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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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.

Stay Fearless.

I received an end-of-the-year update from WordPress informing me that I wrote a mere fifteen posts in 2015. But, in spite of my record low numbers, the readership remained steady. Dear Readers, I am amazed by your faithfulness. I would have given up on me by now.

While I am not one for new year’s resolutions, now seemed as good a time to start fresh as any. In fact, it feels long overdue. This year has been one of the darkest of my life. And I thought 2013 would be hard to beat. In 2013, I hit the rapids, but I still had God in my boat. In 2015, I kept trying to throw Him out because I didn’t like what He was saying. And, friends, let me tell you, it is really, really hard to brave the rapids without a guide.

But God, ever faithful, ever persistent, finds His way back into my heart in the most mysterious of ways. This time it was through the reading of Laini Taylor’s Dreams of Gods and Monsters. In this fantastical work of fiction, an angel and a devil fall in love. It does not end well. These two races have been at war for centuries, but when Karou and Akiva dare to dream of a different way, the angels and beasts must unite against a greater enemy. It’s basically epic, and you would have to read the entire series to fully understand, but there’s this scene in Dreams of Gods and Monsters:

Liraz—most formidable of the angels—follows her brother’s lead and sides with the enemy. Liraz, whose arms are stained black with the tattooed tally of her victories. Liraz, who is feared by seraphs and chimaera alike. Liraz, who appears, in my mind, the very definition of Fearless.

She stares at Karou’s two human friends who have stumbled into her world. Petite Zuzana and her violin-wielding boyfriend Mik have no wings, no fangs or claws, no 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.

I read those words. Read them again and again, stumbling over this groundbreaking definition of Fearless every time.

Fearless quite literally means lacking fear. I suppose that could be a lot of things. Still, it’s hard to imagine that Fearless can define both the warrior who strives against insurmountable odds and the teenage girl who sleeps peacefully in the arms of her beloved.

It’s no secret that I have long been the girl who would stand alone on the battlefield. “Lord, send me,” has been the cry of my heart since I read the story of Amy Carmichael when I was eight years old. I would be perfectly content to wake up in a different country every month for the next year. In fact, I can think of little that would thrill me more than to have such an experience.

I think that’s what I’ve been waiting for as I remain tucked away in this tiny corner of the world. For God to say, “All right. Okay. Today is the day. Pack your little, fearless self up and let’s go.”

But He hasn’t done that. And every time I’ve tried to force His hand on the issue, He closes yet another door in my face.

“Can I please just go now?” I whine.

And He whispers in response, “What would you do if I asked you to stay?”

I haven’t answered His question, mostly because I’m afraid to give it credibility. Like, if I answer this question, I have to acknowledge that He might actually be serious.

Some people were made for staying, but not this girl. The world is too small in rural Ohio. I’ve felt it closing in, suffocating me. I miss the nations. I thought God and I had agreed this move was going to be temporary, but when I give it further thought, I realize God asked me to move and I consoled myself with the idea that it would be short-term. Just until I caught the travel bug and floated off to some other corner of the world.

I, like Liraz, had my swords in hand and my wings unfurled for flight when God confronted me with this scene—this new definition of Fearless.

They slept with their faces touching.

That’s the kind of vulnerability that has the potential to undo you.

“I want you to be Fearless,” God says.

And though I’ve been toting that word like a mantra since Taylor Swift first put it to lyrics and God took my hand and dragged me headfirst—Fearless, I get the feeling He is asking something much different from me this time. Instead of dragging me headfirst into the storm, He is pushing me back down into my chair.

“Sit down. Take a load off. Stay awhile.”

But my feet are already twitching in time with the music and the rain outside looks like the dancing kind.

“China. Venezuela. Mozambique. I know you would be there in a heartbeat if I asked it of you. But honestly—honestly—what would you do if I asked you to stay?”

I twitch. I squirm. I slink down in my seat. It’s the closest thing to an answer I can give Him right now.

“Occupy this space. Be where you are. Invest in the lives of the people around you. Fall in love with as many strangers as you like, but keep them this time. Touch their faces. Let their faces touch yours.

“By all means, be Fearless. Just make sure it’s the staying kind.”

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