To Team, With Love.

CAA champs——
Just some thoughts going through my brain. I wish I would have said them sooner, or maybe said them while I was on the team but was too shy to actually do so…. oh well. That’s life. You learn.

I’m looking over my college journals, the one from freshman year where you said, “You will do things you never thought possible, if only you stick with it.” I don’t know if you realize how impressionable those words were to an 18 year old, but I believed it. I sensed something. Something was stirring in me that wanted to chase after all that life had to offer. And for the time being, right now where I was, it meant feeling my arms pull through water, not sure where the energy will come from to complete the next stroke, but completely confident that IT WILL COME. It meant taking up 3-4 tables at the Glen during dinner and awkward conversations in class the next day with classmates who wanted to know, “Hey, why don’t you guys shave your legs?” After trying to explain it, usually unsatisfied with my answer, the conversation usually ended with something like, “Well I just don’t get it; why don’t you shave like normal so you can swim fast at every meet?” …It meant calling up a friend and telling them the story of the time when one of the boys put icy hot in a another guy’s swimsuit. I’ve since forgotten who did that to whom, and I can still laugh about it, probably only because it didn’t happen to me. It meant endless chants of “Tow-son D-Team” and the sound of kick boards being smacked against starting blocks, signaling the start of another meet, a new opportunity to be entirely present to pain, success, and wondering just how much further you can push yourself.

See there’s this feeling that you get, and when you get it, you get it all over again and again. It’s this core acknowledgement that anything is possible, but that you have to go through some…  …stuff to get there. I began to get mad, I began to get pissed, thinking, “Maybe I’ve been playing it a bit too safe. Maybe after all this, after everything, WE are the very person who limits ourselves the most. Maybe I’ve been more afraid of failing, or not making it, or doing it perfectly. Don’t compromise yourself. Don’t settle for safe. Go ahead, set a daring goal time…” And yeah, maybe pain and hurt have to happen in order to get there. Maybe “obstacles” or “problems” were just blessings waiting to emerge. Maybe these tests are bound to happen so we can be changed, made stronger, and discover all we are made out to be.

In that process of believing despite difficultly over the next four years, I learned many things, most of which I learned in hindsight, not the present moment. I learned that adversity is not just fine-tuning; you can truly choose to come out on the other side knowing you can handle whatever’s coming your way—expected or unexpected. It’s that feeling you get when someone steps on your territory—- WHEN SOMEONE TRIES TO TAKE AWAY YOUR CHAMPIONSHIP, YOUR RING, YOUR BANNER— and something inside you bellows a defiant, “NO.” It’s days of barely holding on, writing “FIGHT” in big, underlined capital letters in your class notes with the last ounce of energy you can muster… and one day being able to crossover that word, and replace it with, “FOUGHT :)” because you did make it to the other side…

But most importantly, of all I learned, what stands out the most is realizing that it’s easy to sign up for the things in life that have little to no risk. Anyone can do that. But to live a life worth telling stories about… for that you have to DO HARD THINGS. You have to put time and dedication into something and hear people say, “You’re crazy.” You have to do bold things like make goals that almost feel uncomfortable stating out loud, because as soon as you do, as soon as you set your eyes on that horizon, criticism will come. And when it does, don’t let anyone take your 20/20 vision away from you.

So when you have your doubts, go back over the story, and ask yourself some good questions, like, “How have I grown throughout the journey that got me HERE?-” -To where you are RIGHT NOW. Think about what it means to be a part of this team. Feel the presence of all the classes and alumni that have gone before you, whispering a sincere, “You can do this.”  Maybe they’re just names to you, but as teammates told me of Jen Irby, and I told teammates about Kristen Johanson, maybe one day, you’ll be a senior, telling some freshman about some girl who went before you and maybe, just maybe, you’ll believe that this is something in your life that you will NEVER forget and even if you only see their face at the next alumni event, that smile alone will speak of a thousand practices, tears, hugs, and cheers that the two of you, along with a network of teammates, parents, coaches, and friends, faced.

Looking back on this journey of teamwork has helped me find my voice. Though at times I still battle the self-defeating voices in my head, I’m more confident now, more willing to take risks, more present each day. I’ve given myself permission to “make waves” because the “no-wake zone” is far behind me; in fact I can’t even see it anymore.

So today, find your voice.
Find your energy.
Look someone in the eye and tell them “thanks” because you didn’t get here alone.

And don’t stop there.

Swim fast.
Swim proud.

Sow your seeds in the morning. Reap them up tonight where you can whoop-it-up with all that it means to be a swimmer here on this team, right here, right now.

