For the first time in my life, I can clearly understand something that baffled my naïve, younger self: how Christians can leave the church and deny the faith of their youth. I am undeniably at a crossroads in my journey. I do not deny the existence of a higher power, yet I can’t reconcile the incongruencies of the tenets of my childhood faith with the realities of my adult experience.
Nothing makes sense anymore. Well, actually that’s not entirely true. The most sense I’ve been able to make of matters of the spiritual realm have been presented through the teachings of Bob Hamp. His perspectives of freedom and the correlation between the natural world and the supernatural world make more sense than anything I ever heard in the churches in which I grew up. Honestly, it’s probably what’s keeping me somewhat grounded in this messy phase of deconstruction—though it was Hamp’s books that piqued my curiosity and led to this process of deconstruction, reconstruction, and transformation.
Tearing down the walls of your belief system is not a neat and clean operation. No, it is painful and unsettling.
…but if you are still there, you’re going to have to let me know.
Everything I learned as a child and adolescent about the nature of God was framed in such a way that I internalized two fundamental beliefs from which almost every point of contention in my belief systems stems (if not every point of contention—I’m still examining this by way of flow charts and timelines because that’s the way my brain works):
1. You must check all the boxes of the denominational code to please God and be a “real Christian” (i.e. church attendance, baptism, abstaining from all “sinful, fleshly desires” including but not limited to alcohol in any form, music other than traditional hymns or without a CCM endorsement, dancing, premarital sex, immodest dress [this applies to females only, apparently, as the most-cited offenses are low cut tops and short skirts] are just of few of the rules that may be communicated either covertly or overtly)
2. You are God’s child. He is your Father.
This one is great news for anyone who has a stable, secure, loving relationship with his/her father. I am not that girl. Never have been. For me, this tenet, though meant to comfort and encourage, tells me I am unlovable, unworthy, and unimportant. It tells me that I have to work harder to earn God’s love—or even gain his attention. Whereas other people know what it’s like to have their father’s eyes light up when they are present, I know what it’s like to be ignored and treated as an inconvenience for merely existing. Rather than crawling into my daddy’s lap, I walk on eggshells, tiptoeing past lest I draw attention to myself and make my presence known.
I have no idea what a good father is.
After picking up various translations of the bible over the past year or so and being so triggered by the fundamental evangelical biases my brain holds toward scriptures, I’ve concluded that, if God truly pursues me, he’s going to have to speak to me without me opening my bible.
Plant your truth in my heart so that it outgrows the institutionalized tenets of man-made religion. Make it simple, make it plain.
I am utterly delighted to welcome my friend Jennifer Dukes Lee as a guest in this space today as she shares about control and surrender. I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer on the Epic Book Tour last year. She welcomed Anna and me into her home among the cornfields of rural Iowa with grace and friendship. Today she is delivering her third book baby, It’s All Under Control, into the world. An early copy arrived on my doorstep in May and I have been ruminating on it since. It is simultaneously the most comforting and most challenging book I’ve read this year. I’ll write my own post about it soon, but for now, here’s Jennifer. (Be sure to stick around at the end for a fun giveaway from Tyndale!)
Everything is Under Control (I Thought)
If you asked me five years ago, I naively would have told you that I didn’t struggle with control. I mean, seriously— as long as everything went exactly the way I hoped, I was totally flexible.
It’s not that I wanted to control other people. Mostly, I wanted to control myself. If I ever had high expectations of anyone, it was of me. I wanted to present the self-assured, together version of my whole being. Which means I craved control over my face, my emotions, my body, my food, my words, my house, my schedule, my yard, my future.
My preference was a tidy, predictable, safe life where no one got hurt, where my kids remained in one piece, where there was no pain for anyone ever again, amen. I said I trusted God but had reached the point where I realized I actually didn’t. As a Jesus girl, this shocked me.
