I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Too: A #ChurchToo Story

The #churchtoo movement is attracting a lot of attention these days. Like many others, I have my own story of spiritual abuse in the church. In recent years, I’ve recognized it as such and begun to talk and write about it. Yet, as strongly as I feel that these stories need to be brought into the light, I’ve been cautious in sharing because I am grateful for many aspects of growing up in the church. I just wish the adults who helped shape beliefs had known better so they could have taught me better.

I came across this article from Josh Harris this morning; it struck a nerve and lit a fire that needed to be channeled into words. In 2003, Harris released a book that spread like wildfire through the evangelical church: I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It was shoved into the hands of adolescents throughout the Bible belt as an added safety measure against “sinful behavior.” Rather than offering practical support to almost-adults navigating opposite-sex relationships, youth leaders and parents touted this book as a manual for purity.

As a teenager who grew up in the Southern & Independent Baptist church in the late 90s/early 2000s, I was taught (and bought into–hook, line, and sinker) this whole “dating is wrong” worldview. I read this book and Harris’ follow-up book, Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship (a rather convenient amendment to his original stance once he began dating but needed a more acceptable term). The first research essay I wrote for a college English class argued the necessity of casting aside dating and committing to serious courtship with marriage as the goal. (I cringe at the thought of my naivete, but it is true that you don’t know what you don’t know.)

As a “good, evangelical Christian girl” my sense of self-worth was entirely tied to “guarding my heart,” “remaining pure,” and “waiting for the right one,” and “living with my parents until I was married.” (How, exactly, does that happen when you aren’t allowed to find “the one?” This still baffles me.) Rather than learning to live out my God-given identity as a woman, the messages I heard from every authority figure pointed back to a checklist of items I needed to adhere to in order for God to magically give me the desires of my heart.

They weren’t harmful suggestions in and of themselves, but they were presented as a rule book wherein God kept track of my behavior as a measurement of my faithfulness. If I didn’t follow the rules, I didn’t deserve good things.

At 34 years old, I’ve never dated (except for that one hilariously bad blind date when I was 22-ish), I’ve never been kissed (did anyone else hate that movie?), never slept around (or with anyone at all for that matter), never this, never that. I wore the TLW ring (the “one ring” of the evangelical church.) Side note: none of the guys in my youth groups had TLW rings. Hmm.

Why would I put this in print for all the world to see? Why would I share these intimate, vulnerable details of my life?

Because I know I’m not the only person who has considered herself unworthy, unlovable, rejected, and hopeless because she was fed the rhetoric of kissing dating goodbye. (And let’s not even touch the notion that girls/women were/are considered responsible for the way a boy/man conducts himself. Was I at fault when the youth leader who was a handful of years older than me put me in a headlock, taunting and laughing as I struggled to get loose as my peers watched? He lorded his perceived superiority over me like a trophy. You can’t wipe away the damage of a scenario like that from the heart, mind and, soul of a 17-year-old girl.)

It’s instances like these that have me reconsidering my belief system from the ground up, un-learning the “truths” that aren’t actually true and re-learning what is. The reality is that I, like many others, have experienced abuse at the hands of the church. Reconciling those past hurts with who I am today is hard but necessary work as I heal and become the person I was created and redeemed to be.

I still don’t have the “desires of my heart” in this area of my life. Maybe I never will.

And it’s only been the last six months or so that I’ve allowed myself to admit that this skewed thinking has caused a significant accumulation of emotional and spiritual damage.

I’m wrestling with the implications of how this viewpoint has driven deep-rooted lies about the character of God into my soul; it has caused me to believe that my singleness has made me less-than.

I don’t have any solid answers or solutions of how to reconcile my past beliefs with the truth of my identity other than the slow process of allowing God to re-parent my heart in this area.

I just wish I could tell 16-year-old me that she’s a human and that God placed those desires to be loved, accepted, pursued, and protected in her DNA. She’s not weak; she’s stronger than she knows.

And he’s not hovering over her with a checklist of her successes at following the good girl rules.

She is enough as she is.

She is worthy.

She is loved.

She is accepted.

She is pure.

She is pursued.

Whether she kissed dating goodbye or not.

The Other Side of Sunday

Have you ever had an experience so transforming that you couldn’t quite find the words to wrap around the magnitude of its bearing on your soul? An experience so powerful that you simultaneously want to hold it close to your chest and savor the intimacy of it while also desiring to shout it from the rooftops?

