Risk

Watermarks:2017

Well, here we are once again. It’s the end of another year. The other day I almost wrote 2016 on a document. I’m in trouble come January.

It’s been a quite year in the world of writing but I cannot miss the chance to reflect on the year. This year in particular has no shortage of blessings and difficulties to mine for treasures.

As I have for the last few years, I set a framework at the start of 2017. A word and verse to shape my perspective throughout the year.  My one word was “BEYOND” and my verse, Philippians 2:3-4, a verse about living beyond oneself and stepping into the lives of others. And it has certainly been 12 months of “beyond”.

As I was reflecting on 2017 the other day, I jotted down a short poem that has helped me unpack the past year.

BEYOND

Answers beyond my asking
Provision beyond my plans
Trials beyond my strength
Sight beyond the secondhand
And to finish out the longest year
He is asking for one bit more
Faith beyond the silent fear
That nothing lies beyond the door

———–

 

ANSWERS BEYOND MY ASKING

For those who know me, you are likely aware that this was a year of finding the far side of grief. I knew there would be many changes in front of me as I stepped into 2017, and I was asking for particulars. Only, I was apparently asking small when God wanted to give big.

For example, I knew I would be moving and sane roommates are an important detail. And that is exactly what I asked for: a sane roommate. Only, God had more in mind. Not only is my roommate sane and self-aware, she is incredibly fun. We don’t tiptoe around each other. We don’t simply share space. We share life. It is the sweetest gift.

I asked to live near community. I didn’t imagine that community would live downstairs.

I requested to be near a certain area of town. I’m right in the heart of that area.

Why do we ask so small? Our God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). And yet, for some reason, I constantly fear asking for too much. As though I’ve used up my fair share of God’s goodness and should leave some for others. Pro tip: There is no limit to God’s goodness.

PROVISION BEYOND MY PLANS

Ms. Woods. Until this year, the only people who called me “Ms. Woods” were bank tellers and insurance salesmen. Now, in the span of a day, I hear my last name approximately 900 times more than my first. That is because I am a teacher. Wait. I need to write that again. I am a teacher.

I had a short stint of teaching a few years ago, but my students called me “Ms. Erin”. Now, I am “Ms. Woods” or sometimes “Mrs. Woods” because when most of your teachers are Mrs., it can be difficult to remember Ms. I get to teach 5th and 6th graders God’s Word. It’s pretty great. Not without its challenges, but nonetheless sweet.

This is provision beyond my plans because I never planned to be a teacher. Not in this sense. However, when the calling you felt when you were 12 takes some sharp turns and derails, you sort of approach the professional world with open hands. I applied for a billion ministry positions and was constantly met with “We love you and you are most definitely made for this job, but we are hiring someone else.” That is always an interesting  conversation to process. All of those really affirming (totally serious) rejections led me to substitute teaching, which in turn led me to a full-time position in the world of education.

TRIALS BEYOND STRENGTH

The first half of my year was marked by social anxiety and fear and grief and internal battles like I have never known. Typically, I speak to strangers as though we’ve grown up next door to one another. Social anxiety was a completely new experience. It is especially strange to recognize exactly what is happening and have no earthly idea how to come to that moment differently.

I had gone back to the church I attended prior to my years in youth ministry. It was a church I helped plant. A place where I knew so many people. So many knew me. And yet, I felt invisible. I showed up over and over, bringing all I had to bring, and just could not find my footing. A lot changes in 3 years. The church had grown and changed. I had grown and changed. It was as though I was attempting to plug in a lamp while being blindfolded. I couldn’t find the connection and feared that grasping around for it might end poorly…fingers in a socket is an unhealthy connection.

It was incredibly isolating and painful to feel like a stranger in a community I was so sure I should be easily sliding back into. Even more isolating was the feeling of being a stranger to myself. Who was this woman who feared meeting people and who floated through days wearing a mask? But, that was the first half of the year. Now, we are here, on the far side, and things look much different. Brighter…the lamp is plugged in, and I am finding more and more of the woman I recognize.