An Empty Tank
Clearly, my old systems of coping weren’t working: My desire to obsessively orchestrate my whole life was burning me out.
As a mom, I heard myself snapping at my kids. As a ministry leader, I knew that I was functioning within my call, but I didn’t feel fulfilled. I was tired, even after a regular night’s sleep. And I found myself zoning out during conversations with my husband, because I was mentally making lists of everything I needed to get done.
In short, I ran out of gas.
Maybe the empty tank was God’s way of bringing me to a dead stop, so I would finally pay attention. It worked. God got my attention, and maybe he’s trying to get yours too.
Imagine that it’s you who’s run out of gas. Maybe that doesn’t take much imagining after all, because like me, you’re tired of trying to hold it together. You want to keep it all under control, but things aren’t working out the way you planned.
When you and I began to follow Jesus, we relinquished control over our lives. But because we suffer from the chronic condition known as being human we constantly try to steal that control back.
CEO of Everything
My wake-up call happened when I realized that the battle for my heart was regularly being fought inside the tiny squares of my to-do list.
I began to ask myself this question: “What are the things that, if they were taken away, would shatter the identity I have created?”
Was it my work? My calendar? My efforts to shield my children from pain and suffering? This urge to always say yes?
For me, the answer was: “All of the above.” I was trying to be the CEO of everything.
Jesus delivered a sobering reminder: You will never know if you can trust Me if you don’t give Me the chance to prove it.
I recommitted myself to a life surrendered to Jesus’ plans for my life. But something felt … off … when I considered what surrender truly meant.
I accidentally bought into a weird idea that surrendered living meant mostly that I needed to “do less.” Yet that was unrealistic because so much of life clearly couldn’t be opted out of. People depended on me. I had kids to feed. A house to manage. Books to write.
Most people can’t simply fire their lives and move on when it gets too chaotic. We can’t stop managing a household, cancel all our appointments, and spend the rest of our days on a floatie in the middle of a lake.
Here’s what I began to learn: Surrendered living is much more than “doing less.” It’s being more of who God created us to be.
Yes, I totally need more chill in my life, and maybe you do too. But here’s the full truth about surrender:
Surrender doesn’t come with some unrealistic demand that you are suddenly going to stop being the incredibly brave and brilliant woman that you are. Real surrender appreciates God’s remarkable design in you.
We Need Women Like You
Do you know what a wonder you are?
You don’t settle. You are the sort of woman we can count on to meet a work deadline, organize a food drive, take in the neighbors’ kids during an emergency, drive your coworker to chemo, counsel a friend at 3 a.m. by text message, keep track of everyone’s appointments, and make sure we’re all wearing seat belts before you drive us on the three-day adventure that you single-handedly arranged.
We need you. We need take-charge, charitable women like you as doctors and nurses in operating rooms where details like “proper disinfectant” matter. Let me tell it to you straight: If you have an inner control freak, I’m hoping you’ll let her bust loose like nobody’s business if someone I love is on your operating table. We need responsible women like you to control all the bleeding.
We also need you in charge of schools, nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies. We need rock-star women like you to show us that surrender isn’t “lie down in a pile.” It’s “march forward like a warrior.” Sometimes surrendering to God will require you to do the hardest work you’ve ever done in your life: take in another foster child, fight for your marriage, kick cancer where the sun don’t shine, or refuse to capitulate to the persistent drubbing from Satan.
Girl, listen up. We count on you. You are a woman fervently devoted to God’s calling on your life, not only in your work but also in your relationships.
Of course, as Carrie Underwood will sing to you, Jesus is definitely taking the wheel. But make no mistake: There are times when he’s going to ask you to do some driving.
It’s All Under Control
Don’t think of Jesus as your chauffeur; he is more like your driver’s ed coach. He’s there to teach you His rules of the road. Friend, do not fear the wheel. You have been equipped to drive—and Jesus is beside you when you steer the wrong way. Hopefully He will pull the emergency brake if necessary, and I’ve personally put in a request for roads lined with padded walls.