Last week, I attended Discovery!—a personal development retreat in Austin.

For months, several friends (one in particular—you can guess which one), their family members, and a few friends of friends have raved about their Discovery experiences and implored me to go. But because the program works most effectively if you don’t know what the weekend entails going in, none of them offered any details other than “it’s hard, but so worth it.” My anxious, likes-to-know-all-the-things brain struggled with this lack of information.

When the #EpicBookTourTPD ended last August, I slid into a deep, dark hole. As I wallowed in that pit one evening, Anna once again asked me to give Discovery a shot. Weary of saying no and, honestly, just trying to make her stop asking, I signed up.

A few days later, I cancelled my reservation because I was terrified of the unknown.

And I slid further into the pit.

By the time February rolled around, I was numb again, stuck in old thought patterns, resigning myself to the reality that I would always be trapped in this cycle, that losing Jess had done me in and there would be no coming back from it.

One Saturday evening, Anna and I sat in the car and she laid out my options: counseling, Grief Share, or Discovery. Again, she shared how Discovery had helped her and, with tears glistening in her eyes, she asked me to trust her because she knew it would be beneficial for me—and would provide a quicker result in one weekend than months of counseling appointments or Grief Share meetings would.

I agreed to go, signed up again, and tried not to think about it for the next six weeks.

On Friday, March 23, I, along with 32 others, walked into a large conference room not knowing what to expect. As the doors closed behind us, our connectors—those who had gone before us and convinced us to come—cheered and shouted in the lobby. They knew what was coming; we had no idea.

(Because I’m now one of them and know all the details, I’m purposefully leaving them out. Just know that not being able to share all the things with you is hard for this [written] words girl!)

I walked in room still apathetic and numb, highly skeptical, and searching for a way to get out of the whole weekend. I walked in carrying a load of guilt, anger, and undealt with grief. I walked in with a broken and buried heart. I walked in with terrible pain in my neck and shoulders that had been there for months.

Over the course of the next 57 hours, I resisted, surrendered, wrestled, fought, yelled, sobbed, grieved, unburied, trusted, encouraged, gave, received, supported, stretched, recovered, and celebrated.

Saturday was brutal, but beautiful.

On Sunday evening, I walked out of that room with my whole heart back. I walked out of that room without the long-present tension in my neck and shoulders. I walked out genuinely laughing and smiling rather than hiding behind a mask. I walked out empowered to stand up and fight for me. I walked out lighter and freer.

It’s taken an entire week to reflect and begin to process the weight of my Discovery experience, and I’m still just scratching the surface.

The other side of Sunday is everything I want and everything I need.

The other side of Sunday brings light.
The other side of Sunday brings hope.
The other side of Sunday brings freedom.

I’m living on the other side of Sunday, and that’s more than enough.

~*~

If you’re curious about Discovery, you can learn more here.

She Stands in the Gap

Groggily, I rolled over in the hotel bed and looked at my phone. 4:00 a.m. Two missed calls, three text messages, and a voicemail from Mom. Tears welled in my eyes and a knot formed in my stomach. “No, no, no,” I whispered as my lungs constricted. I needed to call Mom back, but I already knew.

Trembling, I stumbled toward the bathroom. I grabbed a box of tissues and, fighting nausea, went back into the bedroom. “I have to wake her up. I can’t do this alone.” I thought.

Clutching phone and tissue box in one hand, I carefully pulled back the blanket of the other bed. “Anna,” I whispered as I sat down. Startled, my friend opened her eyes. “Mom called. I don’t want to call her back.” Tears pooled in her eyes. She knew, too.

She put her arm around me as I pressed the button to return Mom’s call…

~*~

Join me here at (in)courage today to read the rest of the story.

 

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My Forever Star

The last conversation we had in person, just the two of us, happened on an ocean-front balcony. We were watching the waves roll in, relishing the warmth of the late February sun on our skin. It was a Sunday. The next week would bring more clinic visits, hospital appointments, and my return to Texas, but for that one afternoon Jess and I talked about all the things sisters talk about. Clothes, shoes, and makeup were our focus; she was giving me all her best tips, tricks, and pointers for creating a travel-worthy wardrobe for my upcoming four-month road trip with Anna. She told me my current wardrobe screamed “tired teacher” and that she aimed to turn me into a “structured businesswoman.” I laughed at her, but made detailed notes nonetheless.

