Day to Day

Dreary Days, Nostalgia, and Pumpkin Muffins

Sunlight dimmed by a thick, gray cloud cover filtered through the blinds, my eyelids cracking open as eyelashes stuck together by last night’s leftover makeup parted. Groggily, I rolled over, wondering whether I should get up or sleep in—what day is it anyway?

As it dawned on me that it is, indeed, Saturday, I also realized the date—March 11th. The day my life changed, one year ago, in a way I never wanted it to or imagined it would. Sometimes the blessing of a photographic memory—especially one that clings to the significance of particular dates—is also a curse.

It seems like there’s an awful lot of juxtaposition of binaries following me around these days: happy/sad, joyful/tearful, known/unknown, faith/fear, freedom/guilt, settled/homesick. It’s a dichotomy of soft places and hard places that I’ve never had to learn to navigate long-term—until now.

Even the side-by-side juxtaposition of yesterday—March 10th—and today, March 11th is a representation of the current paradoxical tension that binds my daily life.

Two years ago yesterday, #the4500 was formed. I didn’t know then how radically a group of internet strangers would change my life, eventually landing me in Texas. If I had known, I probably would’ve jumped shipped. I’m glad I didn’t know—because these past two years have been an adventure like no other. One that has brought an abundance of love, laughter, and friendship; it has thrown open doors of possibility one after another.

March 10th is a day that will forever remind me of a Father who answers prayers both before we’ve uttered them and also in ways that we’d never imagine them manifesting.

And March 11th is a day that will also be forever burned in my memory.

It’s that day, exactly one year ago, that I was sitting on the playground with my co-teacher and friend, Christine, at recess, watching our students play and explore, when I got the news that changed so many things.

It’s the day my phone buzzed and the text told me my sister had been diagnosed with a laughably rare cancer. The long, unpronounceable diagnosis stared at me from the screen…and, in shock and disbelief, I did what you should never do: I Googled. I handed the phone to Christine and tried to breathe. Tried to digest this information. With only an hour left in the school day, and a visiting former classroom assistant who could cover me, Christine tried to talk me into leaving early, but I knew I would spiral as soon as I left work and wanted to delay that as long as possible.

The 365 days between that day and this one have been rocky and hard to walk. There are still many questions that remain unanswered. The decisions that my sister and I—and others in our family have made have been difficult. My decision to leave South Carolina and move to Texas was such a daunting one that I didn’t come to terms with the fact that I had already moved to Texas until seven months after I packed up my carload of belongings and made the trek. Now that I’ve been here for nine months [to the day, as I just realized; I arrived in the Friendly State on June 11th of last year. I’m going to need to chew on this for a moment], I’m finally reclaiming some of the routines that the trauma of moving cross-country displaced.

When I lived in SC and taught all week, Saturday mornings were my sanctuary. A quiet kitchen, a slow day, a recipe—either precise and written out or experimental and thrown together in my head—and a little baking therapy resulted in one of my favorite weekend routines

When I moved to Texas and threw my life into the spin cycle of settling into a new space, I pretty much quit cooking, quit baking. It took months for me to be comfortable enough in my new surroundings to cook again. For some, baking is an art form. For me, it’s therapy. And this morning, I needed it. I needed a reason to get out of bed. (And aren’t warm-from-the-oven, slathered-in-cream-cheese-frosting pumpkin muffins a great reason to get out of bed??) So I threw back the covers, got “dressed” in leggings and flannel shirt and headed to the kitchen. Within minutes, I’d assembled the necessary items and accouterments and set the oven to preheat. As I measured ingredients, cracked eggs, and mixed the batter, I thought about the significance of this day and how I could easily allow all the unknowns that still exist take precedence over the joy of the work I need to accomplish today.

The act of stirring separate ingredients together to make one cohesive batter, of dropping that batter into the wells of a muffin tin spoonful by spoonful is a calming process. I can’t exactly explain it, but my anxiety levels decrease and my mind quiets as I bake. It’s therapeutic and cathartic though, so I don’t question it much.

