Day to Day

Five Minute Friday: Collect

This week’s #FMFParty prompt is “Collect.” The rules: Set a timer and free write for five minutes about the week’s topic. No editing allowed!

~*~

I sat at the water’s edge, sifting through the sand and shells as they rolled in with the waves and were swept back out to sea.

Shells stretched for miles along the water’s edge. I wanted to collect them all—each one unique.
But I couldn’t.

I had to choose.

I had to choose which ones were worthy of making the trip home.

I’m learning I also have to choose moments. Which ones to keep and which to let go; which moment to grasp tightly and which to release.

There are a multitude of moments I wish I’d had time to collect with my sister.

Thirty years is too short a time to collect all the moments we wanted. There were more—many, many more that had yet to pass.

And because those moments are gone, I grasp at the ones that are left—the moments turned memories. I will lose some as time passes, just as I will lose some of the shells I picked up on the Florida coast. But there are some moments that have been collected that will be with me always.

Day to Day

Dreary Days, Nostalgia, and Pumpkin Muffins

Sunlight dimmed by a thick, gray cloud cover filtered through the blinds, my eyelids cracking open as eyelashes stuck together by last night’s leftover makeup parted. Groggily, I rolled over, wondering whether I should get up or sleep in—what day is it anyway?

As it dawned on me that it is, indeed, Saturday, I also realized the date—March 11th. The day my life changed, one year ago, in a way I never wanted it to or imagined it would. Sometimes the blessing of a photographic memory—especially one that clings to the significance of particular dates—is also a curse.

It seems like there’s an awful lot of juxtaposition of binaries following me around these days: happy/sad, joyful/tearful, known/unknown, faith/fear, freedom/guilt, settled/homesick. It’s a dichotomy of soft places and hard places that I’ve never had to learn to navigate long-term—until now.

Even the side-by-side juxtaposition of yesterday—March 10th—and today, March 11th is a representation of the current paradoxical tension that binds my daily life.

Two years ago yesterday, #the4500 was formed. I didn’t know then how radically a group of internet strangers would change my life, eventually landing me in Texas. If I had known, I probably would’ve jumped shipped. I’m glad I didn’t know—because these past two years have been an adventure like no other. One that has brought an abundance of love, laughter, and friendship; it has thrown open doors of possibility one after another.

March 10th is a day that will forever remind me of a Father who answers prayers both before we’ve uttered them and also in ways that we’d never imagine them manifesting.

And March 11th is a day that will also be forever burned in my memory.

It’s that day, exactly one year ago, that I was sitting on the playground with my co-teacher and friend, Christine, at recess, watching our students play and explore, when I got the news that changed so many things.

It’s the day my phone buzzed and the text told me my sister had been diagnosed with a laughably rare cancer. The long, unpronounceable diagnosis stared at me from the screen…and, in shock and disbelief, I did what you should never do: I Googled. I handed the phone to Christine and tried to breathe. Tried to digest this information. With only an hour left in the school day, and a visiting former classroom assistant who could cover me, Christine tried to talk me into leaving early, but I knew I would spiral as soon as I left work and wanted to delay that as long as possible.

The 365 days between that day and this one have been rocky and hard to walk. There are still many questions that remain unanswered. The decisions that my sister and I—and others in our family have made have been difficult. My decision to leave South Carolina and move to Texas was such a daunting one that I didn’t come to terms with the fact that I had already moved to Texas until seven months after I packed up my carload of belongings and made the trek. Now that I’ve been here for nine months [to the day, as I just realized; I arrived in the Friendly State on June 11th of last year. I’m going to need to chew on this for a moment], I’m finally reclaiming some of the routines that the trauma of moving cross-country displaced.

When I lived in SC and taught all week, Saturday mornings were my sanctuary. A quiet kitchen, a slow day, a recipe—either precise and written out or experimental and thrown together in my head—and a little baking therapy resulted in one of my favorite weekend routines

When I moved to Texas and threw my life into the spin cycle of settling into a new space, I pretty much quit cooking, quit baking. It took months for me to be comfortable enough in my new surroundings to cook again. For some, baking is an art form. For me, it’s therapy. And this morning, I needed it. I needed a reason to get out of bed. (And aren’t warm-from-the-oven, slathered-in-cream-cheese-frosting pumpkin muffins a great reason to get out of bed??) So I threw back the covers, got “dressed” in leggings and flannel shirt and headed to the kitchen. Within minutes, I’d assembled the necessary items and accouterments and set the oven to preheat. As I measured ingredients, cracked eggs, and mixed the batter, I thought about the significance of this day and how I could easily allow all the unknowns that still exist take precedence over the joy of the work I need to accomplish today.

The act of stirring separate ingredients together to make one cohesive batter, of dropping that batter into the wells of a muffin tin spoonful by spoonful is a calming process. I can’t exactly explain it, but my anxiety levels decrease and my mind quiets as I bake. It’s therapeutic and cathartic though, so I don’t question it much.

