#EpicBookTourTPD

Summer of Endless Miles: The End Before the Beginning

The landscape is barren as the asphalt glides backwards under the tires. (Hello, West Texas.) Thousands of miles have accumulated, a few hundred more to go. We’re headed home. (And will have reached our destination by the time you read these words.)

It’s officially the last day of the #EpicBookTourTPD—the one-hundred-twelfth day, to be exact. Add this to the list of things I never thought I’d do. A four-month, forty-state road trip? With a total extrovert? No way.

To say that life has gone topsy-turvy over the last year is an understatement. So many layers of change—exhilarating change, traumatic change, anticipated change, unexpected change—have built up faster than I can process them. Because the positive changes are so interwoven with the negative change, it’s been difficult to write about them—much less celebrate them.

My sister’s death has cast a shadow over this summer. There’s no other way to slice it. It has shattered my heart into a million pieces again and again. I can’t imagine that will ever change.

(A plea: No canned platitudes in the comments please—well-intended or not, I’ve had about all of those that I can handle. And Jess is hard-rolling her eyes about it, too, I’m sure. If that offends your sensibilities, I’m probably talking to you. See my upcoming post on the most helpful words I’ve received concerning grief.)

One of the most ironic things about this summer of endless miles is the fact that Jess was the sister with permanent wanderlust. She’d been to Europe twice and planned to visit many other countries. The two of us had dreams of a cross-country trip someday, but it seemed quite intimidating to me considering my homebody tendencies. When I decided to accompany Anna on this trip (and finally convinced her that it was a good idea), Jess encouraged me to go. After all the adventures, she’d dragged a reluctant older sister on, she wondered what alien species had abducted me. I’ve wondered the same.

When things went downhill fast with Jess’ health, I had to choose whether to go home to S.C. or stay on the road.  There were many factors that played a role in this deeply personal process that I won’t address here. Ultimately, I felt that there would be no better way to honor my sister than to travel the country and see what she could not.

More than 23,000 miles later, I believe I made the right choice. Would I rather have taken this trip with my sister than for her? Of course. No question. But she’s been with me every moment and every mile—and I’ve had her own traveling mascot, Migrating Monty, to remind me of that. (A plastic green dinosaur as one of my most treasured possessions? Add that to the growing list of things I never thought would happen.)

Now that the trip is done, I’m ready to start writing about it—in all its overwhelming, exhausting, exhilarating glory–starting here, at the end, before making my way back to the beginning. First, I’ll need a few good nights’ sleep in my own bed.

Stay tuned.

Uncategorized

(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.

Own Your Brave, Uncategorized

Unbound: Significant & Irreplaceable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capable of standing on my own two feet.

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

Know what that means?

This:

I am a woman who has significance and is irreplaceable.

I am a SIGNIFICANT and irreplaceable woman.

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


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

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

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

I already have that position.

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

It is TRUTH.

It is what IS.

And I am choosing to walk in that.

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

Because that’s who I am.

I am a daughter of the King.

Anything less is not who I am.

 

I am unbound.

Own Your Brave, Uncategorized

Significance in Numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Yes. Yes, I do.

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

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

“I used to. Refresh my memory.”

“It’s the number of confirmation.”

Oh. Well, of course it is!

Three.

The number of confirmation.

September.

My three-month-aversary in Texas.

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

Confirmation?

Time will tell.

Processing, Uncategorized

The Fascination and Fear of Waves

Of all the elements of nature, water is my favorite. Maybe it’s because my name is Cherokee for “falling water” or maybe it’s just coincidence, but I’ve always been drawn to water. Rain, Creeks. Pools. Lakes. Oceans.  Even now, as I write this post, the sky roars with thunder and raindrops rush to the ground, calming my thoughts.

I was two or three years old the first time I went to the beach. My parents were chaperoning a singles retreat and brought me along. There are few things I remember about that trip—mostly just that I fed a flock of greedy seagulls the French fries from my Happy Meal and soaked up the attention and adoration of the group of twenty-somethings poolside. I don’t remember seeing the ocean for the first time or sticking my toes in the surf.

While I don’t remember that initial trip well, I can recall my second trip to the beach.
I was eleven. It was September—still balmy enough in South Carolina to enjoy being on the beach and in the water, but not oppressively hot like July and August. This was the trip during which I fell in love with the ocean. It’s vastness and mystery issued an invitation and claimed my heart. Since that trip, the beach has continuously beckoned me back, its pull a little stronger each time the gritty sand slides between my toes, the sticky salt air tickles my nose, the steady heartbeat of the waves echoes in my ears. When I’m standing on the edge of the ocean, a sense of calm washes over me. It’s a security blanket for my soul.

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As deeply as the ocean drew me in, it also terrified me. The sheer force of it repeatedly crashing against the shore. The unending vastness.

