Autumn Arrives Again

It was a year ago today.

After too little sleep due to a rare and lengthy late night phone call, I’d poured my coffee on the counter rather than in a mug that morning.

I’d gone to work and taught my littles in a bewildered haze over the conversation I’d had with a new friend the night before.

My thoughts were frantically searching for order at the edges of my brain.

The weight of change hung in the air, palpable yet mysterious.

There was a drive to begin processing the innermost chambers of myself that had been buried deep.

I was sitting in a hard wooden chair in a quiet library.

In South Carolina.

My fingers pounded angrily at my keyboard.

Earbuds muffled the sound of my audible sighs.

The error message flashed before my eyes again and again:

Username and password do not match.

Locked out.

I’d tried every possible combination, but couldn’t remember the right password.
The email I’d used to create the account was no longer accessible and customer support was no help.
Reviving the old blog was not happening.
Two years of absenteeism from writing meant I couldn’t find my way back to my blog. I could read what was there, but editing and adding to it was out of the question.
But the burning desire to write was back. I needed an outlet.

So I started over.

On the first day of a new Season.

Little did I know how vast a season of change I was headed into that day as I wrote:

It’s Fall.

Autumn.

A new season.

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

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

I’m finding myself there today…

anticipating the growth of new friendships

as the leaves go dormant for winter;

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

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

The air is crisp,

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

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

without the usual anxiety, excuses, foreboding, etc.

that comes when newness is on the horizon.

Today, I’m sitting in a comfy recliner in a living room.

In Texas.

With last year’s “new friend” on the couch beside me.

The sound of planes flying overhead reminds me of my first-time flight back in April.

These days, the error message I’m fighting most persistently is the one that says this can’t possibly be my actual life. That at any moment I could wake up and discover this entire year has been a dream. (On some fronts, that would be a relief.)

My fingers roam the keyboard now because the words in my brain need out. They beg to be uncaged and given a voice.

Today, it’s the third…

(Geez. I have to stop and tell you that in itself is actually relevant. Three is the prophetic number of confirmation. And today was a day that held a bit of significant confirmation for me. As I typed the word “third” I laughed aloud when I realized it, because OF COURSE. One day, I might manage to form a coherent explanation of the ways that number has followed me around this year.)
Anyway.

It’s the third day of Autumn.

And I’m neck deep in the season of change that has been developing these last twelve months. I feels like I’ve covered more ground in the last year than I have in my entire life—spiritually, mentally, physically, relationally, emotionally, and geographically.

And I don’t expect it to taper off anytime soon.

Amazingly, I’m far more at peace with that expectation than I would have ever dreamed.

Not the Way You Came

Standing at the rear of her car, by a bustling airport curb, we hugged tightly, silently. I’m terrible at saying goodbye. All the words bubble up in my chest, but get stuck in my throat. And really, there aren’t enough words. Stepping back, I reluctantly pulled my suitcase out of the trunk, flung my bag over my shoulder. Without making eye contact again, I turned toward the sidewalk and slowly walked away, breathing deeply with each step. Inside the airport, I paused for a moment to get my bearings, and then headed for the security line, fighting the lump that was forming in my throat and the tears that were pooling in my eyes.

IMG_1816My phone vibrated in my hand as I joined the line. I looked down. And saw the text: “You are not going back the same way you came…” The lump rose and the tears began to fall… and I heard His voice:

This is not the last time you’ll be here…you will be back.”

~*~

I’m not a crier.  From the time I stepped into the security line until about halfway to Atlanta, I bawled my eyes out. I was exhausted in every sense—physically, mentally, emotionally—from the past five days. I’d been fully present at Splendid, and suddenly I was alone with my thoughts. My perception of myself, of God, of the women He’d planted in my life through the internet had shifted in ways I couldn’t begin to comprehend. And so, I cried, and cried, and cried. (That poor man who had to sit beside me for two hours…)

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I don’t fly. Get on an airplane? 30,000 feet in the air? I don’t think so. And yet—I did. Twice in six days. And it was NO BIG DEAL. Piece of cake, actually. (Although—I’m already convinced that ATL will always be a form of hell on earth.) All that anxiety that made my heart flutter and my stomach drop for the six months leading up to Splendid? Gone—once I was sitting on the plane. Verdict? I don’t hate flying—I actually kind of love it. Who knew?

