Processing

Inhale/Exhale

I have a love-hate relationship with blogging.

And writing.

I love that writing is a cathartic outlet for processing the moments that make up my life—the celebratory, the nerve-wracking, the gut-wrenching. The words on the page hold the emotions of a few minutes, days, weeks, months, years; they convey the details that were most striking to my senses in a given timeframe. I love that the lessons I’m learning and the insight they bring are preserved on the page and within the tangled webs of the internet through my blog.

I love that I can share my growth with those who are a few steps ahead of me or a few steps behind me in the journey. I love that writing has provided connections with many women I wouldn’t otherwise know. Women who have reached behind them, taken my hand, and helped me find my footing on the path. Women who are finding their own footing who I can reach back to and guide along the path as those ahead of me have done.

But I hate it sometimes too. I hate it when I go for weeks (even months) without writing something other than to-do lists (I write an awful lot of lists these days). The absence of catharsis through the written word weighs heavily on my soul and my mind is bogged down by all the thoughts and lists of blog topics that pile up like hundreds of cars in the ten-mile New Jersey Turnpike traffic jam I once was unfortunate enough to experience. (Ironically, it was re-reading a seven-year-old blog of mine that reminded me of that scenario this morning.)

I hate it when I start thinking about numbers—wondering how many people actually read my blog, or berating myself for not posting on a regular basis, or lamenting the fact that writing blogs “the right way” doesn’t flow easily for me (I don’t think I’ve ever written a post that was less than 800 words).

I hate the pressure to say something witty, or to make a profound statement. If I let those thoughts run wild and free, I can talk myself out of writing for quite a while.

But when the release comes—when I allow the mental block to crack, when I sit in front of my laptop and let the words start flowing, I’m always a bit surprised at the sentences, the paragraphs, the pages that begin to appear on the screen.

Words are in me. They always have been. Words are as much a part of me as breathing. And just as I need to inhale and exhale in order to breathe, I need the words that pour into me to also pour out of me.

You’d think I would have learned this lesson by now.

That I would carve out time each day to jot a few sentences…a few paragraphs…a few pages.

Interestingly, as I’m sitting at my desk typing this post, my phone buzzes with a calendar reminder: Manuscript Deadline, today at 7:30 p.m.  Last October, I tasked myself with having the fifty-thousand-word, first rough draft of my book manuscript completed by February 27th. I surprised myself by meeting that goal on January 14th. And as happy as I was to have accomplished the task that seemed so impossible, I immediately started letting all my insecurities about writing a book start piling up: who am I to write a book? Who’s going to actually read this book? Are my thoughts valuable enough to sandwich between a front and back cover and share with the world?

For the weeks sandwiched between January 14th and yesterday, February 23rd, I did not peek at the manuscript. I pushed it aside, knowing that although I needed to let it sit and rest for a bit, eventually I needed to open it back up, poke around in those pages, and begin the messy process of editing all those words.

A lot has happened in my personal life since the night I pushed my manuscript aside. Some parts of those weeks feel like distant memories and other parts of those weeks are still very tender spots that need care and attention. I’m walking a fine line of knowing what is mine to share and what isn’t—which is a huge reason that I’ve been absent from this blog. My story is closely woven with the stories of others and much of what is happening in my heart, mind, and spirit is so entangled in the stories of others that I can’t fully express it.

It’s a season that I both love and hate.
I love the growth and new opportunities that are placed before me daily. I love the new people I’m meeting. I love that so many aspects of my life that are now normal or becoming routine were once some of my greatest fears. I love the paradox of it.

But I hate that my heart is in many places while my physical body can only be in one. I hate that arriving in one place means leaving the other. I hate the paradox of it.


It’s a season in which breathing deeply—inhaling and exhaling both air and words—is the greatest act of self-care I can offer myself.

And so,

I draw in a breath,

deeply,

pause,

and

release it.

Day to Day, Own Your Brave, Uncategorized

When The Gift Isn’t Pretty

My younger brother (I’m not telling you which one) is known for his lack of gift-wrapping skills. His gift-picking skills are pretty on point, but once he needs to pretty it up, all systems fail. Spotting his gifts on Christmas morning almost always means looking for lumpy packages with too much wrapping paper and duct tape. Yes, duct tape. Lots of duct tape. Then there’s my sister, who painstakingly selects matching paper, ribbons, and tags for her gifts. The resulting package is often almost too pretty to open. In both cases, the presentation isn’t always pleasing to the eye, but the heart behind each gesture is genuine.