Days like today, if I dwell on the hard and allow my mind to entertain the unknowns, I will drown; I will spiral into a darkness I’ve visited previously and to which I never wish to return.

Recognizing the precursory symptoms of this descent is one of the most powerful tools I have honed over the past year. Knowing that dreary days are more likely to bring a cloud cover to my soul allows me to press through the muddled emotions and lying thoughts that make me want to throw the blanket over my head, shutting down and shutting out the light that surrounds me. Choosing not to focus on the things I have zero control over, but rather focusing on the truth that I am well-loved by the God who sees all things is the first step to reversing the descent.

This doesn’t make this space easy to live in, but it does make it easier, and pumpkin muffins make it slightly sweeter.

Day to Day, Uncategorized

Passing the Torch: A Letter to the New Teacher

Dear friend,

img_3794You don’t know me and I don’t know you. I don’t know your name yet, but you might hear mine in the weeks to come. We’re participants in a relay of sorts, working together yet separately to make a difference in the lives of students. As teachers, we have the privilege of partnering together to cultivate a lifelong desire to learn in countless lives. We will likely never work in the same space together, but we’re partners in carrying out a mission with a common goal.  I’ve passed the torch on to you and you’ll be responsible for carrying it until it’s time to hand it off again. It’s not easy to give it away and entrust it to someone else, but it is necessary nonetheless. Carry the torch with pride.


You’re entering a classroom I love dearly. You’ll be working closely with one of the best teachers I’ve ever known. And the kids who will populate your work week—and nestle themselves deeply in your heart—are precious to me. I miss them every day and as the beginning of a new school year rushes in, I hope with all my heart that you find the same sense of belonging in the classroom that I did. I hope you are stretched and taught by the littles who will call you Teacher. I hope you learn how to be the best teacher you can be. Your lead teacher truly is the best. Soak in her knowledge and compassion.

We haven’t met yet, but I hope we eventually will. In the meantime, here are a few things that you should know about your new work home:

*Expect to be surprised—you never know what nuggets of wisdom are going to come out of the mouths of the littles in your care.
*Don’t be afraid to be real—your students are human; they know what it’s like to be frustrated or tired, or upset or happy or afraid or excited—and you can tell them when you are (in an appropriate way, of course). Let them know if you’re having an off day. More often than not, they’ll offer a bit of innocent advice that will turn your day around. They’re young, but wise.
*Be silly—they need to see that it’s possible to have fun without getting out of control. It’s up to you to model that for them.
*Say yes—when there’s free time and someone asks you to read a book to them, say yes whenever you can. Be animated, use voices. Show them that reading is fun. This is one of the things I miss the most.
*Be present–There will always be something to plan or prepare. I get it. But sometimes those things can wait. Sit with your students, talk to them, find out what they love and what they don’t—each of them is quite an individual. As the year progresses, the shy ones will come out of their shells, the talkative ones will inform you about all kinds of topics, and you will have an abundance of stories to carry with you.
*Remember those “hope moments”—write them down when they happen, because (trust me) you probably won’t be able to recall them when it comes time to share at the next faculty meeting. Those moments will help you through the hard days, which will inevitably come. They’ll remind you precisely why you do what you do.
*Don’t mention the subject of mice in the presence of your lead teacher. The trauma from past experiences is real. (You’ve probably already heard the story…or will as you prepare the classroom. And I’ll probably get in trouble for mentioning it here!)
*Enjoy your time in the white house—it truly is a fantastic place to work.

There are so many more things I would tell you about this place and this job if we were sitting down for coffee. I’ll admit that I’m a little jealous that you’re there and I am here. Picking up the white house torch six years ago was the best decision I could’ve made for that phase of my life. The lessons I learned in that space were invaluable and I carry them with me still. I don’t know what the white house will teach you, but I know you’ll walk away a better person for having been there. I did.

Here’s to your first year in the white house.  Enjoy it and have fun!

Passing the torch,
Ms. Ticcoa

Day to Day, Own Your Brave, Uncategorized

When The Gift Isn’t Pretty

My younger brother (I’m not telling you which one) is known for his lack of gift-wrapping skills. His gift-picking skills are pretty on point, but once he needs to pretty it up, all systems fail. Spotting his gifts on Christmas morning almost always means looking for lumpy packages with too much wrapping paper and duct tape. Yes, duct tape. Lots of duct tape. Then there’s my sister, who painstakingly selects matching paper, ribbons, and tags for her gifts. The resulting package is often almost too pretty to open. In both cases, the presentation isn’t always pleasing to the eye, but the heart behind each gesture is genuine.

~*~

This is a post I don’t want to write.

It’s a post I haven’t wanted to write for almost a week.

This post is hard.

It’s a post that has to be written.

This post is about the not-so-bright-side of moving a million miles away from home. (Okay, a thousand. But really, is there much difference? I don’t think so.)

