It sounds dramatic.
But it’s true.
I had to fly away to find myself.
Nearly nine months ago, I found myself alone in a hotel room in Miami, Florida. I’d spent several hours on a flight from Minneapolis, so when I arrived at the hotel, all I wanted to do was get out for a walk in the “warm” February weather and grab some dinner at a nearby Chick-Fil-A. I took my chicken strips with honey roasted barbecue sauce, waffle fries and Diet Coke back to my room and ate quietly on the bed, then turned on the television, slipped into my pajamas, and watched Blackfish. You know, the unforgettable documentary about orcas at SeaWorld? Yep. I was intrigued. I got completely lost in the story. And I stayed up extra late to finish watching it even though I really needed to get to bed. Because I was flying to Haiti the next day to visit our two sponsored children through Compassion International.
When Blackfish was over, when the unexpected flurry of beeps in response to my #Blackfish tweets finally slowed, when I’d decided to call it a night and turn out those lights, that’s when the heart pain kicked in.
I’d been having ever-so-slight heart pains for weeks leading up to my trip to Haiti. So it was no surprise that I had them again that night when I was alone in the dark, Miami hotel. I’ll tell you the truth. I started to freak out just a little. I wondered if I was going to have a heart attack while I was in Haiti. I wondered if I’d been ignoring all the signs of an impending attack. What if I was about to find myself stranded in a Haitian hospital and have to forgo my trip because of these stupid heart pains?!
I started to feel alone and a bit scared for my life. In all the months of planning and preparing for this moment, for this trip to Haiti, this was the first time reality had really set in.
I’m in Miami, Florida. In a dark hotel room by myself. I’m going to Haiti tomorrow. With a bunch of people I’ve never met. What in the world am I doing?!
Through all these thoughts, my heart continued to ache little aches. I ignored them, though. Because those little aches weren’t about to stop me from going to the airport and getting on that plane to Haiti.
Oh, I’m so glad I didn’t let those little aches stop me.
The trip to Haiti was marvelous, wonderful, better beyond anything I ever expected. The children, parents and staff we met at the Compassion centers filled my heart to the brim. I felt completely at home making those home visits. And having an entire day with our two sponsored children was the most amazing, blessed gift I could have ever received.
I felt fully myself.
I was fully myself.
Back home, life had been well. I had pretty much everything I needed and most everything I wanted. And everyone who loved and cared for me was there.
Something was missing, though. That is, until Haiti.
Until Haiti, I’m not sure I knew what it felt like to be fully me, fully authentic Amy.
Let me explain.
Haiti helped me realize there’s a difference between who I’ve been and who God created me to be. When I was there, I experienced what it was like to live in the center of His will. I was fully, fully alive. I was fully, fully me. If I could ever pinpoint a moment in time where I felt 100% comfortable in my own skin, it was then.
How did I know?
Because I experienced the fullest range of emotions I’ve ever experienced. My guards were down, all the way down. I cried, a lot. Not because I was sad, but because I was so full of joy. I felt a little stupid, because, well, I seemed to cry like a baby every time it was my time to share at the end of the day. I said stupid stuff, like “this trip means a lot to me.” And after sweet baby boy said he wanted me to be his mama, I pressed my hands up against the windows on the van and sobbed my eyes out and put my hands on my heart and didn’t even care that someone was sitting between the window and me watching it all go down. Yet, I was filled with joy. Some of the purest, truest joy I’ve ever felt. And I knew, there’s beauty, great beauty in the place where joy and sadness meet. That’s God space, God’s place. He was there. In me, through me, behind me, ahead of me. Everywhere. Everywhere.
So yeah. That’s how I knew I was most fully myself.
Then it was time to leave.
I wasn’t sad to be going home. Because my husband was right, home is where everyone knows and loves me, home is the beautiful everyday God has created for me.
But I was really sad to leave Haiti. Because there, I’d learned to be me, without borders. I didn’t want to fly away from the beautiful everything God created me to be.
I thought the story was done. Back home, life returned to normal. Or not so normal. Nothing was the same.
I took a blogging break for 3 weeks.
I made some decisions.
I decided I really wanted to go to a writing conference in the fall.
My husband said yes.
So eight months after I got back from that trip to Haiti, I found myself on a plane to a writing conference.
I’d been connecting with this group of writers for four years. I’d wanted to attend the conference for two years. But when push came to shove? I had no idea what I was doing when I got on that plane. I had no. idea. what. I was doing.
But let me tell you. In some odd, totally unexpected turn of events, God showed me, once again, who He created me to be. I came fully alive, again. I felt fully alive, again. I knew what it felt like to be me. Really, me.
I found my people. I felt free. I took risks. Little risks and great big risks. I roomed with someone I didn’t know at all. But in the end, it felt like we’d known each other forever. I got to meet nearly everyone I wanted to and then some. I was me, just me. I wasn’t less than or more than myself, I just was myself. When I sat myself at random tables, I knew there’d be a place for me, because everywhere I went, I felt comfortable as me.
I ugly cried with Jill who pursued and loved me like mad. I got vulnerable and prayed with Christy and Jaimie. I humbly welcomed the love from sweet Darlene when she introduced me to friends and called me “angel.” I felt all the exhaustion when I plopped, hunched and got real on the couch with Jessica, Heidi, Alia & Shelly. I felt God’s divine power pour down when Anna and I had the opportunity to speak at length with Mama Bear Liz. And I hoped and prayed I was meeting friends-to-be when I hugged and chatted with Crystal, and complimented Annie on her way of making me laugh and cry in one hour. I felt like an idiot when I’d completely lost it in that dark, dark room when Judah & The Lion played music that matched the core of my heart. And when I realized someone witnessed me losing all composure? I didn’t even care.
I went all day, and I didn’t want to stop.
I couldn’t get to sleep at night because my mind was racing, my heart was full.
And when I called my husband to tell him how awesome the trip was, I felt the same way I did when I called him from Haiti. I felt full. I felt like me. I wished he was there. To see the real me, the best of me in action. He said he was proud of me, that I deserved this. I don’t feel like I deserve anything, but I was happy he got to hear the real me, the best me.
Before I knew it, I was on my way back home with Traci. God knew I needed her bubbly extroversion to balance what would’ve otherwise been my sadness.
And when I got home, what waited on top of the mail pile?
I had to fly away to find myself.
And God’s willed. Pure grace.
I’ll be flying. Again.
Perhaps those heart pains weren’t pains at all, but a heart ready to burst open wide.
*Photo at top of post taken by Allume photographer, Kim DeLoach.