The conversation went as follows:
“2015 was a bitch.”
“You have no idea…”
“Like I can sound like the typical Christian and say, ‘but God got me through this,’ but honestly I sometimes still feel like I’m in the storm.”
“I like what you said earlier, that you’re okay now. It’s been an overall hard year, but you’re at the end of the tunnel. You have a story. But for me, I’m not okay right now. And I think I’m having to learn to be okay with that.”
“But the thing is I wasn’t okay for a really long time. I had to learn to sit in the ash of who I was, the house I’d built up for myself. It was already crumbling the last few years, but it finally collapsed this year and I had to essentially chain myself to the ground to keep myself from trying to control the fall. Or even from trying to rebuild myself. I had to wait until God knelt down in front of me and whispered, ‘You have to be okay with accepting this is where you’re at, but that I’ve got a plan, and I’m not done with you.’ That’s when you start to get up again, when you’re okay with your shit.”
An hour later, with the fragmented pieces of our hearts floating over radio waves, she spoke a beautiful truth.
“I have to be okay with dealing with my shit because everyone has shit, and we’re all walking around with it trying to pretend we don’t but we do. I need to stop pretending. I need to be open….Yeah. I think that’s my word for 2016. To be open, to walk around with my heart open, to be brave so others can be brave to share their story.”
That was actually one of the reasons why she called a few nights ago. The phone call was completely unexpected – I haven’t talked to her in months – but she said she wanted to thank me.
“Why??” I asked.
“Because you’ve been honest. You’ve revealed your heart through your blog and your words have been comforting and encouraging to me. They help me feel like I’m not so alone, that I’m not just doing this on my own, but that there’s hope. Your blog has helped me so much, and I just want to thank you for being brave. Thank you for sharing your story because it empowers me to do the same.”
I know what I want to do with my life now.
But actually for real, I’ve realized over the last few days, as I’ve come home from college and decided MTSU isn’t where I want to be (or the major I wanted to be in), what I really want to do: I want to be brave so others feel the same. I think more specifically would be: fearlessly share my story so others will feel like they can open up and share their story too.
I’m beginning to have this tiny vision for my life again, something that was lost in the chaos of this past semester. I realized how much pent-up emotion I still had in me from my first semester of college, as I was nearly in tears sharing stories from the last few months with my friend.
But I think that’s exactly it: she needed my vulnerability so she could be vulnerable herself. My greatest fear is I’m going to get to the end of my life and realize I could’ve done a lot more than I did. I could have loved someone a little harder or stayed a little longer, or been brave a little deeper and a little more fearless. And I feel like that’s what being vulnerable in my own story will feel like. If people feel like they can, as my friend’s word of the year is, walk in the freedom of an open and cease-striving heart because of whatever I’m doing in my life, I feel like that’ll make me believe at the end of my life that I’ve done something good.
I know there’s the mantra that even if you touch one person’s life, your life will mean something. I get that, but I guess I have such a large-horizion vision that I don’t feel settled having an impact on just one person. If I have only one life, I want to live it to the fullest and enjoy it while simultaneously paving the way for a new generation and loving on the ones already living and dealing with “shit.”
Because let’s be honest, let’s just take a moment and pause with the Christmas spirit and gifts and family gatherings and food. Today doesn’t erase the fact it’s just another day and that our problems are waiting for us tomorrow, yeah? The dramatic hurls of life will return, and I just want to know I’m living in such a way that as I learn to deal with my crap, someone else will feel empowered and confident enough to open up. Just a little. And then like a flood it comes rushing out and the story is beautiful.
That’s why I continue to obsess over my favorite blogger Hannah Brencher (www.hannahbrencher.com, forever and always). She was for me what I want to be to other people: this breath of life. A tiny blog post or an hour over coffee, doing life with people, as we learn to struggle beautifully through life and find hope despite the cards we’re dealt. I legitimately clung to her words through several dark months of this past year, and whenever her email announcement came in saying she had another post, my heart jumped because I knew I was about to read truth. I was about to read a lot of love and a lot of grace and a lot of hope.
And as I was on the phone with my friend, as she in brief but heartfelt detail shared what 2015 had held for her, I saw my life come full circle.
I saw 2015 for the beauty it really is.
Because it was still a bitch, can’t lie. But from January 1, 2015 until January 1, 2016, God proved he was faithful to me and now I have a story to share, and now my friend is benefiting from it.
That’s why I wear my key: the word says brave on it. It reminds me not only that I’m learning to be brave in any situation, to run into the storm instead of away and hiding from my problems (another really good point my friend made), but that my story matters and it needs to be told. Not based upon the tiny or giant amount of baggage it carries (because we all have varying levels of baggage with our stories), but because a story is a story, and what matters is is how it has shaped me, Emily Dukes, into who I am today.
Seriously. Let’s sit in that.
Because most of the times, especially the holiday seasons since they’re supposed to be happy times, we want to do one of two things: run away or hide.