For the last six months (has it really only been six months?), I’ve encouraged both myself and others to “own their brave.” Heck, I even coined a hashtag to accompany this mantra: #OwnYourBrave. And my friend Kelli wrote a post about me and my “life plan” of owning my brave. At the beginning of the year, it sounded good and inspiring. Six months later, that phrase has slapped me around, come back to bite me, and mocked me more than I care to admit.

(I’ve had the beginnings of a blog post about this phrase drafted since mid-January, but I’ve been too chicken to finish and publish it. Soon.)

Own Your Brave.

That’s what I’m doing today.

Showing up to do something hard and uncomfortable when I’d really just rather not.

Here goes.

~*~

I’ve been in Texas for nearly a month. I find that hard to believe in a lot of ways.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve actually made it a month without a full-on panic attack and a one-way ticket back to South Carolina. In a lot of ways, I’ve surprised myself—in getting here; in staying here.

I could sit here and tell you that it’s been totally easy—that I’ve had no moments of doubt.

I could pretend—or at least hide—the parts of this journey that are more vulnerable and uncomfortable.

But I won’t.

~*~

For the first two weeks I was here, time seemed to pass fluidly. Because I’m so routine-oriented, the sudden lack of routine was disconcerting. For the most part though, I was still riding pretty high on the adrenaline of the move, the excitement of seeing friends, and the prospect of “adventure.”

I’m not exactly sure when it shifted, but I’ve wrestled through more than a few days of intense homesickness over the last week and a half. I miss a lot of things. I miss my sister. I miss my mama. I miss my brothers. I miss “adopted” brother, sister, and nieces. I miss my co-worker friends and I miss my workplace. I miss my routine. I miss my familiar.

And because I always want to protect my people from hurt and harm, I have avoided saying these things like the plague. I don’t want people back home to think I’m having the time of my life just because I moved to Texas. And I don’t want people here to think I hate Texas because I miss my people at home. (Please note that NO ONE has imposed these feelings on me. It’s just what my brain does to me.)

Transition and all its emotions is just messy. I don’t do messy feelings well. They make me shudder and cringe and I will do almost anything to avoid them. But if there’s ANYTHING I’ve learned over the last six months, it is this: the messy feelings don’t just go away; they linger until you acknowledge them. And if you just try to stuff them down, they’ll do more damage than good. The only way around uncomfortable emotions is through them.

Part of the reason I’ve avoided writing about this is that I prefer my writing to be tied up in a pretty little bow—a complete package with a polished conclusion.

This kind of post—if it’s truly honest and raw—can’t be tied up. Instead of a pretty box wrapped in shiny paper and topped with a flawless bow, it’s a bit more like the awkward, lumpy packages that look like they’ve undergone drop tests from many-stories-high. That package may not be pretty to look at, but It’s pretty safe to bet that it’s full of good things.  Those things cannot be revealed unless the giver is willing to hand over that hot mess of a present, though. And the recipient has to be willing to rip through the layers of covering to get to the heart of the gift.

Sometimes before you can do that, you have to just sit with the whole package and ponder it. Then, maybe, you can open it.

For now, I’m sitting with the package of missing the familiar and wondering when the present will become the familiar.

Day to Day, Own Your Brave, Processing, Uncategorized

Beyond A Sign: Splendid Saturday

Immediately after the group session ended Friday night, I got hit hard with all the shame gremlins, as Brené Brown refers to them. All the voices that said I shouldn’t be doing this, the voices that I was not qualified to do this, the voices that said I had no business doing this. I managed to stuff them down for the rest of the night. Then Saturday happened.

~*~

As the sun began to peek through the windows of our cabin, I groggily rolled over to find Anna looking at her phone, giggling. Eyes half-open, I looked at her like she’d lost her mind.

“Your Timehop post yesterday! This is hilarious!” she quietly gushed, trying not to awaken our roommates.

She read the post to me:

 

IMG_2018 (1)

 

My eyes opened wide as it hit me…the original post was from three years before, in April 2013—just 3 weeks after the conversation with my pastor happened. I’d gone to my five closest friends—Christine and four of my former professors at NGU—for advice on the matter. They all counseled me to keep pursuing the field of ASL. Then, by the time I reposted the picture from Timehop on Friday, I’d told my story five times in two days.

When this realization dawned on me—because it hadn’t when I wrote the words and posted the memory the day before—I started laughing, too.

“We’re way beyond ‘Is this a sign?’” Anna observed, as I buried my face in the pillow to muffle my incredulous laughter.

Um, yeah. I think so.

~*~

Our celebratory giggling and chatter eventually awakened Kristen and Carolyn; as they began to get up and get ready for the day, Anna and I filled Carolyn in on the whole story. Because it was still very early and I was in a state of awe, I don’t remember everything she said, but I do remember us talking about the power of story and how telling our own stories takes bravery, but is worthwhile because we never know who needs to hear our particular story.