~*~

This is a post I don’t want to write.

It’s a post I haven’t wanted to write for almost a week.

This post is hard.

It’s a post that has to be written.

This post is about the not-so-bright-side of moving a million miles away from home. (Okay, a thousand. But really, is there much difference? I don’t think so.)

For the last six months (has it really only been six months?), I’ve encouraged both myself and others to “own their brave.” Heck, I even coined a hashtag to accompany this mantra: #OwnYourBrave. And my friend Kelli wrote a post about me and my “life plan” of owning my brave. At the beginning of the year, it sounded good and inspiring. Six months later, that phrase has slapped me around, come back to bite me, and mocked me more than I care to admit.

(I’ve had the beginnings of a blog post about this phrase drafted since mid-January, but I’ve been too chicken to finish and publish it. Soon.)

Own Your Brave.

That’s what I’m doing today.

Showing up to do something hard and uncomfortable when I’d really just rather not.

Here goes.

~*~

I’ve been in Texas for nearly a month. I find that hard to believe in a lot of ways.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve actually made it a month without a full-on panic attack and a one-way ticket back to South Carolina. In a lot of ways, I’ve surprised myself—in getting here; in staying here.

I could sit here and tell you that it’s been totally easy—that I’ve had no moments of doubt.

I could pretend—or at least hide—the parts of this journey that are more vulnerable and uncomfortable.

But I won’t.

~*~

For the first two weeks I was here, time seemed to pass fluidly. Because I’m so routine-oriented, the sudden lack of routine was disconcerting. For the most part though, I was still riding pretty high on the adrenaline of the move, the excitement of seeing friends, and the prospect of “adventure.”

I’m not exactly sure when it shifted, but I’ve wrestled through more than a few days of intense homesickness over the last week and a half. I miss a lot of things. I miss my sister. I miss my mama. I miss my brothers. I miss “adopted” brother, sister, and nieces. I miss my co-worker friends and I miss my workplace. I miss my routine. I miss my familiar.

And because I always want to protect my people from hurt and harm, I have avoided saying these things like the plague. I don’t want people back home to think I’m having the time of my life just because I moved to Texas. And I don’t want people here to think I hate Texas because I miss my people at home. (Please note that NO ONE has imposed these feelings on me. It’s just what my brain does to me.)

Transition and all its emotions is just messy. I don’t do messy feelings well. They make me shudder and cringe and I will do almost anything to avoid them. But if there’s ANYTHING I’ve learned over the last six months, it is this: the messy feelings don’t just go away; they linger until you acknowledge them. And if you just try to stuff them down, they’ll do more damage than good. The only way around uncomfortable emotions is through them.

Part of the reason I’ve avoided writing about this is that I prefer my writing to be tied up in a pretty little bow—a complete package with a polished conclusion.

This kind of post—if it’s truly honest and raw—can’t be tied up. Instead of a pretty box wrapped in shiny paper and topped with a flawless bow, it’s a bit more like the awkward, lumpy packages that look like they’ve undergone drop tests from many-stories-high. That package may not be pretty to look at, but It’s pretty safe to bet that it’s full of good things.  Those things cannot be revealed unless the giver is willing to hand over that hot mess of a present, though. And the recipient has to be willing to rip through the layers of covering to get to the heart of the gift.

Sometimes before you can do that, you have to just sit with the whole package and ponder it. Then, maybe, you can open it.

For now, I’m sitting with the package of missing the familiar and wondering when the present will become the familiar.

Own Your Brave, Uncategorized

Loaves in the Land of Surreal

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

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

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

A promise.

A reminder.

A gift.

~*~

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

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

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

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

Fine. Point taken.

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Own Your Brave, Processing, Uncategorized

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.

Day to Day, Own Your Brave, Processing, Uncategorized

Beyond A Sign: Splendid Saturday

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:

 

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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.”img_2043

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.)

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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:

  1. What was something new you heard today and how did you react to it?
  2. How is God asking you to dwell with Him?
  3. 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…

 

Own Your Brave, Processing

The Darkened Arena: The Burial of a Dream

(continued from “I Could Do That”: The Beginning of A Dream)

During the three-and-a-half years after the ASL program began at NGU, I audited ASL 1, 2, and 3 at my alma mater, building my vocabulary and becoming more comfortable with facial grammar and the structural components of ASL. Through countless conversations with the instructors, I eventually concluded that I wanted to get serious about pursuing a graduate degree in teaching ASL. As you might imagine, that’s not an easy degree to come by. Acceptance of ASL as a valid, stand-alone language is still not widespread. (Don’t even get me started on that soapbox.) There are a handful of related programs across the country, but the ultimate one is Gallaudet University’s M.A.T. in Sign Language.

Gallaudet University (Gally, as it is affectionately known), located in Washington, D.C., is “the world’s only university designed to be barrier-free for deaf and hard-of-hearing students”—thereby making it a truly immersive environment for Deaf culture. It is the Mecca of education in the DEAF-World. And it became my goal to study there.

But I was so scared to act on that goal. Entering into any new culture, learning any new, non-native language is uncomfortable; for my sheltered, introverted heart, it was terrifying. Many conversations with my mentors and former professors took place before I was remotely ready to move forward.

11109_651171316406_1886242799_nFinally, in the spring of 2013, I felt that it was time. I poured over the Gally U graduate school website, requested application materials, and decided to visit the program over the summer. I also enrolled in a 2-week ASL immersion course in order to gauge the pace and atmosphere of classes at Gally, which was to take place in July. I arranged to stay with a family friend in Annapolis and commute into D.C. for classes each day.

In April 2013, as I prepared to begin this journey, I approached my pastor for prayer regarding wisdom, provision, and direction at the end of a church service. He prayed for those things; then when the service ended, he had a brief conversation with me. I was poised to follow what I understood as God’s calling to immersion learning and graduate school at Gallaudet. I was ready, I was willing, I was determined. I had prayed about it, I had researched it, I had applied for it, I had interviewed for it, and I had enrolled.  I was excited about it.

And then one conversation in a seemingly safe place brought it all crashing down. The words came like knives:  “This is not what you’re supposed to do. If you go down this path, you will be hurt. ” My heart was crushed. Shattered. Grieving. I don’t think I even responded to him—if I did, I don’t remember. For hours that afternoon, I drove aimlessly, numb and aching. I finally went home that evening and cried my eyes out—deep, gut-wrenching sobs that made my muscles hurt.  

For a few weeks, I struggled with knowing whether these words were true. Had I heard the Holy Spirit wrong? Were all the events of the last few years a tease? Did I really hold this passion for ASL and the Deaf community for nothing? Those closest to me, the people who had been alongside me as I explored this passion all counseled me that I was supposed to pursue this path. I prayed, and prayed and prayed. But my confidence in my ability to hear what God was speaking to me had been skewed.

Ultimately, I decided that I would follow through with my plans to visit Gallaudet and take the immersion class in July. Two weeks before the trip, I completed a video interview and assessment with the ASL department chair to make sure my skill level was appropriate for the course I’d chosen. (It was.) On the night before I was scheduled to leave for Annapolis, I picked up my rental car.

And I had a panic attack on the way home, though I didn’t have a name for it then. Every possible fear and anxious thought flooded my mind. What if my pastor was right? What if this was the worst decision I would ever make? What if something unimaginable happened to me?

Within two hours of picking up the rental car, I decided I was not going.

The next morning, I returned my rental car. I emailed the friend I was supposed to stay with and said, “I’m not coming.”

And I did not go.

~*~

The arena is darkened, devoid of light. The spectators have left; the show is over for them. In the middle of the arena floor, crumpled into a bruised and broken heap, lays the contender. For her, the battle has only just begun. The opponents were brutal—Fear, Anxiety, Depression, Lies, Regret, Numbness—they have all done their part in taking her down. Now, they’ve retreated to the edges of the arena, lurking in the shadows, taunting their victim with whispers.

“You’ve made a huge mistake.”

“You have nothing to offer.”

“Too many bad things would have happened to you.”

“You’re invisible; no one sees you.”

“No one values your passion.”

“Wasted—that’s all that opportunity was.”

“Your dreams are worthless.”

“You missed your chance. You blew it.”

“I’m done with you.”

Whimpering silently, the contender closes her eyes, desperately trying to keep the voices out of her head. But they are unwavering, always there. The ache in the pit of her stomach burns, threatening to tear her in half. As the pain grows, spreading through her limbs, from fingertips to toenails, she loses consciousness and slips into the darkness.

