Meet Me in the Aftermath (the final Nashville post)

After what felt like a long night of no sleep, tossing and turning and silent tears, my eyes wearily opened to the soft glow of morning.  Today, my sister and I were going home. Just thinking about it, the 8 hour drive ahead of us was less than exciting on the back end of our journey.  As i lay in bed, with swirling thoughts that i could barely make sense of, only one emotion kept rising in me.

I didn’t want to leave.

How could i walk away from such a deeply wonderful week of bleeding life and joy all over the streets of Nashville only to return to a pattern of work, sleep and daily routine? My heart was soaring here and i wasn’t ready to stop being the melody. it always seemed like i was the harmony to life and for one incredibly short week it was as though my actions and words were written into the very lyrical center of the piece ….i didn’t want the song to end.

however, i also knew that there was much to be done before we could leave and as i had attempted doing the entire week, i wanted to leave with a final blessing and act of love. so i nudged my sister and forced her to open her eyes (i could tell she was exhausted also from our adventures) and as long as i knew she was actually awake, i could deal with fully getting her out of bed later.  i crawled from under the cozy blankets myself and quietly made my way to the bathroom, if Mary and Jordan were still resting and enjoying conversation with each other, i didn’t want them to feel obligated to get up on my account. moments later, with a flourish of the door i was dressed and ready to finish the packing process. (it’s amazing how much the contents of a single suitcase can explode in a week’s time over the span of an average apartment). sharply, i prodded my sister once more just to make sure she hadn’t drifted back off. “mmhphmf” i heard from somewhere near her pillow. “up!” i commanded “we have shenanigans to accomplish before we leave.” that got her attention.  sitting up slowly, i could see that she was grinning. the two of us together managed to come up with a pretty wonderful plot indeed…and Mary was clueless.

breakfast was eaten, clothes were haphazardly crammed into suitcase corners and i looked at Mary, “i think we’re ready to head to the mall now. Val sure is excited…you know how she gets with shopping!” my plan was fully working and my sister was playing along well….she wanted a Nashville shirt and it was an absolutely perfect guise for our plan.

as we glided into a parking spot at this large expanse of department stores and shops, i guided the conversation to a place where we could reveal what had been making us both grin for the past 20 minutes.

“hey Mary”
“yeah?”
“Val and i have been plotting…”
“…oh?”
“yeah and…” i waited for my sister to grab Mary’s other elbow, “we’ve decided.”
my sister exclaimed, unable to hold it in any longer,
“WE’RE TAKING YOU SHOPPING!!!”
and as i immediately saw the panicked look of comprehension on Mary’s face i added,
“and we’re paying”

We didn’t allow any protests, only a quick strut into the our first store where i named off my specific checklist of items that were “needed”…it had been two years and do you know how many birthdays and Christmases and “hey i was thinking of you so i got you this” moments i had missed? in my mind, this was long overdue and i wasn’t going to let anything change my mind. this was my final gift to give.

store after store, style after style, we weeded through sale rack after sale rack in order to find a slew of items that fit well and flattered even more. time after time when the question would arise with raised brow, “are you sure about this?” i would look straight into eyes full of hesitation and fear and reply assuredly, “yes. completely sure.”

and then after a quick lunch, and intentional hydration, the three of us trekked back to our car laden down with bags. the exhaustion from the week was really starting to hit me and i knew i would need intense caffeination to make it home awake.

if there was one specific “lesson” i would say i learned in that short yet lengthy week, it would be the lesson of loving people. it is incredibly hard. and i learned that most of the time i suck at it….but i also learned that i have a tenacity to keep loving. i thank God that He has taught me the few things about love that i know. i know that love is patient and love is kind. early on in the week, i posed the question, “what is your love language” and when i received an immediate answer i was mostly surprised she knew because a lot of people don’t. however, once she explained to me what impacts her the most, i became incredibly intentional about my actions. i learned in a week that it’s possible to be terrified of hurting someone and love them still. i learned that fear did not need to hold me back from loving–being hurt only fueled my desire to love deeper and more fiercely. for the first time since i could remember, i was able to be myself in a way that hadn’t been unlocked in my heart yet…and i have brought that back with me. a certain kind of fear has broken in me that can only be explained by the freedom you can know when you love someone as deeply as say, a sibling, or a parent, or i would even hazard a guess at how a parent loves a child… how you can love someone so deeply that you let them love you back. even when you believe you don’t deserve it. even when you can’t begin to comprehend why they are still sticking around after all of these years of your crap… even when letting them love you in dark places is more difficult than loving them.

what i learned most importantly was that the choice to let someone else love you, to abandon fears of places where you “can’t” be loved, is the most sure way to love that other person. if you surrender yourself to the truth that you ARE worth love, well, then nothing can hold you back from loving in freedom.