One day that week, my father and I were wading out into the waves. I was knee-deep in the surf and happy to be there. I didn’t trust the unpredictability of the waves I hadn’t yet learned to read. And I wasn’t all that trustful that my dad wouldn’t let me go under either. Eventually though, and with much apprehension, I managed to brave the looming waves and wade into waist deep water.

~*~
Keeping my eyes locked on the horizon line and the larger waves forming a little farther out, I was poised to run for the shore at the sight of any threat of going under. My dad was a few feet away in slightly deeper water when I felt it brush my leg. Panic rose in my chest as I glanced down at the creature circling my legs, its distinctive dorsal fin just inches below the water’s surface. It swam away just as my brain registered “run!” And run I did. I fought those waves, my feet sliding against the shifting sand beneath my feet as I moved as fast as I could toward the shore.

~*~

It was just a baby shark…maybe three feet long. But it was big enough to make me afraid of deeper waters. That was the last time I waded farther than thigh-deep in the ocean for more than a decade.

~*~

Earlier this year, during Spring Break, I found myself standing in the waves again, eyes locked on the horizon line. It was the end of March and the water was still quite chilled. A restlessness stirred in my soul, my heart felt like it was breaking into a thousand pieces, and salty tears glistened in the eyes hidden beneath my sunglasses. As I stood on the Carolina coast, two dear friends in two opposite directions were walking through very hard days. My heart ached to be with both of them, my mind hyper aware of the distance that separated us. And my own family had recently been slammed with a grim diagnosis. I was numb and carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders at the same time.

~*~

The waves gathered strength and crested all around me, beating themselves against my legs and stomach. My feet shifted in the sand, my muscles aching as they braced against the ocean’s continuous attempts to shove me under the water. Drowned out by the roar of the waves, I sang the same two lines over and over and over: “So I will call upon Your name/ And keep my eyes above the waves.” Over and over and over. I stood there until my legs, chilled to the bone, began to give way. I turned and stumbled back to the shore, where I continued staring at the horizon line.

~*~

For weeks, I’ve sat in drought-ridden northern Texas and thought of the ocean. I’ve written and re-written a dozen metaphors to parallel this particular incongruity.

And for the first time in a long time—maybe ever—I’m allowing myself to both feel and display the depth of my emotions. I’ve spent decades suppressing them, stuffing them down, terrified of what I might find if I wade out a little deeper—what startling creatures are lurking in the depths of my soul? Do I trust my Father enough to allow Him to lead me out farther—where the waves are less predictable and seem more likely to drown me? What will people think if I let these pockets of pain and weakness bob up to the surface? Can I keep my eyes fixed on the horizon of truth and not be thrown into a panic when something unexpected or unpleasant brushes up against me? Am I strong enough to withstand the repeated battering of the waves?

Fighting the waves is exhausting. When you’ve stood in the waves for a while and head back to shore, your legs feel shaky and your body feels heavier. No longer buoyed by the waves, exhaustion rushes in. Fighting emotion and vulnerability and honesty is also exhausting. But so is walking through it.

~*~

Raindrops fall softly on the parched grass. The sky is gray and dotted with heavy clouds. Sitting on the porch, feet propped on the table, my eyes are fixed on the horizon line. There are no ocean waves here, but the internal waves build and crest, battering my heart and mind. Some days my legs give way and I feel as though I am drowning, swept under by the weight of the water. I am exhausted. But tonight, I choose to let them carry me. Tomorrow is another day.

Own Your Brave, Uncategorized

Loaves in the Land of Surreal

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

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

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

A promise.

A reminder.

A gift.

~*~

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

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

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

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

Fine. Point taken.

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Own Your Brave, Processing, Uncategorized

Splendid & Lovely: Splendid Sunday

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

 

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

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

Oh.

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

 

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

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

 

But He wasn’t finished.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Yes.

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

 

What is God asking you to do?

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

 

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

 

Where is God asking you to go?

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

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

What is God asking you to be?

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

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

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

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

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

What?

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

OH.

Okay.

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

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

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

You need to talk to her. Now.

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

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

Fine.

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

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

“Okay,” she replied.

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

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

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

Splendid had, indeed, been splendid and lovely.

 

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

 

Own Your Brave, Processing

Free to Fly: Pre-Splendid Wednesday

I got on a plane for the first time last week. To fly to Texas. To spend the weekend with 64 women—62 of whom I’d never met in person, but had only interacted with in #the4500 Facebook group. (I know, I know—internet strangers and all that jazz. Good news: I’m still alive. No axe murderers were present. Calm down.)

