Living That Tour Life Part 2: Church

Growing up, I never had to move. The room that was my nursery as an infant is the same room that is now storing all of the years of belongings that didn’t join me for my summer contract. With that, there was a lot of consistency in my childhood, including my home church. I love my home church so much. I love the familiarity of it. I love how beautiful the sanctuary is, and I love the ugly brown stage in the fellowship hall where I got a taste of performing at Christmas programs. I love the tiny storage closet that connects the women’s bathroom to a fancy room with a piano, that I’m told a bride could use for a dressing room if she got married at the church. Though I’ve never used the passageway for that purpose, my friend and I spent many hours sitting in that closet, hiding from our moms after church, talking about boys. The congregation at my church has witnessed me grow as a singer, having had to listen to solos before I deserved a solo. More importantly, they’ve watched me from my infant baptism, to my confirmation at 13, and every step in between and beyond. It is such a joy every time I visit home to experience Centenary United Methodist and once again be with my church family.

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Selfie with my friend Gwen in the church bathroom, circa 2008. We apparently graduated from the closet to the bathroom at this point. I’m not proud.

While I did go to college and experience different churches then, this summer I have been exposed to even more different forms of worship. Each week, I keep my eyes peeled for churches around the area. Then, Saturday night I Google churches around me and pick one to go to according to very important factors, such as how early I will have to get up and whether or not I can walk there. Side note: lots of churches need to work on their online presence. It’s like they don’t want visitors – you would be shocked at how hard it is to find what time worship starts. Rude! I digress… Here’s some highlights of my experiences:

Abbotsford, WI

After our very first residency week, Kevin and I were invited to church by the parents of some of our cast members. It had been kind of a long week, simply because it was our first and we were still trying to translate what we had learned in our training into real life. We worshipped along with what we have deemed the whitest praise band we’ve ever seen. I’m chuckling to myself thinking about it, but there are no words. My home church is traditional and sings songs from a hymnal, accompanied by an organ. A few songs into worship, the whitest praise band ever decided to play an old hymn. We were sitting with the family that invited us and the son asked his mom what song it was and she didn’t know, but told him to just follow along on the screen. It was funny to me because it was the only song I actually really knew. After the service, the pastor said that the band was going to continue worshipping and we could either leave, stay and pray, or sing for a little longer. The family that invited us asked if they could pray for us. The whitest praise band ever was the background for such a beautiful moment as we held hands with this family and they prayed for safe travels, energy, and for the kids we would meet this summer. I can’t think of a better way to start a contract.

Milwaukee, WI

The next week our originally scheduled town re-scheduled for the fall, leaving us with a week to stay with my older brother in Milwaukee. Because trying to park a minivan downtown is the worst, we researched a church within walking distance from his apartment. This church didn’t come up on the original Google search, but after a few searches, we came across a church called Bent Tree. It meets in the Third Ward (Jacob’s neighborhood) in the conference area at a coffee/wine bar. When we walked in, we were instantly recognized as newbies because apparently this church just started up in February and must be pretty low key since they don’t meet in a church. It turns out it is part of a larger church based in Texas. We participated in worship with the jazziest praise band (keyboard, guitar, and SAXOPHONE player!) then were given time to go refill our coffee before the sermon. After intermission(?), a pastor from Texas was live-streamed onto the screen! It was a really interesting experience, but what sticks out the most is how welcoming everyone was. They were so excited to see new people at their church and for us to be a part of something so dear to them. Nevertheless, we dodged out as quickly as possible after it was over because we were a little bit tired of trying to explain who we are, why we were in Milwaukee for the week, and what we do for a living. Also I’m pretty sure they all thought we were a couple and one woman assumed that Kevin was there visiting the drummer (aka the one other black person there).

Wadena, MN

I got a little taste of home when I went to a United Methodist Church (after a few weeks of missing due to a visit from my mother, traveling wedding weekend, and oversleeping)…. Aside from one mom with a newborn, a dad and two pre-teens, and me, the average age of the congregation was about 70. I loved it. It was such a small group and you could just tell how tight-knit they were. After the pastor gave the morning announcements, he let the congregation pass the microphone around and give any announcements or prayer requests they had. It was like they were an actual family. Later on, it was time to pass the peace and the elderly couple in front of me said “Peace be with you,” and then KISSED! Ahhhh my heart melted — they are so in love!!!!!!! I was also feeling a little bit bad, though, because it was the two of them and one other woman. She’s third wheeling so hard. Anyway, after her morning kiss from her hubby, the one woman turned around, looked at me, and said, “I don’t know you.” Welcome to small town, USA.