all of these things were swirling through my mind and my heart as our car slowly exited the apartment complex that i had come to know almost as well as my own home.  my sister took the first shift of driving which meant that i was forced to listen to random Swedish pop music and boy bands and tween girl music that i thought i would never have to hear after junior high.  we made several stops during this time and at each location i visited it felt like i was truly seeing and feeling everything for the first time, as though my senses were heightened and superior to anything i had ever known. it was mildly disconcerting but i didn’t take much note of it– i was far too lost in my head, talking to God to keep myself breathing when it felt like my heart was a hundred miles in our rear-view.

finally, after what seemed like a lifetime later, my sister decided on a location to stop and fill up the gas tank…and switch drivers. “i’m really tired and i don’t think i should drive until i’ve had a nap” she nervously admitted. i wasn’t even slightly bothered by this and as i cracked open my favorite energy drink, i knew exactly what cd i wanted to listen to. not even 10 minutes later, my sister had faded completely and was fully asleep (as much as you can relax in a cramped car going 70 down the highway) and i was blaring my favorite worship album, trying to praise God because i knew if i didn’t, i would start crying and that couldn’t be a good thing. slowly but surely i made it through several tracks with an aching, but joyful heart, but these songs were making me sleepy in their familiarity so i decided to switch out discs and play something i didn’t know at all.

i settled on the mix CD Mary had created for me, surely she picked songs i would enjoy? i had only briefly heard a couple of them a few days before as we left the Tennessee mountains, but nothing really stuck out to me. i was ready now to engage my mind in something completely new to me and what better playlist to choose from than one my best friend had personal picked out for me. i popped the mix into the stereo and began flipping through tracks. first one…no, too mellow, i needed something more engaging..next! nope. nope. nope. nope. eventually i stopped somewhere in the middle of the list and gave up trying to find something super heavy…all the songs seemed to be about the same– melodic and not altogether too intense. hmm… what to do?  as i pondered my options, i decided to just let the disc play on and really concentrate on the lyrics as if i was trying to learn the songs by heart– that’s the best way to absorb music to your soul anyway.

while the miles sped on beneath me, the music began to swirl around me. a track of symphonic proportions confused me and then i heard a vocal timbre i was familiar with..but who was the artist? i was SO SURE that i knew the group but i could not put my finger on it. the lyrics pounded on and i gave up trying to guess, instead i really listened.

“come undone, surrender is stronger, i don’t need to be the hero tonight,
we all want love, we all want honour, nobody wants to pay the asking price”

hmm…deep. it resonated well within me and began a conversation with God i didn’t even know i needed to have… surrender and honesty about certain things He had been speaking to me all week long. i knew He was asking me to take a break from social media and to take a break from my long distance friendships that i worked tirelessly to maintain. i couldn’t understand why He would ask this of me right after i was leaving such a beautiful week…but i knew surrender was the correct decision.  so i did.

next came an incredibly stunning track by a band i recognized immediately. i was completely surprised that it was an unfamiliar song since Lifehouse had long been a favorite of mine from my teen years.  as the song penetrated my heart it was as if Mary herself was speaking the lyrics to me. i realized that strong emotions were rising within me and after 45 straight minutes of deep honesty with God, i wasn’t going to stop anything now. raw and real. why not i was as alone as i was going to be for quite a few hours. while the song finished its final echoing notes, i heard softly again the plea, “come to Me and i will give you rest” i blinked a few times rather quickly and took a deep breath. the next song had already begun. by this point, we were nearing Indianapolis and i was unsure if i would need help navigating, so i glanced at my gps and decided i should be fine. it seemed to be a different route than on the way down, but there was construction ahead and i was not going to deviate from a secure path in the dark while my sister was asleep so i contended with the traffic pattern and became one of many cars on a highway in Indiana. little did i know that i was about to lose it because the most haunting song had just begun singing.

“you’re not guilty anymore, you’re not broken anymore, you’re not filthy anymore,
I love you, mercy is yours.”

the only fully accurate way i can describe what happened to me at that moment is the phrase “ugly crying” because that is what occurred.  all at once it was all too real to me. the long nights of sobbing to God, begging for mercy, asking for love, asking to come alive, desperate pleas from a deeply wounded heart that was afraid of the rebuke of a Master she did not understand… they were all being wiped away.  healed. He was healing me. and as i cried and my whole body shook while i clung to the steering wheel for dear life, truths i had long hoped for became real in my heart and in my mind.  rather rapidly, the song entered into the bridge and i could scarce breathe. my eyes must have been huge…. Jesus was talking to me. speaking directly to my heart. filling me so much with His love for me that i could not even gasp for breath:

“You are spotless
You are holy
You are faultless
You are whole
You are righteous
You are blameless
You are pardoned
You are mine”

undone is not even half accurate for what happened to me. loved is much more real.
…and it wasn’t even over yet.
the cd started over and for the first time (even though i had passed it by at least twice) i actually HEARD the first track on the album…and i started crying all over again.
Mary had chosen the song, “Shelter” by Jars of Clay in which one of the strongest lyrics repeatedly proclaims, “in the shelter of each other, we will live, we will live” and my eyes were opened. that was why this week had been so deep. why everything was so much more vibrant, why love was so incredibly real and tangible to me. i was willing to live in the shelter of a friend. to not try and carry it all on my own even though there were a couple nights that were very hard, and even though there was more than once that difficult words had to be spoken out loud, even in fear it must be done…but always…ALWAYS these moments and broken times and empty, aching, hollow fears were filled with one thing and one thing only: grace.
that was the shelter i had been seeking. the solace i could scarcely hope was one i could claim as my own. not only was it love i so long struggled with, but it was speaking grace in areas of my life that contained so much insecurity. believing grace. most importantly, trusting grace. 

but there was shelter. and it found me.