Somewhere between this conversation and breakfast, all the voices of insecurity began to weasel their way back into my mind. My brain was overwhelmed, I was on extrovert-overload, and I desperately needed to process what had happened thus far. I also needed to make a decision about whether I would be signing during the worship session that morning and evening.

With less than an hour before the first session started, I walked up to the main building to grab breakfast. As I approached the porch where it was being served, I was overwhelmed by the thought of having to engage with the crowd; I was barely holding myself together and I could not make myself sit down for small talk. Kelli was standing at the edge of the porch, so I walked up to say good morning. She turned around and I told her that I was not in a good place and that I needed to find a quiet spot.

“Do you need to find a quiet spot alone, or do you want me to come?” she asked.

“I don’t know…no, I want you to come,” I replied.

We found a quiet spot and she allowed me to sit quietly, without pressure to talk. I turned on my Splendid playlist and let it play softly as we sat in easy silence. Eventually, as I usually do when given the space to gather my thoughts and speak slowly, I began to pour out what was on my heart. I told her that I didn’t want to sign anymore that day, that I wanted the night before to be enough. But I couldn’t get any peace out of that decision. So, I told Kelli I would sign that morning, but I was letting myself off the hook for the evening session; I would simply allow myself to soak it in. I found the song I was most familiar with on Amanda’s playlist.

As we sat there, I also shared with her one of the biggest obstacle I have in signing in front of people:

“I wish I could open my eyes while signing. I’ve never been able to do it. If I’m signing in front of a group, my eyes are closed.”

As we got ready to head back to the conference room for the morning session, she pulled something out of her purse and handed it to me. It was a charm for the bracelet she’d sent me a few months earlier. And it said BRAVE. “You needed the HOPE one a few months ago; now you need the BRAVE.”img_2043

I switched out the charms then and there.
We walked back to the conference room, I found Amanda and told her I’d join her for “Open Up The Heavens” and found a seat. When Amanda began the worship portion of the session, I again sneaked to the front row—if I were already there, I’d have no excuses. Tracy walked by as I sat there and stuck out her fist; I fist-bumped her back, thinking she had no idea what she’d started when she told Amanda to ask me to join her.

 

“Open Up the Heavens” began playing and I turned around to face the crowd. And it was even harder than the night before. I was hyper-aware of everyone in the room. My hands fumbled even more. The signs I knew in my sleep were suddenly gone. But you can’t really tell it in the video. I’d given Taylor my phone and asked her to video for me. And she did. (It’s on my Facebook page–I couldn’t post it here.)

IMG_1718 (2)

 

Throughout the rest of the day, I just felt heavy. I was exhausted; I was mentally, emotionally, and physically drained. I’d been playing the role of extrovert for three days and I was done. I needed quiet solitude. We were scheduled to attend three workshops throughout the morning and early afternoon. I’d been looking forward to each one (and will write about them soon), but by that time I had nothing—absolutely nothing left with which to engage. I managed to participate in the first one—Julie’s session on “The Healing Path”, but for the other two—Anna’s “Who Husbands Your Heart?” and Rachel H’s “Failure: It Isn’t the End”—all I could do was show up, plant my butt in the chair, and take a few notes. It wasn’t until Sunday afternoon that I was able to process and unpack the things I’d heard in each of those workshops.

After Julie’s and Anna’s sessions, we headed to lunch. I sat with Kelli and several others. I spoke very little, hurried through lunch, and headed for the door. I felt like I was going to crawl out of my skin if I didn’t find a place to be quiet and still, stat.  I tried sitting on out cabin porch overlooking the lake, walking out to the overlook, sitting in our cabin—all to no avail. Half an hour later, we were scheduled for Family Time to discuss the workshops we’d attended thus far. I met Anna, Megan, Taylor, and Melissa at our designated spot—a circle of chairs under the trees outside the conference room.

Megan read off our discussion prompts that we’d been using during each Family Time meeting:

  1. What was something new you heard today and how did you react to it?
  2. How is God asking you to dwell with Him?
  3. How is God breaking ground around you to draw you into dwelling with Him?

As is often the case when no one wants to be the first to answer questions like these, we all kind of looked at one another. I gave a half-sarcastic laugh and said I thought we all knew how these questions applied to me. Anna patted my knee and told me I didn’t have to talk this time. I told them that I was in an uncomfortable place and had been all day. I told them I was done signing, that I was not doing it during the evening session, and I was ready to quit. It was taking too much of my energy. I was done.

Megan looks me square in the eye and says, “So we’re just at the point of disobedience, now, are we?”

I stood up, dropped my notebook in my chair, and started to walk away, only half-jokingly. She’d struck a nerve and I fully intended to walk away for a few minutes. But I was too close to Anna. She reached out, grabbed the hem of my shirt and pulled me back: “You’re not going anywhere.”

