Naked As We Came

I want to find a girl who I can be naked with.

Not the kind that has me undressed with clothes on the floor but the kind that leaves my soul exposed. Spread out like a frog in science class. You can see every part of me. Not as disturbing, though.

What I really mean is that I want a girl that can make me feel childlike but not childish.

I am reminded of the time I went to the beach to find a two-year-old boy who happened to wriggle out of his swimsuit. He left it all hanging. Butt-naked he ran out across the hot sand, free as could be. He was not aware of his nakedness; I don’t think he cared. He was just in the moment, reveling in the grandness of nature.

My good friend Josh puts it this way. He says that when we are in love, it’s like a state of returning or trying to go back to what we were as children. The state of wide-eyed wonder, unabashed curiosity, and innocence (relatively speaking). Times when we were able to be real and not be so cognizant of social currency–the love that people dispense or withhold based on what value you can give them.

Sure, there is great fear in being real. What scares me is the idea that she will see me for who I am. All of me. The scars, the wounds, the other parts of me I want to hide. We have been trying to cover ourselves up ever since the fall. Whether fig leaves or material objects. Things haven’t changed. And it is magnified with the people we love most.

But I am also reminded of a truth that brings great comfort. There is no currency that could purchase our shame save that of the blood shed by the God-man. He hung on the cross, naked for us. All so that we could be made free and whole and childlike again. It is nothing less than what Jesus calls a rebirth.

I want a girl whom I can love with the abandonment of self. To be willing to swim across the Pacific for her. To make God proud with how I treat His daughter. To protect her, provide for her, and point her to her truest joy in God.

And return back to a time when we were as naked as we came.

Dating is Like a Zoo

My best friend Peter rolled by my place last night. He strolled in with his fancy button-up and meticulously styled hair, leaving an exotic trail of cologne with every step he took. How well he was put together was often an indication of whether girls were involved earlier in the evening. That evening, he left no doubt.

He stopped by to measure the trunk space of my dad’s 4-Runner. He had recently set his sights on a new hardtop cover for his white S2k, and he was in need of a car big enough to carry the piece from one place to another. Not wanting to add precious miles to his lovely S2k, he was intent on borrowing my dad’s car. If all else failed, he was even willing to rent a minivan–just anything but add precious miles to his lovely S2k.

Peter lined his measuring tape closely from one side of the trunk to the other, down to the exact centimeter. That was him–always detailed, very exact. “It’s just who I am,” he would say. “That’s how God wired me.” We determined that the fit was possible, though it would be a tight squeeze. Peter said he would return home to research some more; for now, it had settled the matter.

As we sat at the edge, legs dangling from the trunk, we started to talk about life. Though it is hard for most men, it is not unusual for him to bear his soul. Peter was that sort of fish where you’d throw in your hook and he’d bring down your boat. Whether it meant life or death, he was never afraid to bite. The thing with Peter is, you never know how you feel about yourself when he is talking. Sometimes, it can be like reading a deep novel, discovering something amazing; other times I feel like I’m the only sane person in the room. Because of his early life struggles and experiences, he understands things about life that most people his age do not. In a sense, he is a man before his time. But that is who he is–extremely passionate, intelligent, unorthodox, and at times hard to comprehend. Either brilliant or insane.

As we sat there in the trunk, I couldn’t help but feel a bit awkward. Being shirtless didn’t help. We talked for a good half hour before heading back inside. We naturally progressed onto the topic of women and relationships. We were both poor shots in this department–he couldn’t catch ’em and I couldn’t keep ’em. Eventually, I relayed to him my fear of marrying wrong and one day waking up to discover that she has changed completely. Peter paused for a beat.

“You know, dating is like a zoo,” he said.

Like a zoo? I gave him my usual what-the-hell-are-you-talking-about glance before he continued.

“When you go to the zoo, you see a lot of animals, right? Polar bears, penguins, whatever. They act all nice, cute, cuddly…because they are tamed. But these animals aren’t from there. They were captured from the wild, right? They were raised in their natural habitats before they were brought in and trained to act a certain way. That’s like dating. You are taking two people from their natural elements and you’re telling them to act a certain way to attract the opposite sex. But once they are married, once they are comfortable, they revert to their habits, to who they really are. Sure, some of that is ugly, even scary. Penguins can be very mean out in the wild. Oh–but when they love, they love.

I thought about it briefly; I thought I was onto something brilliant. “So…you’re talking about penguin sex?” Peter gave me the you-idiot face.

“No, listen. Have you ever seen March of the Penguins?” I nodded, faintly recalling Morgan Freeman’s smooth narration as black-coated animals froze their tails off. “You know how the Mom leaves while the Dad is caring for the egg? The penguins return after being months apart, and they try to find each other. In the mass of thousands, they call out to each other. The Mom and Dad can locate the voice of the other because it’s unique. They know each other specially, and he knows she’s the one.”

“But I thought I had found the one,” I said.

“Did you love her like Christ loved the church?”

Damn, if you put it that way … I guess we both knew the answer.

“That’s love. With all her faults. You see them, but your love is willing to cover them. Of course, there will be changes–we all change. But God will protect you two from the poachers,” he paused. “When you see her, when you connect with her, when you know her–you’ll know it.”