So if you take a bruised and timid, deep-woods loving Wisconsin girl who has been running from grace her whole life, throw her into a week filled with love encounters of an unnatural kind and you find she will shed the robes of fear and filthiness she had so long clung to as identity. You will also find a renewed hope in her heart to love. To breathe free. She doesn’t mind the song anymore, in fact she sings it in her heart now. She is still healing, but she is free.

“If we can make it through the storm
And become who we were before
Promise me we’ll never look back
The worst is far behind us now
We’ll make it out of here somehow
Meet me in the aftermath”
-lifehouse, ‘aftermath’

Marked by Grace, the tattoo story. (Nashville part 4)

“a reckless love too wild to understand, breathing the world to life in Your romance, so here i am, Your love has got me up in arms again, and this hope won’t let me go”

for those of you who don’t know me super well, or those who wish you knew me more, here is a bit of background of my life. i was born into a Lutheran home and we went to church faithfully every Sunday morning, i was the oldest of the youngest of 3 girls (7 siblings total) and matching outfits were very often something you would see us in. when i was 8 years old i had an encounter with Jesus.  as i sat in the backseat of my parent’s minivan and the song played through the speakers, “Shout to the Lord” by Darlene Zschech i just knew that i needed Jesus in my heart and in my life. i had been going to Sunday school long enough by now so i knew what to do and i remember excitedly telling my mother “hey mom i just asked Jesus into my heart!” and that was a bright spot of my childhood.  the rest of my young years and especially my teen years were never so bright.  i lived an incredibly legalistic life and even though i had no idea that is what was happening to me, i was drowning in my legalism.

i lived a strict life of performance.  good grades, perfect attendance, always tries her hardest, always helps out, always doing something– always achieving.  deep inside i was never good enough and i would cry myself to sleep at night wondering why no one ever saw how desperately i was aching and trying to be enough.  oh sure my teachers and youth leaders would tell me i had done a good job, or that they were proud of me, but i never saw it and i never heard those words.  if i saw one small error in something i had done, the whole thing was garbage to me.  day and night i was plagued by shame and grief.  anxiety to achieve was my best friend.  naturally, i joined the music programme at my school and became the same way in my flute playing that i was in every area of my life.  still i would have the same problems, the same frustrations. always working to achieve and never being enough.  i would get extremely angry when i wouldn’t understand a concept immediately and so math easily became my most hated class.  i took harder classes, including advanced placement, because i wanted to prove that i could be someone who was worth it.  i never really knew what i was looking for….and as the years went on, things just spiraled down time and time again. the depression and self injury and self hatred were more unbearable than i could explain to anyone, but i never truly tried to get help. i was a sinking ship without the hope of a lighthouse in sight.

and then…. i fell in love with a rock band called Disciple. and began to really listen to their songs. God was chasing me and He knew He almost had me, i couldn’t see it at all yet but looking back, it’s very obvious.

so i went to a concert. and then another and i remember one very particular concert i went to…i was still living with my parents and i remember Kevin preaching on the motives of our hearts (go here to listen) and i will never forget the words that he said, “it doesn’t matter what we do or don’t do, it’s all about the motives of our hearts” and for the first time i stopped to think about what my motives were. i didn’t understand… and then he kept talking. i was completely enraptured in his words. he talked about how God loves us regardless of what we do, and regardless of what we don’t do, that nothing you do can make God love you more than He does right now, and nothing you can do will make God love you less than He does right now. He never changes. He is the same yesterday today and forever.  that night, Kevin taught on grace and God gave me strong revelation on it, so much so that i was weeping at a concert for the first time in my life and it had nothing to do with music.

i remember a few days later, i was having a conversation with my friend Cara about the show and what Kevin taught on and she was like “so basically he was talking about grace” and for the first time, the light bulb clicked on in my head.  i had grown up hearing that word, using that word, singing that word…but it never MEANT anything to me until now.  in the sweaty audience of a rock show, i encountered grace and it was raw and it was real and God was telling me i was enough and He loved me. even though i encountered Him so intensely, i didn’t change right away.

fast forward to Thursday morning in Nashville.