Days like today, if I dwell on the hard and allow my mind to entertain the unknowns, I will drown; I will spiral into a darkness I’ve visited previously and to which I never wish to return.

Recognizing the precursory symptoms of this descent is one of the most powerful tools I have honed over the past year. Knowing that dreary days are more likely to bring a cloud cover to my soul allows me to press through the muddled emotions and lying thoughts that make me want to throw the blanket over my head, shutting down and shutting out the light that surrounds me. Choosing not to focus on the things I have zero control over, but rather focusing on the truth that I am well-loved by the God who sees all things is the first step to reversing the descent.

This doesn’t make this space easy to live in, but it does make it easier, and pumpkin muffins make it slightly sweeter.

Book Reviews, Uncategorized

Book Review: A Mile Wide, Brandon Hatmaker

What in the world did I do with my free time before I became a book launching enthusiast?

My T0-Be-Read stack is perpetually out of control. Seriously. Every time I get wind of another launch team opportunity, I have to seriously evaluate how much time I actually have to commit to another book.

This is the good kind of problem to have.


If you’ve followed this blog, or any of my social media, for awhile, you’ve heard a thing or two about #the4500. If you’re new–well, it’s a long story. Here’s a very brief recap:

March 2015–Jen Hatmaker gathered a launch team for her book, For The Love. She amassed 5,000 applicants for 500 spots. She sent a very sweet apology email to those who didn’t make the cut. (I got that email.) One of those rejectees tweeted Jen, telling her “#the4500…are still your people.” Another one (Tracy) thieved that hashtag and ran to FB with it, creating a group and inviting people to come help launch Jen’s book unofficially. (I joined that group.) We went rogue, and together with the official launch team, we sent For the Love to bestseller status.

Fast forward a few months to the end of 2015…when we heard that Jen’s husband, Brandon, wanted #the4500 to be his official launch team. Our rogue, second string, B-team group was now the A-team. (#BDogsATeam, more specifically.)


We’d realized long before that getting a no from Jen’s launch team was actually the best yes any of us could’ve imagined. And now that Mr. Hatmaker wanted us to help him get his book into the world?

We’ve come full circle.

Before JHat’s launch team application and the birth of #the4500, I’d only followed Jen’s FB page for about a year. These days, I adore the Hatmakers. They seem like such real, down-to-earth people who truly strive to make a difference in both their local community and the global community. They are world changers, supporting a variety of social justice causes, as well as forming their own initiative, The Legacy Collective, whose mission is “to engage systemic problems related to social issues by resourcing what we believe to be the most innovative efforts and funding the most critical projects.”

I am thrilled to finally bring you my review of A Mile Wide: Trading A Shallow Religion For A Deeper Faith:

In the first section of the book, Brandon Hatmaker challenges us to look a bit deeper at our faith while also simplifying the true intent of the gospel. Rather than seeking out the “do’s” and “don’ts” of following Jesus, Hatmaker encourages us to look to Jesus’s interactions with people and how he met them where they were instead of requiring them to check off a bunch of good behavior/expectation boxes before interacting with them.

In the second section of A Mile Wide, Hatmaker discusses the need for community among believers and non-believers. He is passionate in his belief that the church should be missional, not sequestering themselves in a church building all the time, but intentionally serving others in the local community. Hatmaker extols the benefits of varying the types, locations, and venues for small group meetings and service projects, stressing that the meeting people where they are, like Jesus exemplified in the gospel, is the key to building relationships with them: “Jesus almost always met people at their greatest felt need as a part of addressing their spiritual need. He had compassion that allowed him to see through people and speak their language. Community and commission is that shared language between believers and nonbelievers.”

With a tone that is more conversational than condemning (you won’t find condemning words here, convicting, perhaps, but not condemning), A Mile Wide is a must read for anyone who desires to live out their faith in more missionally-minded ways.

I highly recoomend this book!

Disclosure: I received an advanced copy of A Mile Wide in exchange for my honest review.

You can learn more about A Mile Wide here.