It was well into the early morning. Before he left, Peter thanked me for listening to his “crazy stories, his crazy life.” But none of it seemed crazy at all. Love, for all its whims and woes, finally started to make sense.

There are nights when I struggle to make sense of it all. On nights like these, God likes to deliver bricks. He’s saying, build on what you know.

Let Life Write You

Before I move on to more serious matters, let me just say that I took THREE dumps today in a matter of two hours. Apparently, my stomach did not agree with the spicy fish ball curry and flaming hot ox tail soup and what other delectables I had at a hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant last night in LA. This is the first time that I actually got onto the freeway and turned back home just to take a dump because I knew I wouldn’t make it to work without crapping my pants. Whew! Close call. And now…

Perhaps some of you might be wondering where I left for those six weeks or so when I haven’t been blogging. Or perhaps you haven’t because, quite frankly, neither I nor my blog–and I say this with a non-false-modesty–is that important. Whatever the case, I know it’s been a good break for me personally, to reflect on recent developments in my life. I know I am not the same Martin who ended 2008 as I am in this moment (I’ll talk more about that in my other blog). Hopefully, I can come to you, whether in person or through this cyber-developed intimacy, with a fresher, humbler and more honest perspective than I’ve ever had.

But this entry will be straight to the point. What I want to say is this: live your life. No, I mean it. Live your life. Not the life you think you should have because you see someone else who has it, or the life that has you escaping in some illusion (or delusion) of comfort through TV or magazines or fantasy worlds. Embrace your life. Embrace yourself. For who you are, with all your blemishes, faults and insecurities, as well as your talents, personality and hobbies. Live. Don’t give up on your ambitions. And don’t take the crud that people throw at you out of discouragement or fear.

None of that is groundbreaking; in fact, some of it might be cliche. But it is certainly easy to forget. I know it is for me. Society and the world is all about numbers and labels. It tries to put you in different compartments and boxes: pretty or ugly, smart or stupid, rich or poor, tall or short, married or single, White or other, and a thousand other labels. And their love towards you and me is dependent on whether or not we (as we cross our fingers) have fallen into the ones that are desired most.

Most of my struggles come from the fact that I try to be someone I am not. I try to be the next MJ on the basketball court, or the next Martin Luther when I teach Sunday school, or the next Robert Frost whenever I write. I do this, whether I know it or not, because I am not in love with who I am. My subconscious thinks, “If only I become like _____, I will be more loved.” Implicit in this thinking is the (faulty) principle of love exchange, and the basic principle not too unlike that of prostitution: I will whore my services (my good traits) in exchange for your money (conditional love). But the more I play the harlot, the less satisfied and loved I actually feel.

I try so hard to play the roles that people want me to play. To write my life out neatly, to make all the jumbled pieces fit into what I believed to be my life, when it was really the unique and sole life of my mentor’s or my co-worker’s or my idol’s–anybody’s but mine. But that’s not life. And I certainly cannot control what things will come my way. After all, how often do our plans work out exactly the way we wanted them to?

Can I be real for a moment? I don’t know about you, but I am vulnerable and insecure. Can I honestly say that I have no idea, no clue as to where my life is headed and what roads I am to take? Can I say that I’m scared to the bone of all the decisions and paths and things in between that I have to make as a responsible, fully matured adult? That I struggle with what it really means to be a man, not as society or the world defines it, but in the truest sense that God would define?

But, at last, it has come to this. And ironically enough, it is in my moment of weakness that I have discovered my true source of strength. God has spoken. “Martin, don’t try so hard to measure out your life. You always have, ever since you were young. But you don’t know if your job will be gone tomorrow or whether your savings will be depleted or health fail or friends leave you or how much longer you have here on earth. It’s time to let go. Now is the time to start living your todays and not your tomorrows.”

So I’ve stopped (or at least, I’m trying). I realized that I’m not my Pastor. I’m not my best friend. Or my mentor or my parents or my role models. What am I? I’m me. I’m 24. I’m single. And I have debt. Some, but not a lot. My conclusion? It’s time for me to stop living as though I have a wife and kids to support, a retirement to look forward to, and a future that might never come. What’s the point of working to save for this tomorrow that might never come? For a family I have not yet attained? For a house I might never own because of the ever-fluctuating economic market? It is time I start living like a 24 year old single man. And it is time I start being me.

So I’m here to tell you that I’m pulling out. I’m pulling up the anchor I once let down on fear. I’ve stopped sailing towards the little serene isle in hopes that I might discover some real land. I’ve decided, once and for all, to follow the North Star and let my journey, though certain to be rift with struggle, pain and doubtful times, write my life. After all, to live recklessly is foolish, but a life lived without risk and faith is a life not lived at all.

I don’t know where this ship is going and I don’t know what I’ll find. But I trust my Navigator. And perhaps, if you dare to join me, we’ll see what interesting tales we’ll have come to discover.

– – – – –

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We only have today. Let us begin.  – Mother Teresa

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.” – St. Paul, 1 Cor. 15:10

“He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.” – Matthew 14:29