Two months later, almost to the day, I awoke in the wee hours of the morning to the phone call I never wanted to receive. She was gone; my sister had slipped away during the night—she’d taken the “second star to the right and straight on til morning,”as Peter Pan says. In a hotel on the Las Vegas strip, my heart shattered into a million pieces that April morning.

When I’d texted Jess a few weeks before and told her we were adding a stop in Vegas to the itinerary, she replied, “yes to Vegas. Always yes to Vegas.” It was one of her top bucket-list destinations and we were both shocked that I’d make it there before she did. (Like Texas, Las Vegas was one of those places I had absolutely no desire to visit.) So when I woke up to the worst news of my life, it was sort of fitting that we were in Las Vegas.

As the new reality of living in a world without my sister settled over me, the desire to absorb the essence of who she is and was flooded every fiber of me. I couldn’t let her go; I couldn’t let her be forgotten; I couldn’t let her slip away completely.

Mid-morning, I rolled over on the bed and looked at Anna.

“I’m very seriously considering getting a tattoo while we’re here in Vegas.”
“Yes! Let’s do it,” was her response.

Enter our wise friend Jana who talked us out of spontaneously getting tattoos in Las Vegas. She talked us off that ledge and made us an appointment with her tattoo artist in Minnesota, buying us a few weeks to really think this through.

Back in March, my siblings ganged up on me in a group text and threatened to oust me from the family if I didn’t get on board with their idea for a sibling tattoo. Even so, I resisted. No way was I getting a tattoo. Nope. Not happening.

Now, there was no question in my mind. I was getting a tattoo and I was getting it to memorialize my sister. At first I considered a shooting star because Jess had been talking about getting a star tattoo for months and now I thought of her as a shooting star, streaking across the sky. But I’ve never actually liked the shape of stars.

When I flew home for the memorial service at the end of April, I still hadn’t decided on a design that would encompass the memory of Jess without being cliché—something she was certainly not. As I was looking through some of her things in her bedroom, I found it. Years ago, Jess spent a lot of time perfecting a logo for her photography business. Finally, she’d designed a logo that was a version of her first and last initials—JL—that didn’t look like her initials but rather a design akin to a fleur-de-lis. I found it drawn on a random piece of paper and knew that was my tattoo. Simple, meaningful, and something I could look at for the rest of my life.

It’s been emblazoned on my wrist for just six days, but the more I look at this tattoo, the more I see a star in it. Like a star, it has five points—all in the right spots. And that makes it even more perfect.


My sister was a star.

She was bright.

She was unique.

She was brilliant.

And I can only imagine that she is even more so now.

She is brilliant.

She is unique.

She is forever my star.

Unbound: Significant & Irreplaceable

When I wrote about choosing my word for 2016, I had every intention of following it up with a six-month update.

But then I threw my life into the spin cycle when I returned from Splendid in the Hills and moved to Texas in June. Suddenly, it’s November and I don’t even know where to begin.

In January, I had no idea that this year would bring such radical change. I knew it was going to be different; I did not expect to spend most of it in Texas.

I never thought I’d make it this far. I expected myself to have already given up and run back to the Carolina mountains. I didn’t think I had it in me.

From the moment I decided to move to Texas, I told myself it was only for the summer, maybe part of the fall, but it was just an exploratory journey that would end with me back in SC by the end of the year.

Increasingly, I’m discovering just how capable I am.

Capable of wrestling with my emotions and wounds of the past that haunt me.

Capable of following through and accomplishing the goals I set for myself.

Capable of standing on my own two feet.

I’m capable of all those things—and so much more because I have a place of position in My Father’s kingdom. Everything I need to pursue His business has been provisioned to me. I have the authority to operate under His name.

Know what that means?

This:

I am a woman who has significance and is irreplaceable.

I am a SIGNIFICANT and irreplaceable woman.

I have a place as the daughter of the King on the throne.


And I am choosing to acknowledge that, to accept that, to own that, because that is who I am.

I am approved, I am significant, I am irreplaceable.

I am not the little girl who is trying to seek approval and prove herself as a valid daughter.

I already have that position.

It’s not up for grabs, for consideration; it’s not up for any kind of argument.

