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For the first time in five years of sharing words and photographs online, I’m shifting gears completely and letting someone write about me! Today’s story is written by my younger sister, Tiffany, who has a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. Tiffany has shared regular stories on my site since February 2015. The purpose of her writing is to raise awareness of what it’s like to live with mental illness, and to continually press forward towards mental health. If you’d like to read the stories I’ve written about Tiffany’s journey and all the stories she’s shared on this site, check out Tiffany’s Story. Without further ado, here are Tiffany’s thoughts on me, perfectly timed for my birthday this weekend. Thank you, Tiffany.

My sister, Amy, and I may be different, but she’s one of my best friends! I always learn from her and cherish our relationship.

I don’t always have control over what my mental illness is doing to me. My emotions seem to be all over the place, but medication seems to help out a lot. Many times my sister realizes what is going on without me having any clue. Sometimes I have trouble making out the point she is trying to get across, but I usually figure that out with time. Deep down I have always known that she is looking out for my best interests. Never has a disagreement or difference in opinion separated us.

One of my very good friends said something to me the other day that made complete sense. He said, “It’s like you push away the people that you are trying to reel in.” I’ve done that in many of my relationships, especially with my sister. There have been many times where I have yelled at her with tears exploding out of my eyes, to just leave, get out of here! I didn’t want her to know the honest pain I was in, nor did I understand what was going on.

When my sister and I were younger, I used to read her journals. She has always had them and still does. I learned about what was going on in her life. She’s always up to something and surprises me and others with her deep-thinking mind.

I’ve always been an annoying texter and caller to many, especially with my sister. Not once has my sister told me to stop. She may just take a while to get back to me. Sometimes she ignores my illogical thoughts, but sometimes she asks me to explain more about what’s going on.

When my sister and I communicate face-to-face, we seem to have slight disagreements. Earlier this month, she came to my garage to mark some stuff for our family garage sale. She cleaned the garage a bit so she could make room for her stuff on a clean floor. I pretty much just stood there, not knowing where to start or what to do. I eventually got some of my items marked on another day. When my sister was marking stuff, I told her I thought she and I were pretty similar. She said with a sneer, “We are all different.” I had to remember what my psychologist says about us all being unique. If we had a clone of ourselves, then maybe we’d get along perfectly with them? I have no idea! Maybe I just think my sister is cool and have always wanted to be more like her. I’m more of a free spirit, and my sister is careful and deliberate with her actions. We tend to dress different. My spirit wants me to dress more casual, and she dresses more formal than I do. If we can accept our differences, we can create great things together.

I was locked away and in a halfway house for most of my pregnancy with my daughter, Raegan, who just turned seven. I have not been in an institution since. At the end of my stay in the halfway house, I was kicked out because I was not making sense to anyone. I had been having a tough two weeks, had not slept in two nights and was manic. I really wanted to go and stay with my sister, but they would not allow me to do so. The lady in charge at the halfway house yelled at me, and told me that I thought I could get whatever I wanted. Well, sometimes we can and other times we can’t.

They brought me to the emergency room where my sister met me. I recall trying to escape and have a cigarette outside. I was locked in, and did not like that at all. My sister was sitting with me as I was being illogical, curled up on the emergency room bed. I remember only a bit of the experience because when I’m in one of my states of mind, I don’t always know what has happened. I kept hearing code blue, and thought the intercom was speaking to me. I had a slight obsession with Zach Braff from the TV show “Scrubs” after meeting him on a set in California. I thought he was in the hospital to rescue me. My sister stayed calm and collected and reassured me that everything was going to be alright. They brought me to the psych ward on a bed as I yelled at random people along the way. Cuz hey, I thought I knew them! I called my sister often while I was in the hospital, and she reassured me that I was not alone.

Neither of my pregnancies were easy. I would go into the hospital all the time to check for the heart beat. I thought something was going on all of the time. I also did not have a husband for either of my pregnancies. I would not recommend that, but I managed. Through both of my pregnancies, my sister was with me every step of the way! She ended up being my birth partner for both births. She was calm and collected and made the experiences manageable. I feel that we became closer because of those experiences.