I don’t know what else was said during our Family Time. In the few minutes before the next workshop, I followed Anna into the back room of the conference center to help her prepare a visual aid for her next workshop. “I’m so exhausted. I’m so overwhelmed. I’m so done with this. I need to write. I need to process. I need to get still. But I can’t and it’s frustrating me,” I told her. “It’s a growing process,” she said, “this seed inside you has been dormant for a long time and it’s beginning to bud again. That’s not easy. But you will be okay. Give yourself the space you need.”

I sat through the last workshop, taking notes, but not speaking at all. The last thing Rachel said was the phrase that hit me hardest: “Sometimes you have to forgive yourself for a past failure.” Bam. Yes, that.

I spent free time that afternoon trying yet again to get still and write the things that were swirling min my heart and mind—to no avail. When it was finally time for the evening session, I was as heavy and miserable as I’d been all day. I was ready to sit back and soak in the evening’s worship and teaching.

The chairs had been arranged in a huge circle around the perimeter of the room. Kelli, Taylor, and I found seats at the side of the room. I found Amanda and told her I was sitting this session out. And I did. I engaged in the worship portion and tried to find the stillness I’d been searching for all day.

At the end of the worship segment, we took a break so Amanda could pack all her stuff in her van, because she had to head home that night. When she left, I thought to myself “Okay. I made it. I’m off the hook. I don’t have to sign anymore.”

Because we no longer had sound equipment, we had to move our chairs into a tight, multi-row semi circle around the front of the room so we could hear Anna as she spoke during the teaching session. As we were waiting for everyone to reassemble, I was sitting in the third row. Tracy was in the front of the room; I glanced up and saw her beckoning me with her finger.

Oh, crap. What does she want?

I walked over to her.

She looked at me and said, “We’re going to sing “Jesus Love Me” later. Will you sign with us?

I looked away and said nothing. I wanted to say no.

“Just say: ‘I want to.’” she said.

I looked back at her. “I don’t want to, Tracy. But I will.”

After Anna and Mama Lynn spoke, Tracy got up and shared her heart for the women in the room. At one point she was calling out people and reviewing the obstacles they’d overcome in getting to the retreat, the areas in which they were growing. And in the midst of it, she made eye contact with me and said, “Ticcoa, you had to choose to be free.” Yes. The last seven months had been an ongoing choice to be free from fear and anxiety, depression and darkness. I had to choose the Light.

When she finished talking, she called me up to join her and all the women in the room joined hands. we began to sing “Jesus Loves Me’ and I lifted my hands to sign.

And I started to sign…with my eyes open. 

I didn’t even realize they were open until halfway through the song. I immediately closed them, but then opened them again. As we sang this simple, yet profound song acapella, I made eye contact with several of the women in the front row.

I’d done what I said I was not doing again that weekend.

And when we were finished singing, all the heaviness that had been all over me all day was gone.

This was enough. God had shown up and shown out. It was more than enough. He’d gone “beyond a sign” that I was supposed to pick this dream back up. I was not going back the same way I had come…

 

Day to Day, Own Your Brave, Processing, Uncategorized

“Just breathe”: Splendid Friday

On Friday morning, shortly after I awoke, I was scrolling through my various social media apps. In my Timehop app, I came across a post that struck me as a little ironic, so I reposted it to Facebook:

IMG_2018 (1)

 

A little later, as Anna, Taylor, Kristen (one of my and Anna’s roommates), and I were driving to the restaurant for breakfast, Anna told us about another retreat she had been on. Part of that retreat‘s schedule included a day where the participants were sent out on the ranch to spend a day in solitude from sunrise to dusk. Taylor was driving, I was in the front seat, and Anna and Kristen were in the backseat. Anna talked about how she began to get anxious about finding her way back to the main buildings on the ranch once the sun started to set. She wondered if the path would look the same on the way back as it had on the way in. Then the Holy Spirit whispered to her, “You don’t have to go back that way. You don’t have to go back the way you came.”

As she spoke, I had been turned around in my seat so I could see her. When she said those words, it was like a rock dropped into my stomach—the weight of them heavy with significance. I glanced at Taylor and could tell she felt the same way. Anna kept talking, but I have no idea what she said after those words left her mouth.

See, the day before I left for Texas, when I was saying goodbye to my co-teacher Christine (who also happens to be my best friend—seriously—who gets to work with their BFF every day?), she said to me, “I could never do what you’re doing [going to spend the weekend with people you only know online]…you aren’t going to come back the same person that you are now.” So when Anna said almost those exact words in the car Friday morning, it was like God was making it very clear that He had a plan for the weekend; it seemed as though He was saying, “Hello—I see you.”

On the way back to the resort after breakfast, Anna encouraged me to tell Taylor and Kristen the story. So I did. (This would make the sixth time I’d spoken it.)

