Last night I had a dream about an old friend – someone I’ve known for over 20 years and have loved deeply. Our friendship has been – let’s just say – disappointing for me. Friendships have always held a profoundly meaningful place in my heart. I guess that comes from moving every year of my life until I was in college. Failure to bond was a term that rang through me like a great big bell when I heard it almost 13 years ago. Yes, I thought. This is me. Always reaching for connection, always feeling that the connection I needed more than air to breathe was held just out of my reach. It was close enough to make me ache with knowing it was there, but never close enough to hold.
This made me so afraid. I was more afraid of being left alone than anything imaginable. Even my worst nightmares (which I had with frequency) couldn’t hold a candle to the hollowed out pain I felt over the almighty lord of fear in my life – the word Alone.
In every song I wrote, I was alone and crying, every friendship I tried to cultivate left me alone and crying, and then I get married, and wonder of wonders, I was still alone and crying. Go figure. Marriage wasn’t the magic pill I had dreamed it would be. I still struggled with the practice of bonding to another human being in a healthy way.
I learned so much about codependency in those early years of uncovering this infernal mystery of Alone and why I couldn’t escape it no matter what I did. (i’ll unpack codependency another time – it’s a good one) I prayed, I wept, I declared, I broke off connections I believed were bad for me, I did everything I knew, to do relationship right. Because it was apparent that I was doing it wrong – otherwise I wouldn’t be alone even in a crowded room, even in my family, even inside my own self. I was drowning under that black water and I grasped at everything within reach to keep me from going under and never coming back up. It was darkest for me around 2009 and the dawn took about 8 years.
It’s hard to know how to tell such a long story – to not be trite when I get to the moments that saved me. Mama calls them pin-light moments. And it is a good picture for those who understand what it is to be in the pitch black.
Pin-light Moment #1
The first pin-light moment came when I was at my kitchen table in 2009 – fist fulls of hair, tears of frustration and pain streaming down my face. I was writing in my journal and telling God that I didn’t know how to do it – I don’t know how to live this life. I don’t know how to be a good enough Christian, friend, daughter, wife, mother, house keeper, sister – you name it, I didn’t know how to do it. I was miserably failing at all the things I tried to do, all the characters I tried to be. Because none of it felt natural to me. I always felt like a fraud, displaced, disconnected from what was around me – Alone. And the relationships I did have, even the ones I had cultivated the best I knew how over the years, kept falling flat and leaving me empty, including my relationship with God, which I’ve had since I was two or three. So sitting at that table, pulling at my hair, I begged God to tell me how to live like I knew I should be living. And what He said to me completely changed the trajectory of my life.
He said, “Sallie, if you will be who I made you to be, everything will flow out of that place.”
This of course, made zero sense to me. Mostly because I had no idea who that person was, or what she looked like, but also because it was very firmly ingrained to believe that looking at your self would only get you in trouble – that we must only look at God, or we would be led astray by our own selfish desires. So this was a risky proposition to say the least, and super confusing to boot. I had no idea who I was or what that looked like. I only knew what I didn’t look like, and what I could not do – that was crystal clear, just look at my track record.
But if this was God inviting me into self discovery, then who had He made me to be? Who is that person? What in the world does that look like? And He told me He was going to change my perspective, which I had no idea at the time was basically my whole problem. I remember I was standing in the kitchen when He said it to me. And I glibly said, Ok. Not knowing how it had the slightest chance of actually happening. But whatever it was He wanted to show me, or do with me, I was game, because as far as I was concerned I was a complete failure – so a reboot was welcome.
Although I was afraid of what I would find, I knew that it was God speaking to me, telling me to be who He made me to be. It was not a random thought in my head, or wishful thinking, or some demon trying to lead me astray. I knew it was Him because in response I looked straight in His eyes, and said Ok then, tell me who I am, because I have no idea who that is.