~*~

The decision not to go to Gallaudet that summer because I chose to hear the lies over the truth damaged my heart and mind in ways I never imagined it would. I shut down; I became a shell of myself. I lost my joy, my motivation, my belief that Jesus could speak to me. I shut my mentor-friends out because I couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing them. I put the mask of “everything’s okay” on every day and went through the motions of my life, but those closest to me—particularly my mom, my sister, and my best friend and co-teacher, Christine— knew I was struggling. Struggling to stay afloat; struggling to care; struggling to believe in God’s goodness; struggling to believe I was enough in every area—as a daughter, a sister, a friend, a teacher, etc. My self-worth plummeted. I stopped signing except to teach my students a few signs here and there. I laid my dream down and buried it under the premise that it was never supposed to be mine to begin with. If I could have stayed in bed twenty-four hours of every day for the remainder of 2013 and all of 2014, I would have. I was depressed, ashamed, and broken. It was the darkest season I have ever known—and hope to never know again.

In October of 2014, I remember going to bed one night, whispering, “If this is all You’ve got for me, I don’t want to wake up.”  1460279_693242101216_124019780_n

Guess what?

He wasn’t done with me.

In March of 2015, I was rejected from Jen Hatmaker’s launch team and stumbled into a Facebook group of women that was taking it upon themselves to “go rogue” and launch her book anyway…which eventually landed me at The Splendid Retreat in Texas last week…

 

Own Your Brave

Get Out of the Car: The IF series, Part 1

I don’t exactly remember the first time I heard about IF Gathering, whether it was Jen Hatmaker’s Facebook page or Ann Voskamp’s blog. I certainly didn’t understand what it was all about until I saw people talking about it in #the4500 Facebook group. But I was intrigued. So when the internet began buzzing with IF 2016 registration talk last October, I decided I would register for an IF:Local. I signed up for IF:Mauldin—the closest one to me. If February rolled around and I didn’t want to go, I didn’t have to go—so I told myself. But the closer February 5-6 got, the more compelled I felt to be there.

Inviting someone to go with me did cross my mind, but more and more, I felt like God was telling me to go alone. So I did.

~*~

My car rolled to a stop in the parking space across the street from the stained-glass studded, red brick building. I shifted into park, turned off the ignition, and took a deep breath. “What are you doing here? Turn the car back on. Leave. You don’t have to go in.” Grabbing my phone, I summoned my tribe of internet friends to yell at me: “I’m sitting in my car outside the church. Somebody yell at me and tell me to get my butt out of the car and in the door.” And they did, immediately. I sat for a few more minutes, heart pounding, feeling nauseated. I knew no one inside the building. But I knew I was supposed to be here this weekend. I opened the door and stepped out of the car.

~*~

Getting out of that car was NOT what I wanted to do. Running the other way seemed like a more appealing option. But I got out of the car anyway. My steps were unsure and my heart was racing as I walked in the door and joined the registration line. I picked up my name tag, was checked off a list and turned to sit at a table. In a room full of strangers. Sliding into a chair at an empty table in the middle of the room, I pulled out my notebook and tried to look at ease. Eventually, a few others joined me at my table. At one point, a woman from the table in front of me came over and introduced herself because she’d noticed my name and had an uncommon name herself. Then the event started and I relaxed a little.

IF Journal pictureThat first evening session was hard—I felt completely vulnerable and exposed, never entirely comfortable; hearing Jo Saxton speak was so good—she’s both wise and hilarious. And by the end of the night, tears were streaming down my face. I went home exhausted and unconvinced that I’d actually make myself return for the all-day Saturday session. I didn’t decide I was going back until an hour before the event started the next morning, in fact. I am so glad I did.

Walking into the building Saturday morning, I stopped by the registration table to pay for lunch. Standing there were two women. They moved aside as I approached the table, handed my money to the girl sitting there, and gave my name: “I was here last night. Ticcoa.”

As soon as my name was out of my mouth, one of the ladies standing to the side gasped and started gushing: “That’s such a beautiful name! It sounds Native American. I love Native American stuff. What does it mean? Where did it come from!?” I swear I must have looked like a deer caught in headlights. She had me by the shoulders, rapidly firing these comments at me, and I was struggling to keep up. I offered answers to her questions, hoping they were intelligible. (She really was quite lovely about it all—I was just shocked out of my little introvert shell.)

After a few minutes, she let me go, and I slunk off to the same table I’d sat at the night before, knowing the women who’d sat there the night before weren’t attending that day. Alone again. But not for long.   (It was at this point that I Tweeted: My name forces me out of hiding. Darn nametags.) A few minutes passed and one of the women at the table in front of me waved me over and invited me to sit with them. So I moved to their table…and who would sit beside me but the lover of my name, Mary Carol?