The retreat didn’t officially start until mid-afternoon on Friday. I spent most of the afternoon with Kelli before we headed to registration. The opening session was short, followed by an icebreaker activity where we were paired up with another woman and played the “two truths and one lie” game. (Kill me. I hate these things. Introvert, remember?) I was handed a card with the worship leader’s name on it. Amanda and I had just had a conversation a few minutes earlier, so I was struggling to come up with facts that she didn’t already know about me. We completed the activity and the session continued with everyone splitting into their family time small groups. Taylor and I were in the same group, along with Megan, and Anna was our leader. Melissa was also part of our group, but she wouldn’t be arriving until later. We gathered in a little circle in the corner of the room and Anna gave me the “look.”  “I should probably just tell her, shouldn’t I?” I asked, referring to Megan. If we were going to be family, we needed to catch her up.

So I told the story again. For the seventh time in 48 hours. I don’t remember Megan’s exact reaction, but it was similar to everyone else’s in that she felt like God was calling me back to this dream. I wasn’t entirely convinced. Yet.

After Family Time, we headed to dinner. Megan, Taylor, Anna and I sat together and chatted while we ate. As we were finishing, Amanda, the worship leader walked up to me.

The words that came out of her mouth were the ones that God used to smack me upside the head and say, “Do you believe me now? Do you believe that this is what you’re supposed to do now?”

“Tracy told me to ask you if you’d be willing to sign during worship this weekend?”

Excuse me? I did not come here this weekend to sign during worship. No intentions of this at all.

I’m sure my mouth dropped open. I know I stumbled over my words as I told her I’d have to think about it. (The first worship session was happening in 30 minutes.) She immediately assured me that I was under no pressure (maybe not from you, sister, but God? Yeah, He’s turning up the heat.) She said she’d send me her playlist so I could look it over, then went back to her table.  I could feel the heat rising in my face, my heart was pounding, my head was throbbing, my eyes were wide.

Anna was sitting across the table, beaming. “Breathe,” she instructed, “Just breathe

I started telling the three of them all the reasons why I couldn’t, why shouldn’t do this.

It’s been three years since I signed in front of people.

I’m too rusty.

Who am I to join in leading worship?

They shot down every single one of my excuses.

Anna finally looked at me and asked, “So is this a ‘hell yes’?”

No,” I replied. “No, it is not, yet. I need to know what songs she’s planning to use tonight.”

I walked over to Amanda’s table, crouched beside her chair and asked her what songs she was doing that night.

The first four she read off were the ones I knew the best on her playlist. Then she said, “And there’s one that’s not on the list that I’m planning to do at the end of the session—‘Good, Good Father.’”

OKAY, God—I hear you.

“Good, Good Father” has been my anthem since I heard it for the first time in January. I’d gone to an open mic night with a friend and heard it there. Then, later that night, Anna and I had talked on the phone and she had said those words to me—“he’s a good Father”—and I had just burst out laughing at the timing of them. A month later, I read Julie’s book, Stones of Remembrance—and read those words over and over and over throughout her story.

At that point, I knew what I was being asked to do, but I still wasn’t ready to say “yes.” I left Amanda’s table, made a beeline for Kelli’s and asked her to pray. Then I headed back to my table and told Taylor, Anna, and Megan that I was going to change clothes. Megan made a comment about my t-shirt, referencing the “Be the Light” quote that was scrawled across it—“see you’re supposed to be the light—your shirt says so!” There’s a story there too, but let’s just say that it was yet another slap in the face that said, “Hello—I’m talking to you!”

I got up from the table and headed for the door to go change clothes. And my family group got up too and followed me out the door. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me, knowing they were with me.  As we walked back to the cabin, my mind was spinning. I did not want to do this thing, but I knew I was supposed to. I was still thinking I could get out of it some way. Ha. The other three were talking, but I didn’t hear them—until I heard Anna say. “You’re glowing! Your smile is from ear to ear! I love this!”Honestly, I didn’t even know I was smiling. I was wrapped up in my thoughts; I thought my face was a display of the fear, insecurity, and struggle that was happening internally. Apparently not.

We got to the cabin and I changed clothes. By this time, we had about 20 minutes before the session started. I told the girls if I did anything, it would be “Good, Good Father” at the end of the session. As I stood looking at myself in the mirror, silently reminding myself to breathe, Anna walked up behind me and asked if I wanted her to massage my shoulders. I said yes and sat on the bed. Megan and Taylor had flopped down on the other bed. As I pulled “Good, Good Father” up on my phone, Anna started rubbing my shoulders. I closed my eyes and listened to the song, focusing on breathing. About halfway through the song, Anna stopped massaging my shoulders and placed one hand on top of my head. With her other hand, she started playing with my hair. I can’t describe those moments as anything other than holy. My spirit calmed and peace washed over me. I finally knew I was going to do this thing that I still didn’t want to do.

Our roommate Carolyn came in then and it was time to head to the conference room for the session. As we walked, Taylor and me ahead of Carolyn, Anna, and Megan, I could hear Anna telling Carolyn a little about what was happening. She shared with Carolyn about my word for 2016 being “unbound” and Carolyn said she would pray. Taylor put her arm around me as we approached the building and said, “This is a safe place. This is the place where you can do this.” I walked in, found Amanda and told her I was planning to join her at the end. She said she wouldn’t call me up, but told me to just come up.

