A Pearl & The Cross: A Tribute To My Friend Susan

God knows I don’t understand His plan sometimes. But he does have one—one that doesn’t hinge on our earthly desires, but on His eternal righteousness. I’ve found this to be especially true in the face of watching my dear friend Susan leave this world earlier than we’d ever wanted or imagined. Last spring, Susan left this world and entered the presence of her Savior.

We probably all know of at least one person who loves others so fiercely that it oozes from their very pores. The kind of person who makes everyone feel warm and welcomed, loved and cherished, safe and appreciated. Susan was just such a person. Her soul mirrored the love of Christ, and poured out of her. His grace and mercy was evident even as she faced the end of her battle with pancreatic-turned-lung cancer. She fought more than a good fight—she fought a courageous, inspirational fight. Just two weekends ago, her family and friends gathered to celebrate her life at the memorial service she planned before leaving us. And it was such a sweet and precious gift to know that she had selected her favorite hymns and scriptures to comfort us—because that was exactly the kind of person she was—always looking to be a light to someone else in any way she could.

I met Susan when I was a sophomore in college. My friend Elizabeth, who was a senior preparing to student teach, had been Susan’s kids’ nanny for several years, but needed to focus on her workload as she neared graduation. She suggested to Susan that I might be interested—and I was. So in August 2006, I tagged along with Elizabeth for a day of meeting and caring for Susan’s two kids. I immediately felt welcomed in Susan’s home. I immediately fell in love with her six year old daughter and her seven year old son.

Through my years of nanny-ing for the family, Susan was a constant source of encouragement as I struggled to commit to a major, decide whether to stay at NGU, and whether to pursue teaching. Burned into my memory is particular conversation we had one evening when she and her husband returned from a date night. I was sitting at the breakfast bar in her kitchen, packing up my laptop. We were chatting about the possibility of me transferring schools to pursue a Deaf Ed/Special Ed degree.  Her daughter had recently begun attending a private school dedicated to providing an inclusive environment for students with autism. Susan relentlessly told me how she could picture me working as an ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapist with the school’s affiliate therapy program. Before I left that night, she gave me the number of the program’s director, saying, “Call him—you’d be perfect for this kind of work.”

I left that number stuck in my planner for two years; I never called the number, but I kept it. A few weeks after I graduated from college (with an English degree), I mailed a job application to the company and told Susan to pray. Two weeks later I had an interview. The rest, as they say, is history. I’m well into my sixth year at Project Hope Foundation—now as an Assistant Teacher in a classroom at the Academy. Susan was right—I absolutely love working with these kids. I have learned and grown so much in working as both an ABA therapist and a inclusion teacher—and I have Susan’s persistent encouragement to thank for that.

Just a few weeks before she left us, I had the privilege of sitting with Susan one Sunday while her husband took a break and tried to get some rest. An image from that day is forever burned into my memory. Most of the morning, Susan slept off and on in her recliner in the living room. At one point she awoke and mumbled something to me…but the only words I caught were “His eyes are on the sparrow.” Later, she rose and shuffled to the stairs. I met her at the bottom step and told her I was going to help her. She looked at me and started to argue; I firmly, yet gently told her I was going to help her. She looked at me with the most clarity I’d seen in her eyes that day and said, “Yes. I’m sorry, I forget.” As we started up the stairs, my arm tucked around hers, our fingers intertwined, I glanced down at our hands—hers frail and fragile, mine young and strong—and saw the rings I wear on my left hand juxtaposed against her fingers:

photo (2)

A cross and a pearl.

Two symbols that perfectly fit the life Susan led. She was a faithful follower of Christ, living out the freedom she found at the foot of the Cross, pouring the light of Christ on everyone around her. And she was a pearl of great price—a beautiful treasure that God created in His image, a gem that taught us more about grace and peace than many people can in the midst of great battle.

She’s not here with us on this earth anymore, but she is waiting for us at the throne of God. I can imagine her sitting at the feet of Jesus, soaking in His glory. And, in those moments, Heaven doesn’t seem all that far away.

At the Edge of…Something

I need to acknowledge something that God has been speaking to me, to get it out of my own head, to say it “out loud.”

