Blizzard Avoidance.

Hey, all. I am writing this at the last second as we are in the air to Miami on the second-to-last flight out of Indianapolis before snowpocolypse hits the midwest.

Seriously, look:

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And furthermore, look:

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See where it says the number 14? THAT’S MY TOWN, Y’ALLS! The low tonight is -17 in Indy, and the High tomorrow is -15. We are expecting a foot of snow. In Miami? A balmy 87 or something tomorrow, then, like, 63 when the cold front comes through. I know. You want me to shut it.

Our escape did not come easy, though. American Airlines told us yesterday as we begged to move our Sunday flight to Saturday that they were sorry, there had been no alert issued, but we were welcome to call every hour. By this morning? A total alert, and we could leave in 4 hours as every flight after 6p would be canceled. Our whole reason for going to Miami was to attend a Monday morning meeting at the organization’s headquarters, to plan the projects we would be visiting in Cuba and to meet the key leaders. The soonest departure after the storm would be Tuesday, although American Airlines projected NEXT FRIDAY.

We kicked it into high gear, cleaning, making arrival arrangements and banging our heads on walls as we packed. We are allotted only 44lbs total from Miami to Cuba, including checked bags and carry-on, making it a pack-weigh-pack-weigh-pack-weigh morning. In the end, it turns out the camera and computer equipment weigh as much as SIX WEEKS WORTH OF EVERYTHING ELSE!

Travel whining aside, I have two major things to share. Wait. Three.

First thing: The Nepal issue of World Next Door is available for download! Remember all those intense updates about undercover brothels and Himalayan hikes and swarms of monkeys and adorable kids? THIS IS THAT ISSUE! The absolute best way to view the content (because it’s the most fun an interactive) is on a tablet or smart phone. But if you don’t have a tablet, don’t worry, you. The entire magazine is available on our website. The first image is a link to the download, and the second image is a link to the online content. Treat yo’self with one!

WND Nepal Ad

Nepal Web Content

Second thing: The Las Vegas issue of World Next Door will be ready for download in Februrary. Remember all those intense updates about brothels and strip clubs and Christians and cupcakes? THIS WILL BE THAT ISSUE!  I have to remind you about the download now, because…

Third thing: WE ARE GOING TO CUBA! And we won’t have easy access to internet. The minimal access to internet we’ll have will likely be available by dial-up on a few hotel PCs.  No real-time Instagram, though you can bet I’ll be later-gramming when I get back. No Facebook. Real time blogging? I have no idea.

This is our last stop on the World Next Door fellowship year, which blows my mind, and we are partnering with an organization called ECHO Cuba. The headquarters are in Miami, and that’s where we’ll spend the week learning about the organization before flying out to Cuba on Feb 11th. We know very little about the work they do in-country, which is why it was so important to catch them at this Monday first-of-the-year planning meeting! They have humanitarian projects going on all over the country, and their mission is to grow the local Cuban church, which exists underground in some parts. We know they facilitate pastoral training and small-group mission trips. We can’t wait to see what all they have in store for us, and we really hope it includes an airport pick-up and a host family in Miami :)

We do know we’ll be staying with a local Pastor and his family, and we know the itinerary is carefully planned with mandated tourist activities during the first week to reduce any suspicions :)  We think that sounds fantastic.

We’ve been to Cuba before, but only for a week and on a vacation, so we expect this to be a very different experience. We loved it though, and we’ve been counting down the days until we got to come back, so we’re thankful for whatever it is that lies ahead!

Thanks for sending us and journeying with us, friends. It’s been one spectacular year!

Jeff & Brooke

*We are now in Miami and my hair is instantly curly and all our bags made it and we’ve been claimed by our new friend Dulce and her little dog and we have a place to sleep and we are blasting the AC and watching the Colts and eating pizza. And those are all the things that have happened so far in Miami ;)

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I Am (married)

Anniversary Edition!

I Am, by marriage, second-generation thin crust pizza, spicy Italian sausage from a local butcher, whole milk mozzarella and pizza sauce that’s not to sweet, not too tangy, not to salty.  I am popcorn at 10pm with garlic salt and crushed black pepper, scrambled eggs most mornings, and breakfast in bed on my birthday. I am a cup of coffee snuck onto the bathroom counter while I’m in the shower. I am a late night mini DQ run accomplice.

