The Painful In-Between

The Painful In-Between

It’s funny being a writer, because I so often find myself thinking in terms of blog posts. Something happens or I have a bad day or a really good day and suddenly my mind is filled with a title and a thesis and a hook. And I think “man I should write about that.”

But then I don’t. Most of the time. Because I begin to think, and overthink, and overthink some more and by the time I turned it around in my head enough times what once looked like a well-organized and thought provoking 900 words suddenly looks more like an overly emotional pile of greenish-brown mush and I figure that no one would want to read that anyway.

But the thing about being a writer is that if you don’t write, you feel it. Something’s off. There is simply too much in your head to not put anywhere, and so you walk around kind of lopsided, turning in circles like a dog settling in for a nap.

So today, I’m just going to write.

There are a million aspects to moving to South Carolina that I did not expect. I didn’t even know how to expect them nor do I think I would have. You know when people try to tell you about things you might struggle with or hardships that come with certain life choices but you brush them off because surely that would never happen to you?

I’ve recently been reading Steven Curtis Chapman’s autobiography, and he starts it off by comparing life to riding roller coasters. When he was little, he rode the “Wild Mouse”, one of those baby roller coasters with two “hills” and cars that aren’t even attached to one another. But to him, it was a real life roller coaster, and when he stepped off of it for the first time, he felt like he had conquered something tremendous.

And when he was a little older, his brother convinced him to try the “Screamin’ Eagle”, a much bigger ride with many more twists and turns and hills. And since he had already ridden the Wild Mouse, and he was a “roller coaster kind of guy”, he jumped on. He had enough guts to try scary rides before, why not now?

He reflects on his experiences by saying:

Before my Screamin’ Eagle experience, I thought I had been on a roller coaster, but this was a whole different journey. Yeah, I’d been on a roller coaster – I’d been on the Wild Mouse. Life is like that… I know mine certainly has been. You live through “wild ride” experiences with some tremendous highs, some horrible lows, some hand-raising moments of exultation, and some gut-wrenching twists and turns… the cheers and the tears, like the experiences, are very real and valid. But then things or something happens that takes you far higher and much deeper than you could’ve ever imagined. And you realize that your Wild Mouse journey has suddenly jumped the tracks onto the Screamin’ Eagle.

And you realize your Wild Mouse journey has suddenly jumped the tracks onto the Screamin’ Eagle.

Moving to South Carolina was a lot like jumping the tracks onto the Screamin’ Eagle.

The only reason I did it is because I had ridden the Wild Mouse before. When I went to college, four years ago, I didn’t just go to the community college down the road or the in-state university. I moved 36 hours away from home! I completely started over- new people, new state, new way of life. And I have never, not once, regretted that decision. I was nervous to try, but once I was riding the Wild Mouse I was so thankful that I went for it.

And so when I graduated, and I was staring down the opportunity to ride the Screamin’ Eagle, I thought heck yes. Now that I’ve ridden the Wild Mouse, I couldn’t possibly go back to the antique cars or the merry-go-round! And so what was surely an act of furious curiosity, pent-up energy, and a flaming desire to prove myself, I moved.

And MAN. Let me tell you.

I never could have expected the highs and lows. Never. Technically, this transition shares some similarities to going to college: I moved several states away, I surrounded myself with a brand new batch of people… but in reality, it’s nothing like it.

Starting my freshman year at a Christian college was kind of like going to summer camp that lasted for 9 months. Starting adulthood in a brand new city all by myself is more like having your house picked up by a tornado, and while everything’s spinning and being pinned to the walls and the family dog is being sucked out of the window, you look up and realize that your house if full of guests and they’re there because you threw your sister a surprise birthday party and they’re staring at you because it’s time to serve the cake.

And so you serve the cake, and you go on with life like everything’s fine, and you just can’t quite figure out how everyone seems to be acting so normal when there’s a flippin tornado and the house is spinning through the air.

 

There are a lot of things you learn through a season like this. Lessons about trust, faith, value, identity. Hard work. Sorrow. Joy. How it is completely and entirely possible to be overflowing with gratitude and overwhelmingly sad at the same time.

