(One Word): 2017

Had I known how the events of last year were going to flip my life upside down, I would have been far more nervous about embracing my #OneWord. I probably would have been very wary of the whole concept.

2016’s word was unbound.

And 2016 undoubtedly was full of un-binding. So much so that I couldn’t even begin to list examples.

Every bit of the growth required from becoming unbound was beneficial, though often painful. Growing pains are real, y’all.

Last year also brought a secondary word with it—brave.

All year long, people told me I was brave, encouraged me to keep being brave. But being brave is hard because it mostly means doing things afraid—with your heart threatening to march out of your chest, your knees knocking, and your stomach turning flips.

Frankly. I got sick and tired of being brave. There’s a page in one of my notebooks where I scrawled in large, frustrated letters “I’m tired of being BRAVE” after someone sent me a text telling me I am brave.


I was DONE with brave by the time December rolled around.
Then my sister gave me a ring for Christmas that was engraved with the words “Be Brave.”

This ring, that phrase from the bravest person I know right now—my sister who is fighting a ridiculously rare cancer and all that it brings with it. Those two words inscribed on a piece of metal that sits wrapped around my left pointer finger on a daily basis have given me permission to continue living unbound—even when it means doing so in Texas rather than South Carolina.

In my Unbound blog last year, I referenced the story of Lazarus being raised from the grave. Can you imagine him awakening to the grave clothes binding him? Did he have to be loosed from them? Did they fall off on their own? I don’t know. But the image that came to mind as I asked God for an explanation of “unbound” was of Lazarus being shed of his grave clothes. Strips of cloth being loosened from his wrists, falling from his head and around his shoulders, piling around his feet.

He was unbound from death.

I was being unbound from fear, anxiety, depression.

That kind of freedom is exhilarating, for sure—but it requires walking in a new way and changing how you’ve thought about the world around you. When you’re stuck in darkness and suddenly there’s a glorious light filling the space you’ve occupied for a significant amount of time—you squint; you allow your eyes to adjust to the brightness.



It seems as though I’ve been squinting an awful lot over the last year—staring at brilliantly lit truths that have been revealed until my eyes have adjusted to the reality—truths that reveal who God is and how He sees me as His daughter.

As the new year approached, I was actively seeking my word for 2017. Within a few days, I thought I’d found it, but I didn’t tell anyone. When I got back to Texas, Anna asked me if I knew what my word was.

“I think so—but I don’t want it. I’m already sick of it.”

What is it?” she asked

“Brave,” I exasperatedly spit out.

Brave.

It fit. I’m going to need some brave this year.

But as the first week of 2017 passed, it didn’t feel like it was quite the right word.
I made lists of words that came to mind. I looked up their meanings, their origins. None of them stuck.

I stopped trying to figure it out. I thought maybe brave was it after all.
Then a few nights ago, I was sitting at the kitchen table and it struck me. Like unbound, I’m not even sure how it came about, but suddenly the word was in my spirit and I knew it was the one. As the word planted itself in my mind, I scrawled it on a notecard and wrote the reference to one of the verses I tucked into my heart at the beginning of last year—Romans 7:6—underneath it.

Immediately, words started forming in my mind and I flipped the card over to write then down:

When you become free, the ties that once bound you, that held you captive—whether mentally, physically, or spiritually—must be untied, unbound. Once they’re unbound, they must be released, because even if they no longer bind you, you cannot be truly free unless you let them go.

 

Consider this: Let’s say Lazarus gets a little help from his friends with unbinding himself from his grave clothes. But he’s eventually left standing outside the tomb. What if he ended up with a fistful or two of the cloth that had bound him in death and the darkness of the tomb. What does he do? Take off walking around town with those (smelly) strips of fabric in his hands? Carry them around for the rest of his days?

Or does he drop them as he steps away from the tomb?

Does he cast them aside?

Does he release them from his possession?

I may have been unbound from the chains of depression, and I may be walking a new path, but there are still many things—material possessions, messed-up thought processes, and comfort-zone coping mechanisms to start with—that I’m still holding onto. When you’ve been held captive for a while, freedom is a bit intimidating.

But living in-between captivity and freedom is not where I want to settle in—and if I sit back and don’t step into 2017 with the intention of working toward fully becoming who I was created to be, then I will likely remain in that spot.

I’ve come too far to keep holding onto those old rags.

They’ve got to go.

Which means I have to let them go.

So I’m stepping into my RELEASE year.

Unbound: Significant & Irreplaceable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capable of standing on my own two feet.

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

Know what that means?

This:

I am a woman who has significance and is irreplaceable.

I am a SIGNIFICANT and irreplaceable woman.

