An Experiment in Together

When I moved home to Ohio in 2014, I didn’t intend to stay this long. I thought I needed six months or maybe a year to figure out where I was going next, but I certainly intended to go. I was going to move on, explore the world, and see things I had never seen. While I’ve had a few adventures during that time, I mostly feel like I have spent the last three years waiting for release and finding myself blocked at every turn.

“What would you do if I asked you to stay?” God whispered into my soul.

I’ll tell you what I did. I cringed. I squirmed. I raged against the very idea of staying in one place for too long. Why would He ask me to stay when I only ever wanted to go?

I have always worn the word Fearless like the anthem Taylor Swift once penned it to be—plunging headfirst into the storm, dancing in my best dress. This was the image I had of myself. This was the girl I wanted to be. But at the beginning of 2016, God redefined this word for me.

I was reading the conclusion to Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. In this scene, Liraz—a most formidable warrior—watches over the two humans who stumbled into her world. She sneers at them because they are tiny and pathetic and out of place in a world at war.

Weak, she thought, still watching the human pair, but there was another word lurking, defying it. Fearless. They slept with their faces touching.”

And I felt God whisper into my heart again: “This is the kind of Fearless I want you to be. The kind of Fearless that is small and vulnerable and willing to come face to face with another human being.”

Well, I must have failed miserably at this missive because, at the beginning of 2017, He gave me another word: Together.

No word in the history of mankind has unsettled me quite so much as the word Together. At least Fearless was still my battle cry, even if I was meant to redefine exactly what that meant to me. Together was something else entirely. I do solo rather well, thank you very much, and there was nothing within me that even wanted to pursue the implications of this word… which was exactly my problem and most certainly why God stapled it to me.

So I attempted Together. Out of begrudging obligation, I made appointments and stuck with them even though I would have preferred to be elsewhere. Sure, there were exceptions. There were some really great moments with some truly wonderful people, but for the most part, I felt like I was colossally failing at Together.

And then I met the Ropers.

I’m still not entirely sure how this pack of brothers managed to fall into my life. All I know is that last summer they were just friends of a friend of a friend that my sister decided, for whatever reason, to reach out to on Snapchat. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Her phone became her constant companion. And how could it not when she had four brothers and three of their friends blowing it up 24/7?

I didn’t get it. Right up until the moment she got permission to bring some of her new friends on vacation with our family, I didn’t understand how, in such a short amount of time, these strangers she met on the internet could become her whole life.

But there I was, celebrating my family vacation with three extremely affectionate brothers and their spunky female cousin. And so, my vacation that was meant to provide an abundance of much-needed personal space became in experiment in Together. But for the first time possibly ever, that wasn’t a negative thing. For the first time since I can remember, I actually wanted to be with these people more than I wanted to be curled up in my room with a good book.

This is what people have in mind when they talk about Community, I thought. This is what Together is supposed to look like.

I think that alone would have been a catalyst into a new way of living, but God (who had certainly realized that I was finally grasping this concept and was perhaps concerned I would lose it if He didn’t act quick) let me keep the Ropers a little longer. After Dad offered them some work, they’ve been mostly living with my parents off and on since October.

The week Caleb first got to town, I curled right up on the couch next to him and laid my head on his shoulder. When he wrapped his arms around me and pressed his chin to my forehead, I recalled the words that have been singing on repeat in my mind these last two years:

Fearless. They slept with their faces touching.”

And I thought, I get it now. I think I’m finally there.

While I’m still the kind of Fearless that would dance in a storm in my best dress, I’ve realized that I’m not dancing alone anymore. There are other people out here in the storm with me and that is a beautiful, magical thing.

I didn’t think it was possible for me to crave Together like a flower craves sunlight, but here I am.

I have this friend—Katie. She’s nearly twenty and acts like the sassy little sister I never knew I wanted. She stayed at my apartment until 3:30am after a game night a few weeks ago and, as we were talking it dawned on me that I wanted those late night talks on a more consistent basis. I ended up asking her to move in with me. I guess it just seemed like the perfect culmination to my year of Together.

So now I have a roommate, and I know it’s still early, but I’m finding it perfect. I miss her when she’s not around, which feels a little pathetic, but also kind of beautiful.

I don’t know what this next year brings. I’m hoping for new horizons and the opportunity to travel more. But I know that whatever I do, I won’t be doing it alone anymore.

