“I Could Do That”: The Beginning of A Dream

I’ve been enamored with ASL since I was 8 years old. I remember seeing a Deaf couple signing to one another in a grocery store checkout line and being fascinated by the fluid movements of their hands and the animated expressions on their faces. I was drawn to it; it struck something deep inside me…a feeling I couldn’t articulate or understand then.

That same year, my grandfather took an assistant pastor position at a large church in a nearby city, leaving the small community church I’d grown up in with him as my pastor since I was born. On one of the first occasions my family visited my grandparents’ new church, my eyes lighted on the ASL interpreter positioned at the base of the platform, hands flying through the air. Again, I was transfixed. (Even to this day—more than two decades later, my attention is focused on the interpreter when I visit my grandparents’ church.)

This fascination flitted in and out of my sight line throughout my adolescence. In high school, my family began attending a new church where I joined an interpretive movement/mime/drama team. Here, I found an outlet for my desire to sign. My passion for sign language grew as I traveled to several national and regional drama conferences with the team. At these conferences, I met a woman, Tyra Lokey, who was a worship leader/dance instructor who incorporated ASL into her routines. My best friends and I became her groupies at these conferences. We chose her breakout sessions exclusively, chatted with her between sessions, and ran errands for her—she actually started calling us her groupies and would call us out when we entered one of her classes.

There was a joyous, fiery passion for sharing her love of God through sign language and music—it radiated from every part of her. One night at the national conference, as I sat in the group worship, I watched Tyra pour herself into worshipping through sign language. As I sat in the balcony, I heard the Holy Spirit speak to my spirit, “You could do that.” As this notion soaked into my heart, I responded silently, yet firmly: “I could do that.” Again, I felt that soul-deep stirring in my heart as I prayed, “Is that what I’m supposed to do?”—“that” being ASL in some form and fashion.

I never really intended to go to college. When I was in high school, people would ask me about my plans for higher education and I just shrugged them off. Post secondary schooling didn’t seem to be within my reach. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life—I was interested in teaching, but far too timid for that profession. Toward the end of high school, I began to think about ASL interpreting as an option, but I didn’t know ASL outside the few dozen signs I knew from the drama team—or anyone who was Deaf, for that matter. All these possibilities seemed too far out of reach. I was too shy, too quiet, and too afraid to pursue any of them.

Finally, in 2005, at the age of 21, I enrolled at North Greenville University–a small, local Christian college. I began as an Early Childhood Education major, but switched to the English program during my sophomore year. I continued to be drawn to the field of ASL and Deaf culture, but my university offered no classes related to either. In the spring semester of my sophomore year, I explored an option to transfer to another college to pursue a degree in Deaf Education, but ultimately felt that I was to stay where I was.

Later that semester, it became clearer that the Lord had a purpose for me in staying at NGU. I awoke at 4:00 one April morning with an outline for an ASL course proposal on my mind. I had no idea what to do with that information, so I went to my advisor and discussed it with her.  She, along with several other professors in the English department, encouraged me to pursue this crazy idea of undertaking a huge project that would eventually include writing a research thesis on 1.) why NGU needed an ASL program, 2.) the availability of/ need for ASL programs within a five-state radius, and 3.) the validity of ASL as a language, as well as a survey of both the student body and faculty of NGU to assess the interest-level in ASL classes.An independent study was created by Dr. Catherine Sepko, Dean of Humanities; Dr, Cheryl Collier, English Department Chair; and my advisor, Dr. Julia Drummond to give me the parameters to conduct my research in the fall of my junior year. Their support, along with many other faculty members was invaluable throughout the process. They warned me of the opposition I would face, supported me in every aspect of my research and writing, and believed that I could do what I thought was impossible.


On January 23, 2007 I presented an overview of Deaf culture and the history of ASL, a summary of my thesis, and a proposal for the addition of an ASL course at NGU to a faculty panel. At that point, I handed over the proposal to Dr. Sepko, Dr. Walter Johnson (the Curriculum Committee chair at the time), and Dr. Bill Stuermann (the head of the Foreign Language department). I had done what God had asked me to do when I woke up with the proposal outline on my mind the previous spring.

And then I waited. And waited. And waited.
And then I graduated.

I graduated in December 2009 without seeing my dream of ASL classes at NGU come to fruition. The proposal was still being pushed in committee meetings, but it was in a holding pattern. Obstacle after obstacle appeared.

But God.

In the Spring of 2011, a qualified instructor had been hired and the first ASL class began at NGU. I was in the front row, completely in awe that I was watching the vision God had placed in my heart unfolding before my eyes. 

After the first class ended, I approached the instructor, Shannon Fike, extended my hand, and said, “Hi, I’m Ticcoa. I’ve been praying for you for years. I’m so glad you’re finally here.”

