Processing, Uncategorized

This Is The Sign For Drowning, part 2

The roar in her ears is muffled now, the sounds of the shore distant and hollow. The water forces her down, her back slamming against the gritty bottom. Eyes clenched shut, the world around her is dark.  Her throat burns; her lungs scream for air.

Above her, the surface plays an elusive game of peekaboo as each new wave dangles the possibility of her mouth and nose breaking the barrier between water and sky.

The barrier between watery grave and sun-kissed life.

Panic wells in her chest. Her mind races.

This cannot be how it ends.

She will not succumb to these monstrous depths.

Forcing her eyes open, she gathers what little strength she has left.

She is determined.

The next wave slams her back into the ocean floor; she skids toward the shore on its current.

The monster doesn’t realize it’s helping her now.
A lull. She twists against the water, willing her feet to touch the bottom.

The next wave crashes and in the second it passes, the current sends her downward, toes brushing the sand.

She springs upward, breaking the surface, arms moving in familiar repetition, stroking the current beneath her.

She is exhausted, but she can see the shore.

With a few more strokes, she’s back in quieter waters.

She reaches with her toes…

…a few more inches.

There.

Lungs gasping at the pure air, she looks out at the horizon. The waves build and break around her.

With aching arms, she lifts her hands. Right hand fingertips to left palm, firm, steady.

This is the sign for standing.

Processing, Uncategorized

This Is The Sign For Drowning

DSC_1313The roar of it fills her ears, drowning out her thoughts. Over and over and over.

Before her, a calmer path opens as the crest languidly rolls toward her, promising reprieve.

A break. Infrequent and welcome.

It glides passed her, unassuming.

Another swells in the distance.

It obscures the horizon line and draws strength from its belly.

The spray stings her eyes, springing from the surface with innocent exuberance. It crashes against her thighs, threatening to knock her down.

She fights to maintain shaky balance against the force of it.

Determined, it returns again and again and again.

The next builds, rising faster and stronger than the last.

Teetering backwards, her feet grasp for solid ground. Her muscles tense, braced for the impact. It’s too strong.

Gritty sand digs into her kneecaps.

The water rushes over her head. The roar is muffled, still filling her ears.

Her eyes burn and her lungs scream for the surface.

Arms and legs flail.

Her fingers find themselves instinctively.

Fingertips to palm, pulling downward, swirling.

This is the sign for drowning.

Day to Day, Own Your Brave, Processing, Uncategorized

Beyond A Sign: Splendid Saturday

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

~*~

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

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

She read the post to me:

 

IMG_2018 (1)

 

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

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

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

Um, yeah. I think so.

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

IMG_1718 (2)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, crap. What does she want?

I walked over to her.

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

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

“Just say: ‘I want to.’” she said.

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

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

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

And I started to sign…with my eyes open. 

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

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

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

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

 

Own Your Brave, Processing

The Darkened Arena: The Burial of a Dream

(continued from “I Could Do That”: The Beginning of A Dream)

During the three-and-a-half years after the ASL program began at NGU, I audited ASL 1, 2, and 3 at my alma mater, building my vocabulary and becoming more comfortable with facial grammar and the structural components of ASL. Through countless conversations with the instructors, I eventually concluded that I wanted to get serious about pursuing a graduate degree in teaching ASL. As you might imagine, that’s not an easy degree to come by. Acceptance of ASL as a valid, stand-alone language is still not widespread. (Don’t even get me started on that soapbox.) There are a handful of related programs across the country, but the ultimate one is Gallaudet University’s M.A.T. in Sign Language.

Gallaudet University (Gally, as it is affectionately known), located in Washington, D.C., is “the world’s only university designed to be barrier-free for deaf and hard-of-hearing students”—thereby making it a truly immersive environment for Deaf culture. It is the Mecca of education in the DEAF-World. And it became my goal to study there.

But I was so scared to act on that goal. Entering into any new culture, learning any new, non-native language is uncomfortable; for my sheltered, introverted heart, it was terrifying. Many conversations with my mentors and former professors took place before I was remotely ready to move forward.

11109_651171316406_1886242799_nFinally, in the spring of 2013, I felt that it was time. I poured over the Gally U graduate school website, requested application materials, and decided to visit the program over the summer. I also enrolled in a 2-week ASL immersion course in order to gauge the pace and atmosphere of classes at Gally, which was to take place in July. I arranged to stay with a family friend in Annapolis and commute into D.C. for classes each day.

