Splendid & Lovely

These last few weeks, I’ve been processing a lot of experiences and feelings that I’d spent 28 months suppressing, numbing, and burying. I’ve spent a lot of time getting still, listening to the quiet voice of my heavenly Father, reading Brené Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability research (if you aren’t familiar with her work—I implore you to look it up), and writing, writing, writing. I’ve also acted on some leaps of faith that definitely fall into the category of “daring greatly” over the course of the last week. All of this is accompanied by a not-quite-comfortable sensation that I’m coming out of the shell I’ve been hiding in—it’s a momentum of bravery that I don’t want to lose.

On Twitter yesterday, I alluded to the fiery red of my latest hair color being a reflection of “my inner feisty-ness” while chatting with Anna. Her reply was quick: “’inner’. Whatever. It’s leaking out ALL OVER these days.” And well, I guess that’s true.

My sister became fascinated with personality tests/types a couple years ago, gently encouraging practically forcing everyone in our family to take the Meyers-Briggs evaluation and learn our personality types. Mine was INFJ the first time I took it, but last year I did it again and got ISFJ—which I think is more accurate. Or was. See—since I actually committed to and became more involved in #the4500 last month, I’ve begun to question the degree of my introversion. It seems that all the mental and emotional shifts I’ve experienced since then have unlocked who I might really be underneath all the junk I’ve been hauling around. Am I a full-on extrovert? Absolutely not. But I might be more of an extroverted introvert than I ever would have identified myself as. (I REALLY want to take the Meyers-Briggs inventory again, but Jess tells me I should wait a few weeks to let this “new” personality settle in.)
I’m tempted to list all the ways I’ve seen this elevated extroversion manifest itself, but you’d grow weary of that list. For now, the focus will be on the biggest one thus far: SPLENDID 2016.
So, what exactly is SPLENDID 2016? Splendid is the name of a retreat ministry formed by #the4500’s FB group founder, Tracy. Tracy answers the question of SPLENDID’s definition simply, “God has each one of us on an amazing splendid journey. With each step our stories become intertwined with each other and God’s face can be seen in the walk.” Her vision is for women to come together to “seek simplicity, listen for calm & study the names of God…focus on things such as mothering, friendship, and self-care…to see Jesus as never before.”

The first SPLENDID retreat debuts next weekend in Wisconsin. A few dozen of #the4500’s braver souls—those who were unafraid to make the commitment to attend when the group was still in its very beginning stages, will converge on a beautiful retreat center to spend a sweet time of renewal together. (Allow me to pause here and say that I never entertained the notion of being at SPLENDID 2015. No consideration at all. It was totally #offthebeam. But today, as my Twitter feed has begun to buzz with #thesplendidretreat countdowns, I’m feeling tinges of FOMO [fear of missing out]. But at the same time, I’m happy for those who will be there.) My heart is filled with the prayer that those who will be in attendance experience an extraordinary freedom with one another next weekend, that Tracy be led by the Holy Spirit in ministering to those women, and that her vision be expanded and multiplied in the future.
About two weeks ago, Tracy announced that there would be a second SPLENDID in the spring of next year…in Texas.

A few facts here:

  •  I’ve traveled to several southern states around SC; I’ve been on a literary-minded trek to several New England states. The farthest west I’ve been is Indiana. I have NEVER wanted to go to Texas. Of all the states I’ve had any inkling of interest in, Texas has always been very near the bottom of the list.
  •  I have NEVER flown. Nope, never. It’s one of those things Ticcoa just does not do.
  •  I have NEVER traveled alone.

Many of the women in #the4500 live in Texas– several of whom I have developed friendships with within the group.

The night before Tracy posted the announcement of the new retreat, I’d drifted off to sleep thinking, “Maybe I’ll go to Texas some day and meet these girls.” No lie—the next morning, I woke up to a photo Tracy had posted proclaiming: “Splendid: Texas Spring 2016.”
Um. I’m sorry. WHAT?
It immediately stirred something in my heart. I was already being pulled toward it and there were no details. Me—the queen of routine, schedule, and having a plan!
Last week, the dates and location were announced. Details posted. Registration opened.
I signed up. I put down a deposit. I started looking at flights. I made a commitment.
I’m going to Texas next Spring. Flying. By myself. To meet up with these women who inspire and encourage me on a daily basis.
And I. Am. So. Excited. About. It.
Will it be awkward? Perhaps at first.
Scary? Maybe a little.
But I can’t imagine a safer place to be either of those things.
Because it will definitely be
SPLENDID
and
LOVELY.

