Los Angeles: The Summer of Endless Miles, Day 16

We arrived in L.A. late on Saturday, April 15, 2017.

 

Anna and I had a mostly-unspoken understanding on the book tour: if we needed to get somewhere in a hurry or had to navigate big city traffic, she would drive. If she needed a break for a stretch of road that didn’t involve those scenarios, I was happy to take the wheel. So, the fact that I was in the driver’s seat as we approached L.A. was kind of a big deal for me. Neither of us had realized I’d be tasked with navigating L.A. traffic at night, and when we realized it, it was almost too late to do anything about it.

Anna did ask if I wanted to pull over and switch spots, but we were already in the thick of it and the thought of maneuvering to the shoulder made me more nervous than soldiering on. It was nerve-wracking, for sure, but I count weaving through the throngs of cars on a hundred-lane highway at night as one of my proudest accomplishments of the book tour.

(Those were tough days, y’all. Let me have the little things.)

As I’ve struggled with anxiety over the last four-ish years, a weighted blanket has long been on my wish list. When I experience anxiety, I want nothing more than to burrow in bed under a heavy blanket. It’s an innate need that calms me. And because I was still in such an unsettled emotional state, my anxiety was also heightened. All day, I’d wanted nothing more than to burrow, but that’s hard to do in a moving vehicle.

We arrived at our destination and were met warmly by Anna’s sister Sasha. Anna got out of the car first—this was normal; I took my time exiting and let her get all her squealing out of the way. I took a little longer than usual, and she poked her head back in and asked if I was getting out. I told her I’d be right behind her. She closed the door and followed Sasha into the house, informing her, I’m sure, on my current state. Slowly, I pulled the bags I would need for the night out of the car and went inside.

Sasha hugged me as I entered the house and led me to the room where we’d be staying. The rest of the night is a blur, mostly because I went straight to bed. What I found was that the bed was equipped with a heavy down comforter that cocooned me just as I longed for all day.

 

The next morning, I awoke and was immediately hit by a tidal wave of grief. I also realized that it was Easter Sunday. (Another aspect of timing that I have yet to wrap my head around.) I think this was the first day I really became aware of the gravity of my loss. I cried from the time I woke up that morning to the time I crawled back in bed.

Anna brought me coffee, then breakfast, and offered gentle words of understanding (not comfort, mind you (because what comfort would be adequate), but understanding). We talked about how this was the first time I’d lost someone close to me, and my first experience with grief.

We didn’t have any solid plans that day and she encouraged me to stay in bed, rest, and write (more like insisted). She knew as well as I did that I needed to process some of the things swirling around my head.

I stayed put well into the afternoon until Anna came to check on me and see if I wanted to go out with her that evening. This was our chance to see Hollywood—including the infamous sign, so I said yes. I didn’t bother putting on makeup, but I did throw on earrings. I shoved my sunglasses on my face to hide my swollen, leaking eyes and we set off.

 

We cruised down Sunset Blvd…

…Anna signed books at Barnes and Noble and bought her kids Snapchat Spectacles…

 

 

… we met up with a Adam Hawk, a gamer Anna’s sons were acquainted with. (She definitely got cool mom points for that meet-up). Adam served us yummy tacos and flan while we modeled the spectacles…

 

…and, finally, we found the spot to take pictures of the Hollywood sign just before sunset.

 

While we were standing on the side of the road awaiting our turn to take pictures, I glanced over my shoulder and saw a faint rainbow arched across the valley. The very sight of it was a balm for my languishing soul.

The One Where Jon Acuff’s Tweet Made Me Speak

I came across this Tweet from Jon Acuff last night that made me all sorts of angry.

My desire to engage anyone on Twitter has been lacking most of the year (because it’s been one hell of a year), and I rarely reply to tweets (other than occasional replies to Anna’s or Jen Hatmaker’s tweets), but this one caught me in the gut and I was compelled to use my cyber voice and be heard.

Why did I reply?

Because I am tired, literally exhausted, of trying to be heard and seen in a world that is powered by and caters to extroverts.

Yes, I tell everyone I meet that I’m an introvert.
It’s a boundary-setting practice.
It’s a sanity-saver.
It’s a plea that you understand I need space.

I don’t have the energy to endure endless small talk or hours upon hours of being with people.

Some days I can fake being an extrovert quite well. (I did it for four months straight this year.)

Some days I can’t.

Some days/weeks/months, the reality of a cyclical battle with isolating depression and crushing anxiety shows up to the party.
Add an ugly wrestling match with grief and I have exceeded my ability to cope with all. the. extroversion.

And no—it’s not any one person who has driven me to the edge.

I live with the world’s most extroverted person, no doubt. (Everyone who knows me, knows this.)

But I’m addressing the larger scope of introversion vs. extroversion.

I’m putting my words out into the world because if I don’t, I am not being true to me.

