Sunday, July 29, 2012

On the Seventy-Seventh Day...

My sister, Ashley, is one of the wisest people I know. I sent her an e-mail last week struggling to make sense of a few hard things that have been on my mind: marriage, body image, adjustment. She reminded me of some very important life lessons I'm still struggling to learn:
-"shoulds" only lead to guilt and regret
-expectations will always fail you
-it gets better

After reading and pondering her e-mail--thinking about expectations and how I can lessen them--I realized for the first time that this summer hasn't really been much harder than any other. Summer camp is just hard. And tiring. And draining. And lengthy. I know this. We've done this. We've worked many a summer while we were dating and we've had to sneak-in time together: a quick smooch in the walk-in refrigerator, late-night strolls, days off. It's not uncommon for summer camp to be hard on our relationship. But this summer has been particularly difficult, not because of the schedule or the people or the camp, but because my expectations were not met.

Suddenly, I assumed that the rules had changed.
That now that we're married we should be thrilled. All the time.
Now that we're married we should see each other more often.
Now that we're married we should connect differently.
Now that we're married we should live happily ever after.


I'm quite talented at losing perspective. At believing that this thing in my face is the only thing in the whole wide world. That this struggle, this trial, this discomfort, will last forever and I surely won't survive it. That's how I've felt about marriage. That it "should" look different, feel different, be different.

But who wrote these rules I'm so sure I need to keep?
Who says we always have to be happy?
Who says it's bad to spend some nights alone?
Who says these first few months are a reflection of what marriage will look like for the rest of our lives?
(yeah, I'm kinda chuckling at that one too...)

So the other day, Jeremy and I started dreaming about life after camp. Because there is life after camp. Lots of it. We've only been married for 76 days! Good grief. We started talking about how we can still have that lazy drive across the country. We can still arrive to that good community we've been longing for. We can still take our time, sleep-in on weekends, and snuggle. We can find a place to call our own, move in, decorate, enjoy. We can have our friends over and play games late into the night. We can go on adventures. We can take all the time we need figuring out life, marriage, and how to love each other better.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Paddle Boarding

Last Wednesday, the entire camp staff had the same day off. A few of us borrowed the pontoon boat and went skin diving to some islands where there's a sunken ship. We got some sun. We went wake boarding. When we got back to the dock, some friends were paddle boarding and--naturally--we jumped in to tip them over. 
We splashed. 
We made waves.
We attempted yoga on the paddle boards.
We loaded up the paddle boards in search of world records.
We stood.
We jumped.
We laughed.
Until our faces hurt.
And then we laughed some more.

This moment--un-momentous as it may seem--mattered to me. 
It mattered because I lost myself in the moment. 
It mattered because laughter has felt few and far between. 
It mattered because I needed some joy. 
It mattered because it reminded me that it's going to be all right.

It's going to be all right.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Post-Nuptial Depression

Yesterday, I turned to Facebook for a break from the monotony of my job. And as I have many times in the past, I ended up looking at multiple people's recent wedding pictures: beautiful brides, happy people, cakes, and getaway cars and thought to myself: "I want that someday."

But then--shocked at my own response--I remembered: I already had that.
The wedding's done. The honeymoon's over. We're married now.

There must be some psychological condition--post-nuptial depression (if you will)--where you are depressed that this thing you built up in your mind, replayed over and over, and dreamed of, has finally happened. But it's over, and you kind of want the anticipation back: wanting to feel wanted instead of simply feeling had.

I suppose these feelings may stem from the fact that marriage isn't going how I thought it would. I thought we'd drive away into wedded bliss, honeymoon our hearts out, take a lazy drive across the country to summer camp, be greeted by people who would become fast friends, would be interested in us and excited that we just got married, and we'd live happily ever after.

How selfish, huh? It's all about me. All about my own desires being met. I suppose those ten year-old expectations die hard.

Because instead, it rained on our honeymoon. My grandpa died, and we rushed out of Nebraska to get to his funeral. We got to camp along with one hundred other strangers, who we've slowly gotten to know. And it's been bumpy ever since. I seem to still be mourning the loss of what I thought this would look like. I'm having a hard time letting that go.

I knew it wouldn't be perfect.
I knew we'd feel bored sometimes and run out of things to talk about.
I knew we'd still argue and disagree.
I knew it would rain.
But I didn't know how much I'd miss my close friends and family.
I didn't anticipate how difficult it would be to come to camp during a transition year between directors. 
I didn't expect that Helga would be as powerful as she's been since we've been here.
I didn't know how little I'd get to see Jeremy.

The only way I've found to resist a bad attitude over what was is to focus on what is.
False expectations turn to gratitude.