TX bluebonnets

~~~~~~~~~~~
“The Lord appeared to us in the past saying…
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”
Jeremiah 31:3
~~~~~~~~~~~
Playlist:
“Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” Hillsong UNITED
“Chasing You” Jenn Johnson & Bethel Music

Fighting for Surrender

After three weeks of writing nearly every morning and evening, I haven’t written in three days.

I don’t feel like writing this morning.

But I need to.

Because the enemy is attacking me hard.

And it’s no coincidence that this attack comes on the heels of my making some major commitments to things far beyond my comfort zone.

Jesus is calling me out to expand my perspective, my borders, my vision.

And I’m actively pursuing those things.

And Satan can’t stand it. He’s counter-punching my faith and trust and hope with fear, anxiety, and uncertainty—in the place where it gets to me the most: car trouble. I don’t know why, but that is an area that sends me straight into panic mode.

As much as it scares me to make such declarations, I am determined that these setbacks will not send me back into a state of mental, emotional, and spiritual shut-down. I am fighting to keep my heart and mind surrendered to the One who calls me “beloved.” (Fighting for surrender—that’s such an oxymoron—but it’s so true right now.)

I will not bury my head in the sand again.

Jesus has plans for me that I can only see a glimpse of from where I stand, things I would have never imagined even a few months ago.

So, for the moment, I’m taking deep breaths, praising His name, and trusting that He’s already got this situation taken care of.

And I’m also breathing a prayer of gratitude for my #the4500 sisters who were ready at the call to give encouragement and truth-filled words last night when I was mired deep in the cycle of “what if….” and also my dear friend and co-teacher, Christine, who also poured the truth over me last night. It’s so good to have a tribe who shows up to lift us up when we are weary and worn.

Balance

Balance.

Such a loaded word for only two syllables worth of vocal real estate.

We all want it. We all strive for it. We all wish we were better at it.

And we all beat ourselves up over the fact that, no matter how hard we try, we just can’t attain it.There’s always something that gets left undone, forgotten, or given less than our best efforts.

In  For the Love,  Jen Hatmaker speaks to the theory that our society is hinged on comparison culture:

“we have up-close access to women who excel in each individual sphere. With social media and its carefully selected messaging, we see career women killing it, craft moms slaying it, chef moms nailing it, Christian leaders working it […] Then we combine the best of everything we see, every woman we admire in every genre, and conclude: I should be all of that.”

That is so absurd. Yet, we’re ALL guilty of it.

We waste SO much energy trying to be good at everything, when we aren’t necessarily called to be.We live in a constant state of judging ourselves against the polished lives of those around us.We fill our plates with far more activities, responsibilities, and “shoulds” than we can realistically balance.

Jen H. likens this phenomenon to a balance beam. Of the impulse to weigh our lives down with as many hobbies, jobs, activities, projects, etc as we possibly can, she says:

 “meanwhile we have beautiful lives begging to be really lived, really enjoyed, really applauded—and it is simpler than we dare hope: we gotta unload that beam […] Decide which parts are draining you dry. What do you dread? What are you including for all the wrong reasons? Which parts are for approval? […] Throw out every should or should not and make ruthless cuts. Go ahead. Your beam is much too crowded.”

And while Jen (we’re [practically] BFF’s and she’s also part of #the4500, so I can call her that) speaks to the mostly physical aspects of a loaded beam, I wager that it can apply to our mental well-being just as much.

Because our minds get just as mired in the debate of who we are vs. who we “should” be. I know I spend a lot of time listening to the thoughts that constantly play in my mind. (Maybe it’s an introvert thing, but I’m always talking down the “gremlins” that Brenè Brown refers to in Daring Greatly.) In Brown’s research she uses the term “gremlin” as a synonym for “shame tapes.” She found that:

“shame derives its power from being unspeakable […] it loves perfectionists [hello, introvert!]—it’s so easy to keep us quiet […] Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to light was deadly for [Spielberg’s] gremlins, language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.”