By replying to Acuff’s tweet last night, I gave myself permission to be an introvert. An introvert who is currently struggling with finding ways to feed her introverted soul. An introvert who is fighting to keep using her words when all she really wants to do is curl up in a ball and hide from the world. An introvert who battles hourly against the voices of depression, anxiety, and grief that tell her she’s not worth fighting for.

So yes, I WILL keep saying I’m an introvert.

Dreary Days, Nostalgia, and Pumpkin Muffins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(One Word): 2017

Had I known how the events of last year were going to flip my life upside down, I would have been far more nervous about embracing my #OneWord. I probably would have been very wary of the whole concept.

2016’s word was unbound.

And 2016 undoubtedly was full of un-binding. So much so that I couldn’t even begin to list examples.

Every bit of the growth required from becoming unbound was beneficial, though often painful. Growing pains are real, y’all.

Last year also brought a secondary word with it—brave.

All year long, people told me I was brave, encouraged me to keep being brave. But being brave is hard because it mostly means doing things afraid—with your heart threatening to march out of your chest, your knees knocking, and your stomach turning flips.

Frankly. I got sick and tired of being brave. There’s a page in one of my notebooks where I scrawled in large, frustrated letters “I’m tired of being BRAVE” after someone sent me a text telling me I am brave.


I was DONE with brave by the time December rolled around.
Then my sister gave me a ring for Christmas that was engraved with the words “Be Brave.”

This ring, that phrase from the bravest person I know right now—my sister who is fighting a ridiculously rare cancer and all that it brings with it. Those two words inscribed on a piece of metal that sits wrapped around my left pointer finger on a daily basis have given me permission to continue living unbound—even when it means doing so in Texas rather than South Carolina.

In my Unbound blog last year, I referenced the story of Lazarus being raised from the grave. Can you imagine him awakening to the grave clothes binding him? Did he have to be loosed from them? Did they fall off on their own? I don’t know. But the image that came to mind as I asked God for an explanation of “unbound” was of Lazarus being shed of his grave clothes. Strips of cloth being loosened from his wrists, falling from his head and around his shoulders, piling around his feet.

He was unbound from death.

I was being unbound from fear, anxiety, depression.

That kind of freedom is exhilarating, for sure—but it requires walking in a new way and changing how you’ve thought about the world around you. When you’re stuck in darkness and suddenly there’s a glorious light filling the space you’ve occupied for a significant amount of time—you squint; you allow your eyes to adjust to the brightness.



It seems as though I’ve been squinting an awful lot over the last year—staring at brilliantly lit truths that have been revealed until my eyes have adjusted to the reality—truths that reveal who God is and how He sees me as His daughter.

As the new year approached, I was actively seeking my word for 2017. Within a few days, I thought I’d found it, but I didn’t tell anyone. When I got back to Texas, Anna asked me if I knew what my word was.

“I think so—but I don’t want it. I’m already sick of it.”

What is it?” she asked

“Brave,” I exasperatedly spit out.

Brave.

It fit. I’m going to need some brave this year.

But as the first week of 2017 passed, it didn’t feel like it was quite the right word.
I made lists of words that came to mind. I looked up their meanings, their origins. None of them stuck.

I stopped trying to figure it out. I thought maybe brave was it after all.
Then a few nights ago, I was sitting at the kitchen table and it struck me. Like unbound, I’m not even sure how it came about, but suddenly the word was in my spirit and I knew it was the one. As the word planted itself in my mind, I scrawled it on a notecard and wrote the reference to one of the verses I tucked into my heart at the beginning of last year—Romans 7:6—underneath it.

Immediately, words started forming in my mind and I flipped the card over to write then down:

When you become free, the ties that once bound you, that held you captive—whether mentally, physically, or spiritually—must be untied, unbound. Once they’re unbound, they must be released, because even if they no longer bind you, you cannot be truly free unless you let them go.

 

Consider this: Let’s say Lazarus gets a little help from his friends with unbinding himself from his grave clothes. But he’s eventually left standing outside the tomb. What if he ended up with a fistful or two of the cloth that had bound him in death and the darkness of the tomb. What does he do? Take off walking around town with those (smelly) strips of fabric in his hands? Carry them around for the rest of his days?

Or does he drop them as he steps away from the tomb?

Does he cast them aside?

Does he release them from his possession?

I may have been unbound from the chains of depression, and I may be walking a new path, but there are still many things—material possessions, messed-up thought processes, and comfort-zone coping mechanisms to start with—that I’m still holding onto. When you’ve been held captive for a while, freedom is a bit intimidating.

But living in-between captivity and freedom is not where I want to settle in—and if I sit back and don’t step into 2017 with the intention of working toward fully becoming who I was created to be, then I will likely remain in that spot.

I’ve come too far to keep holding onto those old rags.

They’ve got to go.

Which means I have to let them go.

So I’m stepping into my RELEASE year.

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…

 

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.”