I’d been registered for Splendid in the Hills since the day it went live in the Facebook group. I’d already felt drawn toward Texas since becoming more engaged in the group, and when Tracy (the founder of The Splendid Retreat) posted the announcement for the 2nd retreat, I knew I was supposed to be there. While I knew that I was supposed to attend, without doubt, six months is a long time to wrestle with the anxiety of leaping so far outside your comfort zone. By the time the retreat was a month away, life was crazy and hard and all I was hoping for was to physically make it to Splendid. My expectations for anything more—connections, growth, opportunities to pour into others—were all but gone. I was exhausted mentally, emotionally and I needed to just be still. My only goal was to get there. (I can’t do anything but laugh at this notion from where I sit now.)

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Two Christmases ago, a friend gave me a hand-painted sign with the quote “What if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?” For a long time, because I was mired in such a dark place, that sign mocked me; it’s beginning to make a lot more sense now. Until the moment I sat in the airplane seat last that Wednesday, I was a bundle of nerves about all the unknowns of this trip. I was so afraid I would hate flying; I don’t hate it—in fact, I think I might love it.

 

 

Anna picked me up from the airport on and we headed out for a late lunch/early dinner at Torchy’s Tacos. She watched the clock as we ate and shared stories. We finished our meal and she ushered me out the door and into the car. A few minutes later, we pulled into a parking lot; it began to look familiar from Facebook pictures. Then I saw the sign: Think Differently.

“Wait. What…?”

I looked at Anna; she was grinning ear to ear.

“Are you surprised?” she asked.

Um, obviously.

The week before, she’d told me to bring my Bob Hamp books with me, so “we can discuss them…I’m doing something with them at the retreat.” So I threw them in my already-stuffed luggage and didn’t think anything of her request.

~*~

I’d been reading, listening to, and watching Bob’s teachings since Anna and I first connected via phone in September 2015. His explanations of Kingdom life and freedom in finding your true God-breathed identity had broken open the shut-down parts of my heart, mind, and spirit over those months. In fact, as I began to dig my way out of the deep depression I’d been in, his “Freedom from Depression” and “Hearing God” podcasts had played an important role in my recovery. Anna and I had had many conversations about these areas, as well. Back in January, after listening to Bob’s ‘A Kingdom Parable” (the acrobat story for those who are  familiar with it), I was overcome by the end of the message.

Once I was able to pick myself up off the floor (because I was literally face down on the floor), I texted Anna, saying, “Today I was listening to the Foundations of Freedom podcasts while cleaning. And Bob started telling the acrobat story. I was only half-listening…until he got to the end. Keep in mind that I had just posted [in the FB group] about ‘unbound’ being my word for 2016…suddenly I’m hearing these words from Bob…

“…your Dad is so glad you’re home…whatever’s been asked of you, whatever you’re called to do, isn’t so that you can perform so an angry, rigid dad would be happy with you, finally. He’s saying this: ‘Hey, come discover who I made you to be. Put your hand to it. Stand up and speak it, do it. The things that are in your heart to do, the things that make the fire leap up in your chest—don’t shy away from them. Somebody once told you that it’s not true about you, but something inside of you knows it is. Freedom isn’t where we finally stop the bad stuff…freedom is when you can become the person you’re created and redeemed to be. All of those other things are just obstacles.”

…the thing that sent me into my depression two years ago was my pastor telling me I wasn’t supposed to pursue [ASL]. I all but stopped signing; buried that dream, that piece of my identity. It has been BOUND. And it is one of the things I feel [the Holy Spirit] speaking “unbound” over. And then I heard His small, quiet voice say, “I am releasing you.‘”

~*~

“I got here early so you’d have time to pull yourself together. I knew your introverted heart would need to calm down.”

Be still my introverted heart. The extrovert sees and is intentional in caring for the introvert’s state of mind. (Melted my heart, for sure. THIS is how to surprise an introvert.)

“Are you ready?”

“Sure.”

We entered the lobby, sat on the couch (in the room I’d spent months watching Bob teach in via Periscope for months), and waited for our appointment. (I have an appointment with Bob Hamp…seriously?)

Several minutes later, he entered the lobby; we greeted one another and then he ushered us to his office. After sharing with him how Anna and I had met, she says, “Tell him your story.”

The story I had just told her in the restaurant, the story I’ve told recently on my blog, the story she had me tell eight more times over the next five days.

So I did.

And without even realizing it, I started speaking the lies that I’d held to be true over the past few years—particularly that my role in bringing ASL to NGU was no big deal. At one point I said, “For a long time I haven’t even been able to give myself credit for having been such an important part of the process of starting the program…I really haven’t been able to own it because I just felt like anyone could’ve done it.” Anna and Bob glanced at one another, and then Anna rolled her eyes at me and replied, “Yeah, anybody could’ve done it.” Bob followed with the statement, “So you’ve done all these big things that you didn’t think you could do…”

Well, yes.