I don’t talk on the phone. Having spent five days extroverting almost 24/7, talking eyeball-to-eyeball, and being in the constant presence of people, I came home to an apartment that was too quiet. Almost immediately, I was scheduling phone calls and video conferences with friends from #the4500 and face-to-face meetings with local friends. Adjusting to normal life was hard.

~*~

The week and a half since Splendid has been crazy. Seriously. God dumped so much in my lap while I was in Texas that I honestly thought He’d let up a little once I got home. I was wrong. The things I heard people say in Texas were repeated by my friends and family at home. My co-teacher Christine was asking the same hard questions Anna, and Megan, and Taylor, and Kelli had asked me all weekend.

And while I left Splendid with some hints, but not full knowledge of what I was supposed to do, where I was supposed to go, and what I was supposed to be, I didn’t actually know until last week. Tuesday, to be exact.

Christine preached me a sermon all day Monday and most of Tuesday, which basically boiled down to this:

“If you’re really going to do this, now is the time. If God is telling you this is what you need to do, are you just giving lip service to it—or are you actually going to act on it? If you wait for the circumstances to be perfect, you won’t do it…you will over think it.”

And just like my Splendid sisters did, my dear friend Christine shot down every. single. excuse I threw at her.

So I made the decision to do what I’ve been too afraid to admit that I’m supposed to do in this season.

I decided that I was going to follow God’s lead, to let Him take the reins.

I jumped off the cliff.

~*~

My life is so boring.

Nothing exciting ever happens to me.

Adventure? Not for me.

I can’t even think these thoughts without chuckling to myself these days.

~*~

We sat in our darkened, quiet classroom at the end of the school day. Her questions and statements cut to the core of me.

“What is happening to my life?” I asked, incredulous.

“You’re getting a life….you’re living your life,” she answered.

~*~

I never wanted to go to Texas. Texas was always at the bottom of my “places I want to visit” list. God is funny.

Texas?

Yes, Texas.

In less than a month, I’ll be back in Texas.

Indefinitely.

Through the summer, at the very least.

Pursuing my passions, old and new.

Looking for a job.

Exploring graduate school options.

In less than a month, I have a million things to do—some that I have a plan to accomplish, some that I am freaking out about because I don’t have a plan to accomplish—and no foreseeable solutions.

In no particular order:

*Pack up my apartment and move it into storage

*Sell my car

*Decide what I absolutely have to take or ship to Texas for 3-6 months.

*Buy luggage

*Pick a departure date

*Find an affordable flight

*Update my resume

*FIND A JOB in TEXAS

*FIND A CAR in TEXAS (and the funds with which to buy said car)

*Ask for help in doing the things I cannot do on my own (this might prove to be the hardest one!)

*Stay calm, not freak out, and just breathe…

 

So, this must be what free-falling feels like.

 

I am not going back the same way I came.

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.)

 

“Just breathe”: Splendid Friday

On Friday morning, shortly after I awoke, I was scrolling through my various social media apps. In my Timehop app, I came across a post that struck me as a little ironic, so I reposted it to Facebook:

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A little later, as Anna, Taylor, Kristen (one of my and Anna’s roommates), and I were driving to the restaurant for breakfast, Anna told us about another retreat she had been on. Part of that retreat‘s schedule included a day where the participants were sent out on the ranch to spend a day in solitude from sunrise to dusk. Taylor was driving, I was in the front seat, and Anna and Kristen were in the backseat. Anna talked about how she began to get anxious about finding her way back to the main buildings on the ranch once the sun started to set. She wondered if the path would look the same on the way back as it had on the way in. Then the Holy Spirit whispered to her, “You don’t have to go back that way. You don’t have to go back the way you came.”

As she spoke, I had been turned around in my seat so I could see her. When she said those words, it was like a rock dropped into my stomach—the weight of them heavy with significance. I glanced at Taylor and could tell she felt the same way. Anna kept talking, but I have no idea what she said after those words left her mouth.

See, the day before I left for Texas, when I was saying goodbye to my co-teacher Christine (who also happens to be my best friend—seriously—who gets to work with their BFF every day?), she said to me, “I could never do what you’re doing [going to spend the weekend with people you only know online]…you aren’t going to come back the same person that you are now.” So when Anna said almost those exact words in the car Friday morning, it was like God was making it very clear that He had a plan for the weekend; it seemed as though He was saying, “Hello—I see you.”

On the way back to the resort after breakfast, Anna encouraged me to tell Taylor and Kristen the story. So I did. (This would make the sixth time I’d spoken it.)