i knew i was leaving the next day and my heart was dismayed but i was utterly determined to make the most of the time that i had been given to me. [that one is for you Mary] so after i got out of the shower, even though i was exhausted from the week, i chose to sat at the kitchen table next to Mary and have conversation when all i wanted to do was curl up with my journal and write until i couldn’t anymore.  to my surprise, she pulled out some paper, a pen and began etching Greek letters that i actually was able to recognize.  excited, i asked her if that was the design she wanted. she replied yes and asked me what i wanted. i knew i was to get the same word but not necessarily the same design so i let her freehand a few more designs until i decided on the one i wanted (which ended up being the same thing anyway) and after cleaning up the image in photoshop, Mary carefully folded the slip of paper and slid it into her purse for the time being.  She had a short shift at Panera in the afternoon and while she worked, Val and i were going to go shopping and get into general shenanigans, which we very successfully did.

after Mary had finished work, we headed back to the apartment for food and a quick change of clothes and then we set out to find a tattoo shop that would take us.  We had called ahead at one location that noted they were willing to take walk-ins that evening but when we arrived, it was altogether too shady for all three of us and so I decided to google “Christian tattoo shops in Nashville” which is where we found the location we ended up going to, Prophetic Ink near Murfreesboro (if i remember correctly).  On the way to the shop, we were trying to get there quickly and MAN can Mary drive a car when she is required to…i swear that Texas blood sure runs deep in her veins! (aka: she can seriously speed when necessary)…but i digress.

We were weaving in and out of traffic, trying to calm our nerves and contain our excitement. I kept reaching over in the dark to make sure she knew i was there, and it was also for my own comfort.  We were doing this together.
To ease our nerves of time and nerves of hoping it turned out well, i put on songs that i knew meant deep things to both our hearts and we both sang along as though we did this all the time.  On a random stretch of pavement, in between the melody and the soft lyrics of familiarity, i heard a familiar whisper in my heart, “you are now and forevermore marked by grace Beloved”

i froze and my breath halted.

so that was what this was about. i finally saw a glimpse of purpose in this appointment and His words were an incredible comfort to  me. my anxiety lessened and i was able to sing to Him with clarity and love. almost at our destination i chose to play a song that i carried in my heart all summer long, and as i sang to Him, i knew He was singing over me.

“Grace, You’ve shown me grace
You’ve lifted my shame
Drawn me with loving kindness
Washed, whiter than snow
You have redeemed and made me whole

Jesus You have won me, You’ve broken every chain
With love and mercy
You’ve triumphed over death and You are worthy
Of glory and praise”

The Mountain of God (Nashville part 3)

“thought that I was all alone, broken and afraid but You were there with me, yes, You were there with me and I didn’t even know that I had lost my way but You were there with me yes, You were there with me”

it was a Wednesday morning and after a fairly slow start to the day (truly we took our time waking up that morning). Val, Mary and I crawled into our car (Jordan had class of course) and we took off to make the journey to Lookout Mountain, near Chattanooga.  It was about a 2 hour drive and the day started out very dreary and cold.  I woke up feeling slightly ill with a minor headache but i reasoned that i would be fine, popped a couple ibuprofen and prayed i wouldn’t get motion sick on the 2 hour drive to the mountains.

my sister was driving that day and i had chosen to settle myself in the backseat next to Mary so we could talk and just plain be close. out of all of my friends, she is the one i easily feel most comfortable with and it’s deeply incredibly helpful that she understands how one of my major love languages is physical touch so she lets me sit close and link arms and things like that which really mean so much in ways words cannot describe.  i think that’s what i remember most about the car trip to the mountain, that and playing the songs we both know and love.  i felt minorly bad for my sister since she was being overdosed on so much awesome music, but then i got over it and remember just how much epic we were exposing her to [dear sister, if you’re reading this– you’re welcome!]

we talked about so many things and i could tell both of us were incredibly introspective that day, it happens to both of us.  i also knew that grey days were especially favorites for Mary and so i allowed time for silence also.  that’s one thing i love about close friends– words don’t always have to be spoken and often, silence is more of a comfort than any attempted speech. and so we drove.

about an hour in, we needed gas and a bathroom break, so naturally my sister picked the SKETCHIEST gas station to stop at.  it was nestled in the hills and the 3 people who walked in while we were there all were very hick-looking guys wearing steel-toed boots and carhardt jackets.  it was like being back in my hometown almost except they weren’t very nice looking, quite a bit more terrifying actually.  after feeling incredibly apprehensive, we purchased a couple bottles of water, a small bag of puffy Cheetos and escaped back to the car.  while Mary and i began to polish off the Cheetos, i checked my twitter and sure enough, there was a tweet from my best friend, teasing, of course, about mine and my sister’s reaction to a deep south gas station.  I don’t care what you say Mary Rose, that was a SKETCH place and i’m pretty sure there were hill-billies in them there hills if you know what i’m saying… the funny thing is, while there, i just had this overwhelming urge to call people Billy Jean and Cletus. absolutely inexplicable.