Baudette, MN

This past week I went to a Lutheran church for the first time since I went with my grandma as a young girl. Now, we Methodists use grape juice for communion, so my little self was not prepared when I took a big gulp of communion wine. I spent the rest of that service consumed with the burning feeling down my throat and the awful taste in my mouth. I also got tired of singing, which says a lot, coming from me. This week, as I sat in this new-to-me church, I  was filled with a bit of nostalgia as I experienced a Lutheran service all these years later, this time more accustomed to drinking wine, less consumed with the taste, and more in touch with the meaning of it all.

There are two main takeaways from my tour of churches. One, as Christians, it seems we often get caught up in trivial aspects of church. Should we sing looking at words on a screen or words from a hymnal? Should we be accompanied by an organ or a praise band? Should the pastor be in traditional robes or look like a hipster at a coffee shop? Of course, the denomination of the church isn’t trivial. However, while I certainly have preferences of where I feel most at home and how I personally connect, despite the many differences, they all preach the same thing. God is present at every gathering. We all worship Christ, and I think in the end of time, God is going to laugh at all of us for all of the wasted breaths worrying about the slight variances in what is really a group effort.

Secondly, it is wonderfully freeing going to a church by myself, knowing no one. Rather than needing to catch up with my church congregation, I am able to really focus on what I came to church for. At first, I felt lonely, but then I remembered, all Christians are my church family. It’s like that old kid’s song goes, “I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together! All of who follow Jesus, all around the world! Yes, we’re the church together!”

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Living That Tour Life Part 1: Eating

If you know me at all, you know that food is a very important part of my life. Admittedly, it’s an important part of everyone’s life because if you did not eat, you would die. I am not arguing that my need to survive is greater than others, but my appreciation and interest in food exceeds normal. My older brother gets lovingly frustrated with this obsession. For example, when I heard about his romantic proposal to his fiancée, one of my first questions was inquiring about all of the details of the celebratory meal they shared after. Not of the juicy details of their conversation, but of the juicy food on their plates.

I not only love talking about and eating food, I love cooking it as well. My mom is wonderful and always welcomed me into her kitchen, even at a young age when I thought recipes were for chums (many apologies to my family for being forced to try everything). This past school year was my first time living without my mom’s cooking or a meal plan, and I loved cooking for myself! It is so fun and relaxing having a kitchen and unlimited possibilities.

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So glad this treasure was preserved

Tour life is different. I have yet to master how to buy an appropriate number of groceries for one person one week at a time. Going from hotel to hotel, I never know what kind of situation I will have. One week we were really lucky because stayed at our sponsor’s house and had access to a fully stocked kitchen! Another week we were housed at an extended stay and had a stove, full refrigerator, microwave, coffee pot, and access to appliances and pans. The very next week we were back to a mini fridge and microwave. No coffee pot. That week I discovered coffee concentrate mixed with hot water. Not bad….

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Week 1 on the road, I didn’t have coffee filters, so I improvised with napkins from the continental breakfast. It was worth it to get freshly brewed Mudhouse coffee! I have since bought coffee filters.

In addition to whatever the hotel may have, I brought along my hot water kettle and a small George Foreman, so that helps. Once again, food is important to me. I don’t like to eat simply because I’m hungry or it’s time to eat. My mood is significantly affected by what I eat, the presentation, the quality of the food, etc. First world problems. Whatever.

Anyway, I refuse to eat PB&Js and ramen all the time, so I get creative. Last week I had the typical mini fridge/microwave combination and made a meal I was pretty proud of: turkey burgers grilled in my George Foreman, topped with a slice of cheddar cheese, red bell pepper, and spinach, served with steamed green beans and butternut squash. Those steamable bags are so handy!

 

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Cooking with a George Foreman and microwave is easy enough, but hotel room cooking is awkward because of the lack of prep space. I cooked my turkey burgers and the excess juices simply leaked all over the hotel desk (yuck). I cleaned it up, but the maids probably didn’t know what to make of my towel covered in turkey grease. I bought a dish wand so I can clean things properly, but somehow things never seem that clean when you’re washing dishes at the same sink where your hairbrush is sitting. That night, after cleaning dishes that held raw turkey, I was a little bit nervous that I would be brushing my teeth with an accidentally contaminated toothbrush, simply from being around that area.

So far, so good on the contamination issues.

This week our motel only has a mini fridge. There are no microwaves and signs prohibiting all cooking appliances. We’re in a big fishing town, so apparently they had issues with people frying fish in their rooms and stinking up the whole motel. Even though it would probably be fine to make a panini, rule-abiding Samantha can’t bring herself to rebel. Grocery shopping knowing you only have a mini fridge is depressing. Luckily, our sponsor for the week gave us each a $50 gift card to the gas station. Their iced coffee is surprisingly good.