We live in a world with amazing technology at our fingertips. Home can be transient. Together can stretch across miles as long as you know how to do it right. I’m still learning, but I think I’ve learned enough that I can finally give it a try.

Here’s to Together.

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Heart vs. Will

The words “not my will” have been singing through my mind since my manager stated them so eloquently about a month ago. So it comes as no surprise that my most recent Bible Study book would lead me to the scene at the Garden of Gethsemane.

When faced with his own battle of “not my will,” author Gregory Hunt dissected the difference between willfulness and willingness.

“Without willfulness,” he states, “we would never get anything done. Willfulness is gumption, and gumption is good.”

But willfulness, he claims, only works until we get that that place where we can’t say for sure that there’s an alignment between our will and God’s. That is where willingness comes into play. Where willfulness may drive our lives, it is willingness that will give us the peace and rest our hearts so desperately crave.

As my rather unsettled heart skimmed over these pages, I realized that I have come to a point in my life where I’m trying to follow after God using willfulness rather than willingness. I find myself constantly striving to hold myself to a standard that used to come easily. While I am still all sorts of stubborn and determined enough to keep my feet on the right track, my heart has gone on hiatus.

My relationship with God these days reminds me, sadly, of that scene in First Knight after Arthur catches Guinevere with Lancelot.

“You love him!” Arthur accuses.

“I choose you,” Guinevere replies.

“Your will chooses me, but your heart chooses him.”

Ouch.

I find myself offering the same determined albeit feeble excuses as Guinevere about my will being stronger than my heart. (It is! It really is! Don’t you feel fortunate to be on the winning side of this battle?)

But God isn’t satisfied with my divided love. Or, as King Arthur would say, He doesn’t want me to love Him “in slices.” I may think my will is strong enough to hold this together, but when He asks me to look upon Him as I look upon my other loves… I can’t.

Because my will may be strong, but there are certain things only a heart can conjure.

So for the time being, I’ll be over here relearning how to fall in love will both my heart and my will.

Not My Will

If I were ever to introduce myself at any kind of Anonymous meeting, it would look something like this: “My name is Rebekah and I’m a control freak.” Although, I’m not sure they have support groups for people like me because it’s awfully hard to have a meeting where everyone is in charge.

My support group consists of individuals who speak truth into my life whether I welcome it or not. Take for instance my manager Kathy. She’s my sounding board for a lot of things because, while she loves me and is invested in my life, she’s also far enough removed from my personal situations to provide the completely objective third party opinion I so desperately need.

Our most recent dump-fest involved me pouring out my little heart and confessing that I didn’t know what to do with the mess I had created of things.

“Maybe that’s the point,” Kathy said.

I stood there quietly, waiting for the real advice, because that obscure statement was not about to cut it.

“You know, sometimes you just have to step back and say, ‘Not my will.’ Not Rebekah’s will. Rebekah wants to be the ******* dictator.”

(You know, for a completely objective third party observer, this just got profoundly personal.)

Ahem.

Not my will.

The words, as you may well know, were made famous by Jesus when He asked God for a different path to redemption. In that light, it makes me feel pretty pathetic for even complaining because my cup of suffering has nothing on what Jesus was walking through.

And yet, even before the cross, Jesus humbled Himself enough to surrender all control, confining Himself to a human body with all of its human limitations. (Okay, so maybe not ALL of the human limitations. Most of us can’t exactly walk on water.) The God who shaped the stars revealed Himself to the world in the form of a helpless newborn babe.

The ******* dictator in my cringes.

I’m still learning to surrender myself to the mercy of others. I’ve spent the last three years in Ohio learning how to be the staying kind of fearless. Striving to make the word Together sound like a desirable thing. I am on my way to becoming less independent, but moments like these remind me that I am not there yet.

I’m not the kind of fearless a small child can be. There aren’t many people I trust to keep me from falling when I throw myself into their arms.

I’d rather hold the whole world together on my own, thank you very much.

But I’m learning—-ever so slowly and stubbornly and all of that stuff—-that I can’t dictate every single detail of my life and that my will fails me more often than not because, no matter how desperately I try, I don’t actually control the cosmos.

But here I am, still standing even as everything crumbles around me. And I realize that I don’t have to hold the whole world together in the palms of my hands. I don’t have to be the ******* dictator.

And for the first time in a long time, I’m okay with that. For the first time in a long time, I can say, “Not my will” without fearing what the future holds.

And maybe that’s the point.

Righteous, Victorious, and Humble

“Rejoice, O people of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem!
Look, your king is coming to you.
He is righteous and victorious,
yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey’s colt.” (Zechariah 9:9)

Righteous, victorious, and… humble?

It’s such an odd combination. Here You come—righteous and victorious—just chilling on the back of a young donkey. What kind of hero comes traipsing into town on anything less than a majestic steed?

You came to save the world. You came to conquer death. And during Your triumphal entry, You took a moment to consider a donkey. As You’ve done all throughout history, You overlooked the obvious choice and went with the one that would leave people scratching their heads for thousands of years to come.

Why a donkey, Lord?

It’s no wonder Your people were confused. Although they studied the prophecies, they didn’t know You meant the donkey thing literally. After all, that chapter also hints at a great battle. At liberation.

But given the hindsight, I cannot help but wonder… When you told Your people they would be drenched with blood, You didn’t mean the blood of their enemies, did You?

You said they would be drenched like the corners of the alter. That implies a sacrifice rather than a war.

You called Your people to a different kind of battle—a different way of life—while we remain too blinded by our own expectations to see that You’ve wanted bigger things for us than we have ever wanted for ourselves.

Remove the stars from our eyes so that we might finally see the constellations, the planets, the galaxies.

Worked Out

I don’t always cry at weddings. In fact, if the tears don’t come when the groom is watching his bride come down the aisle, it’s safe to assume my eyes will be dry the whole day through.

This last wedding, though, hit me at the most unexpected of times.

As I slipped into the reception hall, I saw a friend I had not seen in many years. Sue is a saint of the grandmotherly variety. Her face lit up upon seeing me and she quickly offered me the seat next to her. I, of course, could not refuse.

When she started inquiring about my life, I told her nothing I would not tell another acquaintance. The conversation merely brushed across the surface of my life and spoke nothing of the struggle within my soul. Perhaps that is why I was so surprised when, after I had returned from a much-needed moment of baby snuggling time, Sue picked the conversation back up in the most curious of places.

“I know you already know this,” she said, “but I feel impressed to tell you that God has your life worked out.”

That’s when the tears came, burning beneath the surface of my eyes. I blinked them back (so technically I still did not cry at that wedding), but they slipped into my heart alongside the conviction Sue’s words brought.

God may have my life worked out, but I’m not sure that I knew that. Or, at the very least, I’m not sure that I believed that. Because a quick look back on the last three years certainly suggested otherwise.

I have felt lost. I have felt abandoned. I have felt the furthest thing from worked out.

And yet… I felt the sting of truth in those words.

“God has your life worked out.”

I realize that I have been working in my own strength to pick up the pieces and sort this puzzle out. I’ve grown tired of waiting and elected to take matters into my own hands. And oh what a mess I have managed to make.

But here is the truth I have long forgotten how to claim: God has my life worked out.

He has not given up somewhere in the middle (as I often have). He is not sitting up in heaven debating hitting the backspace key on the last few chapters of my life (as I often wish that I could). He knows how this ends. He has it worked out. I am not floundering all alone in the dark.

Tomorrow I leave for Africa. The story of my getting there is quite the soap opera. It was not my first attempt to visit this continent. Every single mishap along the way has seemingly been in direct opposition of my going. I had my doubts right up until the visa actually arrived on my doorstep (and that hasn’t even been the end of my struggles). To be honest, I have my doubts about traveling tomorrow because when I fly everything seems to go wrong.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to accept that God has my life worked out because I’m afraid it doesn’t look like the life I would choose for myself. Because sometimes He closes doors on opportunities I thought were perfect. Because sometimes He strands me in Ohio when I wanted the world.

But when it’s time, He throws those doors wide open so that I can walk through. And He tells me He had it worked out a year and a half ago when my plans fell through. Because this—chaotic and unnerving as it has been—is better than the trip I tried to line up for myself.

I’ve had my doubts… So many doubts…

But all along God had my life worked out.

Farewell for a couple of weeks, my friends. I’ll see you in April!

The Word That Might Undo Me

You may be familiar with the Word of the Year trend (aka #OneWord365) where people choose a theme for the year to come. That word may be Thankful, Fearless, Rest, or Focus—to name a few.

To me, this spin on the popular New Year’s Resolution has always sounded a lot like counting your chickens before they hatch. How can one possibly know what her Word of the Year should be if the year hasn’t even begun? Me, I’ve mostly chosen my words in retrospect. At some point during the month of December, I sit down and evaluate where the past year has taken me. Only then do I determine the overarching theme.