That was the moment I began to own that it was a bigger deal than I’d let myself believe. God had equipped me to carry it out and He had brought it to fruition. Throughout our conversation, Bob said a few other things that struck a chord in my spirit, the weight of which wouldn’t be fully revealed until later in the week.

We left Think Differently and met Anna’s sister, Celia, for a quick chat—where Anna managed to squeeze a very abbreviated version of my story in. As she finished, Celia looked at me and said, “You’re a powerful woman…a world-changer…dream big.”

Me? A powerful woman? A world-changer? Dreaming big? I think you’ve got the wrong person, sister. That’s not me.

I’d barely been on the ground in Texas for 3 hours and already the weekend had been phenomenal.

But it was only the very beginning.

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…

 

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None Of Us Knew: #the4500’s First Year

None of us knew.

None of us could have fathomed how our lives were about to change.

None of us could have orchestrated, planned, or manipulated the circumstances that brought us together.

None of us expected that a rejection letter email would result in an even bigger “yes.”

None of us knew that a “no” on a book launch team application would mean we’d form fast and deep friendships with a diverse group of women from around the country and beyond.

None of us knew.

 

But God.

~*~

A year ago, on March 3, 2015, Jen Hatmaker posted an invitation to apply for the launch team for her upcoming book, For The Love.

I found her Facebook post the day before the March 6th deadline. I didn’t think much of it, but it kept floating around my brain. Two hours before the deadline, I submitted my application.

5, 000 people applied for 500 spots.

On March 6th, 4,500 of those applicants received this email:

 

Within hours, one of the women who received that email Tweeted this to Jen:

 

And another rejectee (yes, I made that up) shamelessly thieved it and ran with to Facebook with it, creating a group where we could gather, commiserate, and unofficially launch the book.

I found these two women commenting on a post on Jen’s FB page, inviting people to join this newly-formed group. I cautiously clicked the link to the group, and even more warily requested to join the group. And then I sat back and watched. For days. For months. I don’t think I ever formally introduced myself. (Sorry girls!)

Until September, when I finally allowed myself to engage.

 

Today, 365 days after the birth of #the4500, we celebrate our first anniversary.

We celebrate a year of praying for one another,

 a year of laughing with one another,

a year of singing to one another,

a year of shifting our perspectives,

a year of meeting one another’s needs in tangible ways,

a year of becoming more authentic,

a year of loving one another,

 a year of growing as a group, and

a year of growing as individuals.

 

In September, I dreamed of meeting the #the4500 chief cat herder, Anna. On January 23, 2016 that crazy dream was realized. Never did I imagine myself participating in the meet-ups that began almost immediately as people joined the FB group. And when the hash tag thief/group creator, Tracy, announced a weekend retreat to gather a larger group of us in Wisconsin in the fall, attending was never a consideration for me.

Six months ago, I dove in head first when I texted Anna and said, “If I were feeling brave, do you have time to talk tonight?” I’m forever grateful for our first conversation that night, Anna.

In seven weeks, I’m flying to Texas for the second Splendid Retreat to meet 70 of these beautiful women. Excitement doesn’t even begin to cover how I feel about this opportunity. Tracy, thank you for stepping into the unknown in order to bring us closer—both to one another and to the Father. I can’t wait to meet you face-to-face and hug your neck!

Last week, I had my second #the4500 meet-up with a local member, Natalie (with whom I have a mutual friend—this world gets smaller every day!). I’m so glad you suggested meeting, Natalie!

This week, one of my dearest 4500 friends has texted me to offer encouragement in the midst of a not-so-great week. I’m forever grateful for her prayers and words of hope. Kelli, you are a treasure! We WILL meet one day, friend.

Xamayta, I would be remiss in not acknowledging our many sing-offs and song lyric conversations. I’m looking forward to the day I know you in person. Maybe I’ll sing to you.

I could list so many more shout-outs, but we’d be here all day. There are so many girls I’m excited to meet in April, and so many more that I’m hoping to meet in the months and years to come.

My life has changed in many ways since the formation of #the4500, and even more so since last September. These girls have challenged me, loved me, prayed for me, cheered me on, and provided a safe space. When I think of the friends I’ve added to my circle over the last year, I’m overwhelmed. The community we’ve formed is truly indescribable.

None of us knew then what we were stepping into when we clicked the “request to join” button, but God did.

He knew this marvelous gift of “yes” waiting just around the bend.

~*~

 

To Tracy and Anna:

Thank you for leading us with grace, wisdom, compassion, and courage.

Thank you for being obedient even in the small things—like Facebook groups that just seem to be for fun.

Thank you for trusting Him to lead us to what we’re called to as a group.

Thank you for loving us well and caring for our hearts.

Thank you for giving us freedom to become.

You have both followed an unorthodox path to ministry and it is growing into something beyond our imaginations.

We love you!

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