finally, after a seriously frightening, winding, scary up-hill climb of a road, we made it to the top of the mountain.  after parking, we decided to check out the gift shop and museum part first before entering the actual park. i was incredibly intrigued to learn more of the Civil War history aspect.  after moments of reading and a short interactive video, the knowledge i gained in high school all came back to me and i remembered exactly the battle and who won and even a few of the important officer names. the Civil War was one of my favorite subjects in history so it was very cool to explore artifacts and photographs. moments after dragging my sister away from a mock-Confederate hat, we opted to explore the actual park instead of staying inside any longer.

the sun had begun to peek out and i had hopes of warmth because it was fairly windy atop this hill and my legs were itching to explore.  after paying a small admission fee, we carried on into the park and after a couple hundred feet, we got our first breath-taking glimpse of the view.  you could easily see for miles and there was so much to see. at nearly 2500 feet, it was the highest up i had ever been and the biting wind did not stop me from trying to take in the view every single second.  as i stood at the edge of the precipice, overlooking miles of cities and roads, an old familiar song lyric came to me, “fade in start the scene, enter beautiful girl, but things are not what they seem as we stand at the edge of the world” and i held my breath, remembering the last time i had stood at such a juncture as this.  in those days my heart was in a very different place and i had very different ideas and plans about life itself.  memories came flooding back and for a moment i was lost in them– this was not something i had planned.  of course, like many other things, Mary noticed almost immediately where i had gone, even though i’m not sure she fully knew because i didn’t say a word.  she questioned me and the look on her face brought me back to reality.  that part of me was dead and long gone, and i chose to step back from the edge and step back from the haunting memories.  a darling couple asked if we would mind taking their photos and i happily obliged, it’s one of my favorite parts about understanding technology and photography.  it’s one thing to ask a stranger to take your photo for memory’s sake and hope it turns out halfway decent.  it’s another thing altogether to have someone take your photo who knows what they are doing and can make it turn out well.  it’s a kindness that gives me joy.

we meandered a little further before plummeting back down the hillside to a second lookout point.  this was the moment my sister decided to be utterly mischievous and before i could blink she was on the other side of the railing proclaiming “this is what my mom always told me NOT to do…take my picture!” and so i most certainly did.  Mary and i both laughed and more photos were taken but not before my feet were pulling me further along the trail– more exploration was to be had.  As we crept along the edge of the hill, there was a canon and much to my delight, a wide stone staircase that led downward.  neither Mary nor my sister could quite see the staircase yet and as i proclaimed “further up and further in!” (a most beloved Narnia quote) i disappeared downward, pounding down the stairs quickly, anxious to see what was ahead.  moments later i came to a fork in the road and i paused, catching my breath and waiting for my comrades to catch up.  they did and we all journeyed on together.  in the end we discovered more incredible lookout location and a smaller photography museum that smelled like old musty leather.  we enjoyed the view and made use of the panorama function on our smartphones and then we made the climb back up to the top of the hill where we had begun our journey.  by this point all three of us were quite tired and ready for sustenance…. the only logical thing to do was drive across the border into Georgia and get us some Chik-Fil-A, which we very happily did.  still feeling a bit off, we also stopped at a Starbucks and by this point, Mary had completely realized where she was.  we were very close to some of her in-laws and it was a comfort that she knew where we were especially when my GPS kept proclaiming “proceed to the route” at which point we would all crack up laughing.

somewhere between Chattanooga and Nashville, as i lay across the lap of my best friend, letting songs of redemption and hope wash over my heart,  i heard God whisper to me.  i reached over and softly traced the outline of Mary’s “love” tattoo with my finger and began opening up into a conversation about scars and stories. i suddenly had a boldness i had never known before with any friend, it was easy this time though, to roll up my sleeve and recount the story of the marks that i let name me for so long. it was the right moment to speak the words that i always wondered if i ever would and somewhere in a conversation between death and redemption and life i sat up with a gleam in my eye. “let’s get tattoos together.”
the words hung in the air and i knew what Mary was thinking. “on me.” i firmly stated before she could protest, “what would you get?”  without a hesitation she replied ” Χάρις (charis)” and when i questioned where, she pointed to her right wrist. i nodded and asked what she thought.  “well i should probably ask Jordan, even though i doubt he will mind, he knows i’ve wanted this for a long time” and just like that, we made a plan to do something spontaneous and a little crazy (more about that later).
it was funny to be because i completely knew the hand of God in it, for some reason He wanted this for me (argue the point all you like, i know what He spoke to my heart) and i wasn’t sure why.  i had mostly given up the idea of ever getting another tattoo due to in part to the strong opinion of a good friend and the fact that i could just never decide on anything i would want forever…. but like i said, more details on that later!