I sat outside during my lunch break yesterday and I felt brittle, like I could snap in half if a breeze blew hard enough at the just the right angle. And I wondered why, since on the outside my life is robust and adventurous and full of life and people. But I realized that it is because I’m still in that painful in-between, and more than anything I miss my people. That even for all of the incredible things around me, I would trade them all for one hug or conversation or day spent walking around my favorite streets in Ohio.

And I think that’s okay.

One day, the Screamin’ Eagle won’t be quite so menacing or new, and I will wake up and realize that South Carolina is my home and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But today is not that day. It doesn’t have to be that day.

It can be the painful in-between. I give it permission. I’ll just let it be.

It’s Time To See The Good

It’s Time To See The Good

I have a confession. This isn’t what I was going to post. I already had something else written, spell checked, tagged and ready to go, but I woke up this morning and realized I couldn’t post it.

Because it was 1,000 words about what was wrong with my life, what was wrong with the church, what is wrong about what is happening around me right now. And I’m tired of focusing on everything that doesn’t fit where I want it to.

You see, I’m the problem. I have blamed a million things for my negative attitude, but nothing is to blame but the brain between my ears and the crooked heart in my chest. And it’s oddly liberating to know this, because for so long I couldn’t understand how the world we live in could be so paradoxical. It had my head spinning, for it would seem so dark to me, as I awoke on an aimless Saturday morning, or wrote another paper, or gazed at the unknown days ahead. The world seemed menacing and dark to me, and yet I would go for an evening run to Walmart, and as I drove past an open lot the ground would glitter with lightening bugs and the sky would be seven shades of red and I couldn’t understand how a world so beautiful could seem so dark to me.

And now I know: the lightning bugs have it right. They are beautiful because they can’t help it – they were programmed and designed to spread glitter across green landscape. They were simply created beautifully and so was I, and any day I refuse to believe that is a sad waste of precious time.

I’m only 22, but I have lost entire seasons of my life worrying myself to panic or, worse, sleep. I couldn’t figure out how I could be so tired by 11 am until I realized that I had created an exhausting world in my own head. I was torturing myself with my negative thoughts, and it wore me out. I was literally making myself sick with worry. And it was all my fault, in the best of ways.

I’m glad it was my fault, because I don’t want to blame the world or God or anyone else.

Sometimes, when I am sick and in my mind, I just step outside and allow this world to be all that it is to me. And the sun’s heat, the mismatched clouds, the sounds of lawns being mowed, they heal me. I recently spent two weeks beneath Italian mountains, and the way they rose from the forest blanket, staring at the sky and daring to be grander than anything else around them… I was small in the best way. I really am allowed to let go and give my worries to the mountains and the God who fashioned them perfectly.

I can lean into friendships. The people who make me laugh without trying. The eyes I can stare straight into without fearing what they see. The people who validate my fears, cry through memories of boys I shouldn’t have liked, and still view me as a whole, capable woman through it all. The people who instill confidence in me, who build me up, who let me dare to be more than who I am today. Who told me I could be more in the first place.

And Jesus. Jesus. My shepherd who died to give me life I don’t appreciate, days I worry out of existence. Why do I think so small when I have a Father who made everything?

So today I choose. As one who chooses to lose weight from their body, I choose to lose weight from my mind and soul. It doesn’t happen all at once, but change begins with a choice. For me, it’s a pledge to gratitude. It’s a decision to fight the stress headaches and negative perception by Truth and new foundations. It’s a promise to have fun. To think of nothing sometimes. To dream again. A new way of living that I used to be good at, until I thought I had to play God in my life.

And that’s why I couldn’t publish that other post. It can’t be me anymore. I don’t need to tell you what’s wrong in this world, and I surely don’t have to tell myself.

But I do need a reminder of what is beautiful and worth my musings. I need to remember who God is in this world and who God is in mine.

And maybe you need that reminder, too.

Courage Is Not The Absence Of Fear

Courage Is Not The Absence Of Fear

Ever since I was little, I’ve wanted to do big things.

I was that kid who would watch American Idol with my family on a Tuesday night, and then quickly steal upstairs and practice singing in front of my full length mirror until mom came to tuck me in. I would practice introducing myself to the judges (Randy, J-Lo and Steven Tyler at the time), and I would pace back and forth, singing and using up the space, putting on a real show to my 10-year old self in the mirror.

I would do this partly because I liked to sing, of course, but mainly because it was a big thing, American Idol, and I wanted a part of it.

I’ve always wanted to be a part of big things.