We've been married for seventy-one days.
We have good health.
We have great sex.
We have college degrees.
We own cars, phones, laptops, and other fun things.
We have food, a bed, and money in the bank
We have friends and family who love us.
We are safe.
We have each other.

Flash Mob

All right, as promised, here is the flash mob I surprised Jeremy with on our two-month anniversary:

Anniversary Flash Mob from Heather Bohlender on Vimeo.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


On Monday night, we played Capture the Flag at the upper ball field. Just getting to the field is a good 15 minute trod up a sufficiently quad-burning hill. As this was a smaller week of camp, there were about 20 campers and about 20 staff, but a good time was had by all. After the game is over, I usually run down the hill because: A. it's faster, and B. it's more fun.

As I ran past a group of kiddos and rounded the corner, I realized I might've been a bad example, because I heard the pitter-patter of little feet behind me. Fearing for their life, I was about to turn around and tell some reckless little boy to be careful and take it slow so he wouldn't get hurt. But to my pleasant surprise, a speedy seven year-old girl--pigtails and all--zoomed past me before I could utter a word. I struggled to catch up.

"Wanna race?" she squealed over her shoulder.


So we did. My twenty-four year-old legs struggled to keep up with her 7 year-old ones as we careened down the steep embankment of a hill, kicking up dust in our wake and popping up with a little hop on the rolling bumps and hills.

By the time we reached the bottom, my side was aching and I was thoroughly winded. We walked together for awhile. "What's your name?" I asked her.


"Well, it's nice to meet you Mikaela. I'm Heather."

She jumped up on the curb to practice her balancing skills and snapped a twig off a spindly tree as she strolled by. A few seconds later she bolted up the stairs to her cabin and she was gone.

At camp I encounter a wide variety of people, and I observe closely the dynamic between genders, with particular focus on the girls. I see little seven year-olds in dresses and ten year-olds starting to wear make up. I see a string of tweenagers sitting on the sidelines when we play sports. I see thirteen year-olds commenting on their "fat" this and that and how they "shouldn't" eat dessert. I see girls staff strutting their stuff in short shorts and low-cut tops. I see mothers and aunts and grandmothers acting out the same scenes they were witness to in their younger years: women trying to find their place in a world that often does not see or value women.

But not Mikaela. I like Mikaela. A lot. I like seeing young girls running with the best of 'em. Plundering fearlessly down steep mountainsides. Living free. She gives me hope that if we can teach girls when they are young that they really can do whatever they want, they'll believe it when they're eighteen, twenty-three, fifty-two, when they're raising and influencing those who will follow them.

Recently, Miss Representation sent me an e-mail about a new show by Amy Poehler (or Leslie from Parks and Recreation) called "Smart Girls at the Party," which celebrates "extraordinary individuals who are changing the world by being themselves." Check out this one with Ruby the feminist:
We just plain need more resources like this for young girls, because as I am watching my own young cousins grow up with eyes wide open, I'm anxious about what they're seeing:
-a world where they are only valued for their appearance
-a world that inflicts harsh standards of what is "beautiful"
-a world where musicians and artists and mathematicians are uncool, but sex objects are all the rage
-a world that continually tells them that being a woman means fitting into a box of "feminine" traits
-that being a woman is a handicap and a problem

But being a woman isn't limited to emotional PMS-driven rants, cooking, sensitivity, motherhood, being a size 6, and sitting quietly with your legs crossed. Being a woman is about being whatever you want to be. Whether that's loud or quiet, outgoing or introverted, athletic or artistic, funny or a good listener, bold or reserved.

I want to grant women the permission to be whatever they want to be.

Friday, July 20, 2012


Last night, while we were sitting around a campfire chatting under the thunderous sky, a sixteen year-old volunteer here at camp asked me, "How do you get a testimony?"

"How do you get a testimony? I'm not sure I know what you mean?"

He pondered, "Well, ya know, how do you know if you have one? I don't think I have a good story worth telling."

"Well," I told him. "When people talk about a 'testimony' they're usually referring to a time in their lives when they had a struggle and then they overcame that struggle. But maybe testimonies don't always have to be about awful, traumatic things, it could just be a story of growth or change or lessons learned."

He didn't seem particularly convinced. So I told him that the story I tell now (that some may call my "testimony"), took place at the end of high school and into college. That maybe our great life-changing stories grow best after some time and age. He nodded his head.

"Or," I added jokingly, "maybe you should just start using drugs or get thrown in jail and then you'll have a story to tell."

We all have a story to tell. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Two Month Anniversary

Jeremy and I are still settling into married life at camp (which is different than married life anywhere else. Trust me). I'm pleased to say that in the last month we've been able to find more routine, more opportunities to see each other, and more laughter in general. You'd think that working at a summer camp would be a no-brainer for fun and excitement, but remarkably, the days and weeks can be equally mundane if you let them. We both spend a lot of time working in the office, missing meals, and watching the same dramas play out every week. This is why to celebrate our two month anniversary, I planned a surprise flash mob for him at lunch in the cafeteria (I'm waiting on the video from a friend, but when I get it, I'll post it). Jeremy was surprised and had fun with it, I think.
Anniversary Flash Mob from Heather Bohlender on Vimeo.

