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.

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My Idea of Church

I went to church last weekend. I gathered in a circle with twenty-some people and we shared our stories. We laughed together, encouraging one another, but we also made sure to point out where each person could grow better, stronger, bolder.

It was a time to hear and be heard. To grow and help grow. A time when everyone was excited and accepting and eager for more. A time to let down our walls, exposing pieces of our souls to strangers. A time to fall in love with those strangers because of it.

“This is the way church is supposed to be,” I thought.

But, of course, I can’t remember the last time church has looked like this for me. Because this experience I had last weekend didn’t take place in a sanctuary; it took place in a Student Center at Ball State University. We weren’t talking about Jesus; we were talking about writing.

And before you ask, yes, that is a spiritual experience for me.

I carried it with me—this definition of church—through the remainder of the weekend. You might think it would be hard to even consider a word so sacred and spiritual while playing Cards Against Humanity, but that’s where it hit me the hardest. As the owner of this filthy game struggled to remain somewhat respectful for the sake of her good little Catholic companion, it was hard to imagine anything but the Holy Spirit at work.

Because that’s what blew my mind. That we were so very different at our cores and yet… Our experiences didn’t matter. Our worldview didn’t matter. Our politics and religion and culture didn’t matter. We were all storytellers, and that bound us together in a way that would be impossible in any natural realm.

I wish I knew of an actual church that worked like that. Maybe then I’d make an effort on Sunday mornings. Maybe then I wouldn’t find myself wishing for excuses on Wednesday nights. Maybe then church would actually make a difference in my life, rather than be that mandatory thing on my schedule.

I’m sorry to say that is what church has become in my life—an obligation.

In the movie Evil Roy Slade, the protagonist is a villain who falls in love with a pretty girl and decides to abandon his lifetime of crime. Only he has a hard time leaving the past in the past. One day, Roy has a relapse and confesses to his beloved Betsy, “My idea of a 9 to 5 job is 9 men robbing 5 men.”

I think my idea of church is comparable. Not because I believe in robbing people, but because my idea in itself is so drastically different than the cultural norm and, frankly, a lot more exciting than a church built on tradition.

Because if church looked anything like that circle of writers clutching pages of their stories within their trembling hands, I would feel differently about it. I would crave it like I crave waking up to Jacqueline Faber’s manuscript in my inbox. (Let’s make that a reality, Jacqueline.)

I do crave it. Not church as it is, but church as it should be. Church like my writing community. Because, I swear, if someone would talk to me about Jesus the way my coworker talked to me about Anita Blake the other night, I would be on a spiritual high for a month, hallelujah.

I just want a church that pushes past the fluff and the tradition and the agenda, and gets straight to the heart of it. I want a church where people ask their questions and share their stories and dare to risk rejection only to find acceptance instead.

I want a church that isn’t divided over experience and worldview, politics and culture. I want a church where we can overlook and even accept these things. Where we can learn and even grow from these things. Because no matter what our other loves, we are all lovers of Jesus.

And that binds us together in a way that would be impossible in any natural realm.

Audience of Me

“Sometimes I find myself using all the tools of prayer—Bible, journal, worship music—as distractions, protection against being real and true and open and vulnerable.”

These words, penned by Kelly O’Dell Stanley in her book Praying Upside Down, sting me with their truth. How many times have I used these tools without thinking of their true purpose? How often do I look at these things like they are just one more accomplishment to mark off my checklist?

Read a chapter of Lamentations. Check. Meditation? Well, I had to read that one verse a second time since I didn’t understand it at first glance. That counts, right? (Insert nervous laughter.)

Seriously, I have a habit—a routine, if you will. I read a chapter of the Bible followed by a chapter of an inspirational book. If I’m really on a role (i.e. when I decide I have time to spare), I’ll read another chapter of the Bible followed by a chapter of a different inspirational book. Sometimes I’ll find a cool quote to scribble down in my journal. Sometimes not. Sometimes I take my time, but other times I’m in a rush to flip through the pages and get on with my day. Then I pack all my books away and call it time spent with God.

Really? Did I really spend time with God? Kelly Stanley disagrees (and I think God might take her side on this one).

“It’s a legitimate fear,” Kelly writes. “When we spend time alone in prayer, God blows off the chaff. Shines His light on our darkness, exposing it all. He separates what is valuable from what is worthless. If you recall, Jesus chastised the Pharisees for their public displays of faith, not because they were public but because they were shows.

