Finally Fearless

I’ve just come back from traveling the world.

No, seriously. I took a month long road trip that spanned eight thousand miles and seventeen states. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences in which I visited a few friends along the way, but also spent a solid two weeks literally living out of my car.

I think it’s the whole sleeping in the car thing that has led to the general consensus that I might be insane. Mostly, I just wanted to take an epic road trip without completely breaking the bank, and, hey, I didn’t die, now did I?

As I detailed my plans and/or recounted my travels, the phrase that kept resurfacing from the lips of friends and strangers alike is, “I would never be brave enough to do something like that.”

I had nothing to say to this. Mostly because I know there was nothing I could have said to myself when I first had the idea to maybe take off four years ago. As much as I wanted to go, I wasn’t quite ready to tackle such a venture on my own. I may have been the girl who toted “fearless” like a battle cry, but there was still a whole lot of fear in me.

The biggest thing I learned about myself on this journey is that I’m not afraid anymore. The things that used to strike fear into my heart didn’t even make me flinch. They made me excited instead.

I didn’t feel brave packing up half of my wardrobe and leaving behind the familiar in search of new sights. I felt relieved. Like staying wasn’t even an option anymore because going felt so necessary.

I needed that week in Kansas. I needed the chaos of shoving 30+ people in one home where you whisper, “Praise Jesus” upon finding an unoccupied bathroom. I needed the hugs and the laughter and did I mention the hugs?

I needed to hit the road and drive across countryside that looks nothing like I’ve seen back East.

I needed to hike high altitudes, and venture deep into caverns, and walk along shorelines my feet had never touched before.

I needed the people I stopped to see along the way. I needed their love and hospitality and showers. God knows I needed their showers.

I needed to get out and live because sometimes staying rooted in one spot feels more like withering away.

So I don’t know what to say to those people who aren’t there yet—the ones who think they can’t be brave—except this:

What I wished as I sat overlooking a canyon at Zion National Park was that I would have been braver ten years ago. Maybe not to the point of packing up my life and hitting the road for a month, but in smaller, seemingly insignificant ways.

I wished I would have spent more time downtown. I wished I would have ventured deeper into the Blue Ridge. I wished I would have taken off on spontaneous adventures all on my own instead of waiting for someone to invite me to tag along with them. I wished I would have splurged a little on seemingly silly things.

I wished I wouldn’t have always played it so safe and smart and practical.

There’s a time and a place for that, but it took up so much room in my life. Letting go, leaving all of that behind… I feel like a whole new person. And I like this person a whole lot better than the girl from before.

She’s happier. She’s a heck of a lot more fun. And she doesn’t feel stuck in a life she never wanted for herself.

She’s finally fearless in all the ways she wanted to be all those years ago.

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So You Think You Can’t Dance

“Do you dance?”

It was perhaps the first question he ever asked me. I answered with a nervous laugh and a shake of my head. “No.”

Before I knew it, he had taken my hand, pulled me close, and started twirling me in a too-small kitchen.

Well, hello. Nice to meet you, too.

“You can dance,” he chastised me after a moment had passed.

“I can follow,” I countered, because somehow it didn’t seem to count as dancing so long as someone else was doing all of the creative work. While I’ve always longed to move my body with all the grace and confidence my sister displays, I simply can’t.

I can’t.

Two simple words. Five little letters dotted with the apostrophe of finality.

I can’t.

It’s hard to imagine a phrase so small could have the power to undo you, but it does. Over and over again, those words have confined me, strapping me down to a small existence where new limits are not reached.

My word for 2018, I quickly realized, is Horizon. Really, it’s a phrase: Bring Me That Horizon. (What can I say? I’ve always been obsessed with the pirate’s life.)

While the horizon is most commonly known as the line at which the earth’s surface and the sky appear to meet, it also refers to the limit of a person’s mental perception, experience, or interest.

In other words, it’s the “I can’t” moments. I think I’m supposed to conquer them this year. So I’m trying to face them head on—all those moments I instinctively greet with a, “No way, Jose.”

As I’ve been intentional about catching these thoughts, I’ve grown discouraged by the sheer volume of them. I had no idea how often I shut myself down.

“Really bend your knee and push that blade into the ice,” Kim coaches.

“My legs are not strong enough to hold that position. I can’t.”

“You’ve got to commit,” Gabe says as he instructs me through a front flip on the trampoline.

“It’s hard to commit to breaking my neck. I can’t.”

“Loosen your hips and move with it, girl!” Caleb calls as I’m tossed about on a mechanical bull.

“That defies every instinct of self-preservation in my body. I can’t.”

As I am my own worst critic, I don’t think it’s an accident that this challenge has come on the tail end of my Year of Together. I’ve gathered some pretty fantastic people (see above) who often give me that little boost of encouragement I needed. I’ve learned to take them at their word even when my doubts want to tell me they’re wrong. I am not a backspin prodigy; I can barely get my left foot off the ice for one rotation.

But I’ve learned to trust those voices. I’ve learned to lean into them and let them give me the strength I didn’t know that I had.