But despite my doubts, I have a word for 2017.

I did not choose this word, mind you. On this I wish to be abundantly clear. Had the choice been up to me, I would have picked any one of those lovely words I listed above. At the very least I might have gone with Wander, Lost, or even Wrecked. (I was wrecked one year and there was something wonderfully poetic about it.) Basically, I would accept almost anything besides the word that was forced, quite unwillingly, upon me.

Yet the word that sunk its talons into my heart that cold, January morning was Together.

You were probably expecting something much worse. After all, Together is a word most people crave. The opposite of together, you realize, is alone. And no one wants to be alone.

I beg to differ.

Alone has worked quite well for me these last twenty-five years. I’ve grown comfortable there in my solitude. In fact, my mother’s chief concern about me moving into my own apartment was exactly that—she feared I would isolate. She warned it wasn’t healthy, practically begged me to intentionally seek people out. And I have, as best as I know how.

But I still crave the solitude.

Maybe it’s a gift; maybe it’s a curse, but I have long been able to do life well alone. I legitimately thrive at this solo gig. But along comes this word, threatening to turn my entire world upside down.

Together.

To be honest, I scarcely know what it means. Sure, I know the dictionary definition. Together means being with or in proximity to another person or people. Together, as an adverb, strikes fear into the heart of many an introvert, and I wish I could say my kind of Together was more of an adjective. I could handle a year of becoming more self-confident, level-headed, or well organized.

But I get the feeling I’m not meant to become the kind of woman who has everything together. I think my journey to Together is more likely to make me fall apart. I can already feel myself unraveling.

A lesson I learned long ago is that you can surround yourself with people and still be all alone. I’m practically an expert at isolating myself within a group of people. Every now and again someone sees right through me and the walls I have built so high, and I’m thankful for the effort the devote to my cause. But mostly I spend my life walking the delicate balance between the inside and the outside. Here, but not present. Involved, but not connected.

I may be in proximity to other people, but I don’t know how to be with them very well.

While browsing through the anonymous confessions left on If You Find This Email, I encountered one that made me want to wrap the author up in my arms and say, “Me too. I feel you, girl. Next time you’re feeling down, you can hit me up.”

Because she talked about being the person everyone comes to when they need to know that they are not alone, and how she still cannot find a single person among her thousand contacts that she could be that vulnerable with. She laments that she has no one to tell that she is not okay.

While I am certain that this is a lie we tell ourselves, it is the burden of the girl who thinks she can carry the weight of the world on her own.

It has been my burden for far too long.

I’m realizing that Together means showing up with your presence and not just your body. Sometimes it means showing up with those pieces of you that aren’t all that pretty. So I’m showing up on this blog today to tell you that, like my anonymous friend at If You Find This Email, I’m not okay. And that maybe next year I will thrive at this Together business, but right now it feels like any New Year’s Resolution as March starts creeping closer.

It’s hard and I feel like abandoning ship.

But this word. This word.

I know it is going to haunt me for the remainder of the year, so this is me sucking it up and trying to be faithful to community. Because that’s what Together actually means for me.

Community:

  • A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common
  • A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals

One of the first things God said about humankind was that it isn’t good for them to be alone. Consider this my first true (albeit feeble) attempt at Together.

Hello, my name is Rebekah. Let’s be friends.

Top Ten Reads of 2016

To begin the new year with a theme of gratitude and celebration (and because I really, really, really like to share my favorite books), I’ve compiled a list of the ten most beloved books I’ve read this year which I will present to you in countdown fashion.

*Disclaimer: While most of these books are recent releases, they were not all published in 2016. That was merely the year they were discovered and read by me. Sorry if I’m late to the bandwagon.

978176015357110) See How They Run: Ally Carter

“But guilt isn’t smart. It isn’t logical. It doesn’t only live in the places it belongs.”

I love me some Ally Carter and, while I was not quite sold on the first book in this series (due to some vital revelations that come far too late in the story for my personal preference), See How They Run more than made up for it. Now that I fully understood Grace’s character, I was far more sympathetic to her plight. Take a broken teenage girl and put her smack dab in the center of some international espionage? Yes, please.

 

9) Out of Sorts: Sarah Besseyout-of-sorts

“In most of my church tradition, no one ever mentioned the holy work of staying.”