The retreat didn’t officially start until mid-afternoon on Friday. I spent most of the afternoon with Kelli before we headed to registration. The opening session was short, followed by an icebreaker activity where we were paired up with another woman and played the “two truths and one lie” game. (Kill me. I hate these things. Introvert, remember?) I was handed a card with the worship leader’s name on it. Amanda and I had just had a conversation a few minutes earlier, so I was struggling to come up with facts that she didn’t already know about me. We completed the activity and the session continued with everyone splitting into their family time small groups. Taylor and I were in the same group, along with Megan, and Anna was our leader. Melissa was also part of our group, but she wouldn’t be arriving until later. We gathered in a little circle in the corner of the room and Anna gave me the “look.”  “I should probably just tell her, shouldn’t I?” I asked, referring to Megan. If we were going to be family, we needed to catch her up.

So I told the story again. For the seventh time in 48 hours. I don’t remember Megan’s exact reaction, but it was similar to everyone else’s in that she felt like God was calling me back to this dream. I wasn’t entirely convinced. Yet.

After Family Time, we headed to dinner. Megan, Taylor, Anna and I sat together and chatted while we ate. As we were finishing, Amanda, the worship leader walked up to me.

The words that came out of her mouth were the ones that God used to smack me upside the head and say, “Do you believe me now? Do you believe that this is what you’re supposed to do now?”

“Tracy told me to ask you if you’d be willing to sign during worship this weekend?”

Excuse me? I did not come here this weekend to sign during worship. No intentions of this at all.

I’m sure my mouth dropped open. I know I stumbled over my words as I told her I’d have to think about it. (The first worship session was happening in 30 minutes.) She immediately assured me that I was under no pressure (maybe not from you, sister, but God? Yeah, He’s turning up the heat.) She said she’d send me her playlist so I could look it over, then went back to her table.  I could feel the heat rising in my face, my heart was pounding, my head was throbbing, my eyes were wide.

Anna was sitting across the table, beaming. “Breathe,” she instructed, “Just breathe

I started telling the three of them all the reasons why I couldn’t, why shouldn’t do this.

It’s been three years since I signed in front of people.

I’m too rusty.

Who am I to join in leading worship?

They shot down every single one of my excuses.

Anna finally looked at me and asked, “So is this a ‘hell yes’?”

No,” I replied. “No, it is not, yet. I need to know what songs she’s planning to use tonight.”

I walked over to Amanda’s table, crouched beside her chair and asked her what songs she was doing that night.

The first four she read off were the ones I knew the best on her playlist. Then she said, “And there’s one that’s not on the list that I’m planning to do at the end of the session—‘Good, Good Father.’”

OKAY, God—I hear you.

“Good, Good Father” has been my anthem since I heard it for the first time in January. I’d gone to an open mic night with a friend and heard it there. Then, later that night, Anna and I had talked on the phone and she had said those words to me—“he’s a good Father”—and I had just burst out laughing at the timing of them. A month later, I read Julie’s book, Stones of Remembrance—and read those words over and over and over throughout her story.

At that point, I knew what I was being asked to do, but I still wasn’t ready to say “yes.” I left Amanda’s table, made a beeline for Kelli’s and asked her to pray. Then I headed back to my table and told Taylor, Anna, and Megan that I was going to change clothes. Megan made a comment about my t-shirt, referencing the “Be the Light” quote that was scrawled across it—“see you’re supposed to be the light—your shirt says so!” There’s a story there too, but let’s just say that it was yet another slap in the face that said, “Hello—I’m talking to you!”

I got up from the table and headed for the door to go change clothes. And my family group got up too and followed me out the door. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me, knowing they were with me.  As we walked back to the cabin, my mind was spinning. I did not want to do this thing, but I knew I was supposed to. I was still thinking I could get out of it some way. Ha. The other three were talking, but I didn’t hear them—until I heard Anna say. “You’re glowing! Your smile is from ear to ear! I love this!”Honestly, I didn’t even know I was smiling. I was wrapped up in my thoughts; I thought my face was a display of the fear, insecurity, and struggle that was happening internally. Apparently not.

We got to the cabin and I changed clothes. By this time, we had about 20 minutes before the session started. I told the girls if I did anything, it would be “Good, Good Father” at the end of the session. As I stood looking at myself in the mirror, silently reminding myself to breathe, Anna walked up behind me and asked if I wanted her to massage my shoulders. I said yes and sat on the bed. Megan and Taylor had flopped down on the other bed. As I pulled “Good, Good Father” up on my phone, Anna started rubbing my shoulders. I closed my eyes and listened to the song, focusing on breathing. About halfway through the song, Anna stopped massaging my shoulders and placed one hand on top of my head. With her other hand, she started playing with my hair. I can’t describe those moments as anything other than holy. My spirit calmed and peace washed over me. I finally knew I was going to do this thing that I still didn’t want to do.