And a funny thing has happened to me over the last few months. I’ve become brave enough to dance in public—even when there is no one to follow. Because, surprisingly enough, my hips know how to move entirely on their own. Suddenly, they feel beautiful and confident and maybe even a little bit graceful. (And, if Shakira is to be believed, hips don’t lie, so it must be true.)

It’s amazing what a world of possibilities opens up when we stop telling ourselves we can’t and instead start whispering that we’ve got this. That this new challenge is going to be difficult, but we are strong and capable of conquering it.

I hope you’ll be brave enough to tell yourself you can.

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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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.

Stay

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

One minute I’m kicked back in my chair and the next I am scrambling upright, paying rapt attention to the book in my hands, trying to get closer to these words and the way they sing over this current season of my life.

I’ve never been one to pick a word of the year, but I selected one quite by accident on the first day of 2016. I thought the word was Fearless, only redefined. The kind of Fearless that makes you Stay when all you really want to do is Pack Up and Go.

“By all means, be Fearless,” I’ve whispered to myself while tucked into the darkened corners of 2016, “Just make sure it’s the Staying kind.”

So I read on, wanting to know what else Sarah Bessey had to say about the holy work of Staying.

“It’s a different kind of fearless,” she wrote.

I flailed. I squealed. I scrambled for my phone so I could Instagram the moment into a mantra for the masses. (It is 2016, after all.)

The girl who penned that blog post on the first of the year did not know what it meant to Stay. She knew Fearless only in the form of jumping on a plane and traveling to foreign lands and adventure is out there if only you are willing to chase it. Those things didn’t scare her the way they did many others. She felt quite content and at ease walking the streets of Mumbai and clasping hands with little, beggar children.

But ask her to Stay… Ask her to Stay and she trembles like a leaf trying to free itself from its mother branch, hoping to abandon herself to the whims of the wind. Why would she want to remain anchored to the tree when she could go for a swim along a breeze?

Hannah Brencher likens Staying to a monster that hides in the closet once you hit adulthood. She showed up in my inbox just this morning to remind me of how scared we all are of that word. And here I thought it was just me.

But it’s not just me. Sarah Bessey and Hannah Brencher stepped in to say, “Me, too. I’m learning how to be the Staying Kind of Fearless, too.”

Maybe you’re there with us. If so, welcome to the club.

The worst thing we can ever do to ourselves is believe that it’s just us. That we are alone in the world. That no one else has words that they give teeth and claws. That no one else pulls the blankets up over their heads to hide from the monsters we fear. That the monsters are entirely our own and no one else finds them as terrifying as we do.

I dedicated 2016 to becoming the Staying Kind of Fearless, but I didn’t really want to. If I am going to be perfectly honest, all I’ve wanted all along was to Pack Up and Go. I’ve looked to the heavens more times than I can count, asking, “Why am I still here?”

Because this isn’t what I wanted for myself. I never wanted to unlace my world traveling shoes and settle into Smalltown, USA.

But I stayed. Maybe I’ve been more begrudging than fearless, but I’m still here. And I’m showing up where I’m at, and being present in the moment, and learning to go deeper instead of wider. I’m realizing that maybe I don’t need to leave pieces of myself scattered across the globe; maybe I just need to throw my whole self into one place.

Staying is the kind of ministry that takes a vulnerability I have never learned. But I am learning now. Slowly, but surely I am figuring out what it means to be the Staying Kind of Fearless. Even if, for now, that requires sorting through a whole bundle of fear.

The Deep End

Hello, my name is Rebekah and I have commitment issues.

I am basically terrified of committing to anything. Not because I lack trust or fear betrayal, but because I am so terribly bad at un-committing from things.

My mama named me Devoted; it clung to me something fierce. I blame her for everything.

Just kidding.

But seriously, I way over-committed myself this winter. I thought I was going to Africa for two months. My plan when I came back was to play fill-in nanny for a few months and figure out where I was going from there.

I didn’t go to Africa. Which means I didn’t quit my other job. Which means I was working fifty-ish hours a week on a sleep schedule that resembled a tilt-a-whirl. Late nights. Early mornings. Up and down and spinning around and would someone just let me off this ride before I get sick?

I developed a love/hate relationship with the short hours between 12 and 5am. If I didn’t require sleep, I would have spent that precious time writing. But five hours doesn’t cut it for this girl.

For sleeping or for writing.

I came out of this experience like a zombie, stumbling through the familiar motions of life, but having forgotten how to feel any of it. Seriously, guys, I almost died. Or maybe I just wanted to die. It’s all a little fuzzy now.

I do remember having a complete mental breakdown in the month of March and calling in dead to both of my jobs one tragic Monday. I think I spent that Monday curled up in the fetal position, telling myself over and over that this was no way to live. No. Way. To. Live.

That’s when the plotting, the searching, the scheming began. What could I do to make myself feel alive again?

“I want to do something crazy,” I confessed to one of the regulars one day. “But I’m too responsible. And I’m tired of being responsible. Is it too late for my rebellious streak to kick in?”