My mom would get me snuggled in bed, and by the glow of the dim lamp I would dream about what my life would be. And I would think that I would do just about anything and go just about anywhere. I would audition for crazy singing shows and fly all around the world and write best-selling books. (Don’t even get me started on all the rough-drafts I had going of achingly-bad teen novels…)

My head was full of big dreams, because I wanted to be a part of big things.

As I grew up, those big desires began to change a little. Not entirely, and not overnight, but I did realize that there were bigger things than trying out for reality TV shows. I would fantasize filling up my passport and playing my oboe so well that thousands would come and see.

I would dream so big, and I wouldn’t feel any fear. Partly because I hadn’t actually done any of these things, but also because the world was consistently good at patting me on the back. I was cheer captain, principle chair in band, worship team leader in youth group. I had a loving family, a comfortable home, an exciting life. I had friends that had stuck by me for 10 years, and I was looking towards an excellent college education at the school of my choice. I had never experienced real pain, physical, mental, or emotional. I had never had my heart broken, never been hospitalized for more than a day, never tasted bitter panic.

I didn’t view myself as plagued by anything that would stop me from filling my life up with everything that would make me happy. As I write it now, I recognize how ridiculously skewed this way of thinking was, and also how painfully naive.

I took mission trips in high school, to Mexico, Burkina Faso, Mali, China… I prided myself on my ability to go on trips that I wanted to go on, saw myself as so brave to jump on a plane, selfishly see the world, give what didn’t hurt, and then come home. (Now, I don’t want to make myself sound too awful in high school, but if I’m honest -and I try to be- my heart was a selfish muscle. I was in it for me, and I passed it off for Christ-like.)

I thought courage was the desire to do big things and the ability to carry them out un-fazed, happy. I saw the courageous people as those who made big moves, and the scared, lazy people as those who lived normal lives.

I was sickeningly wrong.

 

I got lost in the Shanghai airport the last time I flew home from China. The story is long, and though I like to tell it to anyone who will listen, I will spare you the details here. All you need to know is I got lost, I got freaked, and then I finally found my family just in time to jump on a metal tube that was about to take me over the Pacific Ocean for 17 hours.

Something weird happened in me that day. Something cracked. I was scared. Suddenly, it was all too much for me, and I felt that I would never jump on another plane again. I practically kissed the ground when we touched base in Seattle.

My little ghost began to follow me around. I was a sophomore in college at the time, and suddenly I was afraid of things that I knew shouldn’t scare me. Dark clouds began to find me on perfectly normal days, and I couldn’t see past them. I began to doubt everything – my faith in God, my ability to make it through the day breathing normally. My chest was tight. I couldn’t make it through a work shift without reading scripture or taking bathroom breaks to breathe.

I had my first panic attack about 6 months after the incident in Shanghai. I gripped the chair, didn’t tell a soul, and couldn’t believe there would ever come a day I wasn’t afraid. My fear was irrational, most of it, and yet it was so real. It became my closest companion – it wouldn’t leave me alone.

Those big crazy dreams of mine were put somewhere deeper than I could see them. Nothing mattered but getting through the day. And besides, I couldn’t imagine boarding a plane, let alone doing something worth mentioning on the other side. Suddenly courage meant something new to me – seeing past the fear and finding life somewhere else.

 

I write this today because I spent my whole day packing, anticipating the first big trip since the incident in China, since the fear began, 3 years later. I am coming off an intensely fearful season of my life, and I am no longer the happy-go-lucky high school girl I was as I stare down this adventure. She has been replaced by reality, by a girl who knows hurt, and joy, more than she thought she would.

Yet she has never been so courageous. I have never been so courageous.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the knowledge that there is Something bigger than it. Someone bigger than it. In fact, I believe no one is truly courageous unless they are utterly afraid. Courage is acting in faith when the task at hand terrifies you, knowing that God has ordained these steps and will provide a way through them.

I never knew my need for God until I walked through a season afraid. I have never loved Him more.

Now, I view no one more courageous than the quiet soul who dispels fear with scripture, who wakes up daily and says, “God, what’s next?” Because that’s hard to do. It takes real faith.

It takes a heart of bravery. Of courage, in its purest form.

So I’ll jump on a plane this Friday a little afraid, and a lot excited because I get to be brave.

I never had the chance before.