It is TRUTH.

It is what IS.

And I am choosing to walk in that.

I am choosing to own that territory and walk in that. 

Because that’s who I am.

I am a daughter of the King.

Anything less is not who I am. 
I am unbound.

Significance in Numbers

For someone who hates math as much as I do, and for as much as I’m a words girl, I pay attention to numbers. Dates, particularly. (Important ones and not-so-important ones alike are seared into my brain. Scarily so, at times.) I can still tell you off the top of my head that my sister, cousin, and I attended an N*Sync concert on February 5, 1999. (Not-so-significant.) I can tell you that my acceptance letter to NGU arrived the day before my birthday (July 22nd) in 2005. (Significant.) I am the date keeper in my family, and given my ability to support my memories with contextual evidence, it’s not often that my mother or sister can argue with me when I ascribe a date to a particular event. It’s a gift. (Or a weird talent?)

Dates matter to me. Always have and likely always will. They are not only markers of time, but placeholders for significant moments along the timeline of my story.

I just realized that today is significant. It’s a date I’ve been holding out for all summer. It’s a date that says I’m more capable and a bit braver than I thought I might be.  And while it’s felt like an ever-more-ordinary Sunday, it’s one that holds a little more significance.

When I decided I was making the leap and moving to Texas, my brain wouldn’t quite let me commit fully. When I met with my bosses to resign from my job, I told them it was possible I’d be back at the end of the summer, but understood that they would need to find my replacement. When I broke the news to my grandparents, I assured them that this was a trial run “for the summer.” And I even told myself that I just needed to stay for “three to six months.” And because I already knew I had plans to return to the Carolinas for the fall Splendid retreat, I had a built-in safety net of coming home in November.

I arrived in Texas on June 11th. Today is September 11th. (Yes, it’s a day that holds a lot of significance for our nation. May we never forget that day 15 years ago—I was lying in the living room floor doing biology work when the news hit the Today show.) Three months I’ve been here in the great state of Texas. Three months of vacillating between wondering why I’m here and believing I’m supposed to be here.

For most of July, I was ready to get on a plane back to South Carolina. August consisted mostly of just putting one foot in front of the other and getting through each day, hour by hour. As September has arrived, I feel as though I’ve turned a corner.

Last Thursday morning, this bustling house I’ve been so generously welcomed into was empty and quiet. As I sat in the corner of the living room, sipping my coffee, I checked my countdown app. Within this app is a list of events I have the opportunity to attend here in Texas over the next few months—reminders that each of them is a time-marker during my three-to-six-month trial period. The last of those events is the Splendid Retreat in North Carolina in November. As I scrolled through the events, I stopped on the countdown for Splendid: 63 days. Just over two months.

I closed the app and stared at the wall in front of me, my thoughts drifting over the last few months and the upcoming ones as well. 63 days. What if that’s it? If I decide I’m not coming back after Splendid, I only have 63 days left. Then, as unassuming and quietly as could be, the words settled in my mind: I want to come back.

Oh. I do? I’m not ready to call it quits and take this as an out? I want to come back?

 Yes. Yes, I do.

When I came to Texas for the first time back in April, I had no idea what a wild, life-altering ride I was in for. When I returned to South Carolina a week later, it was not the way I came. And a week later, I was preparing to move to Texas for the summer.

Three weeks after the Splendid retreat in Texas, I agreed to meet a new friend (that I’d not yet met in real life) for dinner. C and I hit it off immediately and got straight to the heart of matters. She’d already heard part of what unfolded at Splendid and wanted to know more about why I was moving to Texas. As I told her how I’d ended up signing three times during the retreat and how I believed that those three times signified the three years I’d lost to depression and lies, she looked me in the eyes and said, “Do you know what the number three represents?”

“I used to. Refresh my memory.”

“It’s the number of confirmation.”

Oh. Well, of course it is!

Three.

The number of confirmation.

September.

My three-month-aversary in Texas.

The realization that 63 days is not enough time left to be okay with bailing.

Confirmation?

Time will tell.

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.