Exhausted, but happy, we drove back to Nashville and chose to have a low-key evening.  Post-dinner we were debating on what to watch, I opted for a movie of some sort but we settled on Doctor Who and i was completely happy with this choice.  After a short 5 minute failed attempt to capture my sister’s interest, Mary and Jordan and i gave up and tuned in to watch one of my favorite two-part episodes of DW, “The Family Blood” and “Human Nature”.  my heart was struggling with several things and it did not take Mary very long to catch on that i was having difficulty being happy around her.  She chose to sit next to me and i let myself snuggle close as i linked arms, refusing to let go because for once, i actually didn’t have to be alone when i was struggling.  it was a most incredible, beautiful grace to my heart and it is a moment that i have already locked away deep in my heart, to be treasured for years to come.  the irritating part was that i couldn’t put my finger on what was going on with me and though i eventually determined what was happening, in that moment it was just deep sadness that cannot be explained with any amount of words.

that night, as i lay in bed, fully unable to sleep with my mind racing, i was reminded of my first ever Christian summer festival, Lifest in 2007– the summer before one of the worst years of my life.  i remember it being a super hot, and dry day with a scorching sun beating down on us, i remember a slight sunburn on my nose and being exhausted from the heat.  i remember how dry the ground was and the dust trampled under so many feet, was all over my feet and legs, caked on by sweat.  what i remember about that evening was standing, leaning on a railing during Third Day’s set, a band i had never seen live before (like so many others at this point).  i remember feeling the weight of my whole life on me in that moment and i remember the panic of not having a clue what to do in the future….who did i want to be? what did i want to do? college wasn’t really an option, it was a place to choose and i was terrible at making decisions. i was only 17, what did i know about the person i wanted to be? …. in that moment i remember hearing a most incredibly honest and moving song that was familiar to me, but in that setting, it completely broke me and i was able to see God clearly for who He was. it’s not a moment i ever really shared with anyone before now and to the person reading this piece of my story, it probably seems incredibly ordinary and maybe even boring.  it was anything but those things– that moment was a reminder. a refreshing drop of rain during a weary summer of my life.  that moment was God reaching out to me and holding me firmly in a hug, promising me He wouldn’t let go, even though i would go by the whole next year basically forgetting everything He was…and as i lay there in bed, tears softly flowing down my cheeks, i knew He was reminding me of what He had shown me then.  it made it easier, if that’s possible, to have a conversation i needed to have the following day.

“Even though the journey’s long
And I know the road is hard
Well, the One who’s gone before me
He will help me carry on
After all that I’ve been through
Now I realize the truth
That I must go through the valley
To stand upon the mountain of God”
-Third Day, ‘Mountain of God’

Disykos, Frothy Coffee, and Beautiful Scars (Nashville part 2)

After what felt like sleeping forever, i awoke to a crisp and clear, bright sunny Sunday morning. day 2 in Nashville and this couch that i was borrowing for a few days had begun to feel a lot like home.  today was exciting. today was a concert with my best friend, seeing one of our favorite bands. today was going to church with my best friend and getting to worship our amazing God together. today was another day of life together. as i blinked away the sleepiness from the long night before, i started to grin. it’s amazing what happens when you let simple things be truly beautiful. something i realized was that these things always are beautiful, we just forget the beauty in them. 
as we pulled into what seemed like a fairly small parking lot for the foretold size of the church, my heart began to flutter with nerves. how i worship Jesus is different than  90% of the American church, and i was honestly nervous.  my anxieties utterly disappeared as the worship team started up (with a big-screen countdown to boot!) and it was a song that i knew well and loved. play anything by Bethel and you instantly have my heart in a place of worship, this morning was no exception. grinning from ear to ear i sang with my whole heart, the words that were familiar yet rang especially true to me that morning.
“this is amazing grace, this is unfailing love, that You would take my place, that You would bear my cross, You would lay down Your life, that i would be set free, Jesus i sing for all that You’ve done for me”

during the next song, as He often does, God came to me with a vision, a picture that struck me to the core. i may end up writing about that someday, but let’s just say it was beautiful and not at all what i expected. He sees me so differently than i see myself and He never fails to remind me. on this morning He chose to capture me with those thoughts and every fear was so fully wiped away.

fast forward through a really good teaching from a very energetic ex-football star and we were home, chowing down on a quick lunch and changing to prep for the show before we were meeting friends at a local coffee shop.

this is the part where i segment into how amazing it is to meet someone you’ve been long-distance friends with for years that you met online. i won’t pretend that most people understand what it’s like but for someone who especially challenged in the area of friendships as a teenager, it’s a very beautiful thing to find someone who doesn’t care what you’ve accomplished, what you look like or what you do at all– who still wants to be your friend.  today i was getting to meet 3 friends i had known online for over 3 years and that was also exciting.  it’s times like these that makes me so deeply grateful for the Disciple Rocks community i have come to consider family these past 5+ years.