Our roommate Carolyn came in then and it was time to head to the conference room for the session. As we walked, Taylor and me ahead of Carolyn, Anna, and Megan, I could hear Anna telling Carolyn a little about what was happening. She shared with Carolyn about my word for 2016 being “unbound” and Carolyn said she would pray. Taylor put her arm around me as we approached the building and said, “This is a safe place. This is the place where you can do this.” I walked in, found Amanda and told her I was planning to join her at the end. She said she wouldn’t call me up, but told me to just come up.

Throughout that session, I sat on the floor in the back corner of the room, writing all the things that were pouring into my mind—things the Holy Spirit had spoken to me over the past few months, the reasons why I should and should not be doing this, just all the words. Tracy walked by me at one point and asked, “The floor? Are you comfy?” Yeah, I am—and I would probably fall out of a chair if I tried to sit in one right now, I thought. One thing I’ve learned about myself recently is that when my heart, mind, and spirit are swirling, I need to be sitting somewhere concrete and steady—like on the floor with a wall to support me.

The session began to close, and I quietly made my way to the front row. My heart was pounding. Amanda went to the keyboard and I stood up, turning to face the crowd. She started playing and singing; I closed my eyes and started signing.

And it was so hard. I kept fumbling (though no one probably noticed), and my hands felt awkward and uncooperative. But I did it. I had done what I had been asked to do…

Only the Beginning: Splendid Thursday

Thursday morning, we left Anna’s house with Rachel, another #the4500 member, and began our 4-hour drive to the retreat location. (For the record, these two are excellent road trip partners.) Halfway there, we met up with yet another #the4500 member, Taylor, and Anna jumped in her car for the rest of the drive. As we got back on the road, I began to tell Rachel my story—for the fourth time in less than 24 hours.

As we drove to the resort, I wondered when I would begin to get nervous about meeting all these faces I knew only online in real life. Because, really—who does that? But it never came. Instead, I was super excited. One person I anticipated meeting was Kelli. Kelli and I had become fast friends over the last few months. As of February, she wasn’t going to be at Splendid—and we were both so disappointed. Then, on the Monday before I left for Splendid, she texted me and said she was coming. Elated doesn’t even begin to cover how I felt upon receiving this news.

Once we arrived at the resort and unloaded the car, we began to encounter some of the girls who were already there. It was both weird and familiar to walk up to someone, hug them, and start talking. Because we’ve all spent the past year getting to know one another through the FB group, texts, and phone calls, we skipped over all the typical get-to-know-you small talk (an introvert’s dream!) and got right down to the real stuff.

At one point, I was walking through the resort to the office when I saw someone walking down the hill. I couldn’t quite make out who it was…until she started yelling my name: “Ticcoa! Is that Ticcoa?!?” And then I knew—it was Mama Lynn. We got within arm’s reach and hugged tightly. It was like greeting someone I’d known all my life. And this happened over, and over, and over—with Julie, and Tracy (“you made it, T!” she said to me), and Jana, and the two Aprils, and so many others.

IMG_1681Kelli was arriving in time for dinner, and as we drove down the “mountain” hill to the restaurant, my heart was filled with anticipation. When I walked through the door, my eyes immediately searched the room for this heart-sister, and when they fell on her, I made a beeline. Hugging her for the first time will always be a memory I treasure in my heart. We stood with arms around each other for a long time, until she whispered, “You see I’m being quiet.” For someone who usually has all the words, she was without them; I didn’t have very many of my own either. For months, we’d held onto the hope that we’d meet soon; “soon” ended up being a lot sooner than we’d anticipated.

When we got back to the resort after dinner, I followed Kelli to her cabin and proceeded to tell her the story I’d been telling others—the one that I’d promised her I’d tell her in person some day. Thus, this was the fifth telling of the story. (Numbers are important here, I promise!)

Again, at this point, so many wonderful things had taken place—just the very fact that I was present with these women was enough—that I was content with the weekend. Little did I know that it the “fun” was only just beginning…

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.

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!

photo 4

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo (2)

A cross and a pearl.

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

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

#the4500: An Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was this tweet:

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~