s a must-see destination!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Bear With Me

“I did it!  I actually did it!”  My husband had been sitting quietly tinkering on his iPad just before jumping up and sharing his news that morning about four years ago.  We were sitting in his mom’s cozy kitchen in Northern California.  I was newly pregnant with Annalee, fighting down nausea as I got the kids their breakfasts.

“What’s that, honey?” I asked.

Matt’s eyes shone and his face bore the hugest smile.  “I got us reservations at Curry Village!!  You know the tents in Yosemite?  We’re finally staying there! Tonight!  I got a reservation for two nights!”

“Oh,” I stalled, trying to muster some enthusiasm.  “Wow...  Can you cancel?”

“Why would I want to?  I’ve wanted to stay there since I was a little boy!  Every time we’ve visited California since we moved away, I’ve tried to get reservations but have never been able to!”  

This was true.  Matt had grown up with regular trips to Yosemite but had always stayed in the “housekeeping cabins” which are best described as “spartan.”  Curry Village, row upon row upon row of white “glamping” tents with beds, was the Promised Land he’d never been able to reach.  Yes, he’d tried every summer when we were back in California to stay there.  He’d gloomily report to me that he had once again failed to get reservations, and I’d reply, “Ohhhh, darn.  That’s too bad.”  And that night as I snuggled into my bed — usually at a relative’s home, or a nearby cabin or hotel with the important feature of climate control and attached bathrooms, I’d smile to myself and whisper a prayer of thanks that we weren’t in Curry Village.

Because here’s the thing: camping there had never appealed to me,  I’ve done my fair share of roughing it.  I camp— and yes, to a degree, I enjoy it — but I’ve also stayed in all sorts of accommodations with my parents.  I’ve stayed in places with cockroaches crawling around, rats in the bathroom, bathrooms down the hall, even bathrooms outside (and that adventure almost cost me my life).  But my beef with Curry Village is that it always reminded me of a refugee tent city.  And I’m not saying I’m too good for that, but when they charge $90 a night... Why would I want to pay to spend the night in a canvas “room” where I can hear the neighbors snoring?  No, thank you.

“Well,” I countered, “it’s just that we didn’t really bring any cold weather clothes because I thought  we’d agreed we weren’t going to go into the mountains on this trip.”  We were living in Hawaii at the time.  “And wasn’t there just a Hanta virus outbreak?”

“That was ages ago.  It’s October!  It’s not going to be that cold!  Anyway, no, I can’t cancel.  If we don’t stay there, we forfeit the $90.”  (He knew he could get me by appealing to my bargain-hunting nature.). “You can make it one night at least, and I bet you’ll love it.”

And so it was that we arrived late that afternoon.  Since Curry Village is in Yosemite Valley, the sun had already dipped behind the surrounding mountains, and darkness was coming on quickly.  Matt went to check in, and I noticed there were actual bear traps — the humane, catch-and-release kind — in the parking lot.  I’ve been to Yosemite many, many times, and I had never seen that before.

 Moreover, there were warning signs posted everywhere.  This was at the height of the California drought, and I forget the precise wording but the signs said something like, “Due to extreme drought conditions, bears are starving and may eat children and their pregnant mothers.”  It was like they didn’t want us there.

We tried to find food, and discovered that, as it turned out, this was the first day of “the off season” — meaning all the restaurants were closed.  Ah, now it made a little more sense how Matt had been able to get a reservation on such short notice.  We had PB&J sandwiches with us and supplemented that with carrot sticks, corn chips, bean dip and the queso that comes in a little can, all purchased at the convenience store.  As I was in line to check out, I heard — I’m not kidding — the following conversation.

Woman in front of me:  The bears are completely crazy this year, huh?  (I whisper silent prayer that she’s talking about a sports team.)

Cashier: Yeah, you heard about that attack last week?  (Ugh, not a sports team.) The woman attacked  in her tent? (Stomach drops.)  Do you know why they think it happened?

Woman: No, why?

Cashier: Her mascara. (Woman and I are both so wide-eyed, our mascara-rimmed eyeballs might actually fall out of our heads.) Yup.  They found a tube in her tent, and they think that’s what he was after.  Gotta lock up all your toiletries in the bear boxes.  Everything.  It’s so important. 

I reported the story to Matt.  “What did she have in her mascara?!” he said.  “Peanut butter?!”  

