I’ve been trying to write for three weeks. Each time, I think, “I need a topic,” and then I let that thought fall away, claiming the excuse that I can’t think of anything or that I have nothing of value to say. Excuses are cool like that, aren’t they? They let us just retreat from our fear, from our vulnerability, back into obscurity. Apparently, that’s what I’ve been allowing myself to do, with the claim that I don’t have anything to say.
But the truth is, I’ve had something to say for that entire time. And I’ve been afraid to really explore it. I’ve been afraid to lean totally into what my feelings are about this.
I’m not really sure. Maybe because it’s uncomfortable? Maybe because it’s true and I don’t like it? Maybe a little bit of both.
I have a therapist. Her name is Kim. I really like her. She’s no Trish (read the book), but she gets the job done, we connect well at this stage of my life, and I believe God placed her in our lives for a very specific reason when we first met her as a couple at the beginning of October. There is no shame in my therapy game—in fact, I’ll encourage anyone who will sit still long enough for me to say, “I think everyone should go to therapy.”
Three weeks ago, when I met with Kim, I was lamenting some loneliness with her: new colleagues, new teaching assignments, new classroom, a pandemic, social distancing, and a cancer diagnosis have all, in their own unique ways, created in me a feeling of isolation and loneliness over the past year unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.
And I hate it. Even introverts sometimes need other people to feel connected. It’s weird. But it’s how this introvert operates.
So, on one of my mornings in therapy with Kim, I was complaining. She let me carry on a minute or two (one of the reasons I like her), and then she dropped a bomb. She looked at me, and she said something that I will never forget. In fact, she dropped a truth bomb so full of truth that I’ve avoided writing about it for three weeks because I know it’s the topic I want to talk about, but I also know it’s a tough one.
She said, “You are meant to do some things alone, just you and the Lord.”
And what did I do? I started crying, of course.
Why? Because she is right. And because, let’s be honest, all I do these days is cry. I swear.
The first time I ever felt REALLY alone, I think, was last March. It was our first day of at-home learning. I was home by myself (ish)—Jack was with his mom, Jon was at work, and Andrew and I were at home while I managed my first day of online teaching. It was beyond overwhelming. I was on a computer for over five hours that day, figuring out our new normal, what my job was going to look like—and my son was stuck in front of a screen, also alone. I hate screen time for kids—I feel guilty when I’m with him and not engaged with him. I reached out to a superior, expressing the difficulty I was having with plopping my kid in front of a screen for an undetermined amount of time each day. Her response? Basically, she told me to deal with it and to be grateful I even had a job.
Wow, right? Right. I remember in the moments leading up to that one, feeling so isolated, so cut off at the hands of a pandemic we knew relatively little about, and to then not have any professional support on top of that feeling was just more than I was able to cope with at the time.
In retrospect, it should have been a tip-off for me that a season of change was blowing in. It should have clued me in that this isolation was the beginning of something much larger, something much more significant.
Like most first messages from God, this one fell on deaf ears. I simply didn’t listen. Many others followed. I continued to ignore. This is a strategy that, upon reflection, I do not recommend.
Social distancing persisted through the summer, and what came with that, for me, was a change to literally every aspect of my professional life: new classes, new colleagues, new room. Seven perfect strangers in a hallway I’d literally never walked down before until I moved the contents of my classroom from one side of the building to this one late last June.
I moved into my new room and attempted to settle into teaching two classes that I had never taught before. I remember being so determined to make the best of my new situation—and now, as I sip coffee at my desk alone, nearly eleven months into this change, I realize that I haven’t had a single minute to fully invest in the people surrounding me. Someday, I hope to change that. Maybe next school year.
But God used this school year in a way that I never anticipated—to bend and break me in almost every possible way, in order to allow me to recognize and learn from the ways that I am weak, and to teach me to capitalize on the ways that I am strong.
The plan for this learning, apparently was for my entire world to fall apart. In many complicated ways, the entire universe crashed around me in late September—and it has remained pretty unrelenting since that time.