These four women—Donita (who’d approached me the night before), Lisa, Mary Carol, and Wendy—along with Susan, one of the event hosts, changed the course of my day—they welcomed me into their circle with more warmth than I could’ve asked for.

One of the scariest, most beautiful things about IF: Gathering is that during each session, there is a time of guided discussion that is only effective if you’re willing to be real and get a bit vulnerable. Through one of these questions, I was able to share my story of the last year with these women—including my involvement with the 4500 and my going to Splendid in the spring. When I told these women—who I’d only known for a few hours—that I was flying alone for the first time, they were immediately asking for the dates, promising to pray for me, and writing down their names so I could find them on Facebook. Susan came and sat down with us as I ended my story, and was saying (of the 4500), “It was the best ‘no’ ever.” She asked if I had ever read Lysa TerKeurst’s book The Best Yes. When I said no, but it was on my list of books to read, she fetched a copy of it from a nearby table and handed it to me: “It’s yours from MUMC.” They were exactly what I needed in that moment. I’d gone from feeling alone among strangers to being welcomed into this circle of long-time friends.

And that was just the local aspect of IF:Gathering. There’s so much more I have to process and write about in reference to the actual speakers—which will come in pieces here and there.

This time a year ago, I was begging God for community—for soul-deep friendships. I was so caught up in and sick of the comparison game that I was ready to quit social media. And then I got the best “no” from Jen Hatmaker’s launch team people and found a crazy bunch of girls on Facebook and Twitter who banded together and formed a virtual community that has grown into something more special than any of us could have imagined.

Before the 4500, I never would’ve considered doing something like this. But those women have made me braver, more courageous, and shown me that I am not alone in my struggles. Because of them, I have realized that just taking a wobbly baby step of faith eventually leads to a steadier stride.

 

Baby Steps quote image

Day to Day, Own Your Brave

The One Where I Jump

The clouds are so close I can almost touch them.  My toes hang over the edge, nothing but air beneath them, only the heels of my feet making contact with solid ground. All I can see is a vast sea of blue and white—above, below, to the left, and to the right. Behind me, stretching into the distance is a dusty road, wide on the horizon line. But here, where I’m balancing on this jagged tip of the earth, the road tapers to a point.

The slightest breeze washes over me and I know. It’s time. Time to lean forward; it’s time to lean into the Wind that has been stirring around me for so long. It’s time to jump and see what happens.

My only two options are forward and backward. One of them isn’t really an option at all.

I take a deep breath.

And step forward.

~*~

An idea has been stirring in my heart and spirit for months. An idea that I hesitated to own, to claim, to speak, to commit to.

The time has come—to commit to it, to own it, to speak Life into it.

It’s time to “spill the beans,” as one of my #the4500 sisters said.

So here it is:

I’m writing a book.

Not thinking about writing a book.

Actually writing a book.

A book about freedom. And bravery. And being unbound.

I have a lot of questions about what that looks like long-term…

…and very few answers.

But I have a God-given vision

and a Holy Spirit-breathed message.

And so, I am writing.

 

Saying this out loud, both here on this page,

and in real life, eye-to-eye conversations

serves this purpose:

I covet your prayers.

And I need the accountability.

 

This is the jumping-off point.

 

~*~

“Then the Lord answered me and said, “Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets, that the one who reads it may run. For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; for it will certainly come, it will not delay.…” ~Habakkuk 2:2-3

 

 But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. ~Isaiah 40:31

 

Jump

Book Reviews

The Sound of Gravel: Book Review & Link-Up

IMG_3055I’m so excited to finally share this review with you. The longer I’ve sat on these words, having read The Sound of Gravel seven weeks ago in the first round of advanced reading copies mailed out to members of #the4500launches, the more I’ve had to say about this book. I’ve wanted to read it all over again since the moment I finished it. The Sound of Gravel, Ruth’s willingness to share her story with us, the amazing way I came to be part of this launch team, the opportunities I’ve had to tell the story and encourage others to read this book have shifted my perspective in many ways.

I hope you enjoy my thoughts on The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner. And be sure to stick around at the end for a link-up where you can read more reviews of the book from other bloggers!