The windows are rolled down, the music is cranked, the tank is full, and there’s something that looks like freedom on the horizon.
Out on the open road, may you feel the reassuring love of Jesus. On this journey toward surrender, you’ll discover that, at last, it really is all under control: God’s.
Jennifer Dukes Lee is the wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, and an author. She loves queso and singing too loudly to songs with great harmony. Once upon a time, she didn’t believe in Jesus. Now, He’s her CEO. Jennifer’s newest book, It’s All Under Control, and a companion Bible study, are releasing today! This is a book for every woman who is hanging on tight and trying to get each day right―yet finding that life often feels out of control and chaotic.
Adapted from It’s All under Control: A Journey of Letting Go, Hanging On, and Finding a Peace You Almost Forgot Was Possible by Jennifer Dukes Lee, releasing this fall from Tyndale House Publishers.
I’m so excited to be a part of a huge giveaway to celebrate the release of It’s All Under Control. Jennifer and her publisher, Tyndale, are giving away 50 copies of the book in celebration of its release! Enter below to win. Giveaway ends September 30. Winners will be notified by Tyndale House Publishers. Email subscribers can click here to enter.
The church of the caterpillars sneaked up on me today.
This morning, my heart was still tender from an incident yesterday that left me feeling unseen, unknown, and unworthy. I attempted to stuff it down and move on. Realizing that it is a trigger point that has the tendency to send me into a downward swirl, I tried to push it away without examining it too closely.
But this lie was not going down without a fight.
An incident occurred yesterday that left me feeling overlooked and unrecognized. On the heels of that incident, I’d just submitted a guest blog post on the topic of speaking the truth of who we are louder than the lies that we are only as good as our shortcomings and failures. In addition to submitting that post, I’d also taken another flying leap in another area of my writing career. Both of these acts have me experiencing a bit of a vulnerability hangover.
Letter Four offers encouragement for those living in chaos: the aftermath of a traumatic event, such as a devastating diagnosis, for example. As someone who is living in the aftermath of the traumatic loss of a sibling, I found solace in her words. In this chapter, Reynolds discusses the process of metamorphosis in caterpillars and how their entire bodies liquefy into “protein soup” while they are snuggled inside the cocoon. As a child, she cut open a cocoon and found this phenomenon in progress. She writes,
“[…]when we get a close-up view of chaos[…]we begin to realize that big stages like “before cancer” and “after cancer” break down into specific days and hours that require miracles to survive[…]If it were possible to cut open a human soul during chaos, I think maybe this is what we would look like too. A casual observer staring into our mess couldn’t believe that we had ever been okay or that we would ever be okay again.” (75)
After more than two years of living in a high-alert state of just trying to get through each day, I am finally beginning to feel like I can breathe again. If someone had cut open my soul a few months ago, they would have found an unsightly mess, but that mess was the fuel that gave me the means to survive all those hard days. Nonetheless, the triggers still come, the anxiety still rises, and the depression still threatens to cloud my view.
But the “protein soup” still nourishes, too.
The Church of the Caterpillars
In the light of the blazing Texas sun this morning, a tiny movement in my peripheral vision caught my attention. From my chair, I squinted behind the lenses of my sunglasses to focus on the movement. Crawling along a blade of grass’ tip was a caterpillar, making his way across the surface with tiny, methodical movements. His body scooted in a fluid wave of motion. A few inches away, another movement caught my eye…then another. I leaned forward, counting each new caterpillar that caught my eye.
I threw a towel on the ground (silently apologizing to any caterpillars that may be underneath) and laid on my stomach to get a closer view.
Everywhere I looked within a few feet from my position, I saw caterpillars maneuvering among the grass. Some were tiny, no bigger than the tip of my fingernail. Others were plumper, a few inches long. There were dozens of them. I lay there watching them, mesmerized. For a split second it was quiet; I could hear the faint sound of them chewing on the grass, gathering nourishment for the metamorphosis ahead.