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That brings me to eating out on the road. Yes, I do eat out. I prefer to save my money and cook for myself, but especially weeks where cooking can’t really happen, we turn to the town. I have been enjoying exploring local restaurants and witnessing the connectedness of these small towns. Tonight Kevin and I were clearly outsiders as other patrons didn’t even need a menu to order.

 

Sunday is our travel day, so when Kevin and I make it to our new destination for the week, we like to eat out, get settled into our hotel, then do our week’s worth of grocery shopping. Unfortunately, local restaurants are often closed on Sundays. Sigh, but expected. What is not expected, however, is that we have found that apparently Monday is the second holy day of rest because SO many restaurants are closed on both days. What’s up with that?

In summary, trying to eat healthy, save money, and cook as much as possible is challenging. I’m not a starving artist, but an artist who is hungry for good food.

And one final tidbit: a silly Samantha fantasy is to have a singing cooking show where I cook and then instead of cutting to a commercial while the food is in the oven or cooking on the stove, I serenade the viewers. If you know of anyone who’d like to produce, I’m open to it 😉

Writing In Pencil

The schedule of a working actor is weird. Having just graduated in May, I’m new at this, but I already know that much. I feel so fortunate to be working so soon after graduation, but having a theatre job after graduation is different than landing a 9-5-sign-your-life-away-for-years-and-years kind of job.

Prior to graduation, I had to complete the university’s exit exam. One of the questions was about our employment post-graduation. I hair-flipped to myself about being able to report having a job lined up. They then wanted to know my annual salary…. That’s difficult when I will be working for companies at months at a time. While I’m so thankful for this job, the reality is that this contract goes until August 20th and then I need to figure out what I’m doing next.

During this summer, unless a particular town doesn’t want to have two shows or they happen to cancel a rehearsal, I really don’t have a true day off. Monday-Thursday we rehearse, Friday and Saturday we put on the show, and Sunday is our travel day. So, when my contract is over, I will go from not having a day off to immediate unemployment, unless I come up with something brilliant to do after.

Further, because these contracts are only a few months at a time, each day is so important. It’s not like I can request a vacation day for one of the few days I’m in a town. January of 2015, my cousin Abby asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. I, of course, said yes, but once she set the date for July 2, 2016, I realized that my yes had to be tentative, depending on job offers. As much as I love my cousin and wanted to be there, it was hard to justify turning down a whole job for a day.

Three weeks ago, I found out that our town for the week didn’t want a performance on the 2nd because of the holiday weekend, meaning I was able to go! I quickly made arrangements for my marathon weekend. Friday, we had a dress rehearsal, performance, and striked the set. A taxi picked me up from my hotel at 3:30 AM Saturday, I flew to Boston, went straight to the salon to get my hair done, witnessed a beautiful wedding ceremony celebrating over ten years of love, danced the night away at the reception, and finally went to sleep at 2:15. I woke up again at 7:30 on Sunday so that I could fly back to meet Kevin in the next town. Thank goodness our sponsor gave us the 4th off because I needed a day to recuperate!

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Abby, the beautiful bride!

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The whole family together for the wedding!

 

It was a blissful weekend and so special to be with my whole family, but it got me thinking about this strange life I’ve chosen for myself. My brother and his fiancée (the two with chocolate brown hair above who look like they belong in a magazine) are getting married a year from now, and I have no idea what my life will look like then. I will obviously be there for that one, but what will my employment look like that summer?  I can prioritize family, but it saddens me to think how many of my friends’ weddings I’m bound to miss.

These thoughts were on my mind as I read an essay in Shauna Niequist’s Cold Tangerines. One of my very best friends gave this book to me for my birthday, and it is full of some of the most honest, relatable, and thought-provoking essays, challenging us to choose happiness. In this particular essay, Niequist realizes she should have written her life in pencil, rather than pen. She argues that we make these plans for our lives that seem so set in stone and go about our lives as if they are guaranteed, but God has other ideas. Wow, so true.

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If you need a good devotional supplement – this is it! Whether or not you’re a Christian, she has some wise words on how to live a full, happy life. Thanks again, Morgan, for the thoughtful gift! 

So, as I continue on with this career, my plan is to write in pencil and plan for a lot of erasing and re-writing. It really seemed like I wasn’t going to make it to Abby’s wedding, but God took care of that one. I know there will be sacrifices I have to make, but it is worth it for me to be pursuing my dreams and NOT working a “normal” 9-5 job. I just have to trust that He has His hand in everything I do.