A few days ago, I had a beautiful  conversation with my friend Anna about hearing God speak and really knowing it’s Him. I walked away from that conversation with the realization that I’ve been hearing Him more than I thought I had, that He never left me in the midst of the wilderness I’d been wandering in, that He is calling me to step up my game in a thousand ways.

The last 6 weeks have been an absolute whirlwind. My heart and my mind have CHANGED. I have jumped on countless opportunities I NEVER would have considered before.

Here’s the thing: I’m a writer. People have been telling me this for years. I love to write. I love words. I love communicating with words. And I’m finally believing that maybe my words are for a larger audience. Several different, unrelated people have asked me about whether I’ve considered pursuing publication, without external prompting.

In recent weeks, I’ve been impressed with the declaration that I have a story–no matter how small. I have a story that is worth telling, a story that someone needs to hear. So, a few weeks ago, I wrote a “Story Manifesto”  here on my blog.

Sunday night, as I invited the Holy Spirit to speak to me, I heard Him say loud and clear in my heart, “The story manifesto was my words, not yours. I spoke that…you are My vessel; I want to fill you.”

Y’all I am wrecked by this.

God has dropped a project idea in my heart that I can’t shake. A project (book? website?! blog community??) that allows women who don’t think their story is “big enough” or “significant enough” to make an impact to TELL. THEIR. STORIES of how they exercise bravery in their ordinary, every day lives. And how it’s okay that their bravery doesn’t look like someone else’s.

I have NO IDEA how to proceed with this, how to seriously pursue this, but it seems like the next step.

The enemy keeps trying to tell me I have no business exploring this realm of writing/ministry/building a platform/etc. But this idea has burrowed its way down into my heart. It’s simmered for weeks, and gets a little clearer every day.

Jesus is up to something. I don’t know what yet, but I’m willing to move as He moves and go along for the ride.

(But I still can’t believe I’m about to post this.)

Splendid & Lovely

These last few weeks, I’ve been processing a lot of experiences and feelings that I’d spent 28 months suppressing, numbing, and burying. I’ve spent a lot of time getting still, listening to the quiet voice of my heavenly Father, reading Brené Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability research (if you aren’t familiar with her work—I implore you to look it up), and writing, writing, writing. I’ve also acted on some leaps of faith that definitely fall into the category of “daring greatly” over the course of the last week. All of this is accompanied by a not-quite-comfortable sensation that I’m coming out of the shell I’ve been hiding in—it’s a momentum of bravery that I don’t want to lose.

On Twitter yesterday, I alluded to the fiery red of my latest hair color being a reflection of “my inner feisty-ness” while chatting with Anna. Her reply was quick: “’inner’. Whatever. It’s leaking out ALL OVER these days.” And well, I guess that’s true.

My sister became fascinated with personality tests/types a couple years ago, gently encouraging practically forcing everyone in our family to take the Meyers-Briggs evaluation and learn our personality types. Mine was INFJ the first time I took it, but last year I did it again and got ISFJ—which I think is more accurate. Or was. See—since I actually committed to and became more involved in #the4500 last month, I’ve begun to question the degree of my introversion. It seems that all the mental and emotional shifts I’ve experienced since then have unlocked who I might really be underneath all the junk I’ve been hauling around. Am I a full-on extrovert? Absolutely not. But I might be more of an extroverted introvert than I ever would have identified myself as. (I REALLY want to take the Meyers-Briggs inventory again, but Jess tells me I should wait a few weeks to let this “new” personality settle in.)
I’m tempted to list all the ways I’ve seen this elevated extroversion manifest itself, but you’d grow weary of that list. For now, the focus will be on the biggest one thus far: SPLENDID 2016.
So, what exactly is SPLENDID 2016? Splendid is the name of a retreat ministry formed by #the4500’s FB group founder, Tracy. Tracy answers the question of SPLENDID’s definition simply, “God has each one of us on an amazing splendid journey. With each step our stories become intertwined with each other and God’s face can be seen in the walk.” Her vision is for women to come together to “seek simplicity, listen for calm & study the names of God…focus on things such as mothering, friendship, and self-care…to see Jesus as never before.”