I have struggled with this for decades. I don’t remember having a mind clear of the shame tapes rolling. All the fears, anxiety, approval-seeking thoughts that have occupied my brain for so long are exhausting. And YOU cannot balance them. There is no balance when it comes to these thoughts. They become too powerful, drowning out the positive attributes we have, the messages of hope, and courage and “you are enough” that we all need to hear ourselves say to our actual selves.

And over the last two years, they roared in my ears, every minute of every day.

“You’ve made a huge mistake.”

“You weren’t brave enough.”

“You’re invisible; no one sees you.”

“What if…?”

“You don’t have what it takes to make a difference.”

“Wasted—that’s all that opportunity was.”

“You missed your chance. You blew it.”

Those words in your head every day for two years will drive you insane. You can hide it well behind the mask of “I’ve got it together,” you can numb it, you can push it down deep and build a wall around it—but it will not go away.

I’d settled into this way of living. Ignoring all the feelings, the emotions, the reality of my pain and became a shell of myself. Presenting my happy self to the world around me, but inside I was miserable.

I could not see my way out.

I’m so thrilled to say it’s not like that today.

Over the past month, a series of events, connections, and words have been set into motion that have broken through that wall that held all those thoughts captive. My heart is free again. The Light has come and destroyed those thoughts, leaving them shriveled and whimpering.

As I was pondering the change in my mind and heart over this time, I realized that I had forgotten a key point.

In early September, I attended a gathering of my church and our sister church in Indiana. On the last evening of services, the pastors called for prayer for healing.

I’ll be honest—I was in a funk that night. I was 900 miles from home, I’d spent nearly three straight days in a car with an extrovert; I wanted quiet, I wanted to be by myself. And the “gremlins” were roaring in my head. But I stood up; I tried to pray, but all I could say was, “Jesus.”

After a few minutes, someone approached and prayed over me—for balance: “Jesus, bring balance to the mind, body, and spirit. Bring them into alignment with you.”

The person who prayed those words was a stranger. Someone who had no idea of the struggle I was facing. But God knew and He has made sure I know that He knows in a hundred ways over the past three weeks. And He has brought balance.  I FEEL ALIVE again. Fear and anxiety aren’t ruling me anymore. There’s so much joy in my heart, I feel like I could jump out of my skin.

By the grace of God, I have regained my balance after years of teetering on the edge.

Those “gremlins” we carry around? OFF THE BEAM

Those things we fill our lives with to keep up with all the “perfect people”? OFF THE BEAM

It has to stop.

It has to stop because it isn’t the way God created us to live.

We aren’t called to live under that kind of pressure.

But if we’re so caught up in trying to attain goals that aren’t meant for us to attain or listening to the gremlins that drown out our thoughts, we waste the beautiful, extraordinarily ordinary lives we were given.

 

I Had A Dream (and jumped out of my comfort zone)

I posted last weekend about #the4500. This group alone is a miracle that gives testament to the power of God’s love; of prayer; and of “simple, yet complicated” walks of faith coming together for the purpose of building one another up. Because, really—where else on the internet, or in the world for that matter, can you find 1300 women from all over the globe and all sorts of backgrounds who get along with one another, #forthelove? (I’m not naïve enough that I don’t think negativity slips in sometimes—but our attentive and gentle admins (Tracy and Anna) keep it from spreading very far.) In my post, I mentioned a dream about #the4500 and the series of connections it set off, promising to come back to it. So, here’s that story:

Until two weeks ago, I had posted in the group occasionally, but not really connected with anyone on a more personal level. One of the admins had requested to be friends on Facebook back in April, along with a couple of people from SC who are also in the group. I’d watched photos of meet-ups come across the pages of the group, and almost had my own meet-up at the Beth Moore conference in July (it didn’t happen—partially because there were so many people in the venue you could hardly move, and partially because I just chickened out). And when Tracy unveiled her new ministry of weekend retreats to bring the group together in real life (IRL), I never even let myself entertain the thought of attending. (For the record, I’m now kind of wishing I were going to the first one that’s happening in WI in three weeks.) I was perfectly happy on the fringes.