Own Your Brave, Uncategorized

Significance in Numbers

For someone who hates math as much as I do, and for as much as I’m a words girl, I pay attention to numbers. Dates, particularly. (Important ones and not-so-important ones alike are seared into my brain. Scarily so, at times.) I can still tell you off the top of my head that my sister, cousin, and I attended an N*Sync concert on February 5, 1999. (Not-so-significant.) I can tell you that my acceptance letter to NGU arrived the day before my birthday (July 22nd) in 2005. (Significant.) I am the date keeper in my family, and given my ability to support my memories with contextual evidence, it’s not often that my mother or sister can argue with me when I ascribe a date to a particular event. It’s a gift. (Or a weird talent?)

Dates matter to me. Always have and likely always will. They are not only markers of time, but placeholders for significant moments along the timeline of my story.

I just realized that today is significant. It’s a date I’ve been holding out for all summer. It’s a date that says I’m more capable and a bit braver than I thought I might be.  And while it’s felt like an ever-more-ordinary Sunday, it’s one that holds a little more significance.

When I decided I was making the leap and moving to Texas, my brain wouldn’t quite let me commit fully. When I met with my bosses to resign from my job, I told them it was possible I’d be back at the end of the summer, but understood that they would need to find my replacement. When I broke the news to my grandparents, I assured them that this was a trial run “for the summer.” And I even told myself that I just needed to stay for “three to six months.” And because I already knew I had plans to return to the Carolinas for the fall Splendid retreat, I had a built-in safety net of coming home in November.

I arrived in Texas on June 11th. Today is September 11th. (Yes, it’s a day that holds a lot of significance for our nation. May we never forget that day 15 years ago—I was lying in the living room floor doing biology work when the news hit the Today show.) Three months I’ve been here in the great state of Texas. Three months of vacillating between wondering why I’m here and believing I’m supposed to be here.

For most of July, I was ready to get on a plane back to South Carolina. August consisted mostly of just putting one foot in front of the other and getting through each day, hour by hour. As September has arrived, I feel as though I’ve turned a corner.

Last Thursday morning, this bustling house I’ve been so generously welcomed into was empty and quiet. As I sat in the corner of the living room, sipping my coffee, I checked my countdown app. Within this app is a list of events I have the opportunity to attend here in Texas over the next few months—reminders that each of them is a time-marker during my three-to-six-month trial period. The last of those events is the Splendid Retreat in North Carolina in November. As I scrolled through the events, I stopped on the countdown for Splendid: 63 days. Just over two months.

I closed the app and stared at the wall in front of me, my thoughts drifting over the last few months and the upcoming ones as well. 63 days. What if that’s it? If I decide I’m not coming back after Splendid, I only have 63 days left. Then, as unassuming and quietly as could be, the words settled in my mind: I want to come back.

Oh. I do? I’m not ready to call it quits and take this as an out? I want to come back?

 Yes. Yes, I do.

When I came to Texas for the first time back in April, I had no idea what a wild, life-altering ride I was in for. When I returned to South Carolina a week later, it was not the way I came. And a week later, I was preparing to move to Texas for the summer.

Three weeks after the Splendid retreat in Texas, I agreed to meet a new friend (that I’d not yet met in real life) for dinner. C and I hit it off immediately and got straight to the heart of matters. She’d already heard part of what unfolded at Splendid and wanted to know more about why I was moving to Texas. As I told her how I’d ended up signing three times during the retreat and how I believed that those three times signified the three years I’d lost to depression and lies, she looked me in the eyes and said, “Do you know what the number three represents?”

“I used to. Refresh my memory.”

“It’s the number of confirmation.”

Oh. Well, of course it is!

Three.

The number of confirmation.

September.

My three-month-aversary in Texas.

The realization that 63 days is not enough time left to be okay with bailing.

Confirmation?

Time will tell.

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.

img_3114

 

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

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.)

 

community

None Of Us Knew: #the4500’s First Year

None of us knew.

None of us could have fathomed how our lives were about to change.

None of us could have orchestrated, planned, or manipulated the circumstances that brought us together.

None of us expected that a rejection letter email would result in an even bigger “yes.”

None of us knew that a “no” on a book launch team application would mean we’d form fast and deep friendships with a diverse group of women from around the country and beyond.