I run. She hides. It was a really cool moment as we both realized we have different mechanisms of escape, but it’s still that: escape. I feel the need to run from my problems and from people because of fear and insecurity; she hides from her problems and people in the layers of insecurity because she’s afraid.
So for me? I’m afraid to be honest because I know who’s reading. I know some of the eyes that read these words and I can let the fear of what they’ll think or how they’ll respond affect how I write. And granted, I strongly encourage anyone interested or already blogging to be careful with the depth of honesty – learn to Taylor Swift, as Hannah Brencher says, to gracefully and tactfully write about what’s going on without giving away too much – and that’s something I’ve had to learn.
But you know what I’m talking about, the facade we put on because we don’t want to a) worry the people we care about, b) be too much, a burden, c) have the innate need to be approved by certain people or Instagram-likes.
I’m afraid my life isn’t very Instagram-worthy, not the real hard stuff. Not the stuff I cry about when I’m alone or scream about when I’m singing to Childish Gambino in my car.
And I could go on and on for the sake of the blog but you have enough, you know what I’m talking about. It’s all just fear and it’s controlling us even though it lets us sit under the impression that we’re in control. We’re not. Deal with it.
But how do we deal with it without being in control?
That’s where noel comes in.
So noel is a Christmas term, or sometimes a name, and we all know it has to do with Christmas. But, and I didn’t know this until a few days ago at Passion City’s Christmas Eve gathering, but noel means “rebirth”. To be reborn.
Noel paints the reminder that we legitimately can’t deal with our shit, not on our terms. Not with these weak hands and broken hearts. We have to sit in the ash of who we once were, watching the house we once lived in burn to the ground, all the religious and legalistic and social decorations falling off the walls and countertops, until there’s nothing.
And that’s it.
For a while.
And usually you don’t really know when it happens – it’s not a specific day you can pinpoint – but at some point. Something begins to shift.
I think that’s what happened when I was honest with God. So backstory (and I didn’t realize this blog post was gonna be this long, sorry fam… I’m rambling at this point and hoping it all ties together at the end lol):
I grew up Christian, okay, that’s probably obvious. Christian family, that’s fine. Went to church every Sunday, maybe or maybe not so fine. The reason I say that is because of the legalism I began developing. It’s as though throughout my childhood and into high school, God was taken out of the equation and it was just church stuff. I think some of you know what I mean – the church rules and regulations and religious practices that either don’t make sense to the rest of the world or begin to feel exhausting when you finally turn 18 and realize this isn’t the life you want to live.
So you have to make a decision, as you sit on a fence of who you once were and who you could potentially tragically become: do you walk away or do you pursue?
I had to find it sitting in the ash, because I reached a point I was freaking done. Done with religion, done with Christianity, and no one really knows that because again, I was afraid to be honest. Afraid of what you and him and her and they were going to think, afraid of what actually walking away would feel like.
But I had to say, “Okay God, I’m following you or I’m not. I’m not afraid to walk away anymore.”
I think that’s the point he wanted me to get to. Where it became my decision to follow him. Because the moment I did, life did not change.
When I made the decision on my own, not my parents, not the church I was affiliated with, not my friends, to learn how to stay faithful in my relationship with God, my life continued to get harder.
But I felt different. There’s something that happens inside your heart, and I know this may not make sense, sorry. I think it’s noel, it’s the rebirth that happens, as your heart makes the 180 degree turn to try something new, even though you’re not really sure if it’s going to work (aka faith), and then every day your heart is being reborn.
To continue the conversation with my friend:
“I know what it’s like to hide behind the phone and act like everything’s okay, even when a few minutes before calling you’re not. And then throughout the conversation things get better for a while, and then it’s back to where you started.”
“I know. And I think that’s because today I was just having a good day. Some days are really bad.”
So that’s the thing with noel: some days are good, some days are bad, and you just learn to stand brave in the storm, as the wind crashes over you, because His love is making you strong and steadfast and fearless.
Noel isn’t adopting legalistic traits, although I do that regardless… But it’s a process, you know? You learn to detox from what you’ve been taught so you can learn for yourself, from a God I’m very very slowly learning who is patient and faithful.
You learn that as God has proven himself faithful, it’s your turn to be faithful too. But you have to give him a chance. Not that you surrender yourself to religion or practices, but just to researching. To studying. To slowly but surely watching your heart be reborn into something that is infinite and deep.
To my dear friend, as she steps into 2016 with a lot of baggage still weighing on her heart, a lot of shit she still has to get through: this is another word to add to the dictionary of words God’s going to grow you in during 2016. Noel. Let it transform your heart and the way you talk and the way you think and the way you interact. Let it teach you to be open and walk with palms up because you’re trusting that God is not only with you but empowering you to be brave. This is your brave, love. Fearless to be reborn.
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To you all: merry Christmas. I hope this day was peaceful and relaxing and filled with a lot of laughter.