Thursday, April 16, 2015

Maybe Courage is Simply Standing Still

Today I'd like to welcome back Noelle Juday. Like me, Noelle believes in the beauty and power in sharing our stories. Noelle blogs regularly at NBrynn, where you will find everything from her daughter's gorgeous ballerina birthday party to insight about marriageparenting, and orphan care. Please welcome Noelle as she shares more of her story with us today.


With Spring so fresh and full in the air, my mind has been racing ahead to the thought of summer sun and future fun at the beach. Coaxed by these daydreams, I spent nap time yesterday afternoon with my face toward the sky, reading on our back porch. As I felt the warmth and relaxation of the sun on my cheeks, I was quickly transported to my last day at the beach last October. 

On that Fall day, with the chill of winter rushing into my hometown in Columbus, Ohio, there I stood near the edge of the shore in Daytona Beach. With warm sunrays on my back, I watched the rolling waves tumble toward me, slowly splaying themselves out onto the sand and then gently, gradually making their way back to the ocean. The waves moved so rhythmically, that for several moments I stood entranced solely by their steady sound. Roll, crash, flow, roll, crash, flow, roll…

I had spontaneously flown to Florida for the weekend with a college friend, both of us married now and several kids later, needing some breathing room from our daily routines of potty training and vacuuming and the relentless demands of toddlers. 
Both of us needing a space to reconnect with ourselves, to remember the things that beat most truly and passionately within us, to acknowledge the things standing in the way of living from that truest place.  
We had spent the first twelve hours of our trip talking, a quantity of words that only friends with history and days without demands could allow. We had walked the beach - together and alone - laid in the damp sand and felt the crisp wind blow through our hair as we read and wrote throughout the day. We had relaxed in the beachfront hot tub, slept without an alarm and nourished ourselves well all weekend.

I had come to Florida, hesitatingly at first, and then in service to a friend, but soon realized how greatly I needed the space away myself. Hundreds of miles from home, relaxing my body and spirit more than I had done in months, I let my heart speak. I let it lead. I let my soul set the agenda and I found it worn with wounds from friendships, heavy with love for my children, longing for more closeness with my husband. 

These three themes – friends, kids and husband – soon merged into one, and I saw with clarity a deep thread of fear binding them all together. I wrestled with this realization at first, but as the weekend wore on and I allowed my heart to organically overflow, I found the bubbling over was always about those I loved most dearly, or rather, about losing those I love most dearly.

I do not think of myself as a fearful person. If anything, I was the daredevil in my family, giving myself a concussion at seven from trying to stand on my bicycle seat while whizzing down a large hill. Later, I would be the first in my family to travel abroad, flying solo to India for a two month mission trip, and then the first to graduate with a Bachelor's degree, paying my way through school one sixty hour work week at a time. I have lived abroad for years, given numerous speeches, dared to love despite heartbreak.  

And yet, I saw so much of my struggle in friendships was rooted in years of hurt and betrayal that had left me terrified of never having a close friend, of losing the friends I felt were barely in my grasp at any given moment. I saw how this base need to be known and loved sat screaming in my soul most days, a longing for intimacy in friendship that always seemed a step or two away. How, in seasons, that longing became so defining and consuming within me that I could not give or receive friendship through any other filter. I saw that my fear was tainted everything.

The next morning my heart was pierced when I read, “So much of parenthood is negotiating endings, the unceasing process of disconnecting the strings that tie our children to us, preparing them for a life on their own.” I saw how fear was tainting my parenting as well. As much as I had known in my head about separation and raising children to part, my heart received the news with fresh terror, and I found myself journaling for pages about my fear of losing emotional or physical closeness with my two little loves, let alone the anguish of ever having to say goodbye. 
Many days, I am trying to check all the right boxes to keep my kids safe and close, when in reality I know that life is not nearly that predictable.
Perhaps most surprising of all, I found my heart turning with sorrowful longing toward my husband, yearning to love better, regretting not having loved more. I sensed with clarity a level of self-protection and guarded intimacy I have carried in our relationship throughout all our years of marriage. “The other side of the same sword”, as I had journaled - the need to protect for fear of losing. 


I saw this thread of fear tainting my view, affecting the things that mattered most to me, and I wanted to rip it out, to disconnect from it forever. I wanted to walk ahead, unhindered in intimacy, loving deeply and freely. I got it into my mind to perform some sort of ritual on the beach during our final day, a ceremony marking this moment in time in my journey. I wanted to symbolically release the fear and walk into a new season of being.

And so there on the beach, watching the waves roll, crash, flow into the vastness of the ocean blue, I decided to give my fear to the water. I found the line on shore where the waves consistently met sand, leaving a rim of bubbles and a trail of smoothed earth. Then I found a piece of reed and wrote in large letters, “FEAR.” I closed my eyes and imagined my soul releasing the fear, watched the waves gently washing it away from my heart. I asked God for help. I breathed deeply of the salty ocean air, as I pictured myself walking into a new season of generosity, vulnerability, courageous opening up. 

When I opened my eyes, I was surprised to see that within a matter of seconds, the tide had mysteriously ceased reaching my spot in the sand. 
There I stood, “FEAR” still written large and loud beneath my feet. 
I quickly became overwhelmed with self-consciousness as rows of people strolled past me. Face burning, I started to panic, wishing I had picked a more private ceremony and a more discreet word. My insides squirmed at being so publicly displayed, my soul written out in large letters for the world to read.               

After what seemed like an eternity of standing with my "FEAR", confused and embarrassed, I considered simply wiping the letters away with my feet. I could re-write the word closer to the new shoreline and watch it quickly evaporate into the waves, finally concluding my little ceremony. I tried to reason myself into this quick escape, but couldn't quite bring myself to brush the letters away. Perhaps coaxed by the freedom of the weekend, my heart found a voice and told me to stand still. 
And in standing, I knew that this was the real ceremony. Not the magical, instantaneous disappearing of “FEAR” from my life. Not the effortless washing away of years of self-protection and wounded worries. This - standing awkwardly, uncomfortably, boldly with my fear in hand, displaying my fragility and longing to the world – this was vulnerability, this was intimacy, this was the new way of being I wanted to walk into. This is what it meant to live generously in relationship, not forever free from fear, but courageously pressing on in spite of it.
And so I stood - for ten minutes? Twenty? I stood with my discomfort, receiving each and every awkward glance. I breathed in the sting of vulnerability and I waited with my fear in hand. Finally, a brave, strong wave broke all the way up shore and washed away my writing. I watched the letters melt back into the earth, both relieved and disappointed. 

My self-made ritual had ended, but I knew the real work had just begun. I knew that my own journey toward wholeness would take far more time, far more patience, far more courage and resilience to be complete. I knew, now, that sometimes courage is simply standing still, staying put when you'd rather run away, pressing in when your cheeks burn red and when it feels way too scary or soul-bearing to even take another breath. 


Susie - Walking Butterfly said...

Thank you for this. Fear is my big demon and these words are giving me a new tool to fight with. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Wow.... Where do you suppose I might find a beach in the middle of the Midwest? My first fear to stand and face will be reading this again later, when I come back from some required busyness.

Joyce Rice said...

So beautiful. I had goosebumps all the way through! xo

Monica C. said...

This is such a moving piece -,thank you!

Kiri said...

Wow. Thank you.

Noelle said...

Love getting to share my own struggles with all of you, and learning that we are not alone. It's a honor to have you read and connect with my story!