Today, 5 years after ASL was introduced on campus, NGU offers five levels of ASL classes, a Deaf Culture class, and an ASL linguistics class—taught by four faculty members. This semester, an ASL component was added to the Interdisciplinary Studies degree. It took me a long time to own my role in the process of bringing ASL to NGU. In fact, until a conversation I had with counselor Bob Hamp and my friend Anna, I believed that “anybody could’ve done this.” But God hadn’t asked just anybody to do this crazy thing—it was me, and He equipped me to do exactly what He called me to do. He planted the seed of a burning passion for ASL and the Deaf community in my heart and coaxed it to life.

This process and experience fanned the flame of my passion for ASL and the Deaf community even more, motivating me to begin exploring options for a master’s degree in teaching ASL…

…until I hit a proverbial wall and buried that dream…

The Past Failures That Linger And Haunt Your Present Dreams

Failure.

Regret.

Missed opportunity.
We all face these at some point, many times over, in our lives.
We allow the things we should have pursued to slip through our fingers for any number of reasons–valid reasons, made-up excuses, and flat-out refusal to do what we know we should.
Sometimes those failures–real or perceived–fade into the background of our lives, never thought of again. They become distant memories in the past pages of our stories.
But sometimes they stick around, yelling our names and refusing to let us be. They tell us we messed up, we blew it, we don’t deserve another chance. Their voices are powerful and feed us lies that can send us swirling into dark places of depression and hopelessness.
And even when you’ve emerged from the suffocating quicksand that those lies suck you into, and are ready to face similar challenges again, those voices can begin to whisper anew.



They threaten to pull you under, cripple your resolve, and bind your newfound freedom. They attempt to cut you off from the truth you know about yourself and your Father. They throw every curveball they can muster.
This time around though? You know what those whispers really are.
LIES.
Those voices that say you will fail again, you will miss the boat–“train go sorry,”* you will not succeed.
You know they LIE.
They are not TRUTH.
And so you call them out of the dark and shed light on them.

~*~

In two weeks, I get on a plane for the first time in my life. I’m all kinds of nervous and anxious about the whole process. Packing. Navigating one of the nation’s busiest airports. Flying alone. Visiting a new state. Meeting a bunch of people I’ve built community with these last seven months IN REAL LIFE. And a host of other aspects I can’t even address here.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m also ecstatic about this trip–the women I’ll be spending the weekend with have become my heart-sisters. I can’t wait to hug them, to look them in the eye, to worship the One who brought us together in a way that only He could.
Yet, the lie that’s yelling at me extra loud is the one that says I never made it to Gallaudet three years ago and I won’t make it to Texas either. The lie that tells me I’ll let fear overtake me again. The lie that tells me my dream is dead.
It’s the lie that heightens my anxiety, tries to force me into depression, and steals my joy. It’s the lie that tries to bind me to my past mistakes.

It’s the lie that has to be brought into the light.
So that’s what I’m doing. I’m giving those fears a name and calling them lies.
I’m bringing them out of hiding, where they can do nothing but cower in the light of truth.
Here’s the truth: I didn’t make it to Gallaudet three years ago. But that doesn’t make me a failure. My dreams are not dead. They might be different now, but they are not dead. 
My Father gave me a word at the beginning of the year: UNBOUND. In the Hebrew, “stretched from human strength to divine strength.”
There have been many times already this year that I’ve wanted to throw that word back at Him. Because, in addition to growing more flexible in pleasant ways, I am also being stretched in ways I never wanted to be stretched. Ways that hurt. A lot.

The truth is, though, that He is faithful. He is faithful to provide exactly what we need at the moment we need it. He has not given me “a spirit of fear,” but a sound mind–a mind that must remain focused on His redemptive truth rather than the lies that seek to destroy my pursuit of Him.

 

He’s a good Father.
~*~

*train-go-sorry is an American Sign Language idiom which translates as the English equvilant of “you missed the boat.”

Unbound.

I wanted a pretty word—like grace or bravery or joy. A word that didn’t need a lot of explanation, a word that would roll off the tongue effortlessly.

