Immediately after the group session ended Friday night, I got hit hard with all the shame gremlins, as Brené Brown refers to them. All the voices that said I shouldn’t be doing this, the voices that I was not qualified to do this, the voices that said I had no business doing this. I managed to stuff them down for the rest of the night. Then Saturday happened.
As the sun began to peek through the windows of our cabin, I groggily rolled over to find Anna looking at her phone, giggling. Eyes half-open, I looked at her like she’d lost her mind.
“Your Timehop post yesterday! This is hilarious!” she quietly gushed, trying not to awaken our roommates.
She read the post to me:
My eyes opened wide as it hit me…the original post was from three years before, in April 2013—just 3 weeks after the conversation with my pastor happened. I’d gone to my five closest friends—Christine and four of my former professors at NGU—for advice on the matter. They all counseled me to keep pursuing the field of ASL. Then, by the time I reposted the picture from Timehop on Friday, I’d told my story five times in two days.
When this realization dawned on me—because it hadn’t when I wrote the words and posted the memory the day before—I started laughing, too.
“We’re way beyond ‘Is this a sign?’” Anna observed, as I buried my face in the pillow to muffle my incredulous laughter.
Um, yeah. I think so.
Our celebratory giggling and chatter eventually awakened Kristen and Carolyn; as they began to get up and get ready for the day, Anna and I filled Carolyn in on the whole story. Because it was still very early and I was in a state of awe, I don’t remember everything she said, but I do remember us talking about the power of story and how telling our own stories takes bravery, but is worthwhile because we never know who needs to hear our particular story.
Somewhere between this conversation and breakfast, all the voices of insecurity began to weasel their way back into my mind. My brain was overwhelmed, I was on extrovert-overload, and I desperately needed to process what had happened thus far. I also needed to make a decision about whether I would be signing during the worship session that morning and evening.
With less than an hour before the first session started, I walked up to the main building to grab breakfast. As I approached the porch where it was being served, I was overwhelmed by the thought of having to engage with the crowd; I was barely holding myself together and I could not make myself sit down for small talk. Kelli was standing at the edge of the porch, so I walked up to say good morning. She turned around and I told her that I was not in a good place and that I needed to find a quiet spot.
“Do you need to find a quiet spot alone, or do you want me to come?” she asked.
“I don’t know…no, I want you to come,” I replied.
We found a quiet spot and she allowed me to sit quietly, without pressure to talk. I turned on my Splendid playlist and let it play softly as we sat in easy silence. Eventually, as I usually do when given the space to gather my thoughts and speak slowly, I began to pour out what was on my heart. I told her that I didn’t want to sign anymore that day, that I wanted the night before to be enough. But I couldn’t get any peace out of that decision. So, I told Kelli I would sign that morning, but I was letting myself off the hook for the evening session; I would simply allow myself to soak it in. I found the song I was most familiar with on Amanda’s playlist.
As we sat there, I also shared with her one of the biggest obstacle I have in signing in front of people:
“I wish I could open my eyes while signing. I’ve never been able to do it. If I’m signing in front of a group, my eyes are closed.”
As we got ready to head back to the conference room for the morning session, she pulled something out of her purse and handed it to me. It was a charm for the bracelet she’d sent me a few months earlier. And it said BRAVE. “You needed the HOPE one a few months ago; now you need the BRAVE.”
I switched out the charms then and there.
We walked back to the conference room, I found Amanda and told her I’d join her for “Open Up The Heavens” and found a seat. When Amanda began the worship portion of the session, I again sneaked to the front row—if I were already there, I’d have no excuses. Tracy walked by as I sat there and stuck out her fist; I fist-bumped her back, thinking she had no idea what she’d started when she told Amanda to ask me to join her.
“Open Up the Heavens” began playing and I turned around to face the crowd. And it was even harder than the night before. I was hyper-aware of everyone in the room. My hands fumbled even more. The signs I knew in my sleep were suddenly gone. But you can’t really tell it in the video. I’d given Taylor my phone and asked her to video for me. And she did. (It’s on my Facebook page–I couldn’t post it here.)
Throughout the rest of the day, I just felt heavy. I was exhausted; I was mentally, emotionally, and physically drained. I’d been playing the role of extrovert for three days and I was done. I needed quiet solitude. We were scheduled to attend three workshops throughout the morning and early afternoon. I’d been looking forward to each one (and will write about them soon), but by that time I had nothing—absolutely nothing left with which to engage. I managed to participate in the first one—Julie’s session on “The Healing Path”, but for the other two—Anna’s “Who Husbands Your Heart?” and Rachel H’s “Failure: It Isn’t the End”—all I could do was show up, plant my butt in the chair, and take a few notes. It wasn’t until Sunday afternoon that I was able to process and unpack the things I’d heard in each of those workshops.