I Am, by marriage, at the very top of a 14 thousand foot mountain. I am sitting at the UW Terrace with some kind of local brew in Madison, WI or at the New Glarus brewery with a $3 flight, or taking a lazy stroll on State Street after the Farmer’s market when the weather is warm and I’m in a sundress. I am in the upstairs bedroom on the left, waking up on holidays to rolling hills, Palamita Pond and a little farmet outside frosted windows in Beloit, Wisconsin. I am our very first Indiana Avenue facing one-bedroom apartment just a few steps from the Canal and White River State park by foot. I am sitting on a fixed and treated deck, sipping a summer Shandy by the Monon, with a yard just mowed, twinkle lights on, and a grill cooking fat-tire brats in Carmel, Indiana.

I Am, by marriage, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law, aunt, niece, and cousin. I am Bucky the Badger and flip-flopper and Merlot Kathy and Indiana Ron/Wisconsin Ron depending on the score. I am Brookaliscious. I am a gold medal swimmer at an Olympic wedding! Most of the time, without even thinking before it slips out even at work, I am simply Babe, which is okay with me.

I Am, by marriage, always in style. The dress never makes me look fat, the hair always looks good, there is definitely a change in my arm muscles, and yes, I can have the last bite/piece/sip. I am good enough, cool enough, nice enough, honest enough, funny enough, pretty enough, smart enough and competent enough. I am known. I am forgiven. I am loved. I am “I will” and “I do” and “I now pronounce you man and wife!”

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PS: Some friends have started doing this exercise with me, and I’m so thrilled it’s catching on. Three friends means catching, right? I do these weekly on Sundays, except for today which is Monday,  If you like it, please respond with your own answers.  Wouldn’t that be fun? (Yes, Brooke, that would be SO fun.)

Thanks to my pals who have responded- I love knowing who you are!
So tell me, everyone else, who are you?

A Letter to My Younger Self

Preface: This was our Scribes assignment last month (writing a letter to our younger self) and it was hard. Like, really hard. You should try it. I took the assignment literally. Others were more creative.

Dear Younger B,

It’s me, Older B. I’ve been commissioned to write you a letter.  You will never believe how hard it is to be in charge of all the secrets in our lives, and to determine which things to tell you and for what purpose.

We live in Carmel now. You are somewhere nearby (back in time) and whenever I run into a person who knew you, I feel compelled to run a way or jump behind a bush.  What I really want to say is: stop hi-jacking my experience here! But if Oldest B were writing me a letter, I would want her to be proud of me, and very kind. So, while reaching for my top-shelf patience, I would like to offer you a little compassion and a hug. Is seems necessary to pick you up and put you in my pocket before anyone else makes a judgment, because, well, you’re me. And we’re both doing the best we can, yes?

With that in mind, I would like to tell you right off the bat: you are already good enough, cool enough, nice enough, honest enough, funny enough, pretty enough, smart enough and competent enough. If you do nothing else, you are already these things.  Also, I have looked at a ton of pictures of you throughout the years. You are always skinner today than you will be tomorrow, so be happy with your body right now.

(You might also find this helpful sooner than later: there is a good face behind those eyebrows.)

I have decided not to share too many secrets, because life will give you lots of stories to tell, and without those, you might become a bore at parties. Also, each thing prompts you toward the next, and life gets exponentially better further up and further in. I don’t want to short-circuit this process. I will, however, give you some tips to ease the journey, throw some metaphorical pillows on the ground to soften your falls, and try to sand down a few sharp edges, okay? That’s what Older Bs do for Younger Bs.

I don’t know if you’re at the phase in life where 5’8″ you is jumping over shin-high bushes in the background of a video of your 3 and 5 year old brothers doing the same in the foreground; I don’t know if you’re at the stage where you can be seen doing karate chops by yourself, again, in the background of a video of your brothers doing real karate in the foreground. I’m not sure if you are a foot taller than your 4th grade class yet in a one-piece jumper made out of firework fabric sewn by your mom, or if you’re being kicked out of gymnastics because you’re too tall and heavy to spot, or if you’ve already soaked your jet-black hair with sun-in, baked it with a blow-dryer and performed an at-home perm kit backward by brushing it straight. Wherever you are in this process, you should know that you grow up to be funnier because of how weird you are right now.