Confession time: Sometimes my own faith becomes more of a show, even if I’m only performing for myself. Because it makes me feel good to think I made room for God today… even on those days when God feels that He missed the invite to my little party of spirituality.

If you’re like me, you’re probably struggling a little bit with this whole idea of the Bible being a distraction from God. After all, it’s the God-Breathed Word of God. How can it do anything but draw us closer to the One who wrote it?

This morning, I buried my face in a chapter of Lamentations and learned absolutely nothing relevant to my life today. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t really looking, but perhaps (dare I say it?) it’s because the answers aren’t there.

Seriously, though. There is a lot to be learned from the words God ordained to be recorded in that holy book, but nowhere in the Bible am I going to find the words in red that say, “Thou shalt wait tables while waiting for your writing prowess to be acknowledged by agents and publishing houses alike.” The Bible gives me the generic, but not the specific. Only a lifetime spent seeking God’s voice through other mediums, such as prayer, is going to lead me down the path He specifically intended for my life.

“I have the answers,” God says, waiting for the moment we tear our eyes from the book on our laps to notice He has been sitting across from us all along. “I’ll give them to you if you stop trying to be so spiritual and simply seek Me instead.”

But I, like Kelly, am afraid. Afraid of the way He shines light on my darkness, exposing it all. I’m afraid to get honest and open and vulnerable even with the God who knows it all anyway. Because the person I’m really afraid of being honest with is myself. Because if I were really to acknowledge the darkness, I would have to work at transforming it into light.

Sure, people will tell you God takes the darkness away, but you have to let Him. And if you’re going to practice true, Godly living, you can’t just keep coming back like, “Oops. I messed up again,” just because you know forgiveness will be extended; You have to intentionally work to keep the darkness at bay so as not to take advantage of God’s endless grace.

That’s a huge commitment–dying to self day after day after day. So sometimes I take the easy route and let the Bible serve as a distraction, turning my daily Jesus routine into a big performance for my audience of me.

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Learning to Be All the Things

I don’t think it’s a secret that I’ve taken a break from Beyond Waiting for a season. I had been pursuing other things for a while, and this just seemed to be taking up more time I didn’t feel I had to spend. And, to be honest, there was always The Fear.

The Fear has been there since the idea for Beyond Waiting first sprouted in my mind. The Fear that nonfiction was out of my comfort zone. The Fear that my voice would just be adding to the noise (because there is a lot of noise when it comes to singleness and praying God will bring the right man along soon). The Fear of branding.

That was one thing I had learned about the publishing industry. You had to be branded, like cattle, which sounds like a painful and demeaning exercise to me. I was scared of it anyway—to be crammed so precisely inside a box and confined to writing in a way my readers would expect. I had bigger dreams than that. I read all the things and I wanted to write all the things.

Except this thing. Because if there was one thing I knew for certain, even at eighteen years old, it was that I did not want to be branded as the Singleness Guru.

Still, in obedience—often begrudging obedience—I wrote the book, published it through ANM Press, and left God to do the rest. That was part of the deal. I would write it and He would market it, and I wouldn’t have to worry my pretty little head about what became of Beyond Waiting.

I moved on with my life, trying to leave that book in the past as much as conviction would deem possible. I started writing what I always wanted to write. It was only fair, I reasoned.

In writing fiction, I’ve managed to push everything else aside. I told myself my moments were better sent ironing the wrinkles out of this novel I’ve created. I blamed Time. I blamed Priorities and Calling and a handful of fictional characters who pop into my thoughts at any given moment.

But I never blamed The Fear. And I certainly never blamed Resentment.

Yes, in many ways, I resent writing Beyond Waiting. I resent that this is the work that declared me “published.” I resent that I’m going to have to try explaining it to a secular publisher some day. I resent that it might make the marketing people want to publish me under a pen name. You guys had better believe I’ve spent the last month praying I’m married or at least engaged before my first novel comes out… just in case I need an alternate name that is, in fact, my own.

That’s how much I resent Beyond Waiting.

But this morning… This morning I got online and I thought to myself, “I really should check the Beyond Waiting email. It probably has tons of junk that needs cleaned out.”

And it did. I deleted no fewer than forty-three emails. But there were also a rare couple of gems in there. Two people had popped in to tell me how they had just become acquainted with my words.