SIGHT BEYOND THE SECOND HAND

There isn’t a ton of ways to unpack this part. In short, much of this year was, and is, learning to see beyond what I feel in the moment. I’m a 4 in the world of the enneagram, which in short means I feel things fully. I once had a counselor explain my emotional experience (and frustration with those who do not seem to understand it) in this way: “You are sharing your experience of painting with oils. There are textures. Your colors blend. It is a rich and complex painting and you are trying to help people recreate it. The problem is that they don’t have the tools you do. They are working with crayons and will never be able to see what you see.” Mind blown. Now, this is in no way meant to belittle anyone. We are all wired differently. I feel everything and am willing to feel every bit of it until I find the treasures buried in the experience. Knowing this and embracing it helps me to also recognize when I am missing out on valuable moments and relationships because I’m stubbornly refusing to look beyond the emotion.

FAITH BEYOND THE FEAR

The details of this beyond are for me and The Holy Spirit to know and sort out. What I will say is that the Lord snuck this in at the wire. He is asking me to be available to things that I apparently had decided were not available to me. This should be fun and incredibly terrifying.

PHILIPPIANS 2:3-4

“Lift your heads to extend love to others…Get beyond yourselves…secure your neighbor’s interest first.”

Do any of us have this figured out yet? I sit;l have much to learn about getting beyond myself. Living in Houston in 2017 provided plenty of opportunities to learn. Our entire city was under water, for days. And somehow, not one member of my family lost a thing in the flood. This told me one thing: Erin, you are free to help someone else. There was nothing keeping me from wading into the lives of my neighbors and anything that was, purely stemmed from selfishness. But let me tell you, there is such joy in coming alongside your hurting neighbors and helping them clear space for new life. It’s messy and hard work and sometimes awkward, but it is also sweet and powerful and good.

There were other opportunities for learning. Some, I recognized and leapt into immediately. Some, I recognized and pretended to not notice. And some, I just didn’t see. There is much room for growth and I look forward t continuing to get beyond Erin’s little world. There is so much life to be shared.

2017, you were a year to remember. A roller coaster. Terrifying turns and steep drops I was sure would send me soaring into the nearest grave. And squeals of delight with feet dangling and hands in the air. And just like the end of the roller coaster ride, the fear seems like a faint memory and the child-like giddiness courses through my veins.

Checking for Watermarks

It’s the last day of 2015. Can you believe it?

Are you working on your personal vision for 2016? Goals, resolutions, themes…

It is easy to get swept away in planning to conquer the year ahead without ever stopping to take stock of how this year has gone. We so quickly think of the failures and defeats and rush to put them behind us.

Out of my way, you no good history! I’ve got a new year to dominate!

But wait! It doesn’t do us any good to kick 2015 to the curb without properly acknowledging our victories and learning from our less-than-stellar days.

Pause. Before the clock strikes midnight, take time to marvel at the days that have passed.

———–

As I have been reflecting on the year in light of the framework I set in place, the image of watermarks came to mind. Have you ever seen the sea wall at low tide? You can tell how high the tide was at one point, even though the ocean seems emptier in the moment.

I think about my word for 2015, ADVENTURE, and I feel a void of success there. That ocean seems empty. “You are no more adventurous than you were a year ago”, the low tide whispers to me. But then, I take a closer look, and I can see watermarks of high tide.

-I started and completed my first journey through Whole30. It was hard. It was uncomfortable. But I did it. 

-I registered for my first quarter of grad school. This is a step that stirs all my fears of failure. I did it, even so. 

-I planned to go to Kenya to see what God is doing on the other side of the world. The trip was postponed and hasn’t happened yet, but that is part of the adventure. Remember our definition from this post?

-I asked for help when I needed it, even though rejection was a real possibility. And I asked for help again, even though rejection was a reality the first time. 

-I joined a book launch team with 496 women and 4 incredibly brave men. (terrifying…so much estrogen!)

-Then I went on a road trip with several of them to meet up with a couple hundred of them…even though the majority of us had never met. 

-I spoke difficult and dangerous words into conversations that are divisive. This is sometimes stupid, but sometimes right. 

-I was brave enough to not give an answer for every question asked. And brave enough to not demand an answer for every discomfort I faced. 

-I wrote my heart out here, over and over. 

None of these may seem like great adventures to you. But they are adventure nonetheless. And no, I may not be living in a perpetual state of being a risk-taker, but I have moments. I can tell because I can see the markings on the wall. Today, I may be hiding away. Fear may win and the empty ocean may convince me that there is no hope for me to live an adventurous life. But the watermark on the sea wall tells a different story. I’ve been changed by the high tide.

So what about you? On this last day, where is the waterline? Are you in the middle of low tide? Take a closer look. What do the watermarks tell you about how you have been changed this year?