But then I started reading Daring Greatly. And started thinking about living a more authentic life, showing up, and re-engaging. And about that time, I had a dream that I attended a conference of #the4500. In the dream, I met Anna (who encouraged everyone to read Daring Greatly in the group) and we talked about things close at heart. As we were talking, someone unintentionally interrupted us, but Anna gently guided the conversation back to what was on my heart.

I woke up that morning feeling like a weight had rolled off my shoulders. I had a joy I couldn’t explain. I considered posting about the dream in the group, but for a split second I thought, “No, that’s ridiculous. Nobody will care that you dreamed about this.” Ten minutes later, I decided to post it—because it was just a fun little anecdote. We would all laugh about it and be done with it.

So I posted: “I dreamed of #the4500 last night. The whole legion of us was at some conference and I kept running into people I recognized. We had dinners, coffees, chats together. But what really takes the cake—the moment when I was pouring my heart out to Anna and someone walked up and unintentionally interrupted. Without missing a beat, Anna steered the conversation back to what was on my heart in the gentlest way.  I’ve never met her IRL, but I imagine that she’s just as sweet, encouraging, and darling as she was in my dream. Anna—you’re a cheerleader for us even in our dreams! It’s ridiculous, but I woke up light-hearted and joyful because of our ‘dream-chat!’”

Anna was first to comment with “we should talk soon!” Almost immediately, people were posting comments that Anna really is that sweet IRL.  When I saw Anna’s comment, I thought email, FB messenger kind of talking—you know, written correspondence.

Within ten minutes of posting, I had a FB message from Anna, saying “here’s my number, let’s chat!”

I’m an introvert. If you know me, you know this is true (thought I’m beginning to see slightly more extroversion appearing). I DON’T talk on the phone. My sister and mom are lucky if I answer their calls immediately. It’s just not my thing. Small talk is excruciating. I hate it. For real.

And this STRANGER wanted to talk to me. ON THE PHONE. Bless her extroverted heart.

I didn’t even open the message until I got home from work that afternoon. (I didn’t want her to know I’d read it—because then I’d have to do something about it!) But it was in the back of my mind all day. So when I got home, I messaged her back. In total honesty, I told her it wasn’t my thing; I told her I wanted to chat about the book, but I didn’t think I could do it on the phone; I asked if we could text instead; and I gave her my number so I could not chicken out.

Half an hour later, my phone buzzes with a text. Guess who? We chatted for a couple minutes about the book, then she asked where I live. I told her and she replied with the statement that made me believe Jesus had his hands all over this: “My boss just told me today that I’m coming to [town in the next state]! I smell a meet-up.”

WAIT. WHAT??? The very day I wake up from a dream about meeting her, her boss tells her he’s flying her from five states away to company headquarters which JUST HAPPEN to be TWO HOURS FROM ME???

That’s not a coincidence y’all. That is God at work. If nothing else, Anna and I agree that He’s up to something BIG here.

There’s no way I’d miss this meet-up. No way.

But there’s more. All of the above happened two weeks ago (Friday). I got halfway through Daring Greatly over the weekend and needed to talk it out with someone who’d read it. That Tuesday evening, I took a leap and texted Anna to see when she was available to talk. Yes, talk. Not text. Talk. We set a time for later that night.

It was so far out of my comfort zone.  At one point during our conversation she asked if it was weird for me to be talking to her. Um, yes. But we talked for an hour and a half (which neither of us realized until we hung up). And it was such a blessing. She is such a blessing. And I’m so looking forward to meeting her later this month. (Part of me wonders when “the other shoe will drop” and I’ll be scared to death of this meet-up.)

So many other connections and breakthroughs have happened in my own heart as a domino effect of our conversations and what God has been speaking to me through the questions posed both by Anna and by Daring Greatly, as well as other books I’ve been reading and sermons I’ve heard lately. I’ll be writing for weeks about it all.

Moral of the story: Sometimes we get so stuck in the ruts we’ve made—the place where we’re comfortable, the place we’ve made safe. But we aren’t designed for safe. We’re designed to dare greatly, to show up so God can show out.  If we aren’t willing to move, He can’t work as freely. But when we show up and engage with the world around us, He has a way of blowing our preconceived ideas straight out of the water.