Loaves in the Land of Surreal

We’d crossed the state line just half an hour earlier when the faint brushstroke of it caught my eye in the blushing Texan sunset…

The reality of returning to Texas had suddenly shown up. I was back—not returning the way I’d come before and for a much longer stretch this time—but I was here once again. Back in that state I’d never had an inkling of desire to visit for the second time in less than two months. Four weeks ago, I’d made a decision that propelled me into a lightning-fast series of actions: move to Texas—which meant resigning from my job, getting rid of 95% of my stuff, shoving most of my remaining belongings in a tiny storage unit, saying a lot of goodbyes, and setting out on an epic cross-country road trip with my mom and sister.

…As we moved ever-closer to my new landing spot on the other side of Dallas, I saw it. Peeking from behind the clouds, backlit by the setting sun was a barely-there rainbow.

A promise.

A reminder.

A gift.

~*~

You know those steps you sometimes take that propel you forward a bit faster than you would’ve liked, but couldn’t stop once you were in motion? None of the metaphors I’ve come up with thus far really do justice to this feeling. For example, I’ve thought of images that range from the stumbling steps of walking off a moving sidewalk too fast and almost running yourself over with your baggage (hello, ATL airport–not that I would know, personally, of course) to jumping out of a plane and forgetting you even have a parachute. Nothing suffices to describe all the feelings.

I’m a words girl. If you’re reading this, you clearly already know that. The written word is my preferred method of processing; I live and breathe by the written word. (Thoreau didn’t coin the “choicest of relics” phrase without cause, people.) Most of the time, putting my thoughts and feelings into words comes fairly easy. Not so much this week. For starters, it’s been such an incredibly weird week that I’ve been unable to articulate exactly what I’ve felt. When a blog post starts percolating in my brain, it usually stems from a single word or phrase. Since I arrived in Texas Saturday evening, I’ve been asked several times, “How are you? How are you feeling?” And I haven’t had any words other than “weird” and “floundering” to answer those questions. Until this morning, when Anna and I had chat about this crazy-good thing I’ve done. And suddenly I had my word: surreal.

“What you are doing is surreal. Look it up—what’s the definition of surreal?” she asked.

“’ Marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream,’” I replied, after a quick Google search.

Fine. Point taken.

~*~

This thing that I’ve done in the last month—returning from a weekend retreat and moving halfway across the freaking country? It sounds crazy, looks crazy, and could very well be crazy. I know. Believe me—I KNOW. But if I look back over the last few years—and the last year in particular, I cannot help but see a trail of markers—breadcrumbs, if you will—that have lead me here.

Last summer life was much the same as it had been for the last three—I was surviving, going through the motions of everyday life, pretending I was as happy as I might have seemed. Don’t get me wrong—there were plenty of good things and people in my life, but I was not living life to the fullest. The Gallaudet incident sucked far more out of me than it should have, perhaps, but it left me broken, empty, and trapped in fear, anxiety, and depression.

And although I had stumbled into #the4500 Facebook group earlier in the year, I was not very engaged there…yet. Only one of them was my actual Facebook friend—and that was Anna, who had sent a request in April. In July, I commented on a post where folks were posting screenshots of Jen Hatmaker’s interactions with us on Twitter, leading Anna to find me on Twitter and follow me. That was, for the most part, the extent of my interaction with the group.

And then September came, and I was reading Daring Greatly, and next thing I knew Anna and I were talking on the phone for the first time…and here I am, barely nine months later, typing this blog post in her house.

If that isn’t surreal, I don’t want to know what is.

Since that first phone call in September, way too many “little” things have happened for me to ignore their significance–one of which Anna reminded me of this morning: “The ENTIRE East Coast shut down in January…for YOU…so I could meet not only you, but your mom and Jess, too…” Yes, I suppose you could look at it like that. Thank you, Snowpacalypse 2016.

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Sometimes the breadcrumbs along the trail turn out to be more the size of loaves–it all depends on your perspective. All those “coincidental” events might’ve looked like breadcrumbs a few months ago, but from where I sit today, they look a bit more like loaves I was handed to feast upon. 

~*~

 

 

A week ago today, I loaded a few boxes and bags into trunk of my mom’s car and embarked on a two-day, one-thousand mile road trip with the two most important women in my life. I’d originally intended to fly to Texas, but I’m incredibly grateful that Mom and Jess decided to drive me out. We had a blast as we crossed five state lines and made some fun stops along the way. But perhaps the greatest reward of the journey was their meeting and spending time with a few of the women who have impacted me the most in #the4500—Anna, Rachel, and Julie. It’s really difficult to explain the culture of #the4500 to those who aren’t a part of it; it was hard for me to understand it until I arrived at Splendid. But because they got to experience it firsthand, I believe it was easier for all of us to part ways on Monday afternoon. When Mom turned to me just before she and Jess departed and said, “You’ve got good family here,” I knew she understood—maybe not fully, but enough to know I was not going to be left to flounder my way through this transition.

Leaving SC wasn’t easy. Some of my very dear friendships have had to shift in order to survive the transition. That breaks my heart, but I know it is necessary and I’m willing to make space for those friendships to find a new rhythm. I’m so thankful for all the people who have cheered me on. In the two weeks leading up to my departure, I had so many wonderful conversations with friends who wanted to know all about how God has worked to orchestrate this venture—Christine, Cathy, Julia, Becky, Angi, Camille, Kayla, Olgui, Susan & Mary Carol, Jenna & Melissa, Susan & Lisa, Brent & Shannon…I’m sure I’m leaving people out.  I wish I had all of those conversations in written form to reflect on. What I do have is the knowledge that you are my tribe. You are praying and cheering from the stands of the arena. For that, I am so thankful.

I won’t lie and say this week has been easy. It hasn’t. For several hours Monday afternoon and evening all I could do was lie on the couch and breathe. My heart was racing and I almost felt trapped. I didn’t say a word for 24 hours. In the days following, I’ve been in a mostly calm state of mind, but there have definitely been moments when I’ve let myself question everything about this move. For those of you have texted to check in—Kelli, Christine, Taylor, Julie—thank you for caring for my heart. And Anna, of course, gets a heap of thanks and admiration from the depths of my heart for welcoming me into her home.

While I know I’m here for a reason, I’m not entirely sure what that reason is yet. What I do know I have here is a tribe and community ready to receive me. I don’t have a polished plan. I don’t have a safety net. Yet, the words I hear from the Holy Spirit every time I pray about this transition is “be still…wait…I have a plan…”

So, for now, my plan is to just do the next right thing and let Him handle the rest. He’s already got the loaves waiting along the path ahead.

 

Not the Way You Came

Standing at the rear of her car, by a bustling airport curb, we hugged tightly, silently. I’m terrible at saying goodbye. All the words bubble up in my chest, but get stuck in my throat. And really, there aren’t enough words. Stepping back, I reluctantly pulled my suitcase out of the trunk, flung my bag over my shoulder. Without making eye contact again, I turned toward the sidewalk and slowly walked away, breathing deeply with each step. Inside the airport, I paused for a moment to get my bearings, and then headed for the security line, fighting the lump that was forming in my throat and the tears that were pooling in my eyes.

IMG_1816My phone vibrated in my hand as I joined the line. I looked down. And saw the text: “You are not going back the same way you came…” The lump rose and the tears began to fall… and I heard His voice:

This is not the last time you’ll be here…you will be back.”

~*~

I’m not a crier.  From the time I stepped into the security line until about halfway to Atlanta, I bawled my eyes out. I was exhausted in every sense—physically, mentally, emotionally—from the past five days. I’d been fully present at Splendid, and suddenly I was alone with my thoughts. My perception of myself, of God, of the women He’d planted in my life through the internet had shifted in ways I couldn’t begin to comprehend. And so, I cried, and cried, and cried. (That poor man who had to sit beside me for two hours…)

IMG_1796

I don’t fly. Get on an airplane? 30,000 feet in the air? I don’t think so. And yet—I did. Twice in six days. And it was NO BIG DEAL. Piece of cake, actually. (Although—I’m already convinced that ATL will always be a form of hell on earth.) All that anxiety that made my heart flutter and my stomach drop for the six months leading up to Splendid? Gone—once I was sitting on the plane. Verdict? I don’t hate flying—I actually kind of love it. Who knew?

I don’t talk on the phone. Having spent five days extroverting almost 24/7, talking eyeball-to-eyeball, and being in the constant presence of people, I came home to an apartment that was too quiet. Almost immediately, I was scheduling phone calls and video conferences with friends from #the4500 and face-to-face meetings with local friends. Adjusting to normal life was hard.