the first friend on the list to meet was an old gentleman by the name of Tom, or as we all fondly refer to him “the Polish one”. Mary, Jordan, my sister and i made our way into this fairly small coffee shop called the Frothy Monkey and as we waited to decide what drinks to order, i found myself exclaiming, “wow! i’m pretty sure there are more mac computers in here than in an Apple store!” to which Mary and Jordan chuckled and my sister just rolled her eyes.  we ordered super lovely drinks (mine was some sort of turtle something or other, latte perhaps i don’t specifically recall) and sat down to enjoy them. as i lost myself in conversation with Mary and Jordan (who was trying to do math homework) i was suddenly blinded from behind and being suffocated. naturally i relaxed and as i looked around, who else but Polish Tom himself was standing behind me. i quickly rose to hug him, laughing the entire time.
before it seemed possible, we were unthawing from the cold air vent, in the car, which was a bit warmer (but not much) and heading to the venue.

arriving on the scene of Rockettown, we almost instantly ran into Stac and Stac…for real. They had gotten the Disciple guys an aluminum baseball bat and we all agreed we would “autograph” it because humor runs strong in the hearts of the Alliance crew 🙂

by an odd stroke of luck, my sister and i were able to purchase tickets to get into the show and before we knew what was happened, a whole slew of hardcore Disciple fans were being ushered up into a meet and greet for Audio Adrenaline. my 90’s childhood was freaking out inside of me and then we snapped a super awkward picture (all clad in our Disciple gear) and got ready for the show.

naturally, both Mary and myself were front row center for Disciple and naturally we absolutely lost ourselves in the music and the moment. i was overflowing with laughter in the moments i will never erase from my memory: Mary and i turning around to take a selfie with the band in the background and having Kevin photobomb us (best part was that we didn’t even realize it til we turned back around), meeting some amazing kids who love Disciple more than anything (raise ’em right while they’re young!) and one of my very favorite moments was when Kevin realized that i was there, hi five-ing me from stage. all in all, the music part was incredible. Audio Adrenaline did one of my very old favorites, “Ocean Floor” and though i was mostly blinded by how bright their lights were, when they decided to do a couple hymns, my heart was absolutely ready for worship, laying my hand on a very dear friend to pray as God led me to is something else i can’t forget, not ever.

and then it was over just like that and chatter was everywhere. it was people all around and hey look Disciple was signing and meeting the fans.  stopping by the merch table, i managed to snag a hoodie in the perfect size for a gift and after forcing that person to try it on, i made my way to the table to catch up with GJ and wait for the autograph line to go down.  times like these make me more convinced than ever that family is such a relative term and that the body of Christ is more family than even we realize.

probably about an hour later, the guys were about done signing for the night and we managed to snag one giant group photo with way too many awesome people in it.  hugging my favorite band member tight, i was completely shocked to hear the question, “my daughter is here, do you want to meet her?” i could tell that instantly my eyes lit up and i gasped (well probably shrieked more like), “YES!!!” and i bounced on my toes, more excited than anything.  a quick run to the restroom and i was back, Kevin asking me to lead the way to where the bus was (i don’t know how this always happens to me). but we made it and he disappeared, coming back seconds later cradling the most beautiful baby i have ever seen in his arms.  even in the dim light of the night, i could tell she had so many of his features and i could barely even think.  she was too beautiful and it was something i had dreamed about for so long– meeting such a good friend’s family.  as i held the tears back in my eyes, my breath hitched in my chest, i heard the words as if from a distance, not quite able to comprehend them immediately, “would you like to hold her?”

i looked up, fearful, into very trusting eyes as i whispered, “are you sure?” to which i heard a resounding, “absolutely.” and as he handed her off to me i began to grin again, i couldn’t make it stop even if i tried. she was so very warm and smelled like baby and my heart was so heavy and so very full.  it utterly amazed me how at peace she was, even though she was in the arms of a complete stranger, she didn’t even move a muscle, she was completely asleep and at peace.  the moment seemed like an eternity, but i knew she needed to get back where it was warm and so i reluctantly handed her back to Kevin, cracking a joke about how if she disappears she’s probably at my house because she’s that adorable.  i opened the familiar door of a familiar home-away-from home and watched him carefully carry her back into the warmth of the bus.

in sadness and slowly, our group of awesome began to say our goodnights and goodbyes, and we each went our own ways.  my mind was still reeling from everything that had been handed to me as a gift that very night and i climbed into the back seat of the mini-van, racing thoughts, trying to not cry.  i’m convinced beauty is like that when we see it for the first time after ignoring it for so long, it makes us so full and so overwhelmed that there is nothing that can quite help it except to let the emotion run rampant and free.
this was most definitely one of those times.

after a quick stop at Sonic, we got back to the apartment and basically crashed we were very tired to say the least.  i remember trying to journal that evening but it was nearly impossible. it’s only just now as i type that the words are making their way out of my heart.  it’s a funny thing, writing.  sometimes i forget that i even know the English language and other times it’s as though the page quite literally pulls the words from within me, makes me bleed imagery into a web of story-telling.

