I grew up in a semi-rural area. Our house was surrounded on three sides by untamed forest for most of my childhood. My sister, our friends, and I spent a hefty chunk of our time roaming a radius of the forest that allowed us to keep the house within sight and the sound of Mom’s yell within hearing. We built forts, played in the creek, constructed bike trails—we even used branches and vines to build a replica wigwam when our home school studies brought us to the lives of Native Americans. We practically lived in those woods. It was our personal wilderness wonderland.
In their own wild way, they provided a safe space to explore, to grow.
Then came the day when the bulldozers and loggers appeared at the top of the ridge overlooking our forested playground. Over the course of a few weeks, what had been a forest peppered with trails, forts, and lush moss beds was ravaged. When the men and machines were gone, all that was left in their wake was a tangle of tree stumps, vines, and the mere memory of untouched wilderness.
The wilderness wonderland turned wilderness wasteland.
What pictures, symbols, metaphors grab your attention when you hear or read that word?
Personally, I think of
of wild, barren land,
gnarled, tangled branches and briar patches;
of walking in circles.
I’m just two months removed from the end of a deep season of depression, and though it seems like I’m on a fast track of momentum regarding my personal growth right now, the truth is that I’ve only just begun processing a great deal of heavy baggage, not only from those two years, but also from the two decades preceding it. Tuning into you after years of shutting yourself down takes work.
But I’m realizing just how important it is to dig up the roots of how you’ve settled into living and transplant them into the fresh soil of possibility prepared by the Holy Spirit;
how liberating it is to poke around the rocks of who you think you’re supposed to be—according to the beliefs of other people—and prod your true God-given identity out of the shadows;
how healthy it is to rake up the dead leaves of discarded dreams, passions, and interests, and work them into fertilizer for the tender green shoots of new opportunities and possibilities.
It’s exhausting work, but it’s also the kind of work that makes you crave more.
Until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t really been able to wrap descriptive words around the last two-and-a-half years—other than depression.
But last month, in the days after the first Splendid retreat, some of the 4500 girls who attended were talking about coming out of the wilderness after Hannah Kallio spoke on wandering in the wilderness. I heard two minutes of her talk live (thank you, Periscope and Lizzie!) and it stuck with me. Then after the retreat, several people referenced Hannah’s session and a verse from Song of Songs:
“Who is this, coming up from the wilderness
leaning on her beloved?”
And it stuck with me; as I sat in stillness with this verse, the Spirit gently worked in my heart, whispering Truth that brought many dark moments in that barren season into a new light, making me aware that He was there all along—He hadn’t deserted the hot mess I’d made of me like I’d convinced myself He had.
Last week, Hannah posted a blog (“Making Sense of the Wasteland”) that drew from her Splendid session. (I wholeheartedly recommend her blog—she has a gift for digging into the study of Hebrew words—so much so that I kind of want to learn Hebrew!) Reading her words as she dissected the Hebrew word for “waste,” I realized that this word was exactly how I felt about the season I’d recently emerged from. In the middle of that wilderness wandering, I felt abandoned—left high and dry to fend for myself, wasted and wasteful; empty and dried out.
Hannah went on to explain the Hebrew meaning of waste, and things started clicking into place in my heart and mind. I can’t repeat her entire post here (that’s why you should go read it for yourself), but I will relay the definition of “waste” that she used: “mark of certain attention.”
A mark of certain attention.
As someone who’s been getting the message of “I see you” time and again from the Father over the last weeks, I sat up straighter and let that definition sink in.
Instead of walking away during that season of depression, He had stayed right there; He had not turned His attention from me; He had actually walked me, leaning heavily on Him, right out of that wilderness, and into the second act I’d been unknowingly searching for.
The curtain falls.
The audience rustles with whispered anticipation.
The First Act has ended.
The cast of characters will reemerge.
The Second Act awaits.
Tragedy and heartache will befall them.
The Third Act will come.
Resolution will meet them.
And so, they begin again.
The Second Act.
According to a very informal poll on Facebook, my assumptions that we associate the concept of a second act with a new beginning—whether it be a new career, the middle of one’s life, another chance at something you might not have been happy with the first time around.—were correct. (Shout out to Xamayta, Kristin, Sarah, and Tina for taking my bait!)
In a three-act storytelling model, Act 1 sets the stage for the rest of the story—the audience meets the characters, a problem develops; in Act 2, the problem becomes more complicated; finally in Act 3, the protagonist is met with resolution to the problem(s) and often, must pick himself up out of the ashes.
Brené Brown discusses this literary device in her latest book, Rising Strong, in regard to the middle part of any struggle we face—the messy, hard, nonnegotiable middle. She writes:
whatever that middle space is for your own process, is when you’re ‘in the dark’—the door has closed behind you. You’re too far in to turn around and not close enough to the end to see the light…at some point you’re in, it’s dark, and there’s no turning back…It’s not only a dark and vulnerable time, but also one that’s often turbulent. (26-27)
When I got to the end of this chapter, I had an even greater understanding of the importance of the time I spent in darkness, wandering aimlessly in a wilderness wasteland. Was it a pleasant experience? Absolutely not. Do I want to go back and visit that place? Not in a million years.
But it wasn’t wasted. It wasn’t completely barren, because it has birthed a newness of life in my heart and mind.
The end of this second act in the wilderness became what my friend Xamayta defined as “that pivotal moment in which one decides to be who God created us to be” as I have emerged from the mess and become more intentional about how I choose to live.
We so often think of Act 2 as a second chance, and it is—but it’s also often a messy, desolate, dark place we can’t see our way out of; it’s a place where our wilderness wonderland can turn into a wilderness wasteland.
We wrestle with the monsters that take up residence within our psyche, and almost always come away with bruises, scars, and wounds that leave us with the need to lean heavily on the One who has the power to redeem the second act and walk us out of the wilderness and into the promised land of the third act, the next chapter of the story.