The first SPLENDID retreat debuts next weekend in Wisconsin. A few dozen of #the4500’s braver souls—those who were unafraid to make the commitment to attend when the group was still in its very beginning stages, will converge on a beautiful retreat center to spend a sweet time of renewal together. (Allow me to pause here and say that I never entertained the notion of being at SPLENDID 2015. No consideration at all. It was totally #offthebeam. But today, as my Twitter feed has begun to buzz with #thesplendidretreat countdowns, I’m feeling tinges of FOMO [fear of missing out]. But at the same time, I’m happy for those who will be there.) My heart is filled with the prayer that those who will be in attendance experience an extraordinary freedom with one another next weekend, that Tracy be led by the Holy Spirit in ministering to those women, and that her vision be expanded and multiplied in the future.
About two weeks ago, Tracy announced that there would be a second SPLENDID in the spring of next year…in Texas.

A few facts here:

  •  I’ve traveled to several southern states around SC; I’ve been on a literary-minded trek to several New England states. The farthest west I’ve been is Indiana. I have NEVER wanted to go to Texas. Of all the states I’ve had any inkling of interest in, Texas has always been very near the bottom of the list.
  •  I have NEVER flown. Nope, never. It’s one of those things Ticcoa just does not do.
  •  I have NEVER traveled alone.

Many of the women in #the4500 live in Texas– several of whom I have developed friendships with within the group.

The night before Tracy posted the announcement of the new retreat, I’d drifted off to sleep thinking, “Maybe I’ll go to Texas some day and meet these girls.” No lie—the next morning, I woke up to a photo Tracy had posted proclaiming: “Splendid: Texas Spring 2016.”
Um. I’m sorry. WHAT?
It immediately stirred something in my heart. I was already being pulled toward it and there were no details. Me—the queen of routine, schedule, and having a plan!
Last week, the dates and location were announced. Details posted. Registration opened.
I signed up. I put down a deposit. I started looking at flights. I made a commitment.
I’m going to Texas next Spring. Flying. By myself. To meet up with these women who inspire and encourage me on a daily basis.
And I. Am. So. Excited. About. It.
Will it be awkward? Perhaps at first.
Scary? Maybe a little.
But I can’t imagine a safer place to be either of those things.
Because it will definitely be
SPLENDID
and
LOVELY.

TX bluebonnets

~~~~~~~~~~~
“The Lord appeared to us in the past saying…
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”
Jeremiah 31:3
~~~~~~~~~~~
Playlist:
“Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” Hillsong UNITED
“Chasing You” Jenn Johnson & Bethel Music

Fighting for Surrender

After three weeks of writing nearly every morning and evening, I haven’t written in three days.

I don’t feel like writing this morning.

But I need to.

Because the enemy is attacking me hard.

And it’s no coincidence that this attack comes on the heels of my making some major commitments to things far beyond my comfort zone.

Jesus is calling me out to expand my perspective, my borders, my vision.

And I’m actively pursuing those things.

And Satan can’t stand it. He’s counter-punching my faith and trust and hope with fear, anxiety, and uncertainty—in the place where it gets to me the most: car trouble. I don’t know why, but that is an area that sends me straight into panic mode.

As much as it scares me to make such declarations, I am determined that these setbacks will not send me back into a state of mental, emotional, and spiritual shut-down. I am fighting to keep my heart and mind surrendered to the One who calls me “beloved.” (Fighting for surrender—that’s such an oxymoron—but it’s so true right now.)

I will not bury my head in the sand again.

Jesus has plans for me that I can only see a glimpse of from where I stand, things I would have never imagined even a few months ago.

So, for the moment, I’m taking deep breaths, praising His name, and trusting that He’s already got this situation taken care of.

And I’m also breathing a prayer of gratitude for my #the4500 sisters who were ready at the call to give encouragement and truth-filled words last night when I was mired deep in the cycle of “what if….” and also my dear friend and co-teacher, Christine, who also poured the truth over me last night. It’s so good to have a tribe who shows up to lift us up when we are weary and worn.

Balance

Balance.

Such a loaded word for only two syllables worth of vocal real estate.

We all want it. We all strive for it. We all wish we were better at it.

And we all beat ourselves up over the fact that, no matter how hard we try, we just can’t attain it.There’s always something that gets left undone, forgotten, or given less than our best efforts.

In  For the Love,  Jen Hatmaker speaks to the theory that our society is hinged on comparison culture:

“we have up-close access to women who excel in each individual sphere. With social media and its carefully selected messaging, we see career women killing it, craft moms slaying it, chef moms nailing it, Christian leaders working it […] Then we combine the best of everything we see, every woman we admire in every genre, and conclude: I should be all of that.”

