It Feels Like Too Much

Sometimes the world just feels like too much to handle. Today is one of those days. Deconstruction, financial stress, shifting relationships, inner turmoil, lack of transportation, emotional upheaval, and past trauma scream day and night, each vying for attention and draining energy like vampires sucking blood from corpses.

It’s not supposed to be this way.

I’m feeling rather nostalgic this morning thanks to memories of the #EpicBookTourTPD. In fact, I began drafting a post about the photos and tweets that showed up on my Timehop today in an effort to remember the bright spots while crawling through the hard spaces. But when I began typing, this came out instead. I could write it all out and then delete, but I’m trying to be brave, real. Last year, I met with a literary agent for feedback on my book proposal and she said something to me that hasn’t left: “If you’re really brave, show me. Tell me exactly what you were thinking and feeling when you said you didn’t want to wake up the next day.”

So, here I am. Because I know for a fact that I’m not the only person who feels this way. Yet, when you’re in a space like this, you feel very, very alone. Maybe if I put my fingertips to the keyboard, my words will find their way to you and make you feel less alone.

Maybe it’s like a two way mirror. I can’t see anything but my own reflection, but you’re there, watching. My words on your computer or smartphone screen appearing before you as if I held a page up to the glass. 

That nostalgia is mixed with a good measure of anxiety, depression, and fear about the future thrown in. Putting one foot in front of the other is basically all I know to do right now in the present.

It’s been a rough few months, and I’ve found myself lower than I’ve been in quite some time. I feel like I’m surrounded by insurmountable cliffs. Slippery, unforgiving, no place to hold or step.

The dark overwhelms. When a momentary prick of light cuts through the black, I burst into action with every bit of energy I can muster. It might last a few minutes, a few hours, a few days, a few weeks. But when it fades, it fades fast.

I’m trying to get my crap together so the rug doesn’t get pulled out from under me. But it’s all so overwhelming. I need my tribe to help me find a place to put my foot, a place to grab hold.

Last night, I created a crowdfunding campaign to help boost me up the cliff of buying a car. It’s been an idea for a few weeks, but I’ve resisted because it feels weak and desperate. (There you go, brave and real.)

Here’s the description I wrote:

After three years of being without a vehicle, I am reaching out to my friends, family, and community for support in securing reliable transportation.

When I moved to Texas three years ago, I left almost everything behind, including my car. (It never would have made the trip anyway.) And I regret having made the move without a car.

I will admit that I could have planned this move better, practically speaking. But those who have filled my journey these last few years know that the opportunity unfolded in ways I never imagined.

Truthfully, Texas has probably saved my life because it gave me a refuge when my life was falling apart. But it hasn’t been an easy road by any means.

I’m in a position now where I need access to my own car. Being a self-employed freelancer is difficult and at times unstable. For my mental and emotional health, it’s becoming more evident that I need a backup plan. I love my current job, but am also aware that circumstances shift and change. I need a contingency plan.

Finding a steadier job would require reliable transportation, so this is the first step toward the next level of independence.

Making this ask is not not easy for me, but it is something that has been nibbling at my brain for weeks. All of this seems insurmountable and out of reach. My anxiety levels are sky high. Checking the car off my get-your-crap-together list would be huge.

People are often willing to help, but may not have the opportunity to do so. If you are so inclined to help, I am ever grateful.

Back in the day, when people like  Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, and Ralph Waldo Emerson were scratching out the words that would become American literary classics, they were often supported by patrons of the arts. People who believed in their craft, in their work, in their messages.

While I don’t consider myself as talented as any of those writers, I do know I have a gift in writing and connecting with people through my words. Sitting behind a keyboard, pounding out words that you hope will impact someone else’s life is often lonely and isolating. But we writers keep doing it not only because it heals our own souls, but also because we believe it will help heal others.

So, if my writing, my story, my journey has touched or impacted you in some way, would you consider making a donation to help propel me up the cliff I’m facing? To the next phase of whatever this journey has in store?

(You’ll be able to call yourself a patron of the Arts, if you need a perk other than helping a sister out. And if when I publish a book, I’ll include you in the acknowledgements.)

 

To donate, visit https://www.gofundme.com/ticcoa039s-car-fund

Direct donations may be made here: paypal.me/TiccoaLeister

 

For Rachel Held Evans: a tribute

Rachel Held Evans is, unquestionably, one of my heroines of faith. Though I’d never met her in person, her life has marked my own.