~*~

The week and a half since Splendid has been crazy. Seriously. God dumped so much in my lap while I was in Texas that I honestly thought He’d let up a little once I got home. I was wrong. The things I heard people say in Texas were repeated by my friends and family at home. My co-teacher Christine was asking the same hard questions Anna, and Megan, and Taylor, and Kelli had asked me all weekend.

And while I left Splendid with some hints, but not full knowledge of what I was supposed to do, where I was supposed to go, and what I was supposed to be, I didn’t actually know until last week. Tuesday, to be exact.

Christine preached me a sermon all day Monday and most of Tuesday, which basically boiled down to this:

“If you’re really going to do this, now is the time. If God is telling you this is what you need to do, are you just giving lip service to it—or are you actually going to act on it? If you wait for the circumstances to be perfect, you won’t do it…you will over think it.”

And just like my Splendid sisters did, my dear friend Christine shot down every. single. excuse I threw at her.

So I made the decision to do what I’ve been too afraid to admit that I’m supposed to do in this season.

I decided that I was going to follow God’s lead, to let Him take the reins.

I jumped off the cliff.

~*~

My life is so boring.

Nothing exciting ever happens to me.

Adventure? Not for me.

I can’t even think these thoughts without chuckling to myself these days.

~*~

We sat in our darkened, quiet classroom at the end of the school day. Her questions and statements cut to the core of me.

“What is happening to my life?” I asked, incredulous.

“You’re getting a life….you’re living your life,” she answered.

~*~

I never wanted to go to Texas. Texas was always at the bottom of my “places I want to visit” list. God is funny.

Texas?

Yes, Texas.

In less than a month, I’ll be back in Texas.

Indefinitely.

Through the summer, at the very least.

Pursuing my passions, old and new.

Looking for a job.

Exploring graduate school options.

In less than a month, I have a million things to do—some that I have a plan to accomplish, some that I am freaking out about because I don’t have a plan to accomplish—and no foreseeable solutions.

In no particular order:

*Pack up my apartment and move it into storage

*Sell my car

*Decide what I absolutely have to take or ship to Texas for 3-6 months.

*Buy luggage

*Pick a departure date

*Find an affordable flight

*Update my resume

*FIND A JOB in TEXAS

*FIND A CAR in TEXAS (and the funds with which to buy said car)

*Ask for help in doing the things I cannot do on my own (this might prove to be the hardest one!)

*Stay calm, not freak out, and just breathe…

 

So, this must be what free-falling feels like.

 

I am not going back the same way I came.

Splendid & Lovely: Splendid Sunday

…Early Sunday morning, as I awoke from a short, but peaceful sleep, my thoughts immediately rested on the fact that it was the last day of Splendid. In a few short hours, we would say goodbye to one another and head back to our respective states and time zones. We would return to our virtual community, albeit with a few more real-life connections; the morning would be bittersweet.

 

This is the end of a chapter… I thought to myself.

“No, this is the very beginning of a chapter,” that still, small voice responded.

Oh.

Then… “You signed three times this weekend—a symbol of restoration for three lost years.”

 

In Anna’s workshop the day before, she had talked about the parable of the good soil and used a particular gardening technique (Back to Eden gardening) as an illustration. With this technique, dead/composted materials (wood chips, grass clippings, newspaper, etc) is used to cover the garden in preparation for planting. As she explained the process, she said, “Nothing is wasted.” All the “dead” materials are used for a purpose in preparing the soil.

As the Holy Spirit dropped this revelation that the three times I’d signed were directly related to the three years that had passed since I’d buried the dream I perceived as dead, I was astounded. And completely satisfied that the weekend was closing as it was. Again, I was content with the way God had moved; I could go home at peace with this outcome. I didn’t feel like I required anything more; I had a resolution to the question of whether the passion He’d placed in me was a figment of my imagination or if He really meant to plant it in my heart. It was more than enough. I held all of this close and didn’t even speak it to Anna and Kelli.

 

But He wasn’t finished.

 

Before we left for the restaurant, I texted Kelli to see where she was. She and a few others were leaving early to catch flights home. I dreaded telling her goodbye, but knew I couldn’t let her leave without doing so. She also needed to sing to me for Xamayta, who was unable to be at Splendid. When I found her she said matter-of-factly, “We’re not saying good-bye. We’re just not. We’re saying ‘soon.’” I told her we needed to make a video for Xamayta, so she pulled April M. into our huddle and handed Megan C. her phone. They put their arms around me and began to sing…”Jesus Loves Me.”

