I find myself in a hotel room in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, dazed from sickness and two days of driving, and for some reason now is the time I choose to begin this. Don’t ask me why, but if you do, I think I’d tell you how this dank, tidy room feels suspended in time–definitely not home, or even somewhat familiar–and I’m reminded: “Wherever you go, there you are.” I don’t know the original author of that idea, but I’ve heard it repeated over the years and I’ve run into the cold, hard truth of it even more often. To write this post now just seems appropriate, as I catch up with myself and hang suspended–no ties to this place, my life packed up in the car outside–in true liminal space.
I began writing about this pocket in time a couple weeks ago in Montreat, North Carolina. I had just left New Orleans where I moved out of the YAV house and rather clumsily attempted to say goodbye to my life there. It was a ragged break; I felt so many things but wasn’t ready or able yet to express how I felt around the enormity of the chapter that seemed to be rapidly ending. So I, somewhat detached but not knowing how not to be, left New Orleans with my mind preoccupied on other worries–just not ready or able to close the door there.
I drove on towards a quick weekend in Pensacola where, among other things, I visited my home church and was commissioned off to Princeton Seminary with tears, a full heart, and the most intimidating copy of Greek-English Lexicon. My mother met me there and we drove up to Montreat together for a week in the Blue Ridge Mountains and a wonderful annual conference called Women’s Connection, where Rachel Held Evans would be the keynote speaker.
I was looking forward to a week in the mountains, where I could enjoy slow mornings and have sprawling swaths of time to meditate and write and reflect and beat my mom in card games. It was one morning when I was reading Jan Richardson’s work on “thresholds” (originally created for Advent but useful for any expectant waiting time) that I started to put more precise language to where I currently was in my life. Previously I had viewed August as this “in-between” time–finished with YAV and not yet at seminary. I went into the month intentional about making space to go deep and prepare in many ways to enter into a new season. I wanted to write on the blog about this space and what I was finding inside of it but so many emotions were still left unprocessed and my mind remained preoccupied on other worries, personal and not. News came from North Korea and Charlottesville and it felt like there was a new absurdity every hour to keep up with. My personal reflections took the back seat as I found myself hours deep in a Twitter hole or having hard conversations with people at the conference. It suddenly felt indulgent to “escape” to the mountains and engage in hours of introspection and self-care.
So I took my frenzied mind and aching heart home to Houston after ending on a high note in Montreat, getting to meet Rachel Held Evans and hearing her speak out boldly against white supremacy in Charlottesville (and all over this country) and the bigotry of our president. Upon arriving home, I researched upcoming rallies and continued calling my senators and having more hard conversations within my own family. I put my body out there and protested the statue in Sam Houston Park, following the leadership of Black Lives Matter HTX and learning a lot in the process. I stayed up too late on the Internet reading articles when I could’ve been reading for school. Being home was tricky–I fell into old patterns and habits and felt very unmotivated to write or read for school or go deep within myself. I fixated on the news and reading/listening to commentaries and didn’t do much to care for my soul as I was quickly approaching my departure date for Princeton. Honestly, it didn’t feel appropriate although I knew intellectually it was necessary. To give myself credit, I took four yoga classes and watched two seasons of the Great British Baking Show (not sure if the latter counts as self-care).
And then I left Houston abruptly, two days early, as Hurricane Harvey barreled toward Texas.
Yesterday I drove to New Orleans where I spent the night and woke up fairly sick–weeks of unprocessed emotions and worry catching up to me, perhaps. I drove in a daze for hours until I felt like I needed to stop and rest for the night. That brings me here, to the Country Inn hotel room in Alabama. I’ve finally caught up with myself.
