Unbound: Significant & Irreplaceable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capable of standing on my own two feet.

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

Know what that means?

This:

I am a woman who has significance and is irreplaceable.

I am a SIGNIFICANT and irreplaceable woman.

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


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

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

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

I already have that position.

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

It is TRUTH.

It is what IS.

And I am choosing to walk in that.

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

Because that’s who I am.

I am a daughter of the King.

Anything less is not who I am. 
I am unbound.

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.

This Is The Sign For Drowning, part 2

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

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

The barrier between watery grave and sun-kissed life.

Panic wells in her chest. Her mind races.

This cannot be how it ends.

She will not succumb to these monstrous depths.

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

She is determined.

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

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

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

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

She is exhausted, but she can see the shore.

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

She reaches with her toes…

…a few more inches.

There.

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

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

This is the sign for standing.

The Fascination and Fear of Waves

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

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

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

img_3899


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.

This Is The Sign For Drowning

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

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

A break. Infrequent and welcome.

It glides passed her, unassuming.

Another swells in the distance.

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

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

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

Determined, it returns again and again and again.

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

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

Gritty sand digs into her kneecaps.

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

Her eyes burn and her lungs scream for the surface.

Arms and legs flail.

Her fingers find themselves instinctively.

Fingertips to palm, pulling downward, swirling.

This is the sign for drowning.

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.)

 

Stones Of Remembrance: A Book Review

Books and words have always been an integral part of my life. They are my second skin, my place of solace, my preferred activity. Lately, new forms of this passion have taken over—launch teams and eBooks—both of which were foreign to me a year ago. Really, if you don’t count #the4500’s rogue involvement in unofficially launching Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love, I wasn’t even part of an official launch team until last November. And until now, I’ve just flat-out refused to read eBooks, because I’m stubborn and they are against my literary religion. Now? I’m on my fourth launch team in four months, and (gasp) just finished reading my second eBook of the year—Stones of Remembrance by Julie Presley.

I’ve had Stones of Remembrance on my to-read list for months—since I found out that Julie (who is a friend from #the4500) was an author, but hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet. A few weeks ago, an email from Julie landed in my inbox—and in it was an eBook version of Stones of Remembrance. I started reading it that night. I don’t know what I expected from Stones of Remembrance, but I certainly didn’t expect it to be as powerfully relatable as it was.

(FYI—any new subscribers to her email list get a copy of the Stones eBook. Go to her website, juliepresley.com, and give the woman your email address, people. She’s not spammy or annoying. Promise. You won’t regret it.)

Here’s the thing: I grew up on a heavy literary diet of Christian fiction. If it could be found on the inspirational or Christian fiction shelf of the library in the mid 90’s-2005, I’ve probably read it. As an English major in college, I dove into more classic literary works and found them so much more “meaty”—they made me think critically and view the world through different lenses. They became far more inviting than the glossy, easily-resolved Christian fiction I’d been accustomed to reading.

For me, the problem with typical Christian fiction is that it really doesn’t give room for characters to struggle with their faith. There might be an internal conflict or two, but it’s usually very brief and resolved quickly without much tension.

41g-gynckol-_sx371_bo1204203200_Not so in Stones of Remembrance. This story follows Allaya as she returns to her childhood vacation home for the purpose of reconnecting with God after being estranged from her family. Allaya wrestles with long-held pain, questioning God’s plan and seeking to reconcile her heart to His—and He talks back to her. The same is true for another central character, Finn—a childhood friend of Allaya’s who is trying his best to run from the voice of God. Yes, God has a speaking part in this book. And it is powerful. Over and over, as both Allaya and Finn bring their questions before their Heavenly Father, the response they hear is one of unwavering love and compassion. The back-and-forth nature of their conversations with God is sometimes agonizing—depicting the reality that God doesn’t always speak when we want Him to, or give us the answer we want right away.

Julie writes each scene with depth; her use of imagery pulls you into the story. She has found a perfect balance between believable characters and riveting plot lines. She builds in scriptural truths without sounding cheesy, old-fashioned, or pious. And when it comes to relational tension? She’s got that down, too.

Stones of Remembrance is edgy; it’s “not your mama’s Christian fiction.” It’s real. It’s honest. It’s authentic.

