when your normal is someone else’s weird

If you start on I-40 in California and keep driving east, lots of days later you’ll end up in Wilmington, North Carolina. A few years ago, I traveled with my friend Alisa to Wilmington. We didn’t start in California, but that’s where she’s from. I remember her being excited about finally making it to the other end of I-40 and seeing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.

When we arrived in Wilmington, we drove straight to the beach. As we got out of her car and reached the sand, Alisa said out loud but kind of to herself, Wow, you really do have grass on your beaches. It wasn’t a big deal of a thing and I’m not even sure she was talking to me. But her words come to mind every time I see tall grass on sand. To me, it’s normal. But I carry California Alisa’s comment in my pocket and remember that my normal is someone else’s weird.
Next week I’ll be traveling to California for the first time. I won’t be driving 1-40, but it will be my first legit trip there. When I traveled with Compassion to the Philippines last year, our team met up at LAX so I got to see California from the air. But that doesn’t seem to count.

While there, I’ll be speaking at a retreat for a group of women in Carlsbad I absolutely can’t wait to meet. We’ll talk about grace and Jesus – two of my most favorite things. And also? I would really like to find an In-N-Out Burger because that just seems like something that needs to happen.

Preparing to travel and speak and get the kids calendars in order so my mom and mother-in-law know what to do while The Man and I are away, I’ve realized my capacity for thoughtful writing is about as deep as Cookie Monster. And also me want a cookie. I leave you with a few bullet points because everyone likes a bullet point.

  • I really liked this post by Mary Carver: It’s All McDonald’s @ Giving Up on Perfect
  • My April e-letter will go out next week. I’ll share links to stuff, write a blog post just for subscribers and maybe something else I haven’t thought of yet. Who wants a cookie? Subscribe to the monthly newsletter here.
  • I changed my twitter name to @emilypfreeman because that’s my name.
  • Speaking of Compassion, their next trip is May 6-11. They’ll be traveling to Tanzania this time and my sister will be going with them. Check out the rest of the team and follow their trip.
  • I got the page proofs for my second book, Graceful {For Young Women} which gets me all over again excited.
  • So there is no grass on the beach in California? Really? What is something you have learned is normal to you but weird to everyone else?


  1. says

    French Fries on my salad. In Pittsburgh, if you order a grilled chicken/steak salad, it comes with lettuce, veggies, cheese, meat, and french fries. I had no idea, until I hit up SC, that not everyone did that. Excited with you for your book!

  2. says

    Boy energy and curiosity in my son.

    It didn’t used to be normal, though, growing up in a family of girls and thinking my boy cousins were “weird.”

    Funny how our normal can change; that is, what was once “weird” to us becomes our new normal.

    Oh, and I do have to say that when we lived north of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge was part of our daily “normal,” I was always captivated by the view and majesty of the bridge; it never felt normal to me!

    Enjoy California. Can’t wait to hear your impressions once you actually set foot in the state, rather than from a bird’s eye view.

  3. says

    Great topic! I grew up in AZ…we don’t have humidity. I moved to NC 10 years ago and now we have to pressure wash the side of the house every year because of all the mold that grows because of the dampness. A couple years ago my brother (in AZ) called and asked what we were doing. I told him we were pressure washing the house. He said, why in the world would you do that?! Every Summer I ask myself the same question!

  4. says

    i totally agree about the grass. I’m in southern California and we just have lots of sand. sometimes cliffs and sometimes lots of rocks. but mostly just sand and never tall grass. and I have to say, when you said you’d be coming to Carlsbad my heart skipped a beat! I’m in San Diego county a little south of Carlsbad but San Diego none-the-less. totally wish I was going on that retreat :) enjoy your time here! I think you’ll absolutely love it, especially if you do find In N Out!

  5. says

    So many things! Homeschooling. Having a big-ish family…wanting more. Deciding to give up being a lawyer to stay at home. Giving up life in the city to farm. Knowing that all these things means living with less money, less material advantages, and more family life.

    Sometimes any one of these things seems to shock people. All of them together tends to make people assume we’re some kind of crazy. But I really feel very normal.

  6. says

    I found your blog last month. Since then, I’ve read two Natalie Goldberg books, taken up handwritten writing practice, been more certain that whatever art I make of writing will only be worthwhile if it glorifies God AND written some much improved blog posts.

    Because of your influence.

    Don’t underestimate the work you do for God. Keep on keeping on, in sweet Jesus’ name and power. Thank you for serving me!