My mother loaned me this book with the disclaimer that she did not agree with all of the theology. While the author shared a few thoughts I questioned, this book overall was such a beautiful, thought-provoking read about sorting through our questions, reshaping our beliefs, and becoming a better Jesus-follower through it all. Plus, the author gives a shoutout to the holy work of staying, and naturally that knocked me off my feet this year.

 

bff-bucket-list-9109319-high-res-687x10248) The BFF Bucket List: Dee Romito

This review may be a little biased because the author won me over with sponge candy and Scrivener tips long before I read her words in print. Or maybe it’s merely a fact that Dee’s writing is as amazing as she is. The BFF Bucket List is an adorable coming-of-age story about two friends who are growing up and growing apart and trying to salvage their life-long friendship. Not only is this book cute, clever, and funny, it also teaches a valuable lesson about friendship that even full-grown girls need to realize.

 

velvet-undercover7) Velvet Undercover: Teri Brown

This novel is a page-turner, no doubt about it. Just when I thought I had the situation figured out, the author would turn the tables on me and leave me questioning the things I thought I believed. This book is a cute, simple read that maintains an air of mystery. Definitely worth your time.

 

the-kiss-of-deception6) The Kiss of Deception: Mary E. Pearson

“The truths of the world wish to be known, but they won’t force themselves upon you the way lies will.”

Forget the fact that the title sounds like a bad romance novel, The Kiss of Deception is a brilliant work of art. The story follows Princess Lia as she flees an arranged marriage. A few weeks later, two strangers walk into the tavern where she now works. One is the jilted prince, the other is an assassin sent to kill her. And you, the reader, get to spend a couple hundred pages trying to figure out which one is which. Most amazing part of this book: the way it continues to grasp the reader’s interest even after the big reveal. Read it now. Thank me later.

 

3192645) I Don’t Wait Anymore: Grace Thornton

“We weren’t made to want mundane. We were made to want more. And there’s a reason for that… There is more to be had.”

When I published Beyond Waiting, people seemed all too eager to shove singleness articles my way. The only one that matched my stance on the subject was Grace Thornton’s I Don’t Wait Anymore. That article became a book this year and its message sings to this single girl’s soul. Take Grace’s advice, dear friends. Don’t wait.

 

A Gathering of Shadows Final4) A Gathering of Shadows: Victoria Schwab

“…getting close to death is the only way to feel alive. And once you do, it makes you realize that everything you were doing before wasn’t actually living. It was just making due.”

What? My favorite author only made #4? That’s for the cliffhanger ending, Victoria. Seriously, guys, I’m not even going to begin to tell you all the things I love about this book. Victoria Schwab is no fluffy writer. In addition to telling a compelling story, she ponders the deep things, the hard things, the monsters no one else wants to face. And I love her for it.

 

spinningstarlight3) Spinning Starlight: R.C. Lewis

“That’s the point of art… It reminds us that thinking is well and good, but feeling is what makes us alive.”

Any rendition of The Wild Swans is deserving of my attention. Any rendition that is flawlessly executed is worthy of a five-star review. Because honestly, how does one go about retelling the story of boys who live as swans by night and the sister who cannot speak lest she destroy them? This is how. R.C. Lewis has managed to accomplish something even Disney has not figured out: staying close enough to the original story to do Hans Christian Andersen proud.

 

51wvnwplbbl2) It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single: Sara Eckel

“What if the only reason you’re alone is you just haven’t met your partner yet?”

In this clever little handbook for the single woman, Sara Eckel combats all the well-known “reasons” people are single with a healthy dose of realism. If you ever need a pick-me-up that is not completely overboard with the “yay you, single-woman-hear-you-roar” statements, this is book for you. Every page is quotable, and the message Sara delivers is truth.

 

1) My Lady Jane: Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

my-lady-jane-by-collected-authors“For everyone who knows there was enough room for Leonardo DiCaprio on that door. And for England. We’re really sorry for what we’re about to do to your history.”

As a child, I loved the cartoon Hysteria—a series that twisted history into humor and distorted many of the facts in favor of more fun alternatives. My Lady Jane is the novel version of Hysteria. I cannot remember the last time I devoured a book with such delight. I giggled. I squealed. I mentally high-fived the authors for references to classics such as Shakespeare, Monty Python, and The Princess Bride. Ladies, you had me at the dedication. I can only hope to see more books like this in the future.