In April 2013, as I prepared to begin this journey, I approached my pastor for prayer regarding wisdom, provision, and direction at the end of a church service. He prayed for those things; then when the service ended, he had a brief conversation with me. I was poised to follow what I understood as God’s calling to immersion learning and graduate school at Gallaudet. I was ready, I was willing, I was determined. I had prayed about it, I had researched it, I had applied for it, I had interviewed for it, and I had enrolled.  I was excited about it.

And then one conversation in a seemingly safe place brought it all crashing down. The words came like knives:  “This is not what you’re supposed to do. If you go down this path, you will be hurt. ” My heart was crushed. Shattered. Grieving. I don’t think I even responded to him—if I did, I don’t remember. For hours that afternoon, I drove aimlessly, numb and aching. I finally went home that evening and cried my eyes out—deep, gut-wrenching sobs that made my muscles hurt.  

For a few weeks, I struggled with knowing whether these words were true. Had I heard the Holy Spirit wrong? Were all the events of the last few years a tease? Did I really hold this passion for ASL and the Deaf community for nothing? Those closest to me, the people who had been alongside me as I explored this passion all counseled me that I was supposed to pursue this path. I prayed, and prayed and prayed. But my confidence in my ability to hear what God was speaking to me had been skewed.

Ultimately, I decided that I would follow through with my plans to visit Gallaudet and take the immersion class in July. Two weeks before the trip, I completed a video interview and assessment with the ASL department chair to make sure my skill level was appropriate for the course I’d chosen. (It was.) On the night before I was scheduled to leave for Annapolis, I picked up my rental car.

And I had a panic attack on the way home, though I didn’t have a name for it then. Every possible fear and anxious thought flooded my mind. What if my pastor was right? What if this was the worst decision I would ever make? What if something unimaginable happened to me?

Within two hours of picking up the rental car, I decided I was not going.

The next morning, I returned my rental car. I emailed the friend I was supposed to stay with and said, “I’m not coming.”

And I did not go.

~*~

The arena is darkened, devoid of light. The spectators have left; the show is over for them. In the middle of the arena floor, crumpled into a bruised and broken heap, lays the contender. For her, the battle has only just begun. The opponents were brutal—Fear, Anxiety, Depression, Lies, Regret, Numbness—they have all done their part in taking her down. Now, they’ve retreated to the edges of the arena, lurking in the shadows, taunting their victim with whispers.

“You’ve made a huge mistake.”

“You have nothing to offer.”

“Too many bad things would have happened to you.”

“You’re invisible; no one sees you.”

“No one values your passion.”

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

“Your dreams are worthless.”

“You missed your chance. You blew it.”

“I’m done with you.”

Whimpering silently, the contender closes her eyes, desperately trying to keep the voices out of her head. But they are unwavering, always there. The ache in the pit of her stomach burns, threatening to tear her in half. As the pain grows, spreading through her limbs, from fingertips to toenails, she loses consciousness and slips into the darkness.

~*~

The decision not to go to Gallaudet that summer because I chose to hear the lies over the truth damaged my heart and mind in ways I never imagined it would. I shut down; I became a shell of myself. I lost my joy, my motivation, my belief that Jesus could speak to me. I shut my mentor-friends out because I couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing them. I put the mask of “everything’s okay” on every day and went through the motions of my life, but those closest to me—particularly my mom, my sister, and my best friend and co-teacher, Christine— knew I was struggling. Struggling to stay afloat; struggling to care; struggling to believe in God’s goodness; struggling to believe I was enough in every area—as a daughter, a sister, a friend, a teacher, etc. My self-worth plummeted. I stopped signing except to teach my students a few signs here and there. I laid my dream down and buried it under the premise that it was never supposed to be mine to begin with. If I could have stayed in bed twenty-four hours of every day for the remainder of 2013 and all of 2014, I would have. I was depressed, ashamed, and broken. It was the darkest season I have ever known—and hope to never know again.

In October of 2014, I remember going to bed one night, whispering, “If this is all You’ve got for me, I don’t want to wake up.”  1460279_693242101216_124019780_n

Guess what?

He wasn’t done with me.

In March of 2015, I was rejected from Jen Hatmaker’s launch team and stumbled into a Facebook group of women that was taking it upon themselves to “go rogue” and launch her book anyway…which eventually landed me at The Splendid Retreat in Texas last week…

 

Own Your Brave, Processing, story

“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…