As 2015 wound down, I found myself considering a word that I would carry with me throughout 2016, a word to filter life through in the coming year. This is the first time I’ve been proactive and intentional about choosing a word. Usually, I latch onto a word a few weeks or months into the year—or see my word strung along as a theme at the end of the year.
I wanted a pretty word—like grace or bravery or joy. A word that didn’t need a lot of explanation, a word that would roll off the tongue effortlessly.
We don’t always get what we want, though. None of the pretty words would stick. So, I waited.
Two weeks ago, as I was driving home, I was pondering words again, but couldn’t settle on any particular one. Finally, I half-prayed that God would reveal the word I needed. Within minutes, a word dropped into my heart: “unbound.”

photo (1)
Unbound?
You mean “free”? It means the same thing, just a little prettier—a little more palatable on the tongue.
No?
Unbound.
Okay.
Why? Why “unbound”?
I didn’t get an answer immediately. A few days later though, an image of Lazarus standing outside his tomb, having been called back from death by Jesus himself, ragged strips of cloth unraveled from his body. And just days after this, a blogger I follow spoke these words to me: “I can imagine you tossing off the ropes that bind and taking flight.”

Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.” (John 11:38-44)

Unbound.
Alive again.
Free.
Called back from death and darkness.
Just a few days after this word—unbound—fell into my heart, I read a section titled “It Was For Freedom” in Think Differently, Lead Differently by Bob Hamp. In this section, Hamp relates the truth that freedom comes when the Spirit of the Lord is present and the reality that, often, we become prisoners to thinking that freedom comes from the absence of a behavior or thought pattern:

The Bible is very clear that freedom is not the absence of something; it is the presence of Someone…Where the Spirit of the Lord is…there is freedom. Freedom is not about the control of impulse and behavior; it is about the fulfillment of identity and destiny. Your identity and destiny cannot be restored apart from the presence of God on Earth. Freedom is about being restored to live life as the man or woman God created and redeemed you to be…it is about unleashing the good things for which you were made. (p.40)

Having been bound in the prison of depression, anxiety, disbelief, etc since April 2013, every expression of this freedom—the living, breathing, Spirit of the Lord—was stifled. Bound.
My words were bound.
My mind was bound.
My faith was bound.
My relationships were bound.
My hands, and the language within them, were bound.
My calling was bound.
I was bound,
tethered to the lies, tied to the weight that was drowning me.
Since September, God’s been hard at work on me—drawing me out of that darkness, freeing my mind, heart, and soul.
He has unbound my words from silence.
He has unbound my mind from fear, depression, and anxiety.
He has unbound my faith from lack of trust and inability to view Him as a Father.
He has unbound the relationships I isolated myself from.
He has unbound my hands and the voice within them from the chains of missed opportunity.
He has unbound my calling from perceived death.
I am unbound because He is “unleashing the good things for which [I was made],” and I am becoming who He created and redeemed me to be.

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Playlist
No Longer Slaves, Bethel Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8TkUMJtK5k

~*~

I’m linking up with Kelly Smith over at Mrs. Disciple for the first #FridayFive of 2016. Join us for some encouragement to start the new year?

Immanuel, God With Us (Even in the Mess)

The clock ticks down the minutes. Christmas will be here in less than sixty seconds.
I’m sitting at my mom’s kitchen table, talking myself down from the swirl of trying to get everything “just right.” Perfect.
And then I wandered to my blog and the last post I wrote slapped me in the face. The Poison of Perfection.
So, the stockings are not hanging from the mantle, but lost in a box somewhere.
So, the Christmas dishes that I set out every for the breakfast I make every Christmas cannot be found.
So, the presents aren’t all wrapped yet.
It’s okay.
Want to know why?
Christmas is about the mess.
Brené Brown talks about the “magic in the middle” in her book Rising Strong—the magic that happens in the messy, imperfect middle of whatever situation we’re in. She says, “The middle is messy, but it’s also where the magic happens” (12). Slowing down and acknowledging that we’re in the middle where the magic happens in crucial. Otherwise, we will run ourselves ragged trying to live up to our expectations of the perfect holiday environment.
The very essence of Christmas is wrapped up in the mess of a stable, the mess of an unexpected trip to a far-away city, the mess of an engagement-turned-journey-of-inexplicable-faith, the mess of a divine conception, the mess of human depravity that required the Savior to dwell among us as a lowly babe. When you really pause to consider the Nativity of Jesus, it’s an all-around mess by human standards.
Have you ever really pondered how brave Mary had to be to say “yes” when the angel of the Lord appeared before her with the news that she had been chosen to carry the Son of God? She could have said no. But she didn’t. And we know she was afraid:

“The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’
Mary was greatly troubled at his words…” (Luke 1:28-29)

Yet, even through her fear, her uncertainty that she was worthy of such a calling, she chose to step into it—regardless of the mess—declaring, “‘I am the Lord’s servant […] May your word to me be fulfilled.’” She accepted the mess, preparing the way for the magic in the middle.
And then there’s Joseph—just an ordinary guy going about his life, preparing to marry Mary and this angel comes along and drops the news that Mary’s going to be the mother of Jesus, the Messiah. There’s a mess all right. We know Joseph was reluctant to take on this situation:

“Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose [Mary] to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Luke 1:19).