~*~

You can get your hands on a copy of Stones of Remembrance by joining Julie’s email subscription at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

I’d love to hear what you think about the book if you read it!

Connect with Julie on Facebook.

You can also check out Julie’s latest project, Nor Forsake, here.

The Poison of Perfection

Attention to details. 
Exquisite presentation.
Every little thing—plans, dreams, goals, emotions—in its cookie-cutter place.
Flawless execution.
No room for mistakes, tripping up, falling down.

 
Doesn’t sound so bad on the surface, does it?
The result could only be a job well done, right?
None of these things are bad in and of themselves.
Until we bundle them all together,
tie ourselves to the load
like a prisoner to a ball and chain
and call it
perfectionism.

  

 
My goodness—what a dirty word it is.

 
It sounds pretty.
It even looks pretty.

 
The very formation of it—all those curves and soft edges—make it flow right there on the page.

 
(You’re humming that John Legend song, now—aren’t you? Admit it. I won’t tell.)

 
Perfectionism.
We buy into it.
I bought into it.
We think we have to live up to it.
I thought I had to live up to it.

 
Perfectionism.
It lies to us, friends.
Perfectionism seductively whispers that we have to achieve it in order to be accepted or to be successful.
Perfectionism sneaks into our psyche, often early on in our lives, conditioning us to just try harder to be perfect, unfailingly good at everything.
Perfectionism chokes our ability to admit our helplessness.
Perfectionism paralyzes us with the fear that we can never measure up.

~*~

He sat across the table from me, composition book open before him, pencil in hand.
I spoke softly to him.
“All you have to do is try. It doesn’t have to be right; it doesn’t have to be perfect.
All I want you to do is try.”
His tears fell faster, sobs caught in his chest.
“You can do this. I know you can. I believe in you.”
~*~

Perfectionism is poison.
It makes us believe we can’t succeed before we even try.

I’m a recovering perfectionist who knows this all too well. It’s been an underlying current in my worldview since pre-adolescence years.

I know how difficult it is to live under this largely self-inflicted mandate to be the best at it all, to mask the less-than-pretty emotions, and to strive for impossible standards.

And when I see my students—at the very young, impressionable ages of 5, 6, 7—falling prey to the same mindset, my heart breaks.

It breaks when the simplest task releases a torrent of tears because the student can’t bear the thought of not getting it right.

He doesn’t know what I know, now—that the process of getting it wrong—is exactly how he will learn to get it right; getting it wrong will unlock the freedom to fall and get back up again. Getting it wrong will allow him to learn how strong, how smart, how resilient he is.

  

I sit across that table from him, silently praying for those lies to fall away, willing him to just try. Because I know he will succeed; he won’t get those words spelled correctly every time, but he will succeed. He will succeed because all he has to do is try his best.

~*~
Quietly waiting for him to calm down,
that still small voice whispers to my own heart:
You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to have all the answers.
You just have to try.
Listen to what I’m saying to you—and just try.
Don’t fight so hard,
just rest in knowing that I want the best for you.
~*~

Our Heavenly Father doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He knows we can’t be. He came to the cross to be our Perfection through salvation. Any other attempt at achieving perfection is futile. We will chase our proverbial tails until we’re exhausted by pursuing perfection. It’s not worth it. I’d rather be imperfect and free to be who God created me to be than to spend all my energy stuffing that person into a package that appears perfect.

Friends, as we are running headlong into a season of trying to measure up, check all the boxes, prepare all the decorations, gifts, and parties, don’t give in to the lie of perfection. We aren’t perfect. Not one of us. We can’t be; we’re human. We can do our very best to make the most of the season. But what really matters is that we listen for His voice, follow His leading, and lay down our perfectionism for His holiness.

Rising From the Wasteland

Act One
I sat before the computer, awaiting the interview
with the Language Proficiency evaluator.
I was on my way to Gally U.
Then came the critic who said “don’t go.”
Fear crept in; I allowed it.

Act Two
Fear overtook anticipation.
I unpacked my bags, cancelled my plans,
left a chair in a classroom empty.
Retreated into darkness and defeat.
A dream deflated.
Wasted. Broken. Withered. Silenced.

Act Three
I am emerging from
the bramble and briars,
leaning on the One who
redeems and restores.
I have Joy.
I am Alive.
I have risen from the wasteland.
I am growing again.

 

 

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:

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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.