Up to that point, being who He made me to be and living from that place was simply out of the question. He may as well have told me to swim to the bottom of the Atlantic keeping the donut in my hand from disintegrating in the water. Weird image, I know, but it wasn’t just swim to the bottom of the ocean impossible, it was something silly on top of it, like “look at yourself”. As far as I knew that had done nothing but get people in trouble. But I trusted that it was Him, because to find the answer, I had to go back to Him. He made me. He was the only one who could tell me who I was. So I kept asking what that meant. And He started answering me.
Pin-light Moment #2
Nothing used to set me off like the frustration of not being able to hold back my tears. I cried every day. I cried when good things happened, when I was frustrated, angry, happy – If someone said something nice to me – or mean to me… I cried. It was exhausting. Now, of course, I understand that the level of exhaustion I felt was, in large part, due to how hard I was trying NOT to cry. What an exercise in futility.
One day in exasperation, I told God (in a fresh wash of tears) that it wasn’t fair, I didn’t see everyone around me crying like a stupid baby at the drop of a hat. Why did they get to have their feelings in privacy and mine were just out there – wide open – on display for everyone to see. I couldn’t get away from it, and I couldn’t stop the tears. And what He told me was the first string in a beautiful tapestry He wove to show me what He wanted me to see.
Wait. What?! One of HIS FAVORITE THINGS? I was stunned, and not a little indignant. I sat with that thought for a long time. On purpose… favorite things… Who would have ever imagined such a thing? So I had to ask myself, if this is something He gave me – like, on purpose, like He meant to do it and my tears weren’t some unfortunate aspect of me being an unhinged basket case – then – could I… was it possible to accept this part of myself? Was it possible to stop fighting against the flow (so to speak) and embrace my tears? I hated them – with a deep, seething hatred. Crying was deeply humiliating. I felt like I was naked, wrapped in cellophane on display to everyone. And yet He had given them to me – not just because He thought it would be a funny trick – but because He made me like Him.
He made me like Him.
I began taking stock of all the other things I hated about myself, daring to imagine that He had done some of those things on purpose, too – How loud I was, how deeply I desired connection till I drove everyone away, how I shared so (read waaaay too) openly with those around me, how easily I trusted and loved and threw myself head long into unknown waters. There were a lot of things about me that I knew were unbalanced, mainly because of how much trouble things like unchecked, blanket trust in people brought me, but before I could learn how to walk in those aspects of who I was in a healthy way, I had to first accept that they were given to me – gifts from a loving Father God – A God who didn’t make a mistake when He made me this way. Could I dare to hope that this was the case? Was he really doing what He said; changing my perspective?
I always felt like a terrible mistake had been made in regards to me, that I never quite fit, but struggled to put words to it. Growing up I lived in fear that I would be ‘found out’ that people would discover who I really was (i.e. that I was bad) and that I would be thrown out. There were lots of reasons I felt this way, but it all led me to that place of believing that the strongest aspects of my personality were something to be hidden. And I did – dear Lord in heaven – for decades I pushed who I was down into a dark pit so she wouldn’t be seen, so I wouldn’t be thrown out and away from the people I so desperately loved and needed, but never could quite reach. Until the day I sat at that kitchen table, pulling at my hair, weeping in frustration because I was trying so desperately to be someone I believed I should be and failing, not even knowing who I really was.
Over the next 10 years or so, God led me in the discovery of who He had made me to be, what that looked like, and taught me how to stop rejecting the very aspects of me He had created on purpose, because He loves me – such as the gift of deeply felt emotions (talk about feeling tricked!! also a topic for more unpacking).
Very unsurprisingly, all along he was leading me to know who He is, and what it looks like to be loved by Him. I have more to say on this subject than one little post can hold. But there’s no hurry, I’ll get it all out, and I’m so happy you decided to come with me as I unpack all of this.
If the things I say bring up questions or things you would like to talk about, feel free to reach out, let’s talk. It takes time to unravel old mindsets and walk out of hiding. I’ll brew the coffee.