Autumn Arrives Again

It was a year ago today.

After too little sleep due to a rare and lengthy late night phone call, I’d poured my coffee on the counter rather than in a mug that morning.

I’d gone to work and taught my littles in a bewildered haze over the conversation I’d had with a new friend the night before.

My thoughts were frantically searching for order at the edges of my brain.

The weight of change hung in the air, palpable yet mysterious.

There was a drive to begin processing the innermost chambers of myself that had been buried deep.

I was sitting in a hard wooden chair in a quiet library.

In South Carolina.

My fingers pounded angrily at my keyboard.

Earbuds muffled the sound of my audible sighs.

The error message flashed before my eyes again and again:

Username and password do not match.

Locked out.

I’d tried every possible combination, but couldn’t remember the right password.
The email I’d used to create the account was no longer accessible and customer support was no help.
Reviving the old blog was not happening.
Two years of absenteeism from writing meant I couldn’t find my way back to my blog. I could read what was there, but editing and adding to it was out of the question.
But the burning desire to write was back. I needed an outlet.

So I started over.

On the first day of a new Season.

Little did I know how vast a season of change I was headed into that day as I wrote:

It’s Fall.

Autumn.

A new season.

Isn’t it interesting when the changing of a season actually coincides with new seasons of our lives?

(And the creation of a new blog because you’re locked out of your previous one. Grr.)

I’m finding myself there today…

anticipating the growth of new friendships

as the leaves go dormant for winter;

celebrating the domino effect of God-breathed events over close-held prayer

as the leaves begin to blaze radiant and descend their lofty perches.

The air is crisp,

with more than a hint of expectancy drifting along for the ride.

And, for a change, I’m attempting to drift with it,

without the usual anxiety, excuses, foreboding, etc.

that comes when newness is on the horizon.

Today, I’m sitting in a comfy recliner in a living room.

In Texas.

With last year’s “new friend” on the couch beside me.

The sound of planes flying overhead reminds me of my first-time flight back in April.

These days, the error message I’m fighting most persistently is the one that says this can’t possibly be my actual life. That at any moment I could wake up and discover this entire year has been a dream. (On some fronts, that would be a relief.)

My fingers roam the keyboard now because the words in my brain need out. They beg to be uncaged and given a voice.

Today, it’s the third…

(Geez. I have to stop and tell you that in itself is actually relevant. Three is the prophetic number of confirmation. And today was a day that held a bit of significant confirmation for me. As I typed the word “third” I laughed aloud when I realized it, because OF COURSE. One day, I might manage to form a coherent explanation of the ways that number has followed me around this year.)
Anyway.

It’s the third day of Autumn.

And I’m neck deep in the season of change that has been developing these last twelve months. I feels like I’ve covered more ground in the last year than I have in my entire life—spiritually, mentally, physically, relationally, emotionally, and geographically.

And I don’t expect it to taper off anytime soon.

Amazingly, I’m far more at peace with that expectation than I would have ever dreamed.

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.

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.

 

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…

 

“Just breathe”: Splendid Friday

On Friday morning, shortly after I awoke, I was scrolling through my various social media apps. In my Timehop app, I came across a post that struck me as a little ironic, so I reposted it to Facebook:

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A little later, as Anna, Taylor, Kristen (one of my and Anna’s roommates), and I were driving to the restaurant for breakfast, Anna told us about another retreat she had been on. Part of that retreat‘s schedule included a day where the participants were sent out on the ranch to spend a day in solitude from sunrise to dusk. Taylor was driving, I was in the front seat, and Anna and Kristen were in the backseat. Anna talked about how she began to get anxious about finding her way back to the main buildings on the ranch once the sun started to set. She wondered if the path would look the same on the way back as it had on the way in. Then the Holy Spirit whispered to her, “You don’t have to go back that way. You don’t have to go back the way you came.”

As she spoke, I had been turned around in my seat so I could see her. When she said those words, it was like a rock dropped into my stomach—the weight of them heavy with significance. I glanced at Taylor and could tell she felt the same way. Anna kept talking, but I have no idea what she said after those words left her mouth.

See, the day before I left for Texas, when I was saying goodbye to my co-teacher Christine (who also happens to be my best friend—seriously—who gets to work with their BFF every day?), she said to me, “I could never do what you’re doing [going to spend the weekend with people you only know online]…you aren’t going to come back the same person that you are now.” So when Anna said almost those exact words in the car Friday morning, it was like God was making it very clear that He had a plan for the weekend; it seemed as though He was saying, “Hello—I see you.”