When my dad was in the hospital for his lung transplant last summer, Amy and I handled the entire situation in different ways. My sister took care of the CaringBridge website, allowing people to know what was going on. She also took over when my mom needed time away, and was partial caregiver. I was the cheerleader and brought my kids to see my dad once in awhile. That was important because my dad wanted to see the entire family. We cheered him up! Overall, a tough situation was successfully accomplished because we worked together.

I am very grateful to my sister, Amy, that she allows me to use her website every month so I can express myself. Life is often a struggle because I judge myself so harshly. Sometimes I get confused about how to keep up with everything. My sister offers me her advice. We may be different, but we are sisters and friends. I do not know what I would do without her.

Tiffany

 

We were sure.

So sure.

We were certain God was writing a tailor-made story.

Each one of us had reasons – 2 1/2 months of reasons, a lifetime of reasons – as to why this made complete sense, why this particular opportunity HAD to be from God.

I can tell you with certainty that in the 22 years I’ve been with my husband, this was the first time I could see, could sense, could pinpoint a crystal-clear calling on his life. All the pieces leading up to this point made complete sense. Yes, I can say for sure, even in hindsight, that the calling on his life was clear in a way it had never been before.

What is a calling, you ask? How in the world do you define calling? It sounds so mysterious, doesn’t it? So religious. Something reserved for pastors and missionaries, perhaps. How do you know when God is calling you to do something, calling you to go somewhere, calling you to be the specific someone He intended you to be?

A few of us have 100% certainty as to what we’re supposed to do, where we’re supposed to go and who we’re supposed to be. But most of us guess, sense, study, pray and simply BELIEVE there HAS to be a greater reason, a greater purpose for our life, for our story.

That’s a calling, I guess. Going where God wants us to go. Following His lead. Listening for a still small voice. Taking chances when we don’t know the outcome. Being present in ordinary and difficult circumstances. Waiting for His whisper to tell us where and how we’ll have the most extraordinary impact in this world. Quieting ourselves until God tells us yes, or no. Trusting He’ll guide us towards what’s best. Becoming more like Him, day in and day out.

Calling.

It’s not the word I once thought it was. (At least for right now, that is.)

Perhaps I’m a bit confused.

Perhaps I’ve been a bit misguided.

Perhaps my definition of calling has been too dreamy, too wishful, too worldly.

Perhaps my definition of calling has been too specific, too narrow, too logical.

Perhaps I’ve overthought the concept of calling.

Perhaps I’ve had it all wrong.

I’m okay saying “I don’t know anything anymore.”

Only God.

Only God truly knows.

So 2 1/2 months. Yes, 2 1/2 months we invested in this thing we thought was a calling.

As I watch the leaves blow in the breeze, I’m still a bit jaded, a bit disappointed, thrown off and uncertain as to why 2 1/2 months of step by step, waiting and waiting some more, answers then more answers, action and even more action – all seemingly from God – ultimately led to NOTHING.

Could it be that an outcome we perceive as absolutely NOTHING is actually SOMETHING? That God works even in the midst of NOTHING?

I know the truth. Yet, I don’t know. You know what I mean?

Only God.

Only God truly knows.

My husband was prompt. The minute he learned of the opportunity, he did his part. He did everything right, staying on track ’till late that first night.

Days passed.

Nothing. Nada. Nope.

Finally, an answer. A ray of hope that the door hadn’t closed.

More days passed.

Nothing. Nada. Nope.

We’d all but given up.

Should we reach out, take action? Should we suggest we could do this, do that?

Nope. The answer was WAIT. Wait some more. So we waited.

When we were reaching our end in the patience department, in despair over the lack of results of any kind, I reached out to Hope*Writers friends for prayer. Nothing specific. Just a big, honest prayer request. Later that afternoon, the Hope*Writers hearty dose of prayers resulted in a delightful and surprising response.