One thing that I'm very glad for our the five questions we ask each other every week. We've been extra intentional about making sure we get these in every Saturday. The suggestion came from a blog called Today's Letters:
#1. How did you feel loved this past week?
#2. What does your upcoming week look like?
#3. How would you feel most loved and encouraged in the days ahead?
#4. How would you feel best pursued in sex/intimacy this week?
#5. How can I pray for you this week?

It's like a weekly check-in, a regular "How are we doing?", a way to be intentional about our needs. It's a good thing for us to set aside that time for reflection. Because as we've told numerous teen camper cabins at worship, real relationships look nothing like Hollywood. He doesn't know all the right things to say. She can't read his mind. He farts. She misses hints. Unlike the movies, relationships take work. Yes, this was a revelation to the timid teen camper who asked, "Why are relationships so hard?" Well, because relationships involve human beings: fickle, emotional, raw, and unpredictable.

Sometimes you have to ask (quite specifically) for what you need.
Sometimes you have to go to bed alone.
Sometimes he embarrasses you.
Sometimes you feel like a bad wife.
Sometimes the stars do not align and you spend 50 minutes dancing in circles around one easily-solved predicament.

But questions are good. So is honesty. And humility. Surprises are nice. And back rubs. And slowing down to look up at a sky splashed with stars.

Next week, babe: You. Me. Sleeping under the moon-lit night.

Until next month.

Friday, July 6, 2012


I returned from Cambodia on July 1st, 2008. I remember landing on the airstrip in Denver, seeing the lights of the city, and exhaling for the first time in ten months. In that moment, I recognized that somehow, something, somewhere brought me home safely with only a few traumatic events embedded in my psyche. I came back with scars, but I came back alive and that was enough.

That was four years ago. Since then, I wrote a book about my time in Cambodia. I recorded it in audio-form for Christian Record Services for the blind. I have told and re-told my story a few dozen times for a few thousand people. I still keep in touch with some of the kiddos I taught overseas. Fay and I still catch up on the phone once in awhile. I recovered from the eating disorder that long-plagued my health. I graduated from college. I married my best friend. I don't think about Cambodia every single day like I used to. Nightmares no longer assault my sleep. I'm healthier. I'm happier. I'm safer. I'm moving forward.

A few weeks ago, my friend Michael, text me:

"A few weeks before the fourth anniversary of you returning from Cambodia, I am finally finished reading about your time there. I've had the last ten chapters or so unfinished for a long, long time. I sat outside The Mill tonight and finally knocked them out. Wow, Heather. I remember seeing you at the Pizza Feed as that next semester started. I don't remember our exchange but I remember that moment for some reason. I had no idea such a big story was packed inside of you. Over the past few years it's been nothing short of an honor getting to know you. I'm kind of tearing up thinking how much you've meant to me in so many different ways. Thank you for being you. Thank you for sharing your life so openly and letting me be part of it. Your life's story will only grow bigger. I feel like I know that for sure. You're a beautiful person. I can't wait to see what the future holds for you and all of us. Miss you and hope you're having a good week. Take care : ) "

Friends like Michael remind me where I've been, because sometimes I forget. I forget that I'm worth being proud of. That I can feel confident in my strength to endure, to press on, and to overcome. That I have "such a big story" packed inside of me. Yes, I can be proud of that.

Last night, I was asked to share my testimony with the teens here at summer camp. It's a story that I know by heart, yet still keep a complete typed-out, word-for-word version in my hand at all times, because even though I've traveled around the country and shared my story many times, I still get wobbly. My voice still shakes sometimes. I'm still humbled by where I've been. I'm humbled at how God/The Universe has brought me through. I'm humbled by the story packed inside of me.

Every year, I write a blog like this. Every year I celebrate this anniversary in different ways.
The first year back in 2009, I was just grateful to have survived and to have found some peace.
The next year in 2010, I published my book Honestly, I'm Struggling about my time in Cambodia.
The next year in 2011, I let go of some remaining regrets.
And this year? This year, I'm celebrating this anniversary by being completely, unabashedly, and downright proud.

I'm going to confidently tackle these day-to-day annoyances knowing that I've tackled much worse.

I'm going to give myself grace as I figure out adulthood and marriage, because with time, I've figured out everything else that's come my way.

I think I'm going to skim my own book since I wrote it and whisper prayers of gratitude along the way.

I'm going to savor these moments I've been gifted.

I'm going to be proud.