On the way back to the resort after breakfast, Anna encouraged me to tell Taylor and Kristen the story. So I did. (This would make the sixth time I’d spoken it.)

The retreat didn’t officially start until mid-afternoon on Friday. I spent most of the afternoon with Kelli before we headed to registration. The opening session was short, followed by an icebreaker activity where we were paired up with another woman and played the “two truths and one lie” game. (Kill me. I hate these things. Introvert, remember?) I was handed a card with the worship leader’s name on it. Amanda and I had just had a conversation a few minutes earlier, so I was struggling to come up with facts that she didn’t already know about me. We completed the activity and the session continued with everyone splitting into their family time small groups. Taylor and I were in the same group, along with Megan, and Anna was our leader. Melissa was also part of our group, but she wouldn’t be arriving until later. We gathered in a little circle in the corner of the room and Anna gave me the “look.”  “I should probably just tell her, shouldn’t I?” I asked, referring to Megan. If we were going to be family, we needed to catch her up.

So I told the story again. For the seventh time in 48 hours. I don’t remember Megan’s exact reaction, but it was similar to everyone else’s in that she felt like God was calling me back to this dream. I wasn’t entirely convinced. Yet.

After Family Time, we headed to dinner. Megan, Taylor, Anna and I sat together and chatted while we ate. As we were finishing, Amanda, the worship leader walked up to me.

The words that came out of her mouth were the ones that God used to smack me upside the head and say, “Do you believe me now? Do you believe that this is what you’re supposed to do now?”

“Tracy told me to ask you if you’d be willing to sign during worship this weekend?”

Excuse me? I did not come here this weekend to sign during worship. No intentions of this at all.

I’m sure my mouth dropped open. I know I stumbled over my words as I told her I’d have to think about it. (The first worship session was happening in 30 minutes.) She immediately assured me that I was under no pressure (maybe not from you, sister, but God? Yeah, He’s turning up the heat.) She said she’d send me her playlist so I could look it over, then went back to her table.  I could feel the heat rising in my face, my heart was pounding, my head was throbbing, my eyes were wide.

Anna was sitting across the table, beaming. “Breathe,” she instructed, “Just breathe

I started telling the three of them all the reasons why I couldn’t, why shouldn’t do this.

It’s been three years since I signed in front of people.

I’m too rusty.

Who am I to join in leading worship?

They shot down every single one of my excuses.

Anna finally looked at me and asked, “So is this a ‘hell yes’?”

No,” I replied. “No, it is not, yet. I need to know what songs she’s planning to use tonight.”

I walked over to Amanda’s table, crouched beside her chair and asked her what songs she was doing that night.

The first four she read off were the ones I knew the best on her playlist. Then she said, “And there’s one that’s not on the list that I’m planning to do at the end of the session—‘Good, Good Father.’”

OKAY, God—I hear you.

“Good, Good Father” has been my anthem since I heard it for the first time in January. I’d gone to an open mic night with a friend and heard it there. Then, later that night, Anna and I had talked on the phone and she had said those words to me—“he’s a good Father”—and I had just burst out laughing at the timing of them. A month later, I read Julie’s book, Stones of Remembrance—and read those words over and over and over throughout her story.

At that point, I knew what I was being asked to do, but I still wasn’t ready to say “yes.” I left Amanda’s table, made a beeline for Kelli’s and asked her to pray. Then I headed back to my table and told Taylor, Anna, and Megan that I was going to change clothes. Megan made a comment about my t-shirt, referencing the “Be the Light” quote that was scrawled across it—“see you’re supposed to be the light—your shirt says so!” There’s a story there too, but let’s just say that it was yet another slap in the face that said, “Hello—I’m talking to you!”

I got up from the table and headed for the door to go change clothes. And my family group got up too and followed me out the door. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me, knowing they were with me.  As we walked back to the cabin, my mind was spinning. I did not want to do this thing, but I knew I was supposed to. I was still thinking I could get out of it some way. Ha. The other three were talking, but I didn’t hear them—until I heard Anna say. “You’re glowing! Your smile is from ear to ear! I love this!”Honestly, I didn’t even know I was smiling. I was wrapped up in my thoughts; I thought my face was a display of the fear, insecurity, and struggle that was happening internally. Apparently not.