 

original image courtesy rachelheldevans.com

 

Hard News and New Opportunities

Two weeks ago today, I spent my Saturday morning getting dressed and psyching myself up for an opportunity that had popped up quite unexpectedly. A few days earlier, within minutes of sitting down to watch Brene Brown’s new Netflix special, my phone pinged with a text message from my friend, Bob Hamp, who wanted to know if I would consider recording a segment with him and his wife Polly. They wanted to interview me about my faith deconstruction for their upcoming Think Differently video series on Reformation.

Before I said yes, I clarified with Bob that I was still deeply entrenched in the middle of my deconstruction process. I had no definitive answers to any of my questions. I had little idea of where I would land on the faith spectrum when all was said and done. It’s still a bit fuzzy. But I’m okay with that fuzziness. Well, at least for today. Tomorrow might be another story. Such is deconstruction.

I digress.

I told him I would think about it and let him know the next day.

As my mind started immediately weighing the pros and cons, I texted Anna and told her about the invitation. While waiting for her reply, a thought settled gently in my mind. “I trust Bob and Polly with this conversation.”

My answer was yes, but I waited until the following day to accept the invitation.

When Saturday morning came, I was busy talking myself down from my nervous excitement. I paid little attention to social media as I prepared to leave the house. On my way to pick up Anna, who was going to the shoot with me, I turned on my favorite playlist and worked hard to push my anxiety to the edge of my mind.

Then, as I sat in the car waiting for Anna, I scrolled Facebook. That’s when I saw Sarah Bessey’s post.

image courtesy rachelheldevans.com

After a weeks-long hospital stay, Rachel Held Evans had died.

Tears stung the corners of my eyes immediately and the words on the screen blurred. I held the tears at bay to preserve my camera-ready face. But my heart was splitting in two. For Rachel’s sweet babies, for her husband, for her family, for her friends, for her readers. We had all lost something precious. #PrayforRHE, the hashtag that had been trending on Twitter for weeks, told us she mattered. #BecauseofRHE, the hashtag that flooded social media at the news of her death, told us she wouldn’t be forgotten.

By the time I arrived at Bob’s office for our recording session, I had a renewed sense of purpose. I wasn’t only telling my story for my own healing but also for those who were sitting in their own ash heaps. My story might give someone else permission to ask questions and courage to begin rebuilding. Even in the middle of my own process, I have a voice.

image courtesy Anna LeBaron


I am telling my story for myself and for those who are sitting in similar ashes.

~*~
Meeting Rachel through Her Words

I knew who Rachel was before last summer, but I hadn’t yet read any of her books. Then Anna was hired to run her launch team for Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving Bible Again, and in a degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon way, I too worked on the launch behind the scenes. When Anna received her very early ARC of Inspired, I knew it was a book I wanted to read.

image courtesy Ticcoa Leister

When I picked the book up last May, I had no idea that I was headed into a deconstruction of faith and everything I believed. But I did know that Rachel saw the Bible as more than a rigid rule book that could not be questioned. My English major background had given me tools to dissect texts of all kinds–to question, to poke, to test, to re-imagine. But my evangelical, Southern Baptist Christian upbringing had clearly defined the Bible as off-limits when it came to investigating it from any angle other than what my churches taught.

Rachel gave me permission to explore the possibility that the Bible wasn’t meant to be so rigid.

Rachel gave me permission to be curious about the contents of the Bible.

Rachel gave me permission to pick up my literary tools alongside the Bible.

Rachel gave me permission to think critically rather than believe blindly about the Bible.

Rachel gave me permission to explore the Bible as a collection of different literary genres.

Rachel gave me permission to wrestle with the contradictions and discrepancies in the Bible.

~*~
Searching for Sunday

Several days before the news of Rachel’s hospitalization became public, I’d ordered a copy of Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. It arrived the day after her illness was revealed. Flipping it open the next day, the first words I read were the first sentence of Glennon Doyle’s foreword: 

 

Whenever I want to scare myself, I consider what would happen to the world if Rachel Held Evans stopped writing.

 

Nearly a year after reading Inspired, I found myself in a desolate season. Questioning everything I thought I knew about God and the Bible. Raising hell against the patriarchy and chains of the purity cultural movement. Closing my Bible and insisting that God find another way to speak to me. Yelling. Weeping. Cussing. Wrestling.

Now, I knew I was in the throes of deconstruction. It’s a lonely place, sitting in the rubble of your beliefs after they’ve burned to the ground. But when I found myself there in the ashes, I knew there were people who had been there. People who understood. People who had a wider vision of faith, God, and the Bible than I’d ever known. And those are the people I seek to learn from.

Jen Hatmaker.

Sarah Bessey.

Nadia Bolz-Weber.

Elizabeth Esther.

Pete Enns.

Jonathan Merritt.

Bob Hamp.

Rebecca Reynolds.

Alia Joy.

Anna LeBaron.

Rachel Held Evans.

(this is not an exhaustive list, by any means.)

Rachel wasn’t ashamed to ask hard questions and sit in the ashes without answers. Her bold and authentic personality blazed a trail for those of us who weren’t even sure if were allowed to have the slightest bit of doubt. She, and others, created space at a table much wider than the the one evangelicalism built. Rachel pulled out chairs for the people on the fringes. She smiled big and introduced us to the Jesus who welcomed the very people who the church condemns.

Rachel was brave. She gave us agency to get to know Jesus in the ashes.  
Rachel was true. She didn’t pretend to have all the answers.
Rachel was courageous. She stood up for her beliefs in the face of vehement backlash.
Rachel was a woman of valor. She fought a good fight and finished–too early–but well.

~*~
Christ Have Mercy…We Give Thanks

Yesterday, I was reading Searching for Sunday. In chapter ten, What Have We Done, Rachel begins by discussing ways the church at large has twisted its beliefs to harm and destroy human lives. Breaking between each paragraph, she offers a line of liturgical prayer:

“Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.”

In the second half of the chapter, she honors a bunch of people who have stood for their beliefs in order to provide more freedom for others throughout history. This time, each paragraph is sandwiched  by a different liturgical line:

For [name] we give thanks.

The chapter ends with a quote from the Book of Common Prayer:

Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.
Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
That we may show forth your glory in the world.
By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.”

The list of faith heroes includes Teresa of Avila, Anne Hutchinson, William Wilberforce, Rosa Parks, and Sojourner Truth. The section ends with this sentence:

“For all who did the right thing even when it was hard, we give thanks.”

The way Rachel wrote this chapter was beautiful and lyrical. When I came to the end of the we give thanks list, I sat for a moment with the complexity of feeling both inspired and grieved by the paradoxes in the chapter, compounded by the weight of Rachel’s death.

Then I picked up my pen and added my own tribute to the bottom of the list:

image courtesy Ticcoa Leister


For Rachel Held Evans, who made a way for raw questions and messy faith, even when it wasn’t popular to do so, we give thanks.

 

I Wish I Could be Hopeful About Dating

I wish I could be hopeful about dating.

About even the possibility that it could happen.

But the reality is that it feels very much like a pipe dream to me. 

Because the hard truth is that I am so very inexperienced when it comes to relationships.

I feel robbed of the opportunity to experience the carefree, exhilarating thrill of young love.

I feel weighed down by the baggage with which purity culture teachings saddled me.

I don’t have any past evidence that I am worthy of pursuit and emotional investment.

I am plagued by anxieties and fears and questions.

Am I enough for anyone?

Am I capable of being in a healthy relationship?

How the hell does a woman in her mid-30s with no prior dating experience meet an eligible partner who isn’t a creep without bar hopping and scoping church singles groups (both of which seem like an incredibly bad idea to me)?

(But for real.)

Is it worth dreaming and hoping for someone to share my life with? Or am I just increasing the sting of inevitable disappointment?

They [the church, both in general and my own specific congregations] built an altar to marriage and said it was good.

They taught me to be submissive—preparation to be a good wife.

They took my body and told me it was not mine, but my [near] future husband’s. I belonged to him and him alone.

They said if I kept my heart locked away, he would find me and unlock it with the key.

They told me I was a jewel, a treasure to be found.

They warned me that my appearance made men lust and I was responsible for his actions and reactions. They taught me to be passive, waiting for the fairy tale to begin.

And when I crossed an invisible line of no longer being a hopeful, young, virgin-in-waiting, they pushed me to the edges where I became a faulty, inexperienced, perpetual single.

They boxed me in, stole my femininity, made me small, and rendered me invisible.

Now, I realize that the fear-filled and shaming approach of purity culture produced shame, fear, and scarcity. [These are not the fruits of the Spirit.]

Now, I panic when someone mentions dating.

Now, I see the harm and the damage they caused.

Now, I weep for the innocence I lost.

Now, I fight to take back my power.

Now, I unlearn what I thought was the only way.

But is it too late?

It feels too late.