YES! The answer was YES!

My husband was moving on to the next step.

How could this be? After weeks of waiting, we finally had an answer. The door hadn’t closed! God had answered our prayers.

Several days later, an awesome 1-hour 30-minute phone call was followed by more weeks of waiting.

Then there was a 1-hour 45-minute phone call.

Then a 1-hour phone call, perhaps the most important of all.

Everything was good. Everything was right. Everything was awesome.

Everything was proceeding. Everything was lining up. Everything was fitting together just so.

God was answering our prayers. He was directing the way. Yes, this all made perfect sense. Things were coming together just as we suspected God wanted for us, our family and our future.

Then there was waiting, waiting and more waiting.

I fasted. Two days.

I prayed like a mad woman, harder than I’d ever prayed before. My husband prayed like a mad man, harder than he’d ever prayed before.

We’ll go anywhere, we’ll do anything for you, God. If this is your will, please let this work for us, please open this door for us.

Yet again, we’d all but given up when my husband got the call. The call came in the middle of devotions, an answer from God Himself.

Come.

Come on out.

We want to see you. We want to meet you.

Elation, excitement and tears of joy ensued.

Within a few days, everything was arranged.

His ticket.

My ticket.

We’d fly, yes, we’d fly.

At this point, all the thoughts and plans were in full motion. I’m talking FULL. MOTION. All the what ifs, all the what thens? They’d all been considered. Everything had gone slow, slow, slow until that phone call, but for reasons left unsaid, this now needed to go not only fast on our end, but fast on their end. There was very good reason to believe this was actually going to happen. We had been patient. Slowly, but surely, everything was lining up perfectly. God had opened every door we’d walked through, including an invitation and flight to come out. This was most certainly nothing we could do on our own. It was absolutely, without a doubt, a faith journey. We were following, and God was leading.

I continued praying and began purging like a mad woman, just in case the answer was YES, which honestly at the time seemed like it was very possible. After 10, 15 trips to the thrift store in a desperate effort to purge STUFF as quickly as possible, I finally had to tell them lest I look like a weirdo, “It’s likely we’re going. It’s likely we’re leaving. We’re really close to moving.” I just kept dumping and dumping and dumping and it was all so incredibly freeing. It was becoming more and more clear. God was sending us. Finally, life was making perfect sense. We were GOING to do this as a couple. All I had to do was say YES to God, purge everything that had ever held me back, and just GO and follow Him. Yes, this made complete sense in my framework, my understanding of WHO God was and who God IS. Would I have ever imagined this for myself, that this could ACTUALLY happen? Nope, not in a million years. Would I have DREAMED this for myself, that I would ACTUALLY WANT this to happen? Yes, a million times, YES.

My calling merged with my husband’s calling? YES. 100% YES. Please God, take me there.

I’m ready to purge it all for the sake of your calling. Literally and figuratively. I’m willing to give it ALL.

So we flew.

We left the kids with proper care and we flew.

Two days.

Yes, for two full days, we dove FULL IN to God’s call.

FULL IN. Down to our bones. To the best of our ability. We were there. We were on it. We were surrendered. We were together. We were leaping and trusting that God was IN this, FOR us, ALL ABOUT this opportunity we would’ve never guessed could actually happen.

Only God. This was only God.

In that place of seeing where I was, having no idea how I got there, and being incredibly excited about where God might very well be bringing us, I felt peace. Deep peace. My whole life made perfect sense now. Every step added up to now.

I’m humbled to admit I went so far as to find us a home that first day. Well, maybe that’s dramatic and not quite true. I found us a couple of super solid neighborhoods we could actually afford and a whole lot of amazing neighbors who flagged me over as I drove by, chatted me up in their driveways, and offered sweet tea as they talked and rocked toddlers on their sides. I met girls my daughters’ ages and women I connected with instantly. I did Facetime with the kids, and with the most rare exuberance in my voice showed them the “amazing” neighborhoods we’d be able to live in. “Look, there are little kids riding scooters around by themselves!” “Look, there are two kids riding bikes!” “Look at how nice this neighborhood is! I seriously can’t believe this. You’ve gotta see this.”