Throughout that session, I sat on the floor in the back corner of the room, writing all the things that were pouring into my mind—things the Holy Spirit had spoken to me over the past few months, the reasons why I should and should not be doing this, just all the words. Tracy walked by me at one point and asked, “The floor? Are you comfy?” Yeah, I am—and I would probably fall out of a chair if I tried to sit in one right now, I thought. One thing I’ve learned about myself recently is that when my heart, mind, and spirit are swirling, I need to be sitting somewhere concrete and steady—like on the floor with a wall to support me.

The session began to close, and I quietly made my way to the front row. My heart was pounding. Amanda went to the keyboard and I stood up, turning to face the crowd. She started playing and singing; I closed my eyes and started signing.

And it was so hard. I kept fumbling (though no one probably noticed), and my hands felt awkward and uncooperative. But I did it. I had done what I had been asked to do…

Day to Day, Own Your Brave

Being Still

Last week, I stubbed my big toe on a dining room chair. It hurt, but I didn’t think much of it…until the next morning. At 4:30 a.m. a throbbing in my foot woke me up. My toe was swollen, red, and tender to the touch. Walking on it was painful.

I’m stubborn, so I went to work anyway. But I spent most of the day sitting. It was a busy day, and I felt bad about not being on top of my game, but every time I tried to get up and hobble around to do something, my co-teacher commanded directed me back to a chair. After one such exchange, I caught myself looking at the bookcase and filing cabinet that were within reach. I stopped, looked at my co-teacher and said, “I am looking for something to do. I can’t just sit still. Obviously, I need to work on this.”

Being still is hard.

Frustration overtook me quickly. I don’t do “still” well.

But sometimes, that’s what we have to be—more often than we would like to admit, I’m sure.

Still.

Be still.

I was reminded of Exodus 14:14:

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.

At this point in scripture, the Israelites were trapped: “The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea…” (Ex. 14:9). There was nowhere for them to go, nothing for them to do to save themselves from imminent capture and death. And we see in Exodus 14:10 that they were “terrified” and desperate, asking Moses, “What have you done by bringing us out of Egypt…It would have been better for us to serve in Egypt than to die in the desert.” They wanted a plan of action; they wanted answers.

But Moses asked them to be still, to stand firm and wait for the Lord’s deliverance.

Being still doesn’t mean “do nothing.” Far from it. When the enemy shows up on our doorstep, ready to overtake us, we can act. The type of action we take is what matters. The spirit in which we take action matters.

When we’re faced with hardship, the Lord asks us to be still and allow Him to fight the battle for us. When we abide in His strength, we are equipped to stand our ground when the enemy knocks at our gate. When we rest in His peace, we are less likely to turn and run from the fight. Instead, we can face it with His strength.

  
Sometimes there’s no amount of doing that will result in a solution. Sometimes (most of the time), I have no control over outcomes. Often, I just have to sit still and wait. And I don’t like it. Did I mention that I don’t like to sit still? I’m a compulsive fixer/doer. There’s a problem? I’m determined to find a solution. But sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I have to be still and wait for the Lord’s deliverance.

 

While my foot was out of commission last week, I could still check papers, explain concepts to students, send emails, troubleshoot technology issues, and even teach from my seated position. But I also had to relinquish my frustration with not being able to do everything I normally do in the classroom. I had to get over the guilt of putting more tasks on my co-teacher. I had to be willing to ask for help, willing to let others serve me.

And when life gets rocky—for me or for my people, near and far–there are a few things I can always do.

I can pray.

I can speak light and truth.

I can be present.

I can be still.

Still faithful.

Still prayerful.

Still truthful.

Still hopeful.

I can still be.

 

 

How do you practice being still in the midst of the storm?

Day to Day, Own Your Brave

The One Where I Jump

The clouds are so close I can almost touch them.  My toes hang over the edge, nothing but air beneath them, only the heels of my feet making contact with solid ground. All I can see is a vast sea of blue and white—above, below, to the left, and to the right. Behind me, stretching into the distance is a dusty road, wide on the horizon line. But here, where I’m balancing on this jagged tip of the earth, the road tapers to a point.

The slightest breeze washes over me and I know. It’s time. Time to lean forward; it’s time to lean into the Wind that has been stirring around me for so long. It’s time to jump and see what happens.

My only two options are forward and backward. One of them isn’t really an option at all.

I take a deep breath.

And step forward.

~*~

An idea has been stirring in my heart and spirit for months. An idea that I hesitated to own, to claim, to speak, to commit to.

The time has come—to commit to it, to own it, to speak Life into it.

It’s time to “spill the beans,” as one of my #the4500 sisters said.

So here it is:

I’m writing a book.

Not thinking about writing a book.

Actually writing a book.

A book about freedom. And bravery. And being unbound.