~*~

The soft glow of the desk lamp warms my dark bedroom. Huddled in my chair, feet propped on the foot of my bed, I’m burrowed under a blanket with a book inches from my nose. I’m engrossed in a world so far removed from my own that I have to remind myself that this is real. Someone actually lived through this. I keep forgetting to breathe. Salty tears leak out of my eyes, blurring my vision, knocking the words on the page out of focus. I hear myself gasp occasionally—hand flying to my mouth as I think, “No, no, no.”

I have a hangover. A binge-reading hangover.

It’s not the first of its kind that I’ve experienced, but it might be the most haunting. In fact, I don’t think I’ve had such a marked reaction to a book since I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved in college. (Yes, it’s that haunting.)

I finished The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner yesterday.

The Sound of Gravel is Ruth’s memoir about her childhood spent in Colonia LeBaron—home of a doomsday polygamist cult founded by Ruth’s grandfather. The words that most readily come to mind in describing this book are gripping, numbing, traumatic, enthralling, angering, and heart-breaking—all these words are appropriate, because what Ruth faced in the fifteen years the book spans is more than most people will face in their entire lives.

Growing up in a ramshackle house, haunted by the murder of her father (a prophet of the church of the colony), shouldering a great deal of parenting responsibilities for her siblings, experiencing traumatic situations and experiences no child should be forced to encounter, young Ruthie struggles to make sense of the life she’s been thrust into while recognizing that she doesn’t quite fit in, wondering “did I belong here?”

I don’t want to divulge many spoilers, because I think it’s important that the reader hear the bulk of this story through Ruth’s own words—it’s her story to tell, not mine. As readers and listeners of other’s stories, it can be easy to gloss over or romanticize the struggle faced by the storytellers. One of my worst habits in my college creative nonfiction writing class was tying up my pieces with “a pretty bow”—a habit my professor tried to force out of me. And while this story does eventually get tied into a lopsided bow, it takes a lot of frayed ribbons to get there.

Before I ever started reading The Sound of Gravel, I felt strongly about holding this story with a gentleness of heart, mind, and soul—to honor Ruth’s vulnerability in sharing her experience with the world. Maybe this is due to the fact that I came to know Ruth through an incredible series of events that involved her cousin (my friend Anna) finding Ruth on Twitter and approaching her about helping her promote her book. Or maybe it’s because I’ve recently been impressed with the realization that we all have our own reasons to be brave—and we all have to own our brave—whatever that looks like for each of us. Ruth has done just that by writing and sharing her story—she owns her brave, a brave that is so far removed from my frame of reference that it is hard to fathom.

Seriously. Wrapping my mind around the scenes that play out in this book left my mind spinning, searching for that pretty bow to tie everything up, to bring resolution to the heart-rending trauma. For the entire day after I finished The Sound of Gravel, I felt numb. I found myself blinking back tears at random moments, my mind transported back to the dusty Mexican landscape, thinking of little Ruthie facing yet another obstacle.

Ruth Wariner is a powerful storyteller; she weaves detailed scenes with gripping language. She begins by painting a vivid picture of the isolated environment of the colony, and then thrusts her readers into the mind of her five-year-old self, leading us into the world as she knew it. Once I picked this book up, I didn’t put it down for nearly 250 pages—and I only put it down then because it was 2 a.m. and I had to get at least a little sleep—but I was up and finishing the last 100 pages a couple hours later.

My favorite part of this book is the title. From the time I heard about this book, the title intrigued me. The Sound of Gravel. The moment I realized where the title came from, I was struck by the weight of Ruth’s story all at once. In this scene, overlooking her mother’s coffin, the burden she carried on her young shoulders were clenched in her fist—in the form of tiny rocks and the dust of her beginnings—and released with a promise.

The Sound of Gravel.
Read this book.
I wholeheartedly recommend it.

~*~

For more information about Ruth and to preorder The Sound of Gravel (releases Tuesday, January 5, 2016), please visit www.RuthWariner.com.

Sound Of Gravel banner
photo credit: Ruth Wariner

~*~

The Sound of Gravel: Review Link-Up

Bloggers and GoodReads Reviewers: If you’ve written a review, feel free to link up with us!

Here’s how:

1.Click the blue link-up button below.

2.Follow the instructions to add your link and image.

3.Check out a few of the other review posts and leave your comments!

Readers: You’re welcome to click the blue button and follow the links to some other fantastic reviews! Leave your comments on the blogs you visit and join us in getting the word out about Ruth’s book!

 

Happy Reading!
Ticcoa

Uncategorized

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.