  7. says

    No, we do not have grass on our beaches. But we do have amazing, amazing beaches – just browse my site and you’ll see tons of beach pictures from the central coastal area of our state. Carlsbad is beautiful – but watch out for what many of our beaches DO have – tar. Make sure you have veggie oil nearby if you walk those beach areas barefoot. :>) Wish I could hear you in person, Emily. Blessings as you travel, speak and enjoy this side of the country. And if you travel north on Hwy 101, stop by Santa Barbara for a while. I’ll even take you to In n’ Out. (Or better, Hamburger Habit, which is a local chain that is scrumptious.)

  8. says

    I think weird and normal might just be two sides of the same coin. I grew up with an alcoholic father, so much of what I thought was normal was weird. My life now has its fair share of weird, but it’s weirdness that I choose to make a part of our normal life. As a child, I desperately wanted to be normal, unnoticed, to blend in. Now, on the other hand, I’m a bit weird and totally OK with that.

  9. says

    Oh my goodness, I was thinking about this in the shower. About how abnormal my life has been to the norm of culture, making myself laugh over made up book titles, “Don’t Follow My Example, You Might Get Lost.” I am from Arizona, live in South Carolina, my husband went to USC in LA. I live this, what is normal for me, isn’t for you. You will love Carlsbad and California and In and Out Burger. You will probably want to eat there more than once!

  10. Deb Townsend says

    First of all, I was excited to hear you would be in Southern California! But it looks like the conference is a closed event. I am about 40 minutes North of Carlsbad. We moved here from Ohio 2 years ago and I get funny looks whenever I use the word “pop” to describe a carbonated beverage–they say “soda” here!
    I usually don’t comment, but while I am at it, I wanted to let you know how your book has blessed me. I am truly a “good girl”! I am not a good writer, but your gift allowed me to finally have words to describe my heart. Thank you! My husband thanks you too! He has graciously started pointing out when I am a “good girl”–even when I decided to reread your book immediately after finishing it (in case I missed something). He said, “typical good girl to reread the book!”
    God has used your words to reveal my heart and it has been so freeing. Thank you. Praying that God will use you in Carlsbad to minister to the women there and that God will give you strength and boldness as you share.

  11. Wanda says

    Emily, God Bless You as you minister in California. There are so many women who need to experience ‘Grace for the Good Girl’; God has gifted and equipped you…you go girl! and if you ever come to Maryland, look for me in the front row!

  12. says

    Aw… Made me get teary thinking about you being in my home state… even though you’ll be quite a ways away from my hometown. : ) But no matter – say hi to California for me anyway… And yes – eat at In-N-Out because it’s yummy and then you can say that you did.

    Normal for me? I could go on and on. Suffice it to say that it’s feeling normal to wake up in Peru these days. : )

    Have a great trip!!!

  13. says

    In my big Italian family it is normal (albeit sacrosanct) to call the stuff you pour over your pasta gravy. It is not sauce; it is gravy. That is all.

  14. Robin J says

    There are probably 20 In n Outs between LAX and Carlsbad. I live in between. When you go, ask for your burger “animal style”. It’s off the secret menu but makes the burger a dozen times better! Enjoy your trip. We are having lovely weather this week… its 90 today!

  15. says

    Welcome to my home state of 40 years. Oh, how I love my California. Don’t know where you’re from, but while In-n-Out is very CA, if you’re in Carlsbad, ask where to get a good fish taco. And our produce is amazing this time of year, especially down there. Eat all the strawberries and asparagus you can!

  16. says

    My husband and I just took a trip to Wyoming (we live in east Tennessee) and I was stunned at the landscape. Here we have trees, lots of trees. There it’s rocks, dirt, and sagebrush. To the people who have lived there all their lives, it’s beautiful. To me, it felt as if I had landed on the moon. When we flew back, we had to fly into Charlotte,NC and those Smokey Mountains never looked so good.

  17. says

    I love this topic! Living in the Northwest in the Seattle area, I realized how glorious the sun is. And how much we all appreciate it when it starts to come out, even for a few hours some days. I moved up here 6 years ago from hot, sunny Texas and was so amazed to discover that it’s not sunny all the time in the NW. I still find it so funny when people come out from ‘hiding’ when the sun does some out just to sit and soak it up. Seriously, where does everyone come from? It still makes me laugh and now I’m one of those people because I’m not missing my chance for some Vitamin D. And I also don’t want to miss my chance to appreciate the beauty and the warmth it provides! :)

  18. Jorie says

    my normal is a husband who regularly does dishes or sweeps and mops the floors. i’ll take that over chocolate or flowers ANY day! the town we currently live, this is definately considered weird.