I turned my rolling eyes heavenward. “You would work like that. You would wait until I have nothing new to say. You would introduce someone to an article I wrote four years ago and then have her tell me it was still fresh and relevant to her today.”

God laughed, because sometimes He’s a little too pleased with His clever ways. But then He said something serious, a hint of that smile still tugging at His lips. “Rebekah, you try so hard to compartmentalize your life. I want you to be all the things.”

I know there’s a verse in 1 Corinthians about being all things to all people, but I thought that was about meeting people where they are at. So here I am, arguing with God about the proper interpretation of that verse—okay, whatever, God, just change the meaning as You see fit—and finally concluding with: “I’m not big enough!”

“But I AM.”

I AM. It’s a name, it’s a statement, it’s a fragment for crying out loud. I AM… what? What exactly are You? God’s the only person I know who can perfectly sum Himself up without even bothering to finish that sentence.

I AM.

You are. You are, You are, You are.

And because He is, I have far more power than I ever gave myself credit for. But then, I don’t deserve the credit anyway.

Lately, I’ve been writing for myself. I mean, I hope one day the words I’ve been painstakingly crafting will be shared with the world, but for the moment, they’re mine alone. And I’ve gotten pretty selfish in my unsharing.

But if there’s one thing I agree with God on this morning, it’s that He didn’t give me words so I could lock them away. As this stunning article I read just yesterday informed me, “Nothing beautiful belongs behind barbs.”

So I’ll be back, dear ones, with the words I’ve been so hesitant to say. And Katie and Rebekah, I fully intend to respond to your emails personally, because they are beautiful, and you are beautiful, and you’ve reminded me of  the reason I’m on this earth.

I’m truly and finally thankful for this space and the people who make it worth coming home to. See you soon, lovelies.

Letting Down My Hair

Last night did not go according to plan. I walked into Bible Study intending to reinvent myself. To be a louder, bolder version of Rebekah Snyder. To finally carve a little space for myself in the midst of this community. This didn’t happen for a couple reasons. One: an old friend showed up, so of course we spent the evening catching up on life. Two: I looked around the houseful of thirty-some people and could practically feel myself shrinking, wallflower that I am.

When I woke up this morning, I had no intention to write a blog post, at least not on Beyond Waiting. I was going to write something very poetic about wallflowers on my other blog.

Wait, what? Rebekah has another blog?

I first started rebekahsnyder.wordpress.com so I could play around with formats without completely ruining this blog. I threw the first three posts up there just so I could get a feel for the layout. And then I wrote something else. Something that was probably the most vulnerable piece I have ever written, but I couldn’t post it here. Mostly because I didn’t want to risk the subject seeing it, but also because it didn’t fit the style I had created for this blog. And that is how Vagabond became the home for all the words that haunt me.

The ones that aren’t safe. The ones that aren’t pretty. The ones that don’t fit the image I have crafted for this space.

So why would I mention it now?

Here of late, I’ve become painfully aware that I’ve lived the majority of my life on a pedestal of sorts, and it’s getting really old. When I wrote a friend about how I feel like Rapunzel alone in her tower, longing to commit pedestal suicide, she asked me a very pointed and troubling question:

“Who are you, sweet girl? Who are you when the perfectionism falls to the ground and all that is left is you? Who is that girl? Does she come out to other people? Or, is she all alone in the tower?”

tower prison

I realize my pedestal is something I have crafted with my own two hands, and this morning, as I started dreaming up a post for Vagabond, I realized it was just another way of hiding. And I heard That Voice, clear and strong: “Rebekah, Rebekah, let down your hair.”

So I’ve decided to stop hiding. I’ve decided to come out right here on this blog and confess that, yes, perfectionism has clung to me like a second skin, but I am oh so tired of not wearing my own.

While this blog has shifted and grown so much over the years, it has never been completely real. Although everything I have shared has been truth, I’ve never been fully honest. I’ve tried to be strong. I’ve tried to be the encourager. I have tried to be light in this world.

But I’ve never let down my hair. I’ve never come out of the tower. I’ve never told you that I might actually be Rapunzel. Oh yes, I Rapunzel so hard these days.

So I want to invite you to read the post that I first protected like a secret. Oddly enough, it, too, is about Rapunzel. I think it’s pretty beautiful. In fact, there are a few posts on that blog of which I am truly proud.