That is so absurd. Yet, we’re ALL guilty of it.

We waste SO much energy trying to be good at everything, when we aren’t necessarily called to be.We live in a constant state of judging ourselves against the polished lives of those around us.We fill our plates with far more activities, responsibilities, and “shoulds” than we can realistically balance.

Jen H. likens this phenomenon to a balance beam. Of the impulse to weigh our lives down with as many hobbies, jobs, activities, projects, etc as we possibly can, she says:

 “meanwhile we have beautiful lives begging to be really lived, really enjoyed, really applauded—and it is simpler than we dare hope: we gotta unload that beam […] Decide which parts are draining you dry. What do you dread? What are you including for all the wrong reasons? Which parts are for approval? […] Throw out every should or should not and make ruthless cuts. Go ahead. Your beam is much too crowded.”

And while Jen (we’re [practically] BFF’s and she’s also part of #the4500, so I can call her that) speaks to the mostly physical aspects of a loaded beam, I wager that it can apply to our mental well-being just as much.

Because our minds get just as mired in the debate of who we are vs. who we “should” be. I know I spend a lot of time listening to the thoughts that constantly play in my mind. (Maybe it’s an introvert thing, but I’m always talking down the “gremlins” that Brenè Brown refers to in Daring Greatly.) In Brown’s research she uses the term “gremlin” as a synonym for “shame tapes.” She found that:

“shame derives its power from being unspeakable […] it loves perfectionists [hello, introvert!]—it’s so easy to keep us quiet […] Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to light was deadly for [Spielberg’s] gremlins, language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.”

I have struggled with this for decades. I don’t remember having a mind clear of the shame tapes rolling. All the fears, anxiety, approval-seeking thoughts that have occupied my brain for so long are exhausting. And YOU cannot balance them. There is no balance when it comes to these thoughts. They become too powerful, drowning out the positive attributes we have, the messages of hope, and courage and “you are enough” that we all need to hear ourselves say to our actual selves.

And over the last two years, they roared in my ears, every minute of every day.

“You’ve made a huge mistake.”

“You weren’t brave enough.”

“You’re invisible; no one sees you.”

“What if…?”

“You don’t have what it takes to make a difference.”

“Wasted—that’s all that opportunity was.”

“You missed your chance. You blew it.”

Those words in your head every day for two years will drive you insane. You can hide it well behind the mask of “I’ve got it together,” you can numb it, you can push it down deep and build a wall around it—but it will not go away.

I’d settled into this way of living. Ignoring all the feelings, the emotions, the reality of my pain and became a shell of myself. Presenting my happy self to the world around me, but inside I was miserable.

I could not see my way out.

I’m so thrilled to say it’s not like that today.

Over the past month, a series of events, connections, and words have been set into motion that have broken through that wall that held all those thoughts captive. My heart is free again. The Light has come and destroyed those thoughts, leaving them shriveled and whimpering.

As I was pondering the change in my mind and heart over this time, I realized that I had forgotten a key point.

In early September, I attended a gathering of my church and our sister church in Indiana. On the last evening of services, the pastors called for prayer for healing.

I’ll be honest—I was in a funk that night. I was 900 miles from home, I’d spent nearly three straight days in a car with an extrovert; I wanted quiet, I wanted to be by myself. And the “gremlins” were roaring in my head. But I stood up; I tried to pray, but all I could say was, “Jesus.”

After a few minutes, someone approached and prayed over me—for balance: “Jesus, bring balance to the mind, body, and spirit. Bring them into alignment with you.”

The person who prayed those words was a stranger. Someone who had no idea of the struggle I was facing. But God knew and He has made sure I know that He knows in a hundred ways over the past three weeks. And He has brought balance.  I FEEL ALIVE again. Fear and anxiety aren’t ruling me anymore. There’s so much joy in my heart, I feel like I could jump out of my skin.

By the grace of God, I have regained my balance after years of teetering on the edge.

Those “gremlins” we carry around? OFF THE BEAM

Those things we fill our lives with to keep up with all the “perfect people”? OFF THE BEAM

It has to stop.

It has to stop because it isn’t the way God created us to live.