I have a lot of questions about what that looks like long-term…

…and very few answers.

But I have a God-given vision

and a Holy Spirit-breathed message.

And so, I am writing.

 

Saying this out loud, both here on this page,

and in real life, eye-to-eye conversations

serves this purpose:

I covet your prayers.

And I need the accountability.

 

This is the jumping-off point.

 

~*~

“Then the Lord answered me and said, “Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets, that the one who reads it may run. For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; for it will certainly come, it will not delay.…” ~Habakkuk 2:2-3

 

 But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. ~Isaiah 40:31

 

Jump

Day to Day, Own Your Brave

Part 2: I Had A Dream (And Stepped into a New Normal)

Yesterday, I was in the middle of writing a post about how joy is the most vulnerable emotion we have, because its opposite is disappointment—as I was staring deep disappointment square in its ugly face.  An opportunity I’d been looking forward to was suddenly crashing and burning…Plan A, Plan B, Plan C…all doomed. I was sad; I was mad. But the circumstances were completely out of my control.

Four months ago, I had a dream about meeting a fellow member of #the4500. Within a day of my sharing the dream in the FB group, Anna and I began texting and planning a meet-up opportunity that fell into our laps; in less than a week, we were scheduling a phone call. Now, a mere 12 weeks later, we’ve spoken on the phone more times than I can count (I can’t claim being a non-phone-talker anymore), interacted on social media daily, and gotten to know each other’s hearts.

The meet-up that was scheduled for the end of October was postponed indefinitely. In the meantime, I signed up for Splendid: Texas and settled for meeting Anna in the spring.

Two weeks ago, a meet-up was suddenly in the works again as Anna was traveling to NC on business. We made plans to meet for lunch along with a handful of other local 4500 ladies. Then the darn Snowpocalypse of 2016 slammed the East Coast with the most unfortunate timing. Anna was 2 hours away; she was stuck, I was stuck, the others were stuck. For 48 hours, we were caught in a limbo of hoping against hope that we’d still make it work, all the while praying that God would make a way where there was no foreseeable way (and recruiting our #the 4500 sisters to join us).

Having heart-sisters spread out across the country is both the best and worst thing. We are drawn to one another by a connection that none of us ever imagined, but in its short 10-month lifespan, #the4500 has taken us on a delightfully wild ride. I could literally go to almost any state in the country and have familiar faces and instant friendship. (I’m in dire need of a hefty travel budget these days.) But not being able to hug one another’s necks, look each other in the eye, and do life face to face is hard.

Finally, at noon on Saturday, we called it. No lunch or dinner meet-up. Anna suggested a tentative breakfast meeting for Sunday, but I was already expecting it to fall through; nonetheless, I texted my mom and sister to see if they’d be willing to make the trip with me Sunday morning. Hours later, I realized the interstates were passable—if we could get on the interstate, and get to NC Saturday night, we still had a chance. I prayed, I begged, I pleaded. They consented, and off we went.

Plan D was finally a winner–a spontaneous, crazy, whirlwind winner. 

~*~

I walked through the hotel entrance, eyes scanning the room for the face I knew only by profile picture. Sitting across the room, head turned, there she was—this soul sister I’d waited months to meet face-to-face. I stopped at the front desk as she glanced up and I waved. Bounding out of her chair, she stopped two feet in front of me, bent forward, hands covering her mouth, squealing with joy. My smile wrapped around my head. We hugged. (I melted—her hugs are “legendary.”)”You’re real,” I breathed. Words failed and we just stared at each other. “I guess you know each other?” The voice of the poor guy at the desk who was trying to check me in broke us out of our wonder. We glanced at each other. “Yes.” “We do now.”

~*~

DSC_0158 - Copy

We do now. We’re finally friends in real life.

Earlier this weekend, as I lamented our deteriorating meet-up plans, my friend Christine texted me these words: “…whether or not this weekend happens, it is a victory because you showed up…and that is huge. There was a time not too long ago when you wouldn’t have been able to make these plans…because it was too far out of your comfort zone.”  Truth.

When I joined the4500, my plan was to keep to the fringes. That all changed in September when I began getting to know Anna better. I am not who I was four months ago. The biggest evidence of that? The absolute absence of any anxiety about meeting Anna in person this weekend. As I told Christine, “I was so chill it was weird.” We may not have had a lot of time together, but it was entirely worth it. We dug deep into heart issues; she challenged me and encouraged me to keep moving toward what I know in my heart I need to pursue. We celebrated victories; we laughed. She got to meet my mom and sister. We stayed up half the night talking and we hugged tightly as she departed for the airport.

Last night, I told Anna that I was still taking baby steps toward owning my brave; she corrected me: “Oh, honey—we’re past baby steps.”

“Yeah, I guess we are. This is more like jumping off a cliff.”

“Exactly.”

I’ve crossed a chasm I never would’ve dreamed possible. I’ve stepped into a new normal—and I can’t wait to see where it leads next.