Encouragement · Hope · wisdom

Just Below the Surface

Although I was born and raised in Illinois, I moved to Texas to complete my student teaching experience. It felt like a study abroad opportunity, but it carried a smaller price tag. I expected tumble weeds, cowboys, and lots of wide-open spaces. While I wish I could tell you I am exaggerating, I most certainly am not. Not only had I never visited Texas, I did not do a lick of research before packing up my measly belongings to begin my new adventure.

What caught me by surprise, besides the fact that the Alamo is located downtown [across from the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum], were the gorgeous wildflowers that appeared in the Spring. Texas boasts fields of stunning flowers in a variety of colors–including the Bluebonnet which makes its appearance in early March.

Unfortunately, my first experience with Bluebonnets left me wanting. Let me explain. I had not been living in Texas long when my mom and sister came for a visit. We were driving along a back road in the hill country when we decided to pull off and take a picture in the wildflowers. For those of you who are not Texan, pictures in wildflowers never lose their popularity here. [Google “bluebonnet pictures for kids or families” to get a better understanding.]

We made our way to a brilliant patch of flowers, smiled pretty, and hopped back in the car to head home. As we were pulling away, I felt something stinging me. It was a discomfort like nothing I had ever experienced. When I looked down to see what was going on, I was befuddled.

To my surprise and horror, a few ants were on top of my foot, and they were biting me. ANTS. And that is the moment I discovered that fire ants were a thing. Until that day, I had never imagined that ants could bite. After being here for a couple of decades, I have learned to thoroughly inspect a grassy area BEFORE taking a single step forward because fire ants are ABSOLUTELY a thing, and stepping into a fire ant pile is a horrid experience.

Only watch if you are brave! This is what accidently stepping in an ant pile is like.

My fire ant introduction taught me to pay attention, but it also revealed another lesson; unexpected and painful things can live just below the surface of beautiful things.

I grew up as the youngest of three girls. My home life was marked by a series of what we would now call traumatic experiences. What I carried with me was a strong sense that flying under the radar would keep me safe. How that manifested was in feeling like my needs were not important, so I learned to exist in voicelessness.

I spent many years choosing to remain comfortably uncomfortable in my trauma and avoided the work of healing and true transformation–a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance.

Can I take a second to level the playing field? Often when people hear the word trauma, their understanding is limited to veterans of war. However, Dr. Anita Phillips defines trauma as “anything that has changed your view of God, the world, others, or yourself for the worse–in a way that shook you deeply.”

Whoa. Let that ruminate for a minute. Trauma is not limited to them and when, but it is a thing for us and now. It was a very real thing in my own life. I made decisions from a place of fear, not from a place of love.

I lived many years trying to do enough to be seen and valued. I worked my tail off, but I was on an unending treadmill–working and getting nowhere. I needed healing, but I was afraid to go to counseling. I thought needing counseling confirmed my deeply engrained belief that who I was was wrong.

When you fly under the radar, you keep things as smooth as possible. No ripples. No waves. That had led me to a life of utter dullness. Even in my relationship with the Lord, I recognized my quick response to serve and do, but my hesitancy to sit, be, and receive. I had learned not to have needs.

Unexpected and painful things can live just below the surface of beautiful things.

I was living a boring story. I was living in the shallow end of my faith because it was safe. It was easier for me to believe that safety was best because my narrative was full of evidence that pointed to that truth. 

Corrie Ten Boom, in her book The Hiding Place, says, “I know that such memories are the key not to the past, but to the future. I know that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work He will give us to do.”

No matter what our past experiences have been [be it trauma or otherwise], no matter how someone appears to be on the outside, we are wise to pay attention. See beyond the beauty. Inspect the evidence below the surface. Ask compassionate questions. Be kind.

Unexpected and painful things can live just below the surface of beautiful things. I did not have to step into a fire ant pile to learn this lesson; I just had to look at the narrative of my life, but I did not have to be ruled by the painful things unseen to others. I lived that story for too long. It was governed by fear and led to dullness. I got to choose a better story. You get to choose a better story. We were made for more!

Nonetheless, here is a pro-tip. Avoid fire ant piles at all costs, and don’t bury your past under layers of pretty things.

What we aren’t changing, we are choosing. It is time to choose a better story.

Alyssa ❤

2 thoughts on “Just Below the Surface

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