With love, gratitude, and all the cheers I can echo verbatim in my heart,

Melissa Otterbein, aka, “Otter”

caa team




I couldn’t find the word for it, until I came across it in something I was reading. The author1 was talking about faith stages of being rooted, in transplant, or sprouting. Transplant was exactly where I landed, both spiritually and developmentally- I’m quickly finding the post college world is, well, real…

I’m in a season of life where the old answers and ways of doing things don’t make sense anymore. A season of faith where I have more questions than answers. And. I. love. that. It’s a season of shedding old beliefs and being convicted by new ones. A time of kicking voices out of my head that have done nothing but exhaust me. A time where easy answers and shallow,deduced solutions frustrate me. A time where I feel like a bent puzzle piece, a complete enigma to the Evangelical world. I don’t fit there anymore, at least not in the typical sense of the word. A time in my faith where I can shake my head, and feel frustration, pain, and confusion with verses in the bible (Have you ever read Deuteronomy 22:13-21? I pose a challenge for those who say, “I just do what the Word says”). I can wrestle with each word and its Greek and Hebrew translation, syntax, hermeneutics, and etymology; and then, in the same breath, celebrate with the Psalmist some of my deepest praises and mourn my biggest, “my God, my God, where are you?” moments. It’s a time where I can get so stuck in my own head, my own life, my own self-centeredness, that God will find a way to humbly take the attention away from myself and my life by leading me into wonder and awe— “Do you know who created the Earth? Do you know who chose its size? Can you make the sun rise or the night fall? Have you ever knitted together a snowflake? Can you make the rain fall or the wind blow?” (Job 38) I read that chapter and feel an appropriate sense of smallness, a tiny speck in the midst of grandeur, like looking at the night sky on the clearest of nights, involuntarily dropping my jaw, and whisper a barely audible, but completely appreciative, “WOOOOOWWWWW!”

This is a time where I wrestle with the balance of speaking out about convictions or trying to make peace. I am determined to figure out how to do both, accepting the fact that you can’t please everyone. Stances aren’t everything; relationships are better, and I believe that Jesus’ intentions were for us to be “one” (John 17).


Simply put, I am tired and tired and tired of seeing headlines about the next Christian politician who is outspoken against abortion and homosexuality, as if those are the cruxes of the Christian voter, but silent on the waging of war and global suffering. It’s a time of my life where the only thing I want to pledge my allegiance to is the God of faith, hope, and love. I’ll pray my biggest hopes for this America whose freedoms I’ve come to appreciate and whose priorities I’ve come to question.

It’s a time in my life where I cannot read one more article, or catch one more clip of a radio preacher about women needing to be submissive to their husbands, that men are the only leaders, that women shouldn’t preach/read scripture/have any position of leadership in the church ( Imago dei. In God’s image. We are all created in God’s image, not just half of us. We were all created to be a part of the Kingdom of God and to bring God’s will on Earth as it is in heaven. Not just those with an x and y chromosome. I want my faith journey to be filled with teachings shaped by many colors and dual genders. I want my faith to be shaped by people who don’t even have seminary degrees— the poor, the vulnerable, the oppressed. Sometimes I learn more about who God is when someone shares their testimony of finding God in this midst of an HIV diagnosis, or in the gut-wrenching journey of a young woman’s long-awaited freedom from sex trafficking, than when I’m in a Bible study or church service. So while the white man is shouting, I will join other women and I will write. I will pray. I will speak. I will listen (there’s certainly some white man pastors I really dig.) I will ask questions. I will need others to be patient with me. I will need to be patient with others. I will learn. I will be wrong sometimes. I will confess cynicism. I will ask for forgiveness. I will be inspired into action.2

It’s a time in my life where I would sit behind this woman reading the Torah on the subway and think about how I could have just as easily been born to Jewish parents instead of Lutheran. I always smiled at this woman when I used to see her on the way to work. She might have thought I was weird because if there was a seat near her, I’d try to sit there. But anyway, I felt like I had this connection with her— that her God was my God, and my God was her God. That our prayers are heard by the same deity. There is something holy and mysterious and connected about this and I love it. There is so much that we share, I think, ignoring the voices in my head trying to convince me to be a good Evangelical and hand her a tract and explain in four easy steps why, blatantly, her religion is wrong, mine is obviously right, and Jesus proves that.

It’s a time in my life where I cannot read about one more suicide of a young boy or a young girl being bullied because of their sexual identity. I cannot then read about a Christian politician who openly denounced homosexuality in that same town, just a few days prior to a string of suicides. ( It’s a time in my life where I see “Is homosexuality a sin?” pamphlets inside subway cars and realized that Christian tracts are now not only trying to tell people how to avoid hell, but how to love the correct gender. “Build love, not walls!!” I want to shout. I look at the cover one more time. “Can it be cured?” I read. I wonder where along the way certain Christians have developed a mentality that’s decided it’s acceptable to treat people like they have some despicable disease, and ponder if we’ve forgotten the dignity Jesus gave to the Lepers with His divine touch. But it’s doesn’t matter since you’re right, I’m wrong, God said it, and that settles it.

It’s a time in my life where I need to stop proclaiming that Evangelicals have logs in their own eyes and accept that I have some two by fours in my own. I hope that together we can take these logs to the lumberjack yard and feed some beavers the grandest feast they’ve ever eaten.

It’s a time in my life where I muse about the mystery of love and marriage. This divine human connection between two people. That we have to learn how to love the other man/woman. It doesn’t come completely natural to pour out true, deep, unwavering love. Love itself to me becomes this holy mystery/experience. Being raw and open and letting someone into your life, forever, deciding the paltry, “so, how many pillows do you sleep with, honey?” to suddenly having this little tiny creature to care after forever. If I’m honest, marriage scares me a little. I’m in no rush to get there. But I do want to get there eventually. It almost seems odd to me. Call me selfish, but from age seven onward I shared my room with a just few stuffed animals and the occasional slumber party friend. In college, my horizons broadened a bit as I had girl roommates who shared everything from make up to Gatorade and swim caps (thank you, Lady Tigers). We would dance to “Single Ladies” while getting ready to go out, and now my current roommate and I have these sporadic nighttime chats and prayer about life in inner city Baltimore. I treasure such moments. But one day, you get married, and it’s like all of that disappears. “Hey honey, it looks like you’re coming home with me tonight….” …And tomorrow night. And the night after tomorrow’s tomorrow. I hope to still go out at least one night when I’m married and still have a sleepover with my best girlfriend; I don’t want to completely lose that sense of laughter and togetherness that comes with pillow talk and a best friend. I hope that when I get married there will be singing in the shower, guests around the dinner table, and a goodnight kiss every night (but please don’t snore!). I hope to learn how to love unselfishly, to build something together, to give everything I have because I want this person to experience all the love, joy, and happiness an imperfect human being can offer. All of these profundities and longings make me smile, as I think about God watching from above and seeing into each house, all of his little creatures, just living life the best way they know how.

It’s a time in my life where I realize that trying to figure out the future will only drive me crazy, and, not to mention, whatever I decide is going to happen in the future, will, in turn, take a twist and throw me something entirely unexpected. I’ve spent months wrestling in my head with career choices, graduate schools, and living abroad. Taking it one step further, the wrestling match explodes into some kind of WWE Smackdown, as I grapple, mull over, and daydream about which country my adopted kids will come from, and how they will be parented, and which country I can move to when I retire, suddenly realizing that I had taken my brain to the year 2036 or some strange number that looks weird on paper, making me scratch my head and think, that cannot possibly be a year. But alas one day that calendar will turn, and New Year’s will ring in 2037, and I’ll be shaking my head wondering where all this time has gone. Bringing myself back to today, the present moment, I unleash myself to God. I stop demanding a cradle-to-the-grave itinerary and when my brain starts to run into years unseen, I remind myself of what I have been promised: a future and a hope.

And so this is transplant. I’m not sure when I’ll be “rooted.” But never the matter. I’m here. And, though I get confused and cry and apologize later for things I shouldn’t have said, I also laugh and smile and make ruckus. I am content. I am happy. I don’t belong with the crowds telling me who I can’t become as a woman; I don’t belong with the crowds who try to convince me what my family, marriage, and faith should all look like (as if God hasnooriginality and forgot to make us all unique). So I’m ok here. I’m ok with where I am. There is freedom here. The door is opening; it’s barely ajar. But I can see it. I can taste it. I can hear it, smell it, breathe it, and it is beautiful. You see, I grew up swimming long, laborious laps in the swimming pool, and there’s this daring in my heart to dive into the deep end and feel cool water and sunlight swirl on my face. So today I think I’ll head out to the ocean instead of the natatorium, and make some waves, because the “no-wake zone” is far behind me; in fact, I can’t even see it anymore. All that’s ahead of me are new sights to see and more shores to swim to. There is plenty of wide open space here, and you can paint with any color brush you choose. Yes, come on in, there’s room for you. And as we run through open fields, I know one day our feet might take to a certain patch of grass in which we will blossom and sprout and plant our flowers. But for right now, I’m in transplant. And I am more alive than ever before.

1 Check out Ed Cyzewski’s Divided We Unite: Practical Christian Unity, available free to subscribers of In.A.Mirror.Dimly.Lit’s Women in Ministry blog:

2 I’ve been inspired into such action by Sarah Bessey’s post, “In Which I am Done Fighting for a Seat at the Table.”Check it out here: