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2019: The One Where I Rose From the Ashes

It’s been awhile since I’ve met you here, hasn’t it? Last time we chatted, I was sitting in a pile of rubble, sifting through a mountain of ashes.

I thought about skipping the year-in-review post in favor of leaping into 2020 fresh and anew. But as difficult as this year began, it has brightened tremendously in the last quarter, and I want to record the beauty of my rise from the ash pile in which I sat during the first half of the year.

Settle in: it’s been quite a year.

January – May

My word for 2019 was THRIVE. The first half of this year felt anything but thriving. It was desolate, empty, scary, disheartening, lonely, confusing.

While 2013 and 2014 were hard years in which I felt numb to the world, the tail end of 2018 through mid-June 2019 was brutal. Instead of being numb, I was hyper aware of the grief and pain of unfulfilled dreams, unprocessed trauma, and decades of negative self-talk as everything I thought I believed crashed and burned. I was angry, shell-shocked, sad.

In April, I attended Wonder, our annual #the4500 gathering. I went because my friends were going to be there, because it was in the gorgeous Texas Hill Country on the banks of the Guadalupe River, and because I still hold a ton of gratitude for #the4500 and how it was a catalyst for so much change in my life. But I was very resistant to any spiritual emphasis and sat through the teaching and worship sessions in a very angry and apathetic state. I wish I had felt the freedom to just skip those sessions without judgement, but I didn’t.

At one point in May, I wasn’t sure I would make it out of the wilderness in one piece. I felt as though every part of my mind, body, and soul had split and was floating, just out of grasp, in the air. I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep living in my skin. I felt trapped, isolated, forgotten. I hit rock bottom and it scared me. But a few friends–the ones I felt safe enough to reach out to–refused to let me become totally untethered. They rallied, surrounded me like the pack of elephant-sisters they are, and gave me a safe space to process my darkest, deepest wounds. I reached out to the only two people I trusted to hear everything that was swirling around in my brain without judgement and sobbed my way through our conversations. They triaged my heart, mind, body, and soul long enough to keep me afloat.

In the midst of all this, I realized just how damaging the years of berating myself with negative self-talk was. And even as I stared out the window with empty eyes from the dark of my bedroom, my mind replaying the phrase, “this is how it will always be,” I knew something had to change.

June

Things began to shift toward the end of June when a bunch of #the4500 gathered in Missouri to celebrate our friend Holly’s book launch. Just spending time with these women breathed fresh air into my lungs. They spoke life-giving words that were a balm to my soul. They reminded me how very far I’ve come in a relatively short amount of time. And the icing on the cake? Anna, Kris, and I stayed an extra day so we could take a little road trip to Hannibal with Holly and Bree to do all the touristy Mark Twain things.

Earlier in June, an interview I’d taped with Bob and Polly Hamp was released. Bob had invited me to sit down with them and discuss deconstruction. When his text with the invitation arrived in early May, I told him I had no answers about deconstruction and that I was still very much in the messy middle of it, but I was game. So we filmed the session on a Saturday morning…the same Saturday morning that I learned Rachel Held Evans had died. RHE was a trail-blazing voice for the outliers in Christian circles. She spoke up for the outcasts, for those who dared to doubt and question what they’d believed their whole lives. Her books and blogs and Twitter feed gave me hope that there was something better waiting for me on the other side of this ashy wasteland.

July

Over the Fourth of July, I flew to S.C. to visit my family and a few friends. I surprised my grandparents at their church’s BBQ and let them show me off to their friends. Then my mom, brothers, and I spent the weekend at the beach. I got to spend time with my nieces, have lunch with Becky, an afternoon with Doc S. and a coffee date/therapy session with Ashley.

I came home to Texas with a few days to introvert before spending two days at Rachel Hollis’ RISExDallas conference, which I’d given myself as an early birthday gift. While I’m not a total fangirl over RH, she has helped me reframe some of the beliefs I held about myself and motivated me to start thinking differently about my present and future. And honestly, though I didn’t know it in July, RISE was the best thing I did for myself this year. The energy and passion that Rachel and her team brought to that arena has pulsed through my veins since I walked out those doors on July 20th. (Also, Rachel gave me the gift of Lizzo, another one of the biggest saving graces of 2019.)

On Day Two, Rachel asked us to write down ten dreams in ten years. She asked, “what are ten things the best version of yourself will have accomplished ten years from now?” Ten big things that seem impossible, but live deep in your heart. Ten things you would regret not having achieved or at least tried to achieve.

For the first time ever, I wrote those ten things down without thinking about it. Those ten things rolled onto the paper almost faster than I could write. When I’ve participated in goal-setting with Anna, Madlin, and Celia the past four years, it’s always been hard. But because I’ve kept trying and participated year after year, it didn’t take long to wade through all the limiting beliefs that were standing in the way of reaching my goals and achieving my dreams. So when Rachel asked us to write down our ten goals, they flowed from my mind and from my heart like water from a tap.

The next day, Anna, Madlin, Celia, and I met for my birthday dinner and I shared some of my goals with them, the biggest, scariest one. They were supportive, and the relief I felt at sharing that goal was tremendous. There really is so much power in speaking things out loud.

On the 22nd, Anna and I packed the car and drove through the night to El Paso. I wrote this Facebook post that evening, ending with a vague nod to the new adventure that awaited me. That adventure was my first international trip. In May, I’d rushed to get my passport before I even officially decided I was going on this trip. Ultimately, I knew I’d regret it forever if I didn’t go.

On July 23rd, my 35th birthday, we crossed the border into Mexico. We were headed to Anna’s hometown. To say this was a huge milestone for me is an understatement. In some ways it felt like a full-circle adventure–visiting the place where Anna was born, the place that I’ve read about in her and Ruth’s books. It was sobering and enlightening, thrilling and endearing. And a little nerve-wracking, too.   

With the jumpstart RISE gave me, I engaged in deep, hard, heart work over the course of July and August. I examined the beliefs that have not served me well, zeroed in on envisioning the life I want to be living in ten years, practiced voicing my needs and opinions, set boundaries, paid attention to what my body was telling me, and kept kicking those negative voices out of my head when I caught them trying to sneak in. I’m still doing all of this, but it’s getting easier to try softer with myself each day.

 

August


Anna had several speaking engagements in August that kept us on the road a bit, including two in Corpus Christi. Since we were on the coast, we decided to stay a few extra days and relax. We bounced from Corpus to Padre Island, found an adorable little Harry-Potter-themed coffee shop, and lived our best lives on the beach for 8+ hours a day.

On our way home from the coast, we made a pit stop in San Antonio and toured The Alamo, a rite of passage that officially cemented my status as a Texas citizen. Then, when we neared the metroplex, we made a very spontaneous decision to see if another author whose book, Walking with Henry, Anna launched in March was up for an impromptu visit. Rachel Anne Ridge was an enthusiastic and wonderful host, and we got to meet her donkeys, Flash and Henry, too. (Meeting authors and their beloved rescue donkeys is super fun!)

I began my first book launch as a leader for a major publisher in August, as well. Thomas Nelson hired me to launch Jaci Velasquez’s memoir, When God Rescripts Your Life. Leading Jaci’s launch team was another full-circle event. Hers was the first concert I ever attended back in the late 90’s and my sister and I shot our own very-low-budget music video for her song, On My Knees, when we were in our early teens.

September and October
Labor Day weekend is when my mindset really began to shift. Holly, Bree, Kris, and Kelli gathered in DFW for our annual Rangers game, and a conversation I had with Kelli during the game gave me the clarity and courage to make a concrete decision toward pursuing one of my ten goals.

Mid-September brought the beginning of a second book launch for Thomas Nelson, this time for Tricia Goyer’s, The Grumble-Free Year. Her launch team was very engaged and super fun!

September and October were less hectic than July and August had been, but also brought a couple of big editing projects my way. (Those are my favorite!)

In October, Anna and I attended a taping at Life Today and met Ashley Abercrombie, whose book, Rise of the Truth Teller, Anna launched this fall.

November
November started out a little rocky as some of the old voices snuck into my head, trying to lure me back into old patterns. I was aware of them though, and made the effort to keep them from settling in and making themselves at home. That looked like using the tools I’d learned through studying the Enneagram throughout the year (another absolute lifesaver this year), talking through uncomfortable feelings when they arose instead of bottling them up and stuffing them down, and being very gentle with myself.

I was also preparing for this year’s goal-setting retreat. Unlike every other year, I was excited about the process. And because of the work I’d done to set my ten goals at RISE, I already had most of my 2020 goals mapped out, and I had a solid “why” to motivate me to accomplish those goals.

November also meant the release of another book Anna launched: The Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation by Wayne Jacobsen, Arnita Willis Taylor, and Robert L. Prater. If you’re familiar with The Shack, you might recognize one of those names. Jacobsen collaborated on writing The Shack and helped create the company that originally published the book. Anna and I attended a meet-and-greet with Jacobsen, Taylor, and Prater, which was fun. (Meeting authors is the best!)

I spent another Thanksgiving with my Texas fam, and made an absolutely divine pecan pie cheesecake as part of my contribution to the meal. Why have one when you can have both?!? I think I started a new tradition.

December
December began with seeing LIZZO in concert at the Jingle Ball with Anna and Kris. This was big because I don’t voluntarily attend concerts. It’s just not at thing introverted, highly sensitive types enjoy, generally speaking. This was only the third non-Christian concert I’ve attended in my life (following N*SYNC in 1998 and The Fray in 2009). BUT LIZZO. She has become my anthem. Lizzo’s brand of self-love and body positivity makes me love myself, so seeing her live was an immediate hell, yes. We had SO MUCH FUN.

Then came the goal-setting retreat. Five of us returned to the same AirBnB farmhouse we’d gathered at last year, and this year, I was the first person to arrive. Walking in the familiar house was comforting and being out in the country brought a deep sigh of relief to my soul. A pretty significant event that has helped heal my soul in grieving the loss of my sister happened on the last day of the 2018 retreat, and it was comforting to be back in that place again. I wrote about what happened at last year’s retreat for (in)courage.

I went into the retreat with my goals and why in mind. As a result, I had the emotional and mental bandwidth to be present with these women who have become my closest IRL support system. I had the freedom to voice my opinions, goals, and motivations. I was able to show up and be seen. One of the most fun perks of not being weighed down by the usual mental and emotional baggage was having an impromptu photo shoot and getting some really great pictures that capture the vibrancy of life that I’ve experienced these last six months.

I stayed in Texas for Christmas, too, which was lovely. After a nap with the princess baby of the family, I made Christmas dinner for the fam, then spent the rest of the day and night on the couch. And Mom conspired with Anna to get me my most-desired kitchen appliance: a red KitchenAid Stand Mixer, which was a total surprise.  (If you have one, I have two questions: 1. What extra accessories do you love? 2.What’s your favorite thing to use your mixer for? Recipes welcome!)

Now, it’s that weird time of year in which no one knows what day or time or year it is–which is especially true if you work from home and haven’t left the house in a week. (Has it really been that long?)

Two of my roomies and I are saw the new Little Women movie last night. I’d seen quite a range of opinions online, though I’ve tried to avoid spoilers. As is always the case when a new adaptation of a beloved classic is released, I went in prepared to be disappointed, yet hopeful that I would be pleased with the new version. I was pleased.  

Oh, and I also picked my word for 2020 a couple of weeks or so ago.

I’ll tell you about that in a few of days.

2020 is going to be an exciting year, y’all. I can feel it in my soul. Because I’ve come back into a more glorious light than I’ve experienced in my life. I’ve come home to myself, the me who has been buried deep for a long, long time. This version of me has dreams to pursue, goals to crush, hope to lean on, motivation to move forward, and choices she never dreamed would’ve been an option.

She is THRIVING. I love watching her grow. I’m so glad I got to meet her this year, and I am incredibly proud of her.