  19. says

    I’m from a little bit south of Carlsbad (though I don’t live there anymore), but you’ll definitely find an In n Out! It’s delicious and you have to try one of their milkshakes.

    My normal is living by the beach. I’ve lived 23 out of my 29 years within 5 to 20 minutes from the ocean. It’s so strange to me that some people have never see an ocean!

    Oh, and I’ve found most West Coasters think fish tacos are the norm, but back East people usually give me a funny look when I talk about how delicious fish tacos are. FYI, Rubios has good fish tacos. :)

  20. Jessica says

    When our neighbors moved here from California a few years ago they were Stunned and amazed that our grass died in the winter….um? I can’t imagine it any other way. Lol…we still joke about that.

  21. Andrea says

    It’s normal that I live next door to my parents, in the same neighborhood I’ve lived in for almost 40 years, save 4 years in Texas while in college . I get along well with my parents, they don’t meddle, sometimes 2 or 3 days go by where I don’t see them, and I can help them out now that they are in their late 80’s. This seems totally normal to me, but I am amazed still at how often people will say “I could NEVER live next door to my parents!” Or even “Why in the world would you move in next to your parents?” (Got that comment just a couple days ago!) I am thankful that I can be here in what is probably the last decade of their lives. And, saddened that this is so abnormal in our culture today! BTW, I’m 25 minutes from Carlsbad, and it has some lovely beaches. Enjoy your stay here

  22. says

    This totally made me laugh and smile and feel sentimental for a number of reasons…

    …because I lived in Wilmington for 6 years and was always amused by the sign on I-40 as you’re leaving town that tells you how many thousands of miles away that town (Barstow, I think?) in California is.

    …because I’ve also lived in California – central Cali, for five years – and while I don’t remember grass on the beach, I do remember this interesting thing called ice plant that was pretty prevalent along/on the coast.

    …because the sea grass on the dunes of the coastal Carolina beaches are always a comforting, soothing sight – if for no other reason than it means I’m in a place I love dearly.

  23. says


    Loved this post!! I love that someone elses normal… may be my weird (and vice versa)… but only for a while. Say until I fall in love with the uniqueness of the weird and God’s amazing creativity! Someone else’s weird can inspire my awe of the Master!

    I am a California girl whose mom and brother now live in Cary area NC. I am now in love with NC (and CA)… oh yeah… and Colorado. I actually live fairly close to Carlsbad CA (and lived just next door in Oceanside for about 15 years). You will be pleased to know that there is an In-n-Out right in Carlsbad (west side of I-5 between Palomar Airport Road and Canon Road exits). Remember West here = beach and ocean… it is completely the reverse of when you are in NC. That seems obvious, but when someone gives you directions while you are here it will sometimes require a “note to self” as you are processing. I know because I have been on the reverse end while visiting NC. The other thing we are excited about out here on the west coast… we are now getting Five Guys Burgers (and yes there is one in the inland area of Carlsbad). So this might get filed under… “Someone else’s normal… may be your novelty.”

    Have a great time in Carlsbad and I’ll be praying for you as you speak at the Women’s retreat. ~ Patti

  24. says

    Grass on the beach…never seen it!

    Hope you enjoy your trip out here! Ignore the smog and embrace the awesome weather. :)

    And here’s the Carlsbad In-N-Out: 5950 Avenida Encinas Carlsbad, CA 92008

    Order your burger animal style. You won’t regret it. :)

  25. Dorothy says

    Another reader brought up Natalie Goldberg books. I had a high school teacher teach writing from Writing Down the Bones . At that point it was my how-to-think book, second only to the Bible! I feel great love for the person and the voice I found when I started getting my heart on paper.

    My normal which is certainly not usual: my oldest son has many medical issues. Besides getting a number of medicines per day, he has a feeding tube and gets a motorized chest vest therapy that helps him cough up mucus. Once DH and I went out for a quick dinner date, and I didn’t give the babysitters (a married couple) complete directions. I figured that the things I omitted, it was ok for one evening to omit. BUT, our schedule is regular to the kids, and they jumped right in, and started with the “normal” chest vest and the “normal” inhalers, which I’d forgotten to leave directions with. The sitters were a little worried, because they never had any exposure to what is absolutely NORMAL to my family!

    Emily, thank you for your faithfulness to the Lord and your constant encouragement!

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