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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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.