He just chuckled and encouraged me to please go on with my “bad girl speech.”

“Ah, let’s face it,” I lamented. “I’m probably not going to go off the deep end. I just really want to.”

“Let me know when you do,” he said, in a way that made me realize that he and I have two, very different definitions of Off the Deep End.

Because to a girl who has walked the straight and narrow most all of her life, Off the Deep End isn’t drinking and partying and waking up in a stranger’s bed. That sort of stuff has no appeal whatsoever to me.

My idea of Off the Deep End is jumping in my car and driving all the way to the west coast just because I’m curious to see how different the Pacific Ocean looks from the one I tend to frequent.

It’s backpacking through Europe because history and poetry and, eh, why not?

It’s jumping on the next plane to the Maldives because I hear they’ve got this restaurant there that is entirely underwater and it’s like eating in the world’s biggest aquarium. Plus beaches and paradise and the possibility of a life-changing encounter in an airport.

It’s restless feet and a gypsy soul, and who has time for superficial stuff when adventure is there for the chasing?

I talk about that stuff all the time. Daring adventures, impossible dreams, a life Beyond Reason…

But I don’t live it. Not as often as I would like. I’m far too practical for that.

I sort through everything, over-analyze it, and dismiss the things that don’t have a “purpose.” As if every single thing I do has to be of insurmountable significance or I won’t do it at all.

Those are my options: Do or do not.

And mostly I convince myself it’s best to do not. As if accomplishing nothing is better than accomplishing something if there is no significance attached.

Maybe the only significance the above list would have is to make me happy. To shake things up. To splash a little bit of color into the life my tedious hands have painted in layers of gray. And maybe that would be okay. Maybe it’s not a bad thing, or a crazy thing, or an irresponsible thing to step into new spaces and be an adventurer every once in awhile.

But this time I settled for something a little closer to home. I signed up for ice skating lessons.

Yeah, I know. It’s a bit of a letdown after the suggestions above. But ice skating is something that always makes me feel alive, and I wanted to learn the mechanics of it. I wanted to know how to twirl.

Saturday was my first class. It was good, I guess. But it was less of the exhilarating freedom of flying so fast and more of the nitty-gritty details of learning to propel myself backwards. And when I say “propel,” I mean propel is the goal, but it’s a little more tedious than that right now. It’s slowly sliding and scraping my way across the surface and ending up facing forward again before I even know what happened.

I think that’s an accurate reflection of my life right now. There was a time when I just blindly soared through it, laughing and living it up. I’m in a different season right now—a more intentional one. I’m studying the mechanics of it, learning how to do it right. I’m just slowly scraping by right now, but I am okay with that.

Because one day soon, I’m going to know how to twirl.

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And so, my darlings, I will leave you with this:

Do something that makes you feel alive.

Because we all need to learn how to take the breathless, fearful step Off the Deep End.

Reduce Me to Love

“Reduce me to love.”

These words, penned by the one and only Hannah Brencher, showed up in my Instagram feed yesterday morning. Like many of Hannah’s words, they enraptured me.

“Reduce me to love,” she said. And then she proceeded to tell of how she gets in her own way. How often she abandons Love in favor of Expectations and Productivity.

“So please, just reduce me to love,” she prayed. “Nothing more. Nothing greater. I know it won’t be easy. I know it should be simple, but it’s not.”

We fill our lives with so many meaningless (but often well-meaning) things. We try to accomplish so much in hopes of making a name for ourselves. We sing to the tune of Busy, Busy, Dreadfully Busy and leave Love by the wayside.

Love is just one more thing to worry about, and we haven’t got the time. There is no room even in the margins of our busy schedules to add this thing called Love.

But the reason I keep coming back to Hannah’s statement is because she uses such an unconventional choice of words. “Reduce,” she says. “Reduce me to love.”

Not, “Enable me to love.” Not, “Grow me in love,” or “Help me make room for love,” or “Fill me with a love that would overflow into the lives of those around me.”

No, she uses the word reduce. As if Love is a thing of which we are all capable if only we slow down enough to let it do its work. As if it lingers there in our hearts, just waiting for the opportunity to stretch out its hands and work its simple magic.

Because Love really is a very simple thing. Sure, we act as though it is something grand and lofty and hard to come by, but Love is a very simple thing at the core.

Love is a plate of food, wrapped and waiting in the refrigerator for the daughter who won’t get off work until ten.

Love is the handful of wildflowers you stop to pick on the way to a friend’s house because they are her favorite color.

Love is a name remembered. A ponytail tugged. A diaper changed. A late night trip into town for waffles.

Love is one single phone call/email/text message away.

Love is a series of simple things. The kinds of things that don’t require much. In fact, they require very little. Love requires us, not to be more, but to be less. To reduce ourselves from all of our lofty aspirations and checklists for productivity, challenging us to be—just be—that little thing that lingers when all distractions are stripped away.

Challenging us to be Love.

So please, reduce me to love

Nothing more. Nothing greater. Nothing important or pretentious.

Just Love.

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