So instead of waiting until I feel “ready” and “inspired” to write, I’m just writing. I still find myself in that liminal space, just oriented differently now as I make my way to New Jersey to live, earlier than expected–truly on the road and feeling more than ever the suspension in time. I’m not sure if I’ll ever feel fully ready, but who does? The word “liminal” comes from the Latin word limens, meaning “threshold.” A space where you’ve left familiar landscapes and routine and reality as you once knew it. A space poised on the brink of a new beginning–where you make peace with the ending and prepare your mind and heart to enter wholly into what’s next. It’s not so much about feeling “ready” as it is about feeling whole and at peace.
This space, for me, has always been one of utter terror with bursts of excitement at the idea of re-inventing myself. There’s never been much intentionality in the transitioning. I think back on all my selves during these threshold times and feel such tenderness for them–private middle school to public high school, Pensacola to Houston soon after; moving to Oxford for college, barely knowing more than two souls; suddenly losing my father that first year; choosing to move back to Pensacola and teach middle school after graduation; saying yes to a volunteer year in the city where I was born. Some of these changes came without my consent, like a shock to the system; I had no other choice than to adjust to life without my father. Others I resisted and railed against, operating out of fear–moving from my hometown of 11 years to a big city after just starting high school. The first big move I felt ownership in was moving to Oxford for college. Yet fear still drove. I remember staring out the window of Stewart Hall that first day thinking, “How will I ever do this for four years?” I had no friends there, no sense of belonging or identity, and the whole thing suddenly felt impossible. I felt lonely and scared and that became some indicator of what the future would hold. I couldn’t see past my own nose. I couldn’t separate my feelings from the Truth. I had no idea then what would happen just months later.
When my dad died that April I was forced to confront mortality in a way I hadn’t before. This change came unwanted and with no preparation. The world was suddenly very chaotic and random and uncertain–anxiety colored over all my experience. Control become a comfort and means of survival for me. Change and I had bad blood now. My faith grew deeper, yes, and I discovered aspects of myself and God that I hadn’t been able to access before–but letting go of certainty and control was a long process and still continues today. In grasping so tightly to control, I actually gave away my power. I became a watered-down version of myself, squelching creativity and passion and freedom in my vice grips–needing affirmation from others, obsessing over appearance, and attempting to orchestrate my future and surroundings so that I’d be okay.
I started to take back my power the day I began this blog. The Truth came spilling from my fingertips as I told my story. My choices began to align with my values and clarity rushed in. I followed my passion to Pensacola, into a classroom, back to my home church, then on to New Orleans. This past year, as a YAV in NOLA, I’ve gotten to know myself from a new angle–going into the experience trying to embrace change and operating with an intention to choose Love over fear. I have started to create a life for myself where I say what I want and need and I profess what I love without fear of rejection. I’ve learned that I will be rejected when I’m daring to be honest and unapologetic about who I am. This is in no way a reflection of my worth and merely a sign that it’s time to walk away from those people and places. Such clarity is a relief like I can’t even express. I feel resilient, courageous, free, joyful, hopeful, and intentional. This is not to say anxiety and fear don’t exist alongside those parts of myself. They just do. But they co-exist a bit more peacefully these days.
It’s important to reflect from the threshold–to look back and till the soil, searching for rich meaning and wisdom while also shaking up the foundation and cultivating it for new life and growth ahead (shout out to Okra Abbey for giving me new garden metaphors).
It’s also important to sit in the threshold, full of uncertainty and chaos but also complete stillness and peace, and just be. I find myself there right now and, instead of wishing I felt differently, I’m meeting myself here. Trusting completely that my whole life has led to this very moment and I am exactly where I belong. No identity, no ties, no past baggage–just the person who is being born new in each moment. I feel the power and humility that comes with that–the innocence and awe of being, in a sense, brand new to the world, while also having the ability now to choose for myself who I want to be. I know who I am at my core and I feel confident in what I love and value. This allows me loosen my hold on all the identities I create for myself and others put on me, and lead with my heart instead. I am free to cross the threshold–prepared to be planted in new soil and grow in ways I could’ve never imagined, not even in my wildest dreams.