We dined and laughed that night over hot buns with honey cinnamon butter, then returned to our not-so-humble home for the night, purposeful, beautiful noise filling the city streets around us.

The next morning, we woke early. It was time. Time to do our best. Time to step up and step out for God, for our future, for ourselves and for our children. 2 1/2 months ago, we’d started this journey. God brought us this far. Why in the world would we have journeyed this far, traveled this far, both literally and figuratively, for the door to close now? We had hope. A certain hope, for sure. But we weren’t arrogant idiots about it. This was NOT a sure thing. Never once did we believe this was a sure thing. We weren’t taking this opportunity for granted for one second. But things had most certainly been adding up. If things went well, there was only ONE MORE YES between us and this future. One more YES that was most definitely in the hands of God.

My husband got ready in the finest of wears. He was handsome, prepared, feeling his best. I dropped him off at the door. He told me to pray, so I prayed on and off all morning as I drove and explored the place we might call home before long.

I considered exploring new territory, but felt led to return to the place I found peace the night before. Great peace. Deep peace. Immeasurable peace. A place where country met city. A place where I was certain I could belong. A place that felt like home so quickly, so easily. A place that honestly, I might’ve been called to my whole life.

Yes, I know with all the logic of my brain that this is utter nonsense and crazy talk, but I haven’t found a place I want to be buried yet. This was most definitely a place I could see myself being buried, a place where the kids could come and know mama felt home here, mama felt complete peace here, mama felt right and good and was called to live and do life all the best of ways here.

So I drove back to that suburb and those neighborhoods to make sure. The opportunity to check things out was passing quickly. Our plane was set to depart in six hours, and if the answer to all of this was going to be a YES, my husband would be turning his life around quick and very quick. We’d need to make a lot of important decisions from a long distance. So I needed to know. I needed to have a sense that this could be right, that this was right. I had a sense. Yes, that morning, I had a deep sense that this could be right, that this WAS absolutely right.

I grabbed chicken, beans and coleslaw for lunch and drove back to the city. Drove around the loop 20, maybe 30 times, waiting for a “come and get me” text from my husband. It was taking a while. This thing was not wrapping up fast. More waiting. More driving the loop. More wondering what life would be like if all of this ended with a YES. After all, he’d sent me a message earlier saying everything was going “AWESOME” in caps.

Finally, after circling the loop way too many times, I parked and waited.

I opened my window, felt the gentle breeze, and noticed a bird perched on the branches above.

I sat for a good 20 minutes, just staring that bird down, waiting for the “come and get me” text.

More crazy talk, I know. But it never occurred to me until later that the bird wasn’t singing. He was just sitting there, letting the breeze blow him around as he waited to fly to his next destination.

Perhaps that’s been me.

Perhaps that’s been us.

Perhaps God’s wanted more from us.

Perhaps God’s wanted more FOR us.

Perhaps God wants us to sing.

Eight days later in the 11:00 am hour, we got an answer.

NO.

A resounding NO.

We were floored.

Astounded.

Taken aback.

Shocked.

Deeply saddened and disappointed.

There were tears. Then silence. Then more tears.

What could have gone wrong? How could we have come THIS far, prayed THAT much, waited THIS long, been so patient and hopeful and trusting and wholly surrendered, for the answer to be NO?

We had our story ALL WRONG.

We had it ALL WRONG.

All the ways we added it up over the course of 2 1/2 months for this one gigantic once-in-a-lifetime opportunity were flat out WRONG.

We thought God had called us. We thought it all made sense. We thought our callings were merging for the first time in nearly 19 years of marriage.

All we needed was for God to give us one more YES.

And instead, it was NO.

I grieved deeply.