After Julie’s and Anna’s sessions, we headed to lunch. I sat with Kelli and several others. I spoke very little, hurried through lunch, and headed for the door. I felt like I was going to crawl out of my skin if I didn’t find a place to be quiet and still, stat. I tried sitting on out cabin porch overlooking the lake, walking out to the overlook, sitting in our cabin—all to no avail. Half an hour later, we were scheduled for Family Time to discuss the workshops we’d attended thus far. I met Anna, Megan, Taylor, and Melissa at our designated spot—a circle of chairs under the trees outside the conference room.
Megan read off our discussion prompts that we’d been using during each Family Time meeting:
- What was something new you heard today and how did you react to it?
- How is God asking you to dwell with Him?
- How is God breaking ground around you to draw you into dwelling with Him?
As is often the case when no one wants to be the first to answer questions like these, we all kind of looked at one another. I gave a half-sarcastic laugh and said I thought we all knew how these questions applied to me. Anna patted my knee and told me I didn’t have to talk this time. I told them that I was in an uncomfortable place and had been all day. I told them I was done signing, that I was not doing it during the evening session, and I was ready to quit. It was taking too much of my energy. I was done.
Megan looks me square in the eye and says, “So we’re just at the point of disobedience, now, are we?”
I stood up, dropped my notebook in my chair, and started to walk away, only half-jokingly. She’d struck a nerve and I fully intended to walk away for a few minutes. But I was too close to Anna. She reached out, grabbed the hem of my shirt and pulled me back: “You’re not going anywhere.”
I don’t know what else was said during our Family Time. In the few minutes before the next workshop, I followed Anna into the back room of the conference center to help her prepare a visual aid for her next workshop. “I’m so exhausted. I’m so overwhelmed. I’m so done with this. I need to write. I need to process. I need to get still. But I can’t and it’s frustrating me,” I told her. “It’s a growing process,” she said, “this seed inside you has been dormant for a long time and it’s beginning to bud again. That’s not easy. But you will be okay. Give yourself the space you need.”
I sat through the last workshop, taking notes, but not speaking at all. The last thing Rachel said was the phrase that hit me hardest: “Sometimes you have to forgive yourself for a past failure.” Bam. Yes, that.
I spent free time that afternoon trying yet again to get still and write the things that were swirling min my heart and mind—to no avail. When it was finally time for the evening session, I was as heavy and miserable as I’d been all day. I was ready to sit back and soak in the evening’s worship and teaching.
The chairs had been arranged in a huge circle around the perimeter of the room. Kelli, Taylor, and I found seats at the side of the room. I found Amanda and told her I was sitting this session out. And I did. I engaged in the worship portion and tried to find the stillness I’d been searching for all day.
At the end of the worship segment, we took a break so Amanda could pack all her stuff in her van, because she had to head home that night. When she left, I thought to myself “Okay. I made it. I’m off the hook. I don’t have to sign anymore.”
Because we no longer had sound equipment, we had to move our chairs into a tight, multi-row semi circle around the front of the room so we could hear Anna as she spoke during the teaching session. As we were waiting for everyone to reassemble, I was sitting in the third row. Tracy was in the front of the room; I glanced up and saw her beckoning me with her finger.
Oh, crap. What does she want?
I walked over to her.
She looked at me and said, “We’re going to sing “Jesus Love Me” later. Will you sign with us?
I looked away and said nothing. I wanted to say no.
“Just say: ‘I want to.’” she said.
I looked back at her. “I don’t want to, Tracy. But I will.”
After Anna and Mama Lynn spoke, Tracy got up and shared her heart for the women in the room. At one point she was calling out people and reviewing the obstacles they’d overcome in getting to the retreat, the areas in which they were growing. And in the midst of it, she made eye contact with me and said, “Ticcoa, you had to choose to be free.” Yes. The last seven months had been an ongoing choice to be free from fear and anxiety, depression and darkness. I had to choose the Light.
When she finished talking, she called me up to join her and all the women in the room joined hands. we began to sing “Jesus Loves Me’ and I lifted my hands to sign.
And I started to sign…with my eyes open.
I didn’t even realize they were open until halfway through the song. I immediately closed them, but then opened them again. As we sang this simple, yet profound song acapella, I made eye contact with several of the women in the front row.
I’d done what I said I was not doing again that weekend.
And when we were finished singing, all the heaviness that had been all over me all day was gone.
This was enough. God had shown up and shown out. It was more than enough. He’d gone “beyond a sign” that I was supposed to pick this dream back up. I was not going back the same way I had come…