None of us knew.

 

But God.

~*~

A year ago, on March 3, 2015, Jen Hatmaker posted an invitation to apply for the launch team for her upcoming book, For The Love.

I found her Facebook post the day before the March 6th deadline. I didn’t think much of it, but it kept floating around my brain. Two hours before the deadline, I submitted my application.

5, 000 people applied for 500 spots.

On March 6th, 4,500 of those applicants received this email:

 

Within hours, one of the women who received that email Tweeted this to Jen:

 

And another rejectee (yes, I made that up) shamelessly thieved it and ran with to Facebook with it, creating a group where we could gather, commiserate, and unofficially launch the book.

I found these two women commenting on a post on Jen’s FB page, inviting people to join this newly-formed group. I cautiously clicked the link to the group, and even more warily requested to join the group. And then I sat back and watched. For days. For months. I don’t think I ever formally introduced myself. (Sorry girls!)

Until September, when I finally allowed myself to engage.

 

Today, 365 days after the birth of #the4500, we celebrate our first anniversary.

We celebrate a year of praying for one another,

 a year of laughing with one another,

a year of singing to one another,

a year of shifting our perspectives,

a year of meeting one another’s needs in tangible ways,

a year of becoming more authentic,

a year of loving one another,

 a year of growing as a group, and

a year of growing as individuals.

 

In September, I dreamed of meeting the #the4500 chief cat herder, Anna. On January 23, 2016 that crazy dream was realized. Never did I imagine myself participating in the meet-ups that began almost immediately as people joined the FB group. And when the hash tag thief/group creator, Tracy, announced a weekend retreat to gather a larger group of us in Wisconsin in the fall, attending was never a consideration for me.

Six months ago, I dove in head first when I texted Anna and said, “If I were feeling brave, do you have time to talk tonight?” I’m forever grateful for our first conversation that night, Anna.

In seven weeks, I’m flying to Texas for the second Splendid Retreat to meet 70 of these beautiful women. Excitement doesn’t even begin to cover how I feel about this opportunity. Tracy, thank you for stepping into the unknown in order to bring us closer—both to one another and to the Father. I can’t wait to meet you face-to-face and hug your neck!

Last week, I had my second #the4500 meet-up with a local member, Natalie (with whom I have a mutual friend—this world gets smaller every day!). I’m so glad you suggested meeting, Natalie!

This week, one of my dearest 4500 friends has texted me to offer encouragement in the midst of a not-so-great week. I’m forever grateful for her prayers and words of hope. Kelli, you are a treasure! We WILL meet one day, friend.

Xamayta, I would be remiss in not acknowledging our many sing-offs and song lyric conversations. I’m looking forward to the day I know you in person. Maybe I’ll sing to you.

I could list so many more shout-outs, but we’d be here all day. There are so many girls I’m excited to meet in April, and so many more that I’m hoping to meet in the months and years to come.

My life has changed in many ways since the formation of #the4500, and even more so since last September. These girls have challenged me, loved me, prayed for me, cheered me on, and provided a safe space. When I think of the friends I’ve added to my circle over the last year, I’m overwhelmed. The community we’ve formed is truly indescribable.

None of us knew then what we were stepping into when we clicked the “request to join” button, but God did.

He knew this marvelous gift of “yes” waiting just around the bend.

~*~

 

To Tracy and Anna:

Thank you for leading us with grace, wisdom, compassion, and courage.

Thank you for being obedient even in the small things—like Facebook groups that just seem to be for fun.

Thank you for trusting Him to lead us to what we’re called to as a group.

Thank you for loving us well and caring for our hearts.

Thank you for giving us freedom to become.

You have both followed an unorthodox path to ministry and it is growing into something beyond our imaginations.

We love you!

photo 4

 

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

Part 2: I Had A Dream (And Stepped into a New Normal)

Yesterday, I was in the middle of writing a post about how joy is the most vulnerable emotion we have, because its opposite is disappointment—as I was staring deep disappointment square in its ugly face.  An opportunity I’d been looking forward to was suddenly crashing and burning…Plan A, Plan B, Plan C…all doomed. I was sad; I was mad. But the circumstances were completely out of my control.