I have felt more alone in the last 12 months than I ever have in my life. Professionally, I lost every bit of familiarity I had last May. Personally, Jon and I have navigated some craziness that you all know about and some that you don’t. And really personally, I have had to work on Lindsey harder than I have ever had to work on her before. All of it was, and remains, really difficult. And really scary.
Interestingly enough, even in these ridiculously lonely and isolating times, I have sought solace with God more than I ever have before. And you know what, He has been right where I have needed Him to be—every single time.
All of this has required me to throw away every coping strategy I’ve ever had. All of this has required me to take a good, long, hard look in the mirror and to fix the parts of myself that need fixing. Before it’s too late. Before I lose something else; before I repeat a mistake; before I impart lessons to my children the hard way or the wrong way. In everything, my literal life has been at stake. No pressure.
I have been, countless times in the last 365 days, required to get down to the raw, bare bones of who I am, and to allow Jesus to be my safety net in ways that I would have never allowed before. It has required me to lean on Jon and to be vulnerable at the feet of my savior and in the arms of my husband in ways that would have been non-negotiables in the past. Instead, I have been offered no choice, and so I have offered myself to God and to Jon in ways that scare the living daylights out of me. But they are ways that are essential to my survival, to Jon’s survival, to our marriage’s survival….you get the picture.
You see, previously, I would have relied on work friends, girlfriends, the gym, social media, a book—anything—to be safer for me than the arms of the Lord or the arms of the man I have chosen as my partner in this life.
Why was I doing that?
Because, too often, we carry the weight of other people’s expectations, judgments, and the fear of their reactions to our vulnerabilities. This happens even in marriage, even in our walks with Christ. Our partners aren’t supposed to judge us, and yet we fear that they will. God loves us unconditionally, but there’s that little voice in the back of so many of our minds that asks, “What if…” And so many people do what I did: they hold back from their partners, thinking that this will protect us in some way. But the truth is, we must allow the vulnerable sides of ourselves to be seen by our partners so that we can be fully and correctly loved by them.
Jesus knows us fully; there is not a step I have taken He didn’t know was coming. And yet, I still hid from Him in different ways. Why? Worthiness, of course. Considering myself as worthy of God’s love as He does is hard, and I think that’s a very normal human reaction, right? But it’s still not a reaction that serves us well in the long run. Because a lack in our recognition of our worth creates barriers for us in every aspect of our lives. These barriers can only be broken down when we come to terms fully with who we are.
This cancer journey, and this journey back from loneliness, have intersected in tremendously complicated ways. Jon and I have been totally bare, we have been raw, we have been destroyed, we have been exposed to each other in ways we never would have allowed before. Cancer and crisis have a way of stripping you down to nothing. And they leave you with no choice in how you respond.
Kim was right.
You are meant to do some things alone, just you and the Lord.
God removed from my life all of what I thought was safe in this world so that I could find my safety in the correct places. God stripped me bare and exposed parts of me that I don’t like, but gave me the tools and the chance to make them right, and to accept myself in new ways that I was never willing to examine before.
Cancer will rip you to shreds, it will take you down to bare metal, and then it will start to grind…but I guess that wasn’t bare enough for what God thought I needed. A total-life overhaul was more what He had in mind, and the interesting part of this is that I spent quite a lot of this last year bitter and hurt by the things that were “happening to me” without understanding the incredible gain that would come from a feeling of incredible lack.
My solitude this year was meant to be. It has knocked me down and stolen my breath more times than I care to admit. I have been a blubbering, begging mess in front of my husband and in front of Jesus more than I have been anywhere close to coherent and put together.
And you know what? That is OK. It is OK to stand before your partner and your creator and be so vulnerable and broken that you’re not sure you’ll survive to the next minute. It is OK to share with them that you are so hurt and so afraid that you can’t even get a breath. It is OK to share those things with yourself, too, and to lean into them and sit in their discomfort so that you have the ability to learn whatever it is that is intended for you. The discomfort hurts for a minute—sometimes it hurts for many minutes, but if you sit there long enough, it just might start to feel like growth.
All of this is OK, friend. All of it.
You know why?
You are meant to do some things alone, just you and the Lord.