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


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

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

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

I already have that position.

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

It is TRUTH.

It is what IS.

And I am choosing to walk in that.

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

Because that’s who I am.

I am a daughter of the King.

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

Free to Fly: Pre-Splendid Wednesday

I got on a plane for the first time last week. To fly to Texas. To spend the weekend with 64 women—62 of whom I’d never met in person, but had only interacted with in #the4500 Facebook group. (I know, I know—internet strangers and all that jazz. Good news: I’m still alive. No axe murderers were present. Calm down.)

I’d been registered for Splendid in the Hills since the day it went live in the Facebook group. I’d already felt drawn toward Texas since becoming more engaged in the group, and when Tracy (the founder of The Splendid Retreat) posted the announcement for the 2nd retreat, I knew I was supposed to be there. While I knew that I was supposed to attend, without doubt, six months is a long time to wrestle with the anxiety of leaping so far outside your comfort zone. By the time the retreat was a month away, life was crazy and hard and all I was hoping for was to physically make it to Splendid. My expectations for anything more—connections, growth, opportunities to pour into others—were all but gone. I was exhausted mentally, emotionally and I needed to just be still. My only goal was to get there. (I can’t do anything but laugh at this notion from where I sit now.)

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Two Christmases ago, a friend gave me a hand-painted sign with the quote “What if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?” For a long time, because I was mired in such a dark place, that sign mocked me; it’s beginning to make a lot more sense now. Until the moment I sat in the airplane seat last that Wednesday, I was a bundle of nerves about all the unknowns of this trip. I was so afraid I would hate flying; I don’t hate it—in fact, I think I might love it.

 

 

Anna picked me up from the airport on and we headed out for a late lunch/early dinner at Torchy’s Tacos. She watched the clock as we ate and shared stories. We finished our meal and she ushered me out the door and into the car. A few minutes later, we pulled into a parking lot; it began to look familiar from Facebook pictures. Then I saw the sign: Think Differently.

“Wait. What…?”

I looked at Anna; she was grinning ear to ear.

“Are you surprised?” she asked.

Um, obviously.

The week before, she’d told me to bring my Bob Hamp books with me, so “we can discuss them…I’m doing something with them at the retreat.” So I threw them in my already-stuffed luggage and didn’t think anything of her request.

~*~

I’d been reading, listening to, and watching Bob’s teachings since Anna and I first connected via phone in September 2015. His explanations of Kingdom life and freedom in finding your true God-breathed identity had broken open the shut-down parts of my heart, mind, and spirit over those months. In fact, as I began to dig my way out of the deep depression I’d been in, his “Freedom from Depression” and “Hearing God” podcasts had played an important role in my recovery. Anna and I had had many conversations about these areas, as well. Back in January, after listening to Bob’s ‘A Kingdom Parable” (the acrobat story for those who are  familiar with it), I was overcome by the end of the message.

Once I was able to pick myself up off the floor (because I was literally face down on the floor), I texted Anna, saying, “Today I was listening to the Foundations of Freedom podcasts while cleaning. And Bob started telling the acrobat story. I was only half-listening…until he got to the end. Keep in mind that I had just posted [in the FB group] about ‘unbound’ being my word for 2016…suddenly I’m hearing these words from Bob…

“…your Dad is so glad you’re home…whatever’s been asked of you, whatever you’re called to do, isn’t so that you can perform so an angry, rigid dad would be happy with you, finally. He’s saying this: ‘Hey, come discover who I made you to be. Put your hand to it. Stand up and speak it, do it. The things that are in your heart to do, the things that make the fire leap up in your chest—don’t shy away from them. Somebody once told you that it’s not true about you, but something inside of you knows it is. Freedom isn’t where we finally stop the bad stuff…freedom is when you can become the person you’re created and redeemed to be. All of those other things are just obstacles.”

…the thing that sent me into my depression two years ago was my pastor telling me I wasn’t supposed to pursue [ASL]. I all but stopped signing; buried that dream, that piece of my identity. It has been BOUND. And it is one of the things I feel [the Holy Spirit] speaking “unbound” over. And then I heard His small, quiet voice say, “I am releasing you.‘”

~*~

“I got here early so you’d have time to pull yourself together. I knew your introverted heart would need to calm down.”

Be still my introverted heart. The extrovert sees and is intentional in caring for the introvert’s state of mind. (Melted my heart, for sure. THIS is how to surprise an introvert.)

“Are you ready?”

“Sure.”

We entered the lobby, sat on the couch (in the room I’d spent months watching Bob teach in via Periscope for months), and waited for our appointment. (I have an appointment with Bob Hamp…seriously?)

