I love that people are becoming more open to talk about their pain with me. It’s usually strangers or acquaintances. Somehow God ordains a moment and the next thing I know we are both sharing stories of loss and desire. At a coffee shop in Clarksville. At my yearly physical in Oakwood. At the grocery store in Cornelia. It is an honor to hear these stories. It’s a blessing to fill their isolation with commonality. And it’s a responsibility and God’s calling for me to speak when my gut begs me to be silent. To play it safe.
What I don’t like is when people say “You’re so brave. You’re courageous.” Again, they don’t really know me. They don’t know that I’m a bundle of fear, nerves, and insecurities. Always theorizing and projecting how something won’t come to pass in the way that I desire it would.
This theme of courage and fear has been on the forefront of my mind for months. I’ve written about it (not published). I’m read about it. I’ve dreamed about it. And in pure Natalie fashion, I’ve pushed it to the back of my mind and filed it under “Too Busy to Deal With.”
Professionally, I’m in a really awesome season of busy. My new job has been a breath of fresh air, metaphorically and physically. These past few weeks I have been traveling around God-created Northeast Georgia popping in and out of schools helping with a skill I feel confident in, with something that I know has value, in an area where there are really too few of us to understand. Every day feels like extending a life preserver, a hand, and sometimes even a hug to individuals who just want to do right by their schools and communities. That is exactly what I desire to do as well; do right, be authentic, and extend a hand (and a hug when in person).
It was scary to leave a career and identity after ten years. It’s scary to explain to people my new job, because no one really gets it. It’s scary to enter a school where no one knows me. Turn a corner hoping to see a friendly face. Will they be glad to see me? Will I have the answers to their questions? Will I be able to support them in a way that makes their school better? Their own lives better?
Two weeks back on a beautiful Friday morning, God put my heart to rest. I left my home around 7am and drove from Habersham to Downtown Clarkesville, through artisan Sautee Nacoochee, through alpine Helen, around the misty mountains on Unicoi Turnpike where the temperature kept dropping and the sun just began to rise. I had my podcast running through my speakers playing Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History but I listen just as much for his soothing, cadenced narrative as I do for the historical implications. When my yellow Mini crested the highest peak of Unicoi Gap my podcast suddenly stopped. No signal. But I didn’t even notice. What I did notice was the most glorious sunrise. Having hiked that mountain before I know all too well what an early morning sunrise and those mountains can do. They heal. They restore. They confirm. On that misty, 64-degree morning, I began speaking out loud to my Savoir. Thanking my Heavenly Father for that very moment on Unicoi Turnpike. For His sunrise. For His grace. For His abundant mercy. And for being the very definition of whimsy; placing a broken girl on a curvy road on a mountain top where she tangibly felt His presence. It was truly a perfect day where I ran into some cherished old friends unexpectedly and met some very dear new ones.
I’ve already taken this career leap. It’s not like I was going to back out. But like most of us, we just want a little confirmation that we were on the right path. Some of us need it. God filled that day with confirmation after confirmation.
But even since that day I’m still scared. My morning prayers often filled with praise through tears. I’m afraid of being forgotten. I’m afraid of missing out. I’m afraid my life will never be more than this.
This week I have been in contact with so many students. Some of those left behind at school miss me, say they need me. Some feel abandoned. Some just at a loss of what was once familiar. Most of my graduates have already moved off to college. Some without a word of goodbye. Some chose to have lunch with me, to seek advice or just to reconnect. Those small meals have a big impact on me. They have no idea how much I love them. As best as I can. How a mother loves her children. But I know the reality is, it will never be like this again. In a few years’ time, they will have their own rhythms, their own lives, relationships and they will one day stand in front of an alter and I may or may not be in the crowd. I don’t blame them or judge them. I know this pattern all too well. I used to be “Mrs. White;” teacher, adviser, mentor, and sometimes mother. I’m now just “Natalie,” floating in and out of schools without those relationships to ground me, give me identity, and hold my heart together.
I know this is why God keeps putting scripture and truth in my sight about courage, faith, and fear. God does not desire us to live in fear. He desires us to recycle our adversity and turn it into a ministry.
We are all shaped, for better or for worse, by a handful of experiences. Those defining experiences can plant a seed of confidence, or a seed of doubt. A seed of hope, or a seed of helplessness. A seed of faith, or a seed of fear.
And the very best news of all . . . God is with us, physically and emotionally, through it all. This week I finished 2 Samuel and something so profound was revealed to me. God truly mourns with us. I know we all know this . . . but do we really? Can you picture it?
When God grieves the word “nacham” is sometimes used. Upon closer examination, this word has several meanings such as “to be sorry, be moved to pity, and to have compassion.” But my favorite definition of all, one that invokes such a strong imagery is to “breathe deeply, as a physical display of one’s feelings, usually sorrow.”
Wow. Go back and re-read that. Does a memory come to mind? One where you cried so hard that your chest heaved up and down and your breath struggled to come? I have such a distinct memory of a little girl crying over the loss of her cat, tears rolling down her pink cheeks into her bowl of Cheerios, unable to eat. Unable to breath. I was probably six or seven. Yet those tears of that little girl were earnest. That pain and loss was real. Just as the tears our Heavenly Father sheds for us are earnest and real. Biblical scholars forgive this bad illustration, but God essentially loses His breath for us when He grieves.
There is so much comfort in that image. When I sit alone and cry out to my God to give my life meaning, my life purpose, to make me a mother in whatever way He desires. God cries along with me. We both lose our breath in grief, in desire, in sorrow.
Friends, what does God lose his breath over for you?
What are you holding on to that He wants to mourn for in your place?
I still have such a long way to go. Especially when it comes to fear. Right now, Jason and I are praying over our next steps toward parenthood. We both are fearful of acting outside of God’s will. Jumping forward out of impulse, instead of obedience. And right when fear started creeping back into our conversations and our hearts, God sent me another reminder through author Mark Batterson, one I was able to share with a former student this very week who randomly reached out.
“But sometimes the biggest problems present the greatest opportunities for God to reveal His glory and work His purpose.”
“Maybe we should stop asking God to get us out of difficult circumstances and start asking Him what He wants us to get out of those difficult circumstances” (In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, 68).
Father God, as deeply painful as it is, I thank you that at this very moment in my life, I have been unable to conceive a child. We both know I am a fear-driven fool. Fear of failure. Fear of disappointment. Fear of missing out. If I was a mother, I would have been too afraid to have leapt from the comforts of my steady classroom onto the roads of this new adventure. This new adventure the you confirmed was God-ordained. Thank you, Father for seeing what I do not see. Now and in my future.
Friends, what I’m slowly learning is that maybe prayers should be less about changing our circumstances and more about changing our perspectives. Maybe we need to quit praying safe prayers.
The Big Bang Theory, Series 03 Episode 23 – The Lunar Excitation