We aren’t called to live under that kind of pressure.

But if we’re so caught up in trying to attain goals that aren’t meant for us to attain or listening to the gremlins that drown out our thoughts, we waste the beautiful, extraordinarily ordinary lives we were given.

 

I Had A Dream (and jumped out of my comfort zone)

I posted last weekend about #the4500. This group alone is a miracle that gives testament to the power of God’s love; of prayer; and of “simple, yet complicated” walks of faith coming together for the purpose of building one another up. Because, really—where else on the internet, or in the world for that matter, can you find 1300 women from all over the globe and all sorts of backgrounds who get along with one another, #forthelove? (I’m not naïve enough that I don’t think negativity slips in sometimes—but our attentive and gentle admins (Tracy and Anna) keep it from spreading very far.) In my post, I mentioned a dream about #the4500 and the series of connections it set off, promising to come back to it. So, here’s that story:

Until two weeks ago, I had posted in the group occasionally, but not really connected with anyone on a more personal level. One of the admins had requested to be friends on Facebook back in April, along with a couple of people from SC who are also in the group. I’d watched photos of meet-ups come across the pages of the group, and almost had my own meet-up at the Beth Moore conference in July (it didn’t happen—partially because there were so many people in the venue you could hardly move, and partially because I just chickened out). And when Tracy unveiled her new ministry of weekend retreats to bring the group together in real life (IRL), I never even let myself entertain the thought of attending. (For the record, I’m now kind of wishing I were going to the first one that’s happening in WI in three weeks.) I was perfectly happy on the fringes.

But then I started reading Daring Greatly. And started thinking about living a more authentic life, showing up, and re-engaging. And about that time, I had a dream that I attended a conference of #the4500. In the dream, I met Anna (who encouraged everyone to read Daring Greatly in the group) and we talked about things close at heart. As we were talking, someone unintentionally interrupted us, but Anna gently guided the conversation back to what was on my heart.

I woke up that morning feeling like a weight had rolled off my shoulders. I had a joy I couldn’t explain. I considered posting about the dream in the group, but for a split second I thought, “No, that’s ridiculous. Nobody will care that you dreamed about this.” Ten minutes later, I decided to post it—because it was just a fun little anecdote. We would all laugh about it and be done with it.

So I posted: “I dreamed of #the4500 last night. The whole legion of us was at some conference and I kept running into people I recognized. We had dinners, coffees, chats together. But what really takes the cake—the moment when I was pouring my heart out to Anna and someone walked up and unintentionally interrupted. Without missing a beat, Anna steered the conversation back to what was on my heart in the gentlest way.  I’ve never met her IRL, but I imagine that she’s just as sweet, encouraging, and darling as she was in my dream. Anna—you’re a cheerleader for us even in our dreams! It’s ridiculous, but I woke up light-hearted and joyful because of our ‘dream-chat!’”

Anna was first to comment with “we should talk soon!” Almost immediately, people were posting comments that Anna really is that sweet IRL.  When I saw Anna’s comment, I thought email, FB messenger kind of talking—you know, written correspondence.

Within ten minutes of posting, I had a FB message from Anna, saying “here’s my number, let’s chat!”

I’m an introvert. If you know me, you know this is true (thought I’m beginning to see slightly more extroversion appearing). I DON’T talk on the phone. My sister and mom are lucky if I answer their calls immediately. It’s just not my thing. Small talk is excruciating. I hate it. For real.

And this STRANGER wanted to talk to me. ON THE PHONE. Bless her extroverted heart.

I didn’t even open the message until I got home from work that afternoon. (I didn’t want her to know I’d read it—because then I’d have to do something about it!) But it was in the back of my mind all day. So when I got home, I messaged her back. In total honesty, I told her it wasn’t my thing; I told her I wanted to chat about the book, but I didn’t think I could do it on the phone; I asked if we could text instead; and I gave her my number so I could not chicken out.

Half an hour later, my phone buzzes with a text. Guess who? We chatted for a couple minutes about the book, then she asked where I live. I told her and she replied with the statement that made me believe Jesus had his hands all over this: “My boss just told me today that I’m coming to [town in the next state]! I smell a meet-up.”

WAIT. WHAT??? The very day I wake up from a dream about meeting her, her boss tells her he’s flying her from five states away to company headquarters which JUST HAPPEN to be TWO HOURS FROM ME???