Here are the punch lines to those stories: your hair turns bright orange, and the perm kit doesn’t work. You will be gray when you’re 19. You’ll quit gymnastics and play basketball through college. Although you’ll go to a college so tiny the volleyball team doubles as the basketball team, you will get a scholarship and you’ll break the scoring record during a tournament your freshman year—the only win that season. Today your grown-up self doesn’t even care about gymnastics.

**Side note, you’ll be tempted to order a little bacon and pepperoni pizza at midnight after basketball practices several times per week in college. Don’t do it. This is a dangerous habit. One day your metabolism will stop, and you’ll be frantically canning salads on Sunday nights to eat throughout the week because you can’t drop 15 pounds and your pants don’t fit. You are not currently playing basketball as an adult. You’ve spent a decade trying to break the pizza-cookie habit.

Maybe you’re in 7th grade, wearing a black turtleneck and multi-colored cow boxers, same as your BFF, with a notebook that you carry around every second containing the lifelong secrets between the two of you, and also some lyrics to Lion King. Everyone thinks you are a lesbian right now. You probably don’t even know what this means yet. No matter. Don’t change one single thing. This BFF will get you through High School in one piece, and you’ll both marry fantastic men.  The kids who make fun of you feel left out. The adults who think you’re a lesbian are out of touch with what BFF looks like at 13.

Younger B, if a safe-looking place opens its doors and a group of people attempt to love you unconditionally—assuming it’s not a gang—hang out there. You will have access to a pretty amazing youth group. Don’t take this for granted, because it’s the only reason you have turned out semi-normal at an earlier age, as compared to those other dudes in the foreground of all those cute videos. They will never really engage in this youth group. Their support network will expose them to several different drugs and county lock-ups. Yours will expose you to cross-cultural missions trips to Central America and, like, Chicago. That said, you act kind of weird, and if “youth group” were writing the story, it would not begin with a sentence like: “I have a pretty amazing Brooke.”  This dynamic is what makes the place so great. They know you and they still let you in. There you will find enough hugs and friends and snacks. Attend as often as you can. Go on every winter overnight and fall-break trip and summer mission. This experience is widening your lens and building a strong social and moral network, although it won’t present as such for several more years. Grown-up me wants to tell all the adults in your life thanks for keeping you safe and loved, and for not rolling their eyes to your face.  **Note to future self: stop rolling eyes at crazy teenagers.

Younger B, here is an important thing to note: life will seem completely out of control sometimes. That’s because it is.

Life is hard, but there is always a pressure valve somewhere. Kids will make fun of you.  They’ll call you Boring Brooke at cross-country camp and throw candy wrappers in your hair during choir.  Adults will manipulate you. Coworkers will bully you.  Family will disappoint you. Friends will hurt your feelings. People will say mean things behind your back, and sometimes even to your face. You’ll be misunderstood and misrepresented a thousand million times. You’ll be judged and dismissed and ignored. Lots of things will be unfair.  You will not be the best or the brightest. You will not be the funniest or the prettiest.  Good things will happen to bad people in your life. Bad things will happen to good people in your life.  Plans will not unfold according to your expectations. Even your own body will let you down.

But somewhere nearby will be a crawfish-type guy. Make it your mission to find the crawfish in your misery, give a quick thanks, force yourself to smile and keep moving forward. I tell you this one truth: someone nearby has it worse than you. Get tough, lady!

(Also, quick! Join volleyball. This will keep you from having to go to Cross Country camp in the first place. If you get stuck going anyway, just don’t tell the coach your family can’t afford it to get out of it- your coach will call your confused parents and offer them a scholarship. Ugh.)

Okay. Tone shift.

Little B, this is most important: Before high school is finished you will get confused about your value.  You will do all kinds of silly (desperate) things to figure it out, and in the end you will feel worse. These are the types of things that make adult you want to jump behind bushes when I see someone we know here in Carmel. I don’t care what people tell you—high school years are not the best years of your life. Whoever said this must have died at 19.  In whatever way you’re able to push through it (and I promise to set aside all judgment, because I believe you are doing the best you can with the resources you have), push through it. On the other side of high school is a spectacular green meadow with birds and rainbows and soft-serve machines in your college cafeteria and unlimited access to pop-tarts and friends and total freedom. You will think this is the best best and you’ll try to live forever at 19, but after college is an even bigger, greener meadow with meaningful relationships, sound judgment and insight, spectacular job opportunities, financial independence, other cities and countries, passions, competencies, etc. Just trust me on this. Your adult life is currently amazing.