Four months ago, I had a dream about meeting a fellow member of #the4500. Within a day of my sharing the dream in the FB group, Anna and I began texting and planning a meet-up opportunity that fell into our laps; in less than a week, we were scheduling a phone call. Now, a mere 12 weeks later, we’ve spoken on the phone more times than I can count (I can’t claim being a non-phone-talker anymore), interacted on social media daily, and gotten to know each other’s hearts.

The meet-up that was scheduled for the end of October was postponed indefinitely. In the meantime, I signed up for Splendid: Texas and settled for meeting Anna in the spring.

Two weeks ago, a meet-up was suddenly in the works again as Anna was traveling to NC on business. We made plans to meet for lunch along with a handful of other local 4500 ladies. Then the darn Snowpocalypse of 2016 slammed the East Coast with the most unfortunate timing. Anna was 2 hours away; she was stuck, I was stuck, the others were stuck. For 48 hours, we were caught in a limbo of hoping against hope that we’d still make it work, all the while praying that God would make a way where there was no foreseeable way (and recruiting our #the 4500 sisters to join us).

Having heart-sisters spread out across the country is both the best and worst thing. We are drawn to one another by a connection that none of us ever imagined, but in its short 10-month lifespan, #the4500 has taken us on a delightfully wild ride. I could literally go to almost any state in the country and have familiar faces and instant friendship. (I’m in dire need of a hefty travel budget these days.) But not being able to hug one another’s necks, look each other in the eye, and do life face to face is hard.

Finally, at noon on Saturday, we called it. No lunch or dinner meet-up. Anna suggested a tentative breakfast meeting for Sunday, but I was already expecting it to fall through; nonetheless, I texted my mom and sister to see if they’d be willing to make the trip with me Sunday morning. Hours later, I realized the interstates were passable—if we could get on the interstate, and get to NC Saturday night, we still had a chance. I prayed, I begged, I pleaded. They consented, and off we went.

Plan D was finally a winner–a spontaneous, crazy, whirlwind winner. 

~*~

I walked through the hotel entrance, eyes scanning the room for the face I knew only by profile picture. Sitting across the room, head turned, there she was—this soul sister I’d waited months to meet face-to-face. I stopped at the front desk as she glanced up and I waved. Bounding out of her chair, she stopped two feet in front of me, bent forward, hands covering her mouth, squealing with joy. My smile wrapped around my head. We hugged. (I melted—her hugs are “legendary.”)”You’re real,” I breathed. Words failed and we just stared at each other. “I guess you know each other?” The voice of the poor guy at the desk who was trying to check me in broke us out of our wonder. We glanced at each other. “Yes.” “We do now.”

~*~

DSC_0158 - Copy

We do now. We’re finally friends in real life.

Earlier this weekend, as I lamented our deteriorating meet-up plans, my friend Christine texted me these words: “…whether or not this weekend happens, it is a victory because you showed up…and that is huge. There was a time not too long ago when you wouldn’t have been able to make these plans…because it was too far out of your comfort zone.”  Truth.

When I joined the4500, my plan was to keep to the fringes. That all changed in September when I began getting to know Anna better. I am not who I was four months ago. The biggest evidence of that? The absolute absence of any anxiety about meeting Anna in person this weekend. As I told Christine, “I was so chill it was weird.” We may not have had a lot of time together, but it was entirely worth it. We dug deep into heart issues; she challenged me and encouraged me to keep moving toward what I know in my heart I need to pursue. We celebrated victories; we laughed. She got to meet my mom and sister. We stayed up half the night talking and we hugged tightly as she departed for the airport.

Last night, I told Anna that I was still taking baby steps toward owning my brave; she corrected me: “Oh, honey—we’re past baby steps.”

“Yeah, I guess we are. This is more like jumping off a cliff.”

“Exactly.”

I’ve crossed a chasm I never would’ve dreamed possible. I’ve stepped into a new normal—and I can’t wait to see where it leads next.

 

 

story

#the4500: An Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was this tweet:

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~