Skyler, who is typically our most intrepid kid, leading us in adventures whenever we start to balk, sounded on the verge of tears as she said, “Maybe we should just go and stay in town.  I saw some hotels with vacancy signs in Mariposa.”

“No!”  Matt was emphatic.  “We’re staying here!  I’ve always wanted to do this.  Can’t you guys just try to enjoy it?”

We wanted to because we love him, but... well, it actually was cold even if it was October.  The temperature plummeted to just above freezing.  I put on every article of clothing I had and still couldn’t fight the chill. There were three full-size beds with sheets and a thin, scratchy blanket.  Fortunately, my sister-in-law, who heard what we were doing, had loaned us three sleeping bags.  As she and Matt loaded them into the trunk that morning, I saw her whisper something to him.

“What?” I’d asked, and they had responded “Nothing!” in such perfect unison that I was very suspicious.  I later found out she’d told him how awful her experience had been staying there. 

If you’re thinking it was a terrible night, you’re only partially right.  It was so bad, I can only think of a few scenarios that would have made it worse, and they mostly involve axe murderers.  

My stomach, already tumultuous from pregnancy hormones, was churning.  I got my dinner down and hoped it would stay there because the bathroom was a good two hundred yards from our tent.  We made one last stop there before we crawled, shivering, into bed.  Matt and Wyatt were in one bed, Lilly and Jayna in another, and me and Skyler in the third.  The sleeping bags must not have been rated to freezing temperatures because the cold seeped in from all sides.  Since  we needed some icing on the cake, one of the neighbors in the next tent passed gas loudly.  “GROSS!” I stage-whispered.  We were paying $90 a night for this?!

I finally drifted into a hypothermic sleep for a few hours but as is known to happen, especially when you’re pregnant, I woke needing to go to the bathroom.  My chivalrous husband agreed to accompany me on the trek, and we slipped out into the darkness.  We were almost there when — would you believe? — right in front of us, was a bear.  My heart and body froze as the bear lumbered toward us, and Matt whispered, “How close should we let it get before we run?”  It looked at me and roared, so I yelled,, “Run! Now!”  I headed for the dumpster and scrambled on top of it, because that’s the obvious best choice when you’re trying to escape a bear.  Climb on top of a veritable feast locked in a metal box.  Slather yourself in honey for good measure.  

The bear was swiping at my legs as I screamed in terror.  And somehow, through it all, I heard my husband’s calm and steady voice.  “Joy.  Hey, Joy.  JOY!  Wake up!!”  

It had just been a dream — terrifyingly realistic enough for me to whisper to Matt in my grogginess, “Thank you.  You just saved my life. A bear was attacking me,”

“That explains it,” he said, and I could hear a hint of laugher in his voice.  The fog of sleep was clearing, and I realized that our gassy neighbors and actually pretty much everyone for probably a mile around was now awake and murmuring about what the heck that noise had been.  And then I remembered that when I “scream” or talk or yell in my sleep, it’s not an actual screams or words.  It’s more like the voice of the undead: “UhhhhuuUuuuUUUUHhhhhhhh!”  Our neighbors were probably trying to convince themselves it wasn’t the start of the zombie apocalypse.  

Matt and I had a huge fit of giggles.  Our kids woke up, and we all really did need the bathroom.  The only thing more terrifying than my dream was having to actually go out there and see everything just as it had been — minus, thankfully, the bear.  

1 Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  (ESV). Call me crazy, but I think of that night every time I read that verse.  It’s hard to say who bore or endured more hardship — me in my half-frozen, nauseous state, him with his delirious wife.  It’s me going along with his spur-of-the-moment ideas and him taking me to the world’s largest IKEA on a Saturday (yep, he really just did that!).  I guess love is no tally marks, no merit badges, just a dance with many complicated steps of give and take.

We dozed off and on for the next few hours, and at the first light, Matt started packing.  “Come on, guys,” he said, “we’re not doing this again.”  I don’t know if I’ve ever loved him so much.  

When he got in the car after checking out, I asked, “Did we have to pay for the second night?”  Matt shook his head.  “Nope.  She refunded it, no questions asked.”  As we drove out of the parking lot, he added, “It might have had something to do with you being a crazy woman screaming in the middle of the night.”

I laughed. “You’re welcome.”