 

The Road Trip

General wisdom would tell you that it isn’t a good idea to get into a car with women you met online. There is, of course, the matter of safety. After all, you might end up dead on the side of the road. But, aside from that, there is the near guarantee of sheer awkwardness.

Hours in the car with women you know from the internet? Sharing a small house, that has one bathroom, with 9 other women? And a party with 200 plus whom you have only interacted with on Facebook? It just sounds like a recipe for disaster.

And yet…

Last weekend, I went on an adventure. I took a road trip with my internet community. 5 of us caravanned to Austin and we were later joined by 5 others in our tiny house. Together, the ten of us went to a backyard party with 200 other women. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Community has been difficult for me the past two years. I don’t share that so you will throw me a pity party. (I’ve thrown enough of my own over it and they aren’t the best sort of parties.) It has caused me to review my years on this planet and examine the communities of which I have had the joy of being a part. There are many flashes of healthy friendships, strong community, but that’s the thing. Those moments feel like flashes in the pan. Just little sparks of hope in the midst of something that seems more often than not to be difficult and painful.

It isn’t anyone’s fault. It is everyone’s fault. Mine too. It’s our brokenness. It’s our looking to others to make us feel whole. And it’s no one’s fault. We live in a transient culture. People don’t stay put. Interests change, seasons change, locations change. This has always been one of the most difficult realities for me to grasp. It began in college. I had friends one semester who I never saw the next. I hated it. I thought it would end after graduation. I was wrong. Now, seasons seem to change a bit slower, no longer semester by semester. However, it also takes longer to bond with adult peers than it did with college peers. Everyone has routines, responsibilities, and reputations to uphold. We don’t let people in very quickly.

So I have been in a season of isolation, and it has been wrecking me. But then I joined this launch team. Large groups of women generally make me want to run and hide. So much estrogen. Lord bless us. And internet community? …well that isn’t a real thing, right? I figured I would read a book, get a glimpse into the mind of an author I highly respect, and that would be it. A great experience, but contained within my own walls, within a few months.

Instead, I have found this community. Women who have loved me in the biggest ways. Women who have lived the gospel. Sacrifice for the others, crying tears over someone else’s pain, and then throwing the best girls’ weekend of all time.

On Friday morning, the first crew of 5 went to South Congress after a fantastic lunch at The Salt Lick. We knew some other of the launch team ladies would be there but how to find them…we had no idea. We parked and headed to the crosswalk, and just across the street, we saw them…another crew. Y’all, you would have thought we were childhood friends reuniting. We were screaming and hugging. Oh yeah, and introducing ourselves. When does that happen? When was the last time you saw someone you didn’t really know and had a little street corner party?

And these women! That day, the clerks at the TOMS store were invited to North Dakota, to game night, to church. A group of women exiting a store found themselves in the middle of a launch team street corner party and asked if they could hang out with us because we were so fun. And they did! It was Annie’s birthday so we celebrated with her! And there were other stories too. I had feared it would crumble when we moved beyond the screen into real life. Instead, I watched this weird grace spill out into the streets of Austin. And it was beautiful.

Then there was a real party. We gathered in the yard of the woman who had given us this gift. She introduced us to her family, she hugged our necks, she spoke to each of us as though she knew exactly who we were. And this generous, kind person asked us to be her friends not fans. She was precious. And while I am certain we would be magnificent friends, I am also certain that she and I will never be the dubsmashing*, text for no reason, sit on the porch and spill your guts and laugh till you cry, kind of friends. Even still, it was the words God gave her, the dream that began in her heart, that gave me those kinds of friends.

Why has it been so different? Why is it that as women (and men?), we can walk into a small group at a church with every intention of building deep friendships and end up feeling more lonely and more disconnected than ever? Why is it that that we can extend ourselves to the outer edges of our souls in the name of connecting as we know we were created to and yet, feel as though we have been speaking into a void? But then, this. No hope for relationship, no plans to connect with anything more than written words and BAM! community.

I think perhaps it is about expectation. Most of us tend to go to small groups expecting to find friends. We expect to find The Church as it should be. But she isn’t. We aren’t as we should be. We are all grasping for worth from our community. And it never works. Maybe, just maybe, this launch team led to community because none of us expected it. We just came in, ready to have a little personal adventure and it became more. It surprised us. In the very best way.

We have already begun planning our next trip. Perhaps we will visit our friend in North Dakota.


Wondering what dubsmash is? Well, here you go: