The Art of Vulnerability

By Rachel Dowda

I don't have a Sam's club card, and sometimes, if I want to go, I'll show up to the warehouse, find a family and squeeze myself in by walking closely and confidently behind them, pretending to be a part. It always works and I end up inside, wandering around aisles of twenty-four packs of toilet paper and free samples. I feel like I do this a lot in my life, except I'm not pretending to be a part of families, but actually welcomed into their lives of eating and loving and laughing. 

Three summers ago, after dinner with my tribe, my friend Trent encouraged all of us to jump into the lake. It was pitch black and freezing and the waves towered over our heads like black ghosts whipping back and forth. I struggled staying above the water at times. My bones were in shock over the temperature and my friend Meredith was making me laugh, and in the midst of panic and sputtering I became overwhelmed at where I was. Just a few years before, I was content with hiding in my room, which was lovingly nicknamed "the cave", contrasting drastically with my current condition: freezing, out of breath, and feeling fully loved in the midst of an ice cold lake, under thousands of stars, treading water alongside people who loved me and genuinely wanted to know me. I never want to tread water alone again.

I think about the magic in letting myself be loved by others, and that love shoots life through all of my tree limbs, like instant photosynthesis; receiving divine light, roots planted deep, not just a lone tree but a forest; a tribe of trees rooted and gazing upward. I grew up in the suburbs, alone in a crowded concrete maze of houses, but now I am part of a forest, surrounded by trees that are cheering for me, willing my limbs to grow longer, healing me by placing their palms on my bark, and causing my tree rings to multiply. 

If I could pick the biggest change I've experienced in my life-journey towards wholeness, it would be that I've fallen in love with people. Me falling in love with people feels just as miraculous as being able to wake up and breathe every day. I used to believe there was power in independence; that I was strong and spiritual when I isolated myself, but it was just an act to hide hurt, to hide the fact that I failed at making and keeping relationships, that I was afraid of being known. 

In 2013 I moved to Alabama and lived with twenty other people on a beautiful vineyard, while attending a spiritual school there. Slowly throughout that season, I fell in love with people. I didn't have a drastic awakening, but simply observed some of the most loving people in action, and as they moved and breathed out love, the attraction for that kind of lifestyle became overwhelming. I became jealous of their ability to pursue and know people despite behaviors I found inexcusable and irritating. I slowly opened myself up. I was taught how to live in community. 

Two years later I found myself living on a beautiful lake, working at the ministry that opened me up and taught me to love people. However, while working there, I became silent again. I stopped letting people in, even though I knew they could heal me. I went back to keeping things inside, because vulnerability puts you at risk for hurt, even though I knew that opening my mouth would begin the process of healing, to be wrapped in safe arms. 

I don't really know what was going on inside of me, except problems from the previous fall had followed me to Alabama, like unwanted visitors. I kept stuffing anxiety, my ocd, and an eating disorder deep into my pockets, but they kept falling out one by one until I couldn’t stop tripping over them. Rocks were piled up on my heart and my tree limbs had curled inward, keeping relationships to formalities. I would long to have someone sit and listen to me, to share my burden, but instead I would punish myself by keeping my mouth shut. 

Eventually I heard someone share something that hit me in the belly, changing everything in that moment. My friend John asked a group of us if we had ever seen the meat head guys that could lift and throw cars and trains. He said that vulnerability is the switch to that kind of power; that vulnerability gives you superhuman strength. I wanted to throw cars and move mountains. 

I left my friends that night knowing that I would have to find courage to somehow spill what was going on. It took a few more months, but I did. I told people that were my new next door neighbors but, for some reason, felt extremely safe, like a magnet was drawing me to them. And that cool spring night I was met with unbelievable understanding, empathy, and love. My friends looked at me and said, “Rach, We didn’t think it was possible to love and respect you more than we already do, but hearing your heart and secrets are causing us to love you even more deeply”. They asked me what I needed in the moment, and followed through. Vulnerability gave me the gift of depth in relationships; it gave both parties the ability to love and be loved unconditionally. Those early moments of vulnerability gave way to the most beautiful, trusting relationships, where I felt fully known and safe. 

In late summer I had those same friends pull me aside, sit me in view of the sunset and lake and a fan blowing our hair, and told me the truth that I needed to hear. Truth that said while I was honest and powerful, I was also broken and may be reaching a point where I needed professional help. Vulnerability is healing but sometimes you need special people walking you through the dark caves and forests of your mind, the bramble bushes that make up a confusing array of emotions and the roller coaster that happened to be mine. Over the course of the summer my anxiety and destructive coping mechanisms had been increasing at a pretty steady rate. 

I felt like a little girl who is overtired but won’t admit it, and instead tantrums and cries and refuses to sleep. Then her family picks her up and firmly gives her what she needs: to go to bed. That night, through love I was held strong and given the strength to say, "yes, I need help". Because I wasn't created to have such extreme mood swings. Because I can be brave and powerful and admit that I might have some problems; because it’s not normal to want to die all the time. 

Truth spoken in love is powerful.This was the first of many times I had beautiful people reveal the truth to me. To have someone sympathize with you and try to understand is a treasure. To be welcomed into homes is healing, but sometimes not enough. It took months to finally make some progress, and even in the progress there were still weeks of backwards steps. But any progress is good and throughout that beautiful autumn, my Alabama family loved me thoroughly, enough to propel me forward, enough to receive the help I needed. 

If I held a magnifying glass against my skin, I would see thousands of fingerprints of people who touched my life, people who, with gentle hands, lifted me up to my feet, spoon fed me food that nourished and healed, and whispered words that championed me. Raised by mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters; many colors, sizes, and ages, leaving their thumbprints on my skin and words that built a home. Raised by the world into something other worldly. Led by forests and tribes, light and textures, shades and hues, tastes and smells.

So, collectively, my tribe carries me around in her mouth, like a mother cat carries around her kittens. So often I struggle and then someone picks me up in his or her mouth and carries me (sometimes drags me) along. I'll take it; movement is movement. Mother cat nourishes me and loves me and moves me and sometimes all I can do is just receive. I'm okay with that. Warmth, food, peace, love, movement; what else do we need? All I can do is receive this cat-love and be vulnerable with people who are willing sit next to me on my roller coaster. 

Being terribly close is hard but it sucks out all infections and replaces them with the potpourri of being fully loved and known. So that winter I went and ate dark chocolate and drank egg nog and had shared secrets with all of my mother cats and I could smell the potpourri smells stronger than ever. 

 Rachel Dowda

Rachel Dowda

The Bee and the Flower

By: Brianna Sutherland

In the spring, countless flowers blossom and thrive, creating living works of art in gardens, fields, and forests around the world. Each bloom stretches toward the sky, alone in its attempt to be the tallest, to rise above and soak in the most sun. But it doesn’t do it alone. 

Its symbiotic ally buzzes across the field, scoping out the perfect specimen to feed on. The honey bee is the flower’s partner in crime, caretaker, lover, and friend. It is the only organism that will land gently on the petals and, never harming, harvest the pollen. Without this relationship the flower could not mingle with other flowers and it would be utterly alone in a field of its peers. 

This is how relationships should be, each party giving so the other can thrive. More often than not, people see relationships as a way to sustain themselves. They see their friends as a way to inflate their ego, their parents as people to complain to, and their partner as a person to reflect back to them the best parts of themselves. They are not mutually symbiotic like the bee and the flower and culture doesn’t tell us they should be. Culture tells us to take and take from one another, each one trying to fill themselves up with the remnants of the others around them. Culture teaches us to be selfish, but God created the bee and the flower. The bee is fulfilled by spreading the pollen and the flower, by feeding the bee. 

In this life there are hundreds of books telling us how to navigate work, family, and relationships. There are methods for reading body language, tone, and facial expressions. Every nuanced situation has a specialist showing us how we need to operate to be successful. First Corinthians says “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” Is this not all we need to know about love to operate in our relationships? When we say we love someone it’s not just referring to the flutter in our stomach or the blood leaving our heads, it demonstrates a way in which we should treat the person who is receiving our love. 

So, look at the bee and the flower. See that they are patient with one another, and gentle. The bee is not angry when the flower dies. It doesn’t blame the flower and it will always come back next year to see if the flower has come to meet it. The flower always waits for the bee when he goes away, never bitter or untrusting. They give to one another, never taking where the other is unwilling. In this, God has shown us how to treat one another and not get caught up in the selfishness of our own desires. Why are we so concerned with how to keep our relationships healthy when it’s written for us and shown to us in every loving natural relationship on earth? 

The best day of my life happened just over a week ago. My best friend got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife. Binding yourself to one person for the rest of your life is a scary thing no matter who it is. I wondered how we were going to persevere through the bad times that are inevitably a part of living and how we would treat one another when we made mistakes. It’s easy to be angry and spiteful when something goes wrong. How are we to turn the tide against these feelings? There is no easy answer, but I looked at him and I saw a bee and I’m hoping that he saw a flower. 

Dear Body

By Maddie Young

Dear body,

You are the only tangible thing that has been with me my entire life yet I’ve treated you like complete garbage. For 22 years you’ve embarked on this journey with me, and honestly, I think I’ve put you through far more than you deserved. You’ve become something that holds such deep shame and unworthiness and in my mind I’ve removed myself from you. This is all so beyond my comfort zone.

I can’t help but look at you and instantly feel disgusted. Two of the nastiest words smear across the mirror when I try looking in its reflection. Fat and ugly. Two words that have circled my brain countless times and their power strengthening each year. My face reminds me of a chipmunk whose cheeks are constantly filled and never fully empty. I see two extra neck rolls like sausage busting out of the casing and the stretch marks on my stomach seem to continuously grow. My chest is heavy and when I lay on my back I feel like I’m being suffocated by my own body. There has never been a thing called a thigh gap nor have I been toned and fit. My stomach the least favorite part of my body, I hide behind baggy dark colored clothes in hopes I blend in and remain unnoticed. It’s difficult to accept any sort of compliment let alone try to believe one. Swimsuits have never been on my side and the majority of the time I am the “thicker friend.” Chocolate has held its control and my self discipline is nearly in the negatives. I tend to hide when I eat, in fear that someone will judge. Athleticism does not run in my genes and society tends to fuel my fire of brokenness. You have been violated and abused. I’ve taken advantage of you and hold quite a few battle scars. Honestly I could probably keep going but this is where I draw the line in the sand.

I should be treating you as a friend rather than an enemy. You do not define my worth. I am an heir of the almighty king and need to be acting that way. I was created in HIS image. Not my image. Not society’s image. But His.

Matthew West says it best. “I am no longer defined / by all the wreckage behind / the one who makes all things new / has proven it’s true”

Jesus take off this shame that’s over my life. I am filled with God-given purpose. I am unique and precious. Loved and forgiven. Protected and chosen. Free and whole. Righteous and light. Washed clean and created new. I could go on and on as I dig deeper into His word.

But I was only given one body and it was created to be treated like a temple. I’m sorry for not caring for you like a precious jewel. I promise to work harder in being more mindful in caring for you and living in a season of thanksgiving. My hope is to build a better relationship with you.

I’m going to love you.

 Maddie Young

Maddie Young

Appetite for Approval

By Eryn Eddy

What is our appetite for approval? I can’t help but think the continual scrolling, searching, liking, and judging is creating an unhealthy appetite for us.I’m struggling these days with how I view social media and see it evolve. Feels funny to express this because I started my company on social. I started my personal career on social. While I think there are ways companies can do better in how they communicate, what I want to share is my perspective on personal use for social media. I’ve seen unbelievable stories shared. I’ve seen people find life long friends from it. I’ve seen people feel less alone during times they needed some one to express me too, I’ve seen lives transformed by individuals with people who have been so raw and vulnerable online. I have different theories and all of them are conflicting to each other. I would be lying to say I have the answer and my view point is consistent.  

I’ve had this debate with someone close to me. They believe that if everyone shared once a week online we’d be more present in our jobs, families, and friends. We’d be more intentional with what we shared. Instead of sharing pictures of coffee we are drinking, continual posts of selfies, or food we are making, we’d share what we learned from being present. They ask the question, what is being robbed in present time while we review peoples past times online? I completely agree and I can’t argue this. We might have replaced the urgency to share our own life instead of the urgency to be present for others in real time. Why is it that social gets our minute by minute, hourly… daily attention? We lend ourselves for daily inspiration to something that can feel the least authentic. 

Instead of getting to know the wrinkles around someones eyes of years of pain and joy or their messy shirt that has a story for how they got there to meet up with us.. we have been okay with filters and apps that iron out all the details. We have genuine relationships and inspiration in front of us. Maybe I’ve been jaded to find individuals not being honest with the reality of their own life but what they want to paint their life like online. I find myself as well in this hamster wheel of only sharing the highlight reel. However the last few months I’ve had the most beautiful moments. I didn’t capture one photo. I didn’t even want my phone out because I was so thankful for what I was present in. I’ve had moments that I didn’t want to share on social but text or call to share because I wanted the people closest to me to find out what I’m experiencing vs finding out online. In the same respect I wanted to hear what was happening in their world vs finding out online. We are all starving for connection and yet we feel safer to scroll then to sit face to face. 