Those few moments broke all kinds of junk off me. It was one of the sweetest moments of the weekend, and I’ll treasure it in my heart forever. I hugged Kelli, said “Soon,” and hopped in the car with Rachel and Anna to drive down to the restaurant.

All weekend, I’d felt impressed to sit down with Tracy for an eyeball-to-eyeball chat. On Friday night, I’d grabbed her and told her I wanted to talk at some point during the weekend; she said okay and told me to find her sometime Saturday. Then Saturday came and I was a hot mess who didn’t want to talk to anyone. At breakfast Sunday morning, Tracy walked by and asked when I wanted to talk. I knew she was busy preparing for our last session, and I didn’t want to intrude on her time, so I kind of shrugged it off, and said, “Just at some point before we leave, whenever you have a minute.”

When we gathered for the last session, Taylor and I found seats together. I turned my phone’s voice memo recorder on—something I wish I’d thought to do earlier in the weekend—and settled in to listen as Jana began to speak.

She began by reading Philippians 4. When she got to verse 13, she read it, and then looked around the room: “…that’s easy to say—don’t you think? I mean, where’s Ticcoa? Just getting here…right? Look how much better it was?”

Yes.

After reading the scripture she gave us three questions to reflect on as we left our time together and return to our respective homes.

 

What is God asking you to do?

“What is God asking you to do? Because He’s told you—this weekend—that you have something to do. And you may not have a position in a church, but you have a place, and it may not be paid and it may not be on a platform, on a pedestal—but you have a place. He puts you where He needs you to be…some of us are like, ‘I can’t do this…’ or ‘I can’t do that…’”

 

Well, that was a no-brainer. He was asking me to pick up the dream I’d laid down.

 

Where is God asking you to go?

“Some of you are called to a mission field—and I don’t know where—or why—or when, but somebody—no a couple—you know you are and you’re like ‘ummm, I don’t wanna go.’”

This one was a little more abstract. It wasn’t until I had been home from Splendid for a week that I knew the answer to this one.

What is God asking you to be?

“…you have a place…we need to bring our very best, we need to bring whatever God told [us] this weekend, because we made space for it, we made time for it…”

Again, I didn’t yet have specifics in mind, but I knew I’d heard Him clearly say that it was time to reconsider pursuing employment and/or graduate school in an ASL related field.

Then Jana began to pray, and that’s when it all started to get real.

“…I ask for those of us who have a thought: ‘I could teach something…I could teach something next time…’ and we look at ourselves and go, ‘What? That just came out of my mouth?!’—that Lord, You give us the strength….”

As soon as the words “…I could teach something next time…” were out of her mouth, a clear picture popped into my mind: I was standing in a circle of women, teaching them how to engage in worship through sign language.

What?

There was that still, quiet voice again: That’s why you need to talk to Tracy

OH.

Okay.

I may have laughed under my breath, or gasped quietly. I don’t remember.

As we were all mingling, saying lingering good-byes, Tracy walked up to me and said, “Let’s trade numbers—and talk on the phone soon.”

Not wanting to press for a conversation then and there, I agreed, we took a picture and hugged. She walked away and immediately I was arguing with myself.

You need to talk to her. Now.

She’s busy—everyone wants to talk to her before she leaves.

You cannot sit on this. You need to talk to her now.

Fine.

Tracy walked by me a few minutes later and I grabbed her hand.

“I just need a minute—I need you eyeball-to-eyeball.”

“Okay,” she replied.

I led her to a quiet spot in the back of the restaurant and told her what had happened during Jana’s prayer, how the picture had popped into my mind, and how I’d known then why I needed to talk to her.

“I’m not asking you to do anything with this information, necessarily; I just needed you to know,” I explained. She told me that she would think and pray about it, and that we would talk soon. By acting on the clear instruction to talk to her, a door of potential opportunity was opened.

Again, I was totally content with how the weekend had gone—overjoyed, actually. I had gotten here, God had answered some questions I’d been holding close at heart, I’d met some of the heart-sisters I’d gotten to know online over the last year, I’d conquered some major fears and anxieties, and I was thrilled.

Splendid had, indeed, been splendid and lovely.

 

(If you’ve made it through the entire seven-part series, bless you. Thank you for joining me on the journey.)