We got to the cabin and I changed clothes. By this time, we had about 20 minutes before the session started. I told the girls if I did anything, it would be “Good, Good Father” at the end of the session. As I stood looking at myself in the mirror, silently reminding myself to breathe, Anna walked up behind me and asked if I wanted her to massage my shoulders. I said yes and sat on the bed. Megan and Taylor had flopped down on the other bed. As I pulled “Good, Good Father” up on my phone, Anna started rubbing my shoulders. I closed my eyes and listened to the song, focusing on breathing. About halfway through the song, Anna stopped massaging my shoulders and placed one hand on top of my head. With her other hand, she started playing with my hair. I can’t describe those moments as anything other than holy. My spirit calmed and peace washed over me. I finally knew I was going to do this thing that I still didn’t want to do.

Our roommate Carolyn came in then and it was time to head to the conference room for the session. As we walked, Taylor and me ahead of Carolyn, Anna, and Megan, I could hear Anna telling Carolyn a little about what was happening. She shared with Carolyn about my word for 2016 being “unbound” and Carolyn said she would pray. Taylor put her arm around me as we approached the building and said, “This is a safe place. This is the place where you can do this.” I walked in, found Amanda and told her I was planning to join her at the end. She said she wouldn’t call me up, but told me to just come up.

Throughout that session, I sat on the floor in the back corner of the room, writing all the things that were pouring into my mind—things the Holy Spirit had spoken to me over the past few months, the reasons why I should and should not be doing this, just all the words. Tracy walked by me at one point and asked, “The floor? Are you comfy?” Yeah, I am—and I would probably fall out of a chair if I tried to sit in one right now, I thought. One thing I’ve learned about myself recently is that when my heart, mind, and spirit are swirling, I need to be sitting somewhere concrete and steady—like on the floor with a wall to support me.

The session began to close, and I quietly made my way to the front row. My heart was pounding. Amanda went to the keyboard and I stood up, turning to face the crowd. She started playing and singing; I closed my eyes and started signing.

And it was so hard. I kept fumbling (though no one probably noticed), and my hands felt awkward and uncooperative. But I did it. I had done what I had been asked to do…

Only the Beginning: Splendid Thursday

Thursday morning, we left Anna’s house with Rachel, another #the4500 member, and began our 4-hour drive to the retreat location. (For the record, these two are excellent road trip partners.) Halfway there, we met up with yet another #the4500 member, Taylor, and Anna jumped in her car for the rest of the drive. As we got back on the road, I began to tell Rachel my story—for the fourth time in less than 24 hours.

As we drove to the resort, I wondered when I would begin to get nervous about meeting all these faces I knew only online in real life. Because, really—who does that? But it never came. Instead, I was super excited. One person I anticipated meeting was Kelli. Kelli and I had become fast friends over the last few months. As of February, she wasn’t going to be at Splendid—and we were both so disappointed. Then, on the Monday before I left for Splendid, she texted me and said she was coming. Elated doesn’t even begin to cover how I felt upon receiving this news.

Once we arrived at the resort and unloaded the car, we began to encounter some of the girls who were already there. It was both weird and familiar to walk up to someone, hug them, and start talking. Because we’ve all spent the past year getting to know one another through the FB group, texts, and phone calls, we skipped over all the typical get-to-know-you small talk (an introvert’s dream!) and got right down to the real stuff.

At one point, I was walking through the resort to the office when I saw someone walking down the hill. I couldn’t quite make out who it was…until she started yelling my name: “Ticcoa! Is that Ticcoa?!?” And then I knew—it was Mama Lynn. We got within arm’s reach and hugged tightly. It was like greeting someone I’d known all my life. And this happened over, and over, and over—with Julie, and Tracy (“you made it, T!” she said to me), and Jana, and the two Aprils, and so many others.

IMG_1681Kelli was arriving in time for dinner, and as we drove down the “mountain” hill to the restaurant, my heart was filled with anticipation. When I walked through the door, my eyes immediately searched the room for this heart-sister, and when they fell on her, I made a beeline. Hugging her for the first time will always be a memory I treasure in my heart. We stood with arms around each other for a long time, until she whispered, “You see I’m being quiet.” For someone who usually has all the words, she was without them; I didn’t have very many of my own either. For months, we’d held onto the hope that we’d meet soon; “soon” ended up being a lot sooner than we’d anticipated.

When we got back to the resort after dinner, I followed Kelli to her cabin and proceeded to tell her the story I’d been telling others—the one that I’d promised her I’d tell her in person some day. Thus, this was the fifth telling of the story. (Numbers are important here, I promise!)

Again, at this point, so many wonderful things had taken place—just the very fact that I was present with these women was enough—that I was content with the weekend. Little did I know that it the “fun” was only just beginning…

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.”

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