Then anger emerged, which turned to crabbiness and lifelessness.

I didn’t know anything anymore.

I don’t know anything anymore.

One after another, questions poured out of my soul.

Can I trust my own gut?

Can I trust my own intuition?

Can I trust what I’ve PERCEIVED to be the Holy Spirit prompting me, leading me, working in and through me?

Have I heard God’s voice correctly?

Do I even know what God’s voice sounds like?

Maybe I thought I’ve been hearing God’s voice when in reality I haven’t been at all?

What if I thought I knew how to discern God’s voice from all the others, and really, I had no clue?

And what about prayer?

Perhaps I’ve gotten it ALL. WRONG.

Perhaps I’ve been ALL. WRONG.

Perhaps my spiritual side is lacking infinitely more than I thought it was.

Perhaps my perceptions have been WAY off.

Perhaps I don’t have the intimate relationship with God that I thought I did.

For CERTAIN, God is still good, even when things don’t go my way, even when things don’t turn out the way I thought He was planning. But perhaps, my definition of good, my definition of God was simply OFF, simply wrong, simply twisted into some saccharin, worldly version that simply isn’t true.

I thought I had it figured out at least a little bit. Now I’m not sure I have it figured out at all.

Then I asked the question of all questions, the question I’ve only asked one other time in my life. Can PEOPLE get in the way of GOD’S PLANS? I guess the answer is yes? But then again, no? Now I’m not certain at all. My philosophy, my theology is clearly lacking.

Needless to say, this experience led me into territory I’d never traveled before.

I don’t know anything. God knows everything. Anytime I think I have a grasp on life, a grasp of what might be happening, I should just surrender and say “Hey God, take the wheel, do what you want because honestly, I have no clue what’s best for me. Just let me live the story you want me to live.”

Trees blow in the wind. Flowers flourish in the summer sun. And my five-year-old daughter asks “How did all this stuff get in my fingers?” I tell her “God. God put it there. God made you.” I have no other words. Those are the things I know for sure. God made the wind. God made flowers. God made greens. God made my five year old and all the things inside her tiny little body. There’s a purpose for and behind it all.

God made me and He will not abandon me. God made my husband and He will not abandon my husband. God made my children and He will not abandon my children. When He leads us down long paths that seem righteous and right, He has the authority to turn us around and lead us straight back to where we came from.

God is mysterious. His ways are NOT our ways. He works in ways we cannot see, in ways we’re unable to perceive. He leads us down paths that don’t make sense. He gives us YES, YES, and YES, only to give us NO. We have no other choice but to trust Him, whether it’s a YES or a NO, whether it’s a YES and a NO. His purpose is to draw us closer, to make us more like Jesus.

Four weeks ago when we received the NO, I felt like I was standing in a room with no windows, no doors, no way out. I couldn’t believe the answer was NO after all that, and I didn’t have a clue as to what was next. Today, I feel like I’m standing still in an open field, just watching and waiting, saying “I don’t know anything anymore. I see you, God. I believe in Jesus. But I don’t understand where you’re going with this. Help me see. Help me trust you again. Help me trust myself again. Help me be who you want me to be. Help me die to myself. Help me see WHY we’re right back where we started. Help me see why you led us through all of that for a NO. Help me understand. Help me believe again. Help me wait for what’s next. Help me hope.”

And I think of a mama who lost her baby boy, a mother and writer who was killed in a house fire with her husband and two kids, an auntie whose 18-year-old nephew contracted the flu and ended up dead two weeks later, a friend whose long-awaited house deal fell through, the sweet baby girl who witnessed a shooting, the kids in Kenya who have gaping holes in their shoes, all the people standing in the middle of a field waiting for an answer, crying out to God, “We had our story all wrong. We acknowledge you. We see you blowing in the breeze, we see you in the flowers and the trees, we hear you singing your song, we know you’re here, but we’re waiting. We’re still waiting. Show us how to hope. Show us how to live. Show us how to be fully alive, even if, even still, even now.”

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