“The stars are always there but we miss them in the dirt and clouds. We miss them in the storms. Tell them to remember hope. We have hope.”
-Renee Yohe, TWLOHA story

Nashville, part 1

Nashville. such a big city in name and such an adventure i could scare imagine before i had really set out. the thought of actually taking a journey and being allowed to really do life with my best friend for an entire week was more than i could comprehend–even in dreamland.

rewind.

months in advance, after a hurried and excited conversation with a dear friend i found myself tapping out an email to my boss requesting off an entire week from work. surely enough (as i had fully expected) she stopped by later that morning to ask what i was planning to do. i was bursting with excitement in the shenanigans i was planning and about ready to explode so it wasn’t hard to coax the words out of me. very animated, i explained (with numerous hand gestures) about how i was going to Nashville and visiting with my best friend for the first time in two years.  “you haven’t seen your best friend in over two years?” my boss questioned skeptically with raised brow. “yes” i breathed, “two very long years indeed.” and that’s kind of a very accurate definition of what has happened with us in the last two years. both of us have grown and changed, moved around, been depressed, experienced incredible joy and multiple deep life-changing instances.

but it was definitely time.

months ago i had fully calculated out the miles and about how much it would cost to drive the 8 hours from Wisconsin to Tennessee. as a surprise out of nowhere, it seemed completely right to me and i questioned of my youngest sister, “would you be interested in taking a road-trip with me?” more surprised than ever she said yes. i grinned and then faltered.  though it was becoming more and more real to me daily, still it seemed like a far-off dream, something too elusive to attain.

you see, ever since some traumatic events with close friends in my teen years, i swore i would never get that close to another human being ever again. in my eyes, the laughter and the memories were not worth the pain and the ache that would eventually come because people always leave. that was my bitter mantra that i clung to for a couple empty, aching years after high school and is probably why college was such a nightmare for me.  how fitting it should be that the minute i declared something irreparable, God would immediately begin a healing work.

we began as friends from a distance, an email here, a message there. sharing few photos of our lives, but never too much because opening up was too much like bleeding wounds and both of us were afraid, eyes wide open, waiting for something major to happen to convince us that it was okay to hope again. that to be loved by another person was actually possible, that life wasn’t always going to be lonely.

bit by bit and whisper by whisper we slowly chose to share our lives. some days were more challenging and i remember encountering grace for the first time after being ever so certain that unkind words spoken in haste had done damage beyond repair.  truly there was something about this girl. how could she really want to be my friend? didn’t she see the emptiness behind my eyes and didn’t she hear my whispers screaming to be loved? how was it possible that i found myself trusting and crossing borders i had set up for myself?

was i really learning to love again?

fast forward a few years, hundreds of tears and numerous phone calls later… and there i was, sitting in the passenger seat of my baby sister’s car, blinking at the GPS on my phone. “ETA: 15 minutes” wait. no. seriously? wasn’t this an 8 hour drive? where did the time go?? why was i suddenly so nervous and why am i holding my breath?

“Liz!” my sister sharply interrupted.
“…yes?” i stammered.
“are you sleeping over there? what did the GPS just say, am i supposed to turn at this exit or not?”
snapped back to reality, i figured i would just push the fear and anxiety aside for the time being. it was easy enough to ignore the immense pounding of my heartbeat, it’s not like anyone but me could hear it anyway. so as we turned into the exit of the apartment complex (yes my sister is a bright one sometimes) i kept staring ahead, eyes barely blinking and breath caught in my chest.

after all of the dreaming and hoping and wishing that i could be with my best friend….i was actually here. and not only that but i was meeting her husband for the first time. would he like me? would it be super awkward? i had fully prepared to get a hotel room if necessary, a secret fall-back plan that i didn’t mention to anyone, not even my sister.  so many worries and fears that i had pushed away or hidden at the back of my mind were suddenly and violently rising into my chest where it seemed as though a helium balloon was being inflated making it challenging to inhale properly.

“okay” i breathed, “i texted Mary that we’re here and asked her to come outside. i figure we’ll see her before she sees us which gives me a few moments to compose myself.”
“huh?” my sister muttered, totally distracted by something in her purse.
“um…nevermind..oh! there she is!” i exclaimed as the tall, thin blonde frame i knew so well emerged from an entryway.
“well are you getting out?” my sister probed.
“oh! right!” and i extracted myself from the vehicle more swiftly than i expected (no seriously i’m a klutz!) and just stood there for a minute, waiting for her to notice. immediately she did and in what seemed like two incredibly large steps, we were less than 6 inches apart and i could tell she was shaking too.

looking up into my favorite, clear, blue eyes i whispered, “why are you scared too?” at which point she wrapped her arms around me in a hug and i quickly reciprocated. neither one of us cared that we were in the middle of a parking lot or that two other people who didn’t know each other at all were hanging back waiting for introductions.

it had been two freaking years and sometimes you just need a hug.

“keep your eyes open where you roam,
because you never know,
when your life’s about to change”
-the rocket summer