Also, I debated whether or not to disclose this, but you do so much better when you’re prepared for these types of things.  Asking for a little help from the right people would have saved us a ton of heartache, so if I could offer you a redo on anything, it would be this—and I disclose it with my tightest hug and my warmest blanket: Aunt C is going to die. It will happen in a car accident 2 weeks before you go to college, right at the beginning of your parent’s decade-feeling-long divorce, and it will screw up the first half of your college experience.  You will understand that life is unpredictable—that any awful thing could happen at any safe-feeling time; that a person could be here this morning and gone by dinner, with no warning. You will feel so sad and alone in your grief, and so chaotic in your brain.  You will not know how to express this to anyone. You will smoke and drink and lie and steal and get straight Fs and get kicked out and move off campus, and you won’t understand why. You will make friends with people 10 years older and try to fit them into gaping holes inside. You will begin to absorb a piece of everyone around you and lose your entire identity. This will be so hard,

To save you from this, I am dying to give you a bright neon list with lights and arrows identifying people to stay away from, because they are bad for you. They’re not bad people; but they’re not whole people either, and their needs will feed on your vulnerabilities.  But these people and experiences will bring you to the very edge of yourself, and finding that edge will provide you with insight and a never-again determination toward assertiveness, balance and truth-finding.  This is what 18-22 year-olds do: solidify self and develop insight.  Don’t beat yourself up over it.

Also, you’ll find that because God cares about you and intervenes in when you are flailing, there will be a professor—a psychology guy—who provides a list detailing the non-negotiable truth about who you are. This is what God says about you. It’s right here in the Bible, totally independent of what’s going on in your life right now. Just choose to believe it.  (You will want to believe this so hard.)

Once you choose to believe this, you will never be able to separate yourself from these truths from that moment on. If you could somehow know this at 8, and 17 and 19; at 5’8″ jumping bushes with curly black hair; at the gymnastics studio when you’re a foot taller and too heavy; right before you do all those silly (desperate) things to find value and absorb an identity. If you could internalize this immediately, your life would be better faster. If you just can’t get it right yet, don’t worry. This will be waiting for you at 24.  Life gets infinitely better after 24, trust me.

Now for the good stuff.

You could never imagine this, but somewhere in Wisconsin or Evansville or Belize or Sierra Leone or Nepal or Ecuador or Bloomington or South Carolina or Maine (depending how old you are right now and where he is right now) a dude is living and growing and stepping into tiny footsteps laid out for him to someday cross your path. Unless you’ve met this guy yet, you think you don’t want to get married. I will not try to convince you otherwise, but as your older, wiser self, I can’t wait for you to meet him! He’ll marry you. Love will spill over, and you will be the kind of happy there aren’t words for. He will hold you in esteem as though you are the exact kind of person God says you are. And he’s so funny.

There are a bunch of other things I would like to save you from: a car accident, piles of rejection letters, natural disasters, acts of terrorism, family dissolution, aimless relationships, etc. But many of those things will prompt you toward other, better things your lil’ heart can’t even imagine.

The thing to know is this: Adult you is safe and happy and warm and successful and loved. You are married to a handsome, funny, compassionate man. Your job is meaningful and important. You have three beautiful nieces, and your brothers are amazing dads. You are so proud of them in that way. Your parents remarry via the internets to people you love, and everyone sort of ends up happy.  God has always been present in your life, and your life is proof of his grace.  Translation: you do some crazy things, but are undeservedly cared for.  I want you to remember that God does not cause bad things to happen, Younger B. He sits right next to you in your grief, even the kind caused by your own self.  He’ll redeem anything and everything if you trust him, and he’ll make something bright out of darkness.

You will be tempted to think you know exactly what you want out of life at any given moment. But he writes a much better story than we do, so don’t try to hijack the plot and deposit yourself somewhere else. You are exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Love & Hugs-
Older B

PostScript: It turns out I talk to myself more frequently than I realized. These may also help- here and here.