That’s not a coincidence y’all. That is God at work. If nothing else, Anna and I agree that He’s up to something BIG here.

There’s no way I’d miss this meet-up. No way.

But there’s more. All of the above happened two weeks ago (Friday). I got halfway through Daring Greatly over the weekend and needed to talk it out with someone who’d read it. That Tuesday evening, I took a leap and texted Anna to see when she was available to talk. Yes, talk. Not text. Talk. We set a time for later that night.

It was so far out of my comfort zone.  At one point during our conversation she asked if it was weird for me to be talking to her. Um, yes. But we talked for an hour and a half (which neither of us realized until we hung up). And it was such a blessing. She is such a blessing. And I’m so looking forward to meeting her later this month. (Part of me wonders when “the other shoe will drop” and I’ll be scared to death of this meet-up.)

So many other connections and breakthroughs have happened in my own heart as a domino effect of our conversations and what God has been speaking to me through the questions posed both by Anna and by Daring Greatly, as well as other books I’ve been reading and sermons I’ve heard lately. I’ll be writing for weeks about it all.

Moral of the story: Sometimes we get so stuck in the ruts we’ve made—the place where we’re comfortable, the place we’ve made safe. But we aren’t designed for safe. We’re designed to dare greatly, to show up so God can show out.  If we aren’t willing to move, He can’t work as freely. But when we show up and engage with the world around us, He has a way of blowing our preconceived ideas straight out of the water.

Story: A manifesto

I have a story.

My story is not too small.

My story doesn’t have to be earth-shatteringly big to be meaningful.

I am NOT the author of my story.

I am BOTH the protagonist and the antagonist OF MY OWN STORY.

I am the only person with the power to tell my story.

God is bigger than my story–ALWAYS.

HE is the author of my story.

My story matters because HIS story of mercy, and Grace, and redemption matters.

I am but a part of HIS story.

Together, WE are parts of HIS story.

The scenes of my story that intertwine with your story are what broaden the reach of HIS story.

My story is worth telling–not because I wrote it, but because HE has REDEEMED it.

My story is not too small.

I have a story.

—-

YOU have a story.

Your story is not too small.

Your story is not too big.

You are NOT the author of your story.

You are both the protagonist and the antagonist OF YOUR OWN STORY.

You are the only person with the power to tell your story.

God is bigger than your story–ALWAYS.

HE is the author of your story.

Your story matters because HIS STORY of mercy, and Grace, and redemption matters.

YOU are part of HIS STORY.

Together, WE are parts of HIS story.

The scenes of your story that intertwine with my story are what broaden the reach of HIS story.

YOUR story is worth telling–not because you wrote it, but because HE has REDEEMED IT.

Your story is not too small.

Your story is not too big.

You have a story.
Let’s tell our stories.

                                     ~*~

“You have stories worth telling, memories worth remembering, dreams worth working toward, a body worth feeding, a soul worth tending, and beyond that, the God of the universe dwells within you, the culmination of super and natural. You are more than dust an bones. You are spirit and image of God.”-Shauna Niequist, Savor

I stumbled upon this quote Saturday afternoon in Barnes and Noble. As I picked up Savor, the pages fell open to this very quote. It was all the confirmation I needed. See, the night before, as I was writing a blog post, I was overtaken by the lies of the enemy that I have no story worth telling. So I texted a friend to talk out those voices. She replied that Satan would love nothing more than  for me to shut down my computer and keep my story locked away, out of the reach of those it is meant to be heard by. So I kept writing. But I didn’t publish the post I’d been writing. I sat on it. Until I read the quote above.

Then, last night, as I sat at my deak, mulling over the connections and blessings the last week have brought forth, the words that became my Story Manifesto poured forth. I have a story. You have a story. Let’s not be afraid to tell our stories.

Daring Greatly: Exploring Scarcity Culture and Vulnerability in Children’s Literature

One of the many things I love about #the4500 is the abundance of book recommendations I’ve picked up over the last six months. I’ve read more books this year than I have in a long time—and have an ever-growing list of titles that is waiting in the wings.