My perspective of oblivion to the fact that the caterpillars were partaking in an all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch while I sat on the porch had morphed into one of seeing these little creatures everywhere I looked. In the span of a few short minutes, my perspective had changed.
These caterpillars were tiny. They were minding their own business, doing what they were created to do in preparation for transforming into their full purpose. And they were seen. They were observed; they were acknowledged; the were considered worthy of notice.
If I appreciate the work of a caterpillar enough to write about them, how much more does my Creator appreciate the work I am doing during my own transformation process?
Enough to send the church of the caterpillars in the sanctuary of His creation.
Enough to remind me in whatever way it takes that I am sustained by His “protein soup.”
Have you ever had an experience so transforming that you couldn’t quite find the words to wrap around the magnitude of its bearing on your soul? An experience so powerful that you simultaneously want to hold it close to your chest and savor the intimacy of it while also desiring to shout it from the rooftops?
Last week, I attended Discovery!—a personal development retreat in Austin.
For months, several friends (one in particular—you can guess which one), their family members, and a few friends of friends have raved about their Discovery experiences and implored me to go. But because the program works most effectively if you don’t know what the weekend entails going in, none of them offered any details other than “it’s hard, but so worth it.” My anxious, likes-to-know-all-the-things brain struggled with this lack of information.
When the #EpicBookTourTPD ended last August, I slid into a deep, dark hole. As I wallowed in that pit one evening, Anna once again asked me to give Discovery a shot. Weary of saying no and, honestly, just trying to make her stop asking, I signed up.
A few days later, I cancelled my reservation because I was terrified of the unknown.
And I slid further into the pit.
By the time February rolled around, I was numb again, stuck in old thought patterns, resigning myself to the reality that I would always be trapped in this cycle, that losing Jess had done me in and there would be no coming back from it.
One Saturday evening, Anna and I sat in the car and she laid out my options: counseling, Grief Share, or Discovery. Again, she shared how Discovery had helped her and, with tears glistening in her eyes, she asked me to trust her because she knew it would be beneficial for me—and would provide a quicker result in one weekend than months of counseling appointments or Grief Share meetings would.
I agreed to go, signed up again, and tried not to think about it for the next six weeks.
On Friday, March 23, I, along with 32 others, walked into a large conference room not knowing what to expect. As the doors closed behind us, our connectors—those who had gone before us and convinced us to come—cheered and shouted in the lobby. They knew what was coming; we had no idea.
(Because I’m now one of them and know all the details, I’m purposefully leaving them out. Just know that not being able to share all the things with you is hard for this [written] words girl!)
I walked in room still apathetic and numb, highly skeptical, and searching for a way to get out of the whole weekend. I walked in carrying a load of guilt, anger, and undealt with grief. I walked in with a broken and buried heart. I walked in with terrible pain in my neck and shoulders that had been there for months.
Over the course of the next 57 hours, I resisted, surrendered, wrestled, fought, yelled, sobbed, grieved, unburied, trusted, encouraged, gave, received, supported, stretched, recovered, and celebrated.
Saturday was brutal, but beautiful.
On Sunday evening, I walked out of that room with my whole heart back. I walked out of that room without the long-present tension in my neck and shoulders. I walked out genuinely laughing and smiling rather than hiding behind a mask. I walked out empowered to stand up and fight for me. I walked out lighter and freer.
It’s taken an entire week to reflect and begin to process the weight of my Discovery experience, and I’m still just scratching the surface.
The other side of Sunday is everything I want and everything I need.
The other side of Sunday brings light.
The other side of Sunday brings hope.
The other side of Sunday brings freedom.
I’m living on the other side of Sunday, and that’s more than enough.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
The number of confirmation.
My three-month-aversary in Texas.
The realization that 63 days is not enough time left to be okay with bailing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.