Several minutes later, he entered the lobby; we greeted one another and then he ushered us to his office. After sharing with him how Anna and I had met, she says, “Tell him your story.”

The story I had just told her in the restaurant, the story I’ve told recently on my blog, the story she had me tell eight more times over the next five days.

So I did.

And without even realizing it, I started speaking the lies that I’d held to be true over the past few years—particularly that my role in bringing ASL to NGU was no big deal. At one point I said, “For a long time I haven’t even been able to give myself credit for having been such an important part of the process of starting the program…I really haven’t been able to own it because I just felt like anyone could’ve done it.” Anna and Bob glanced at one another, and then Anna rolled her eyes at me and replied, “Yeah, anybody could’ve done it.” Bob followed with the statement, “So you’ve done all these big things that you didn’t think you could do…”

Well, yes.

That was the moment I began to own that it was a bigger deal than I’d let myself believe. God had equipped me to carry it out and He had brought it to fruition. Throughout our conversation, Bob said a few other things that struck a chord in my spirit, the weight of which wouldn’t be fully revealed until later in the week.

We left Think Differently and met Anna’s sister, Celia, for a quick chat—where Anna managed to squeeze a very abbreviated version of my story in. As she finished, Celia looked at me and said, “You’re a powerful woman…a world-changer…dream big.”

Me? A powerful woman? A world-changer? Dreaming big? I think you’ve got the wrong person, sister. That’s not me.

I’d barely been on the ground in Texas for 3 hours and already the weekend had been phenomenal.

But it was only the very beginning.

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…

 

The Past Failures That Linger And Haunt Your Present Dreams

Failure.

Regret.

Missed opportunity.
We all face these at some point, many times over, in our lives.
We allow the things we should have pursued to slip through our fingers for any number of reasons–valid reasons, made-up excuses, and flat-out refusal to do what we know we should.
Sometimes those failures–real or perceived–fade into the background of our lives, never thought of again. They become distant memories in the past pages of our stories.
But sometimes they stick around, yelling our names and refusing to let us be. They tell us we messed up, we blew it, we don’t deserve another chance. Their voices are powerful and feed us lies that can send us swirling into dark places of depression and hopelessness.
And even when you’ve emerged from the suffocating quicksand that those lies suck you into, and are ready to face similar challenges again, those voices can begin to whisper anew.



They threaten to pull you under, cripple your resolve, and bind your newfound freedom. They attempt to cut you off from the truth you know about yourself and your Father. They throw every curveball they can muster.
This time around though? You know what those whispers really are.
LIES.
Those voices that say you will fail again, you will miss the boat–“train go sorry,”* you will not succeed.
You know they LIE.
They are not TRUTH.
And so you call them out of the dark and shed light on them.

~*~

In two weeks, I get on a plane for the first time in my life. I’m all kinds of nervous and anxious about the whole process. Packing. Navigating one of the nation’s busiest airports. Flying alone. Visiting a new state. Meeting a bunch of people I’ve built community with these last seven months IN REAL LIFE. And a host of other aspects I can’t even address here.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m also ecstatic about this trip–the women I’ll be spending the weekend with have become my heart-sisters. I can’t wait to hug them, to look them in the eye, to worship the One who brought us together in a way that only He could.
Yet, the lie that’s yelling at me extra loud is the one that says I never made it to Gallaudet three years ago and I won’t make it to Texas either. The lie that tells me I’ll let fear overtake me again. The lie that tells me my dream is dead.
It’s the lie that heightens my anxiety, tries to force me into depression, and steals my joy. It’s the lie that tries to bind me to my past mistakes.

It’s the lie that has to be brought into the light.
So that’s what I’m doing. I’m giving those fears a name and calling them lies.
I’m bringing them out of hiding, where they can do nothing but cower in the light of truth.
Here’s the truth: I didn’t make it to Gallaudet three years ago. But that doesn’t make me a failure. My dreams are not dead. They might be different now, but they are not dead. 
My Father gave me a word at the beginning of the year: UNBOUND. In the Hebrew, “stretched from human strength to divine strength.”
There have been many times already this year that I’ve wanted to throw that word back at Him. Because, in addition to growing more flexible in pleasant ways, I am also being stretched in ways I never wanted to be stretched. Ways that hurt. A lot.

The truth is, though, that He is faithful. He is faithful to provide exactly what we need at the moment we need it. He has not given me “a spirit of fear,” but a sound mind–a mind that must remain focused on His redemptive truth rather than the lies that seek to destroy my pursuit of Him.

 

He’s a good Father.
~*~

*train-go-sorry is an American Sign Language idiom which translates as the English equvilant of “you missed the boat.”