After For the Love, there is one book that stood out to me as it kept being mentioned from the very beginnings of the group’s formation: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown. Anna (tweeter-extraordinaire who coined #the4500) proudly “pushes it like crack” to everyone who will listen—and now I understand why. I haven’t quite finished it yet, but already, its foundational truths of how we have to show up and engage with every part of our lives—not just the pretty parts—are already embedded in my thoughts.

I won’t lie—it’s not an easy book to read; if you really dig in and get real with yourself, there’s a lot of soul-searching questions and statements to delve into. For the first three chapters (and the introduction), I felt like I was being sucker-punched in the face with everything I was doing wrong in regard to showing up and living authentically. Granted, I already knew I wasn’t doing so before I even started the book but it cut a lot deeper to give my behaviors a name.

Last week, I chatted briefly (sort of) with Anna about what I’d read so far, but up to that point, I’d kept most of my thoughts in my head—true introvert style. And other than how I applied Brown’s theories and research to my own actions, I hadn’t made any other connections with the outside world (very uncharacteristic for me because once you’ve taken Literary Theory with Dr. Cathy Sepko, you will never again read a text without making as many connections with the outer world as possible).

But the afternoon after Anna and I talked, my co-teacher was reading a book (Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White) to our students. I was sitting in the corner of the room, listening and monitoring the littles. On the first page was the sentence, “When she was a little girl, money had been scarce.” As soon as I heard the word ‘scarce,’ I immediately thought of Brown’s belief that a culture of scarcity is the root of our society’s fear of vulnerability. (Let me stop here to say that I didn’t actually realize what I was doing until later in the book when I started thinking of strategies of vulnerability the character [Rebecca Estelle] was employing. I realize it’s ridiculous, yet there I was, applying this theory to children’s literature.)

According to Brown, scarcity “thrives in a culture where everyone is hyperaware of lack.” In the story, Rebecca Estelle is a woman who plants a garden every spring, growing “a little bit of everything—except pumpkins. Rebecca Estelle hated pumpkins!” She hated them because, as a child, money was lacking and her family ate pumpkin in all its possible forms: baked, steamed, stewed, mashed, rotten, boiled, etc. She “decided she would never eat pumpkins again. Or even look at one.” By applying Brown’s theory, one could say that Rebecca Estelle carried the shame of lack (in this case, a lack of money) from her childhood. Because pumpkins were tied closely with that shame, she just avoided them altogether—bringing us to one of Brown’s three main vulnerability shields: numbing.

Rebecca Estelle was faced with her avoidance of engaging with her long-held shame when a pumpkin truck passed by her house one day. She refused to even look at the truck; “she turned her back and concentrated on picking up the last fallen leaf.” In this act, Rebecca Estelle practices the vulnerability shield of numbing, which Brown defines as “the embrace of whatever deadens the pain of discomfort and pain.” And she continues this practice well into the story, because as the truck passed by, a pumpkin fell off and splattered in Rebecca Estelle’s yard. So, with shovel in hand, she responded with avoidance, and buried that pumpkin:

“Well, I won’t touch it.”

“And I won’t look at it.”

“I won’t think about that pumpkin ever again,” she declared.

“I will ignore them and they will die.”

You can probably guess what happened. That pumpkin grew the next fall. And grew. And grew. Into MANY pumpkins. The very thing Rebecca Estelle was trying to avoid? Well, it grew until she couldn’t avoid it any longer. It overwhelmed her.

Since this is a children’s book, the plot moves quickly from this point. Rebecca Estelle becomes determined to get rid of the pumpkins, but in doing so, she begins to open herself to vulnerability: “She thought and she thought. Her mind went back to all the pumpkins she had eaten as a young girl, when pumpkins were the only food her family had… ‘Some people might need these pumpkins…We’ll give them away.’” So she starts baking—pies, muffins, tarts, cakes, bread, pudding, cookies—pumpkin everything. She carved jack-o-lanterns to draw the attention of the townspeople. She begins to re-engage with that part of her life. She began “to exhibit the courage to show up and let [her]self be seen.”

Once Rebecca Estelle lowered the shield that protected her from her shame and showed up for her own life, the door opened, allowing the townspeople in—and in they came, “young and old, everyone in town came.” And Rebecca Estelle was able to give out of her abundance, because “there [was] plenty.” She began to dare greatly by “engaging with [her] vulnerability.

Aren’t we just like Rebecca Estelle? Affected by experiences long after they’re worthy of our attention? Caught up in avoiding the not-so-pleasant emotions we face? Fearing what will happen if we just let them go? What would happen if we could truly embrace vulnerability and show up for our own lives? Maybe it would make us more authentic not only with ourselves, but with those around us too.

~

Playlist: You Make Me Brave, Bethel Music & Amanda Cook

 Letting Go, Steffany Gretzinger

#the4500: An Introduction

First things first: just over two years ago I hit a wall. A declaration over and rejection of what I perceived to be my calling/my ambition/my whatever-you-want-to-call-it and a wasted/missed opportunity resulted in my disengagement with almost everything around me. It’s all water under the bridge now, and a long, hard story that doesn’t need to be told here (yet). But the reality that it happened is important in preceding this post.

Before this period, I wrote a lot. I read a lot. After this, I stopped—reading voraciously, stopped blogging, stopped journaling.  My last blog was posted in December of 2013. I haven’t really written since then. Until earlier this year, the emotion was too raw, the rejection too near, the questions too unresolved. But I began to feel the bubble of the unwritten words that filled my heart. The stories I needed to tell, the declaration I needed to put forth. For a writer, the burden of an untold story is heavy. Add an ISFJ personality into the mix, and it’s a nightmare. Too many thoughts in one’s head at once are overwhelming—and writing has always been my processing outlet.

November 2014-March 2015 were hard months for me because I was faced with a dear friend’s second battle with pancreatic cancer. In ways that were far beyond my capacity, I was called to come alongside her and her family during that time. For the first time in those two years, I began to let myself show up and feel life again.

In early March, as I felt the stir to begin recording my story again, I stumbled upon a launch team application for Jen Hatmaker‘s  forthcoming book, For the Love. Initially, I dismissed it, but it kept hanging around the edges of my mind. So, on the day before the application deadline,  I applied. An excuse to write regularly by reviewing the book and putting the word out? Sure, why not?

But I wasn’t the only one jumping in that boat—there were 5,000 people (mostly women and a few brave men). Yes. 5,000. Jen’s team issued an email to the 4500 of us who didn’t make the cut and included four chapters of the book to preview.

So here were the rest of us: the un-chosen, the rejected, and the unpicked. But not for long.

There was this tweet:

Then a hashtag robbery that turned into a Facebook group.
Thus, #the4500 was born.

What began as a “no” from the launch team application became a redemption story in the making, even today. One woman (Anna) created a #hashtag and another woman (Tracy) created a Facebook group for those of us who didn’t make the cut.

I must say, when I stumbled across Anna’s tweet on Twitter, I was amused. When I found the FB group and dared to request to join, I was wary. An online community of strangers? And they were pouring their hearts out to one another—about EVERYTHING under the sun??? They were creating new ministries, writers groups, organizing meet-ups around the country??? Umm, thanks, but no—I’ll just be over here on the fringes, writing a book review or two, tweeting about the book—but that’s it.

And so, I lurked. For months. Posting a comment here and there, but never really committing myself to these strangers. Until last week. I dreamed of a #the4500 conference, of meeting the faces behind the names in the group, of having heartfelt conversations. So I posted about it the group, and it set off a series of connections that blows my mind a week later. It’s a story for its own post, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

This apparent rejection from the launch team in March has morphed into something so rare in today’s comparison culture: a group of 1300 women sharing struggles, celebrating successes, laughing together, praying over one another—without judgment, without comparison, without exclusion. It has been such a blessing.

I’m proud to be a part of this ever-evolving sisterhood.

~*~

 

Autumn’s Arrival

It’s Fall.

Autumn.

A new season. 

Isn’t it interesting when the changing of a season actually coincides with new seasons of our lives?

(And the creation of a new blog because you’re locked out of your previous one. Grr.)

I’m finding myself there today…

anticipating the growth of new friendships

as the leaves go dormant for winter;

celebrating the domino effect of God-breathed events over close-held prayers

as the leaves begin to blaze radiant and descend their lofty perches.

The air is crisp,

with more than a hint of expectancy drifting along for the ride.

And, for a change, I’m attempting to drift with it,

without the usual anxiety, excuses, foreboding, etc.

that comes when newness is on the horizon.

Playlist: Rend Collective, The Artist