So there’s this truly wonderful woman that I’ve had the privilege of journeying with, and she has been on my mind so much this week. Between the time I met her and now, I have learned not to believe in coincidence. And so this morning, I spend a little time with hot tea in hand and warm memories in heart.
Deanna kind of snuck into my life, really. She works in the missions department of the Baptist college I went to, and was influential in the girls’ discipleship program. I never went through the discipleship program, but some of my very best girls did. They were all close to Deanna long before I was.
Looking back, I don’t even really remember how we started talking, or how she became what she was to me. All I know is that she came to me just on time. I know that I was in the middle of my first senior year of college. I had recently gone through a long, drawn-out split with a man that I fully intended to marry. A break-up that left me wounded and gun-shy, with a spiritual past that gave me no way to reconcile the pain that I was feeling to a God who says He works all things together for the good of people who love Him. And so what did I do with all that pain? I did what any good Christian girl would do [or so I thought at the time]. I hauled myself up off the floor, put on a smile, told myself and everyone around me that God must have someone better for me, and moved on.
And yet, my heart was slowly fracturing. I was a good Christian girl, with a daddy who owned multiple firearms and always looked completely prepared to use them. And so I didn’t date around in high school. I didn’t date at all. Ever. Until him. And when he came along, he got all of my heart. Every last bit of it. And when, suddenly, he was one day gone and living an entirely different life than the one he’d lived with me–my heart didn’t know whether to go with him or stay with me. And under the pressure, it shattered.
Here was the problem. I knew all the right answers. I had all the Sunday school words that I’d spent two decades hoarding in my brain. But anyone who’s ever really, truly grieved over something knows that most of the words and phrases we learn in Sunday school don’t really teach us how to mourn. They don’t really cover those dark moments and how to be in them and what to do with them.
And so there I was, with no idea how to even look at my grief, let alone feel it. And so I just ignored it. On a daily basis, I pounded it down until it was so deeply rooted in my heart that it had become a part of the fibers of my soul. Which sounds crazy, because…who could go on with life unaware of something that had become a part of them? But oh, I did. I wasn’t unaware of it–I was just deeply familiar with it. And so it was pretty easy to just live with.
She has this remarkable gift, that beautiful woman. Deanna sees people. REALLY sees people. She sees their faces, she sees their hearts, she sees their potential. She sees people differently and more clearly than most anyone I’ve ever met. And she saw me. She saw parts of me that I had hidden away from myself. From my best friends. From my parents and family. From everyone who encountered me on a daily basis.
I remember the day I processed it for the first time, really became aware of that gift of hers. We had been spending quite a bit of time together, and I just hadn’t recognized it yet. One day, after a particularly difficult day, I walked past the missions office on my way home from class, and I didn’t want to walk in. I didn’t want to see Deanna. I couldn’t have told you why at that moment. I just knew I didn’t feel much like seeing her. Unfortunately, the glass front of the missions office betrayed me, and she saw me first. She smiled and waved me in. And so I came in. And she asked me how I was doing. And I smiled my brightest smile and said, “I’m fine! How are you?” And she looked at me, and didn’t say a word for about sixty seconds. She just looked at me, refusing to break eye contact. And somewhere in the middle of that sixty seconds of silence, I absolutely fell apart. And as I stood there, with tears rolling, her handing me a box of tissues and leading me by the arm into a private office, I began to feel a nagging awareness of how deeply and desperately broken I was in that moment. And how deeply and desperately I did not want to be seen. Because I despised my brokenness. I despised how needy and achy and hurt and bruised I felt. And it went against everything in me to believe that she would feel any differently about my brokenness.
And Deanna looked at me in that moment, and in her gentle, quiet way, said six freedom words she’d told me a thousand times already. “It’s okay to not be okay.”
How I long to be that person, that person who sees people. Who understands that many times, people need my silence more than my words. My presence more than my advice. I remember looking at Deanna in that moment, barely able to meet her eyes, but aware that her eyes could only see my brokenness because they had cried many, many tears of brokenness. Her eyes knew exactly when to maintain contact with mine because of the hundreds of times she’d been too ashamed, too hurt, too broken to NOT look away. She knows how to see people because she’s spent far too much time terrified of being seen herself.
I pray daily that God teaches me the art of silence. The art of seeing instead of speaking. To say words that have meaning, so much so that not many of them are necessary.
To say with or without words, “It’s okay to not be okay.”