Yet, after the angel appeared in his dreams, he “did what the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Luke 1:24).
Eventually, Mary and Joseph found themselves in the middle of a literal mess—a dirty stable in the midst of Bethlehem, with a baby well on His way into the world. But it had to be so, as a way for Jesus to fulfill the prophecy of His position as the Messiah. Bob Hamp puts it like this in his book Think Differently, Lead Differently:

Ever since the first Christ-mas, God has dwelt on Earth with men. For a season, He did so in the physical body of Jesus. Then when Jesus ascended, He sent the Holy Spirit to operate as the designated representative of the Godhead on Earth. This restoration of God’s presence with us is one of the most significant parts of Jesus’ mission, because every other part of the restoration process flows out of His presence among His people. (38)

Immanuel. God with us.
He is here.
Here when the stockings are all hung with care.
Here when they’re not.
Here when the dishes are coordinated and Christmasy.
Here when they’re not.
Here when we’re in the Christmas spirit.
Here when we’re not.
Here when all the packages are prettily tied up with string.
Here when they’re not.

He’s always here.
With us in the middle.
With us in the mess.
With us in the magic.

 

The Poison of Perfection

Attention to details. 
Exquisite presentation.
Every little thing—plans, dreams, goals, emotions—in its cookie-cutter place.
Flawless execution.
No room for mistakes, tripping up, falling down.

 
Doesn’t sound so bad on the surface, does it?
The result could only be a job well done, right?
None of these things are bad in and of themselves.
Until we bundle them all together,
tie ourselves to the load
like a prisoner to a ball and chain
and call it
perfectionism.

  

 
My goodness—what a dirty word it is.

 
It sounds pretty.
It even looks pretty.

 
The very formation of it—all those curves and soft edges—make it flow right there on the page.

 
(You’re humming that John Legend song, now—aren’t you? Admit it. I won’t tell.)

 
Perfectionism.
We buy into it.
I bought into it.
We think we have to live up to it.
I thought I had to live up to it.

 
Perfectionism.
It lies to us, friends.
Perfectionism seductively whispers that we have to achieve it in order to be accepted or to be successful.
Perfectionism sneaks into our psyche, often early on in our lives, conditioning us to just try harder to be perfect, unfailingly good at everything.
Perfectionism chokes our ability to admit our helplessness.
Perfectionism paralyzes us with the fear that we can never measure up.

~*~

He sat across the table from me, composition book open before him, pencil in hand.
I spoke softly to him.
“All you have to do is try. It doesn’t have to be right; it doesn’t have to be perfect.
All I want you to do is try.”
His tears fell faster, sobs caught in his chest.
“You can do this. I know you can. I believe in you.”
~*~

Perfectionism is poison.
It makes us believe we can’t succeed before we even try.

I’m a recovering perfectionist who knows this all too well. It’s been an underlying current in my worldview since pre-adolescence years.

I know how difficult it is to live under this largely self-inflicted mandate to be the best at it all, to mask the less-than-pretty emotions, and to strive for impossible standards.

And when I see my students—at the very young, impressionable ages of 5, 6, 7—falling prey to the same mindset, my heart breaks.

It breaks when the simplest task releases a torrent of tears because the student can’t bear the thought of not getting it right.

He doesn’t know what I know, now—that the process of getting it wrong—is exactly how he will learn to get it right; getting it wrong will unlock the freedom to fall and get back up again. Getting it wrong will allow him to learn how strong, how smart, how resilient he is.

  

I sit across that table from him, silently praying for those lies to fall away, willing him to just try. Because I know he will succeed; he won’t get those words spelled correctly every time, but he will succeed. He will succeed because all he has to do is try his best.

~*~
Quietly waiting for him to calm down,
that still small voice whispers to my own heart:
You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to have all the answers.
You just have to try.
Listen to what I’m saying to you—and just try.
Don’t fight so hard,
just rest in knowing that I want the best for you.
~*~

Our Heavenly Father doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He knows we can’t be. He came to the cross to be our Perfection through salvation. Any other attempt at achieving perfection is futile. We will chase our proverbial tails until we’re exhausted by pursuing perfection. It’s not worth it. I’d rather be imperfect and free to be who God created me to be than to spend all my energy stuffing that person into a package that appears perfect.

Friends, as we are running headlong into a season of trying to measure up, check all the boxes, prepare all the decorations, gifts, and parties, don’t give in to the lie of perfection. We aren’t perfect. Not one of us. We can’t be; we’re human. We can do our very best to make the most of the season. But what really matters is that we listen for His voice, follow His leading, and lay down our perfectionism for His holiness.