I just wanted to let you all know that I am coming out, at least, on the days I feel brave enough. Thank you so much for continuing to return and make me feel like my voice matters. Until next time…

let down your hair

 

Giving Yourself Permission

“How about mango?” I ask.

And even though the question is delivered entirely without context, she knows exactly what I’m talking about.

So we skip off to my room and pore over paint chips (she prefers spiced pumpkin, by the way, and I think she may be right), and somewhere in the midst of all the scheming, a simple statement slips off my tongue.

“I feel better.”

And again, my mother is awesome enough to know I’m not just talking about paint chips.

“I’m glad,” she says. And then… “Do you think it’s because you gave yourself permission?”

I’m ashamed to say her summary was absolutely right. Ashamed to say it took me eight long months to finally give myself permission to be happy in this time and place. Eight long months before I learned to tell myself, “Rebekah, stop fighting. Stop striving, stop trying, stop hoping for something different when different is so very far away.”

I’m the kind of person who thrives on productivity. I have to produce something. I have to feel like something has been accomplished during my day. I have to have tangible evidence that I’m doing something worthwhile.

But evidence isn’t always tangible. We can’t always see what we have accomplished, and that’s where things start to get complicated. That’s where I start to doubt myself and my purpose and a hundred other stupid things.

I’m reading a book called A Million Little Ways. And in this book, the author said something that has completely revolutionized my way of thinking. When talking about her life, her gifts and passions, she comes to this realization:

My goal is a finished book—I call that my art. Yet there is a deeper work happening. I chase what I think is the art, but really that’s just the evidence… The real art is the invisible work happening in the depths of my soul as I uncover, sink, see, listen, and wait.

The book is just the souvenir.

Thank you, Emily Freeman, for turning my world on its head. For reminding me that I am more than this project that has me so completely frustrated. For reminding me that it’s not about the book. It has never been about the book.

I’m realizing that now. And little by little, I’m learning to give myself permission to live right where I’m at. One day, one minute, one ever-faithful brushstroke at a time.

 

Five Steps Behind

All my life, I’ve been the girl with a plan. By the age of eight, I already knew everything I wanted out of life. I used to feel sorry for people who didn’t feel that certainty early on—people who stand at their high school graduations with no answer to the question of what they plan to do with their lives.

Now I feel sorry for the people who do have an answer—the people who set out to do everything they’ve planned to do since they were eight years old only to find out it wasn’t what they wanted after all. The people who spend all their lives focused on the goal and miss the everyday miracles that take place around them.

I was that girl.

I am that girl.

And now, I’m finally learning not to be.

This year has been one of transition for me, and I had hoped it wouldn’t take the entirety of a year for me to find my purpose for this season of my life. But alas, December has come and I’m still hoping, still searching for direction.

Last night, I finally gave voice to my fear that this may be exactly where God wants me right now. Like, what if He actually took me seriously when I told Him I want to be a candle that shines alone in the dark? What if the whole time I’m tugging at my hair in frustration, God is sitting up there in heaven saying, “Sorry, sweetheart, but you asked for this”?

I feel like the rug has been ripped out from under my feet and I’m looking at the world from a whole new vantage point (on my back, on the floor). And while, it’s a painful thing, it’s also a surprisingly beautiful thing. Because in all the years I’ve been staring straight ahead, I’ve never noticed the intricacies of the ceiling pattern before.

Maybe God just wanted me to stop and marvel at the ceiling for a change.

I can hear Him now, whispering in my ear, “Little one, little one, why are you always five steps ahead when I’m lingering five steps behind?”

Over the past few years, I’ve talked a lot about embracing the moments and living the journey, but it’s not because I’m particularly good at that; it’s because it’s something I constantly struggle to do.

Last year was extremely hard for me. God stretched and challenged and broke me in ways I’d never been broken before. I guess you could say I was hoping this year would be easier. It was, but it wasn’t. Because, honestly, I don’t remember a thing.

I was too busy staring ahead, plodding forward, just trying to get on to the next big thing.

And I missed it.

I missed this year.

And I’m sorry it took me until December to finally notice the ceiling tiles.

So, while I’m not one for New Year resolutions, my goal for 2015 is simply to live it. To take this girl who walks too fast for automatic doors, and make her slow down and admire the simple things.

Because I’ve spent too much of my life trying to stay five steps ahead, and I’ve missed out on so many things.

From now on, I hope to be found five steps behind, lingering over the simple masterpieces of life.