I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to be around incredibly successful people. Successful in relationships, intellect, and career. None of their success for impact was based around the foundation of how many images they consumed in an hour. I think our brains have tricked us to subscribe to the metric of success based on how much we are liked for the less than 10% of what online sees.  

So I guess my question to this rant is.. How can you remain present while engaging in other’s past times in the same hour? My other question I’ll ask… What are we avoiding in our life that needs attention as we swoon over an individuals preconceived life? 

Would our food taste better if we were present instead of documenting it and would our friendships feel more connected if we weren’t scrolling in place of picking up the phone to call?

It's Time

By Maddie Young

Dear ED,

For as long as I can remember I’ve been chasing after you. Seeking approval and hiding emotions. You’ve captured me ransom like a cat chasing after a tiny barn mouse or a puppet and it’s master. You the puppeteer and me the vulnerable rag doll. I’ve grown so acclimated to your presence that our souls seem to have merged into one like two young lovebirds reciting nuptials at the intricately decorated altar.

My identity stripped raw like a criminal confiscated from his clothes and presented with an orange jumpsuit. I’m a prisoner in my own body. My self worth drained dry like a cracked desert emptied down to the last drop.

Like any two acquaintances, our relationship has endured its various seasons. At the beginning of high school you and I restricted. Skipping lunch nearly everyday then returning home to lay near the toilet on the ice cold floor afraid I would throw up. I felt miserable and at times this only lead to bingeing. I gorged myself with food like a football player with an endless metabolism. What part of myself thought this was ok or normal?

The second half of high school took a slightly different path like an unexpected thunderstorm on a beautiful summer day. After school I would rush to the gym, ready to run away the stress. Hour one, feet hitting the rubber conveyor belt hard and upbeat, rhythm keeping the tempo. Hour two, metal plates clashing as I pushed harder to leg press or any other weight machine. A strength training class often filled hour two on certain days. Hour three, ridiculous dance moves in Zumba class. Some days I put in two hours, others were filled with three. But for five days a week almost every week this was my routine. I logged my food intake more frequently in this season. The compliments fueled my health craze fire. In a way, this season was addictive, boosting my physical health only to cover up my mental health.

College was a separate season of its own. It wasn’t very common for me to have three real meals a day. Others were spent with constant snacking like a pregnant mother unable to satisfy her hunger. Each day like a mystery eagerly waiting to be unfolded. Chocolate began to be my escape. Stepping into this portal blinding the harshness of my raw reality. An outing would be considered unsuccessful if at least one candy bar wasn’t purchased.

Growing older as the years passed you only intensified like a pounding migraine seizing to loosen control. You’ve embedded fear into my heart as I watched a loved one inject himself with insulin. I become uncomfortable in my skin when I pass obese people on the street. Eating cookie dough didn’t faze me as an unhealthy choice for breakfast. You pushed me after a disoriented representation of beauty and self worth.

I thought picking the skin around my fingernails was awful and considered it self harm but honestly what we’ve done is far worse. I’ve filled my body with extreme toxins and allowed the machine of a body I’ve been given to corrode. Unknowingly and unintentionally I made you an idol and placed you on a golden pedestal. As you became greater, Jesus became less. And that’s not the life I wish to chase after.

It’s way passed time to separate myself from you. You don’t deserve to be my lifeline. There is a whole other life out in this big world that I’m desperately eager to experience but can’t with you weighing me down, like a boat’s anchor welded deep into the ocean’s floor. Just like depression nor anxiety claim my identity, neither do you. You are a part of my story and my journey but by no means are you my soul existence.

Sometimes it’s comforting to walk hand in hand with you but I know you’re not from God. You only started when Adam and Eve sinned but will be destroyed when I completely trust Jesus. You wrap me up in loads of bondage, baggage and chains. It’s going to be a process, but over time Jesus will take one link of those chains off at a time.

It’s time. Time to press into the Truth of who He says I am rather than what the world and the enemy tells me I am or am not.

 Maddie Young

Maddie Young