Swimming In the Deep End

We say we want vulnerable. We say we want mess and guts and realness. That is what we say anyway.

We say we want something not so slick.

Can I tell you I have my doubts about that? Can I tell you that I have learned the hard way not to trust people at their word, when they ask me to hand them my entire heart?

I learned it at first, or maybe the first time it really set in, at a campfire in Tennessee. Around this fire we were asked to tell the truth about what was really going on, what was really going on with each other, what was really going on with our hearts. I went first.

I was tired. The work was hard. I was worried we weren’t going to get it done. I was tired of hammering nail after nail while others in the group spent hours on end chatting with the lady inside and sipping lemonade. No one was stopping it. I was tired. I was lonely.

Earlier that week we had signed a group covenant, that we would all tell the truth, that we would all tell each other when our feelings were hurt, when something needed to change, that we would work it out. I was one of many, who solemnly signed, but I may have been the only one who meant it. I told the truth that night. I told the group that I was overworked and worried about the completion of the project we had promised to this lovely old lady who was letting fourteen-year-olds work on her house. I told them I felt lonely and abandoned. It was full of tears and snot and “I am sorry but’s”…but it was the truth, and it was what we had promised we were going to say to each other.

I went first, and no one followed. No one. It seemed everyone else was having no problems with their group. They were all getting along great. But good job Abby, thanks for sharing. That was brave. Everyone else was quiet even as everyone else knew what the problems were and how to go about fixing them. They just nodded and smiled and told me I was brave. I didn’t feel brave. I felt alone. I felt like an idiot.


I don’t have a low gear.

I was talking with my friend about her new small group in her new church. “I don’t know,” she said,“we are still at the point where all of our prayer requests are for a friend.”I laughed and responded, “Yeah, I don’t do that.” She laughed too. She has been in a small group with me. She knows I only know how to lay it all out there or say nothing at all.

I don’t have a low gear. I don’t swim in the shallow end. If you ask me how you can pray for me, I will tell you. There is a fifty percent chance I will cry. I say, “yes, we’ll try it, that could be fun.” And you know what? I like that about myself. I like that I am all in. I like that I take you at your word, volunteer to go first, tell you how I am really feeling. But I am all too familiar with the burn that sometimes leaves.


I am about to jump into the deep end again.

I am hosting an IF gathering in a month. There was a call, to invite local women into your lives and homes. I said yes. I volunteered. I was called to stay. The words the conference was using spoke to me. I am longing for something different, something real, something messy and vulnerable. Something not so staged.

In less than a month I am inviting people onto my coffee stained couch. There is a chance my children will be there, and pee on the floor. Both of them. I want it to be real, I want to be real, and I want it all to be vulnerable and messy. There will be a fire pit for escape, a smoking section, maybe a stack of plates to break, just in case someone needs to.

And I know what people sometimes say when they call for the messy and vulnerable and then get it. I know, because I have been the one doing the saying. We like the idea of messy and vulnerable, but we don’t always like the reality. “That could have been better organized. I chipped in for food, and then they ran out. The kid was loud during the quiet time. I can’t sit on the floor that long.” Or the uglier,“Was that really an appropriate place to share that, I just met her. People should not be smoking at a Christian conference. Did you see what she was wearing/how her children behaved/what she served? Did you hear what she said?”

For some of us, staged is comfortable. We know where to sit and when to stand. We know when to speak and what to say. We know our part and we stick to it and we don’t get freaked out because we know what is coming.  We say we want real, we say we want vulnerable, and we say we want messy. But then we complain when we leave the place with dirt on our hands and stuff splattered on our shoes.

I mean it when I say we. I am chief sinner among us.


I have heard the calls of more real, more vulnerable, less safe. I have heard them from the women in my community. I have heard them from my own heart. I am doing this crazy thing in less than a month, where I invite all the people in my life who are usually carefully separated, to come and commune on my couch, at my table, in my backyard.

And if I am totally honest I am scared that by the end of the weekend, if my online people and my real life people and my I signed up for this on a whim and now I am here people all hang out, that no one will leave liking me. I am afraid that I will disappoint all the people. Because the only way I know how to do the messy, vulnerable, really for real, not staged thing, is to jump in.

I guess I am praying I don’t swim in the deep end alone.


31 thoughts on “Swimming In the Deep End

  1. “I went first, and no one followed.” My junior high self wants to go back in time and sit next to you. I probably would have been in the same boat. I totally would have let you go first, though.

    I like you. I look forward to the day we meet in person and I can confirm that for real.

  2. OH Abby, I seriously could have written this (I mean not the actual writing which is beautiful, but definitely the thoughts/scenarios). I have always been the one to go first, and I have had MANY disappointing moments when I realized that….I was the going to be going alone. I still, still, still struggle with this on my own blog, where I feel like I am “going first” and again, feeling disappointed, or slightly encouraged, but never getting that affirmation that I really want. I think, at the core, I am really wondering if I am worthy of being loved. Maybe this isn’t the same struggle for you, but I resonated with this so much because this has been my struggle for a long time. What I end up doing? Retreating. And then coming out of my hole, and then retreating again. Sounds like the IF Gathering is going to fantastic for you. I wish I was that brave. In real life, I’m not quite as brave.

  3. I wish I lived in Atlanta so I could come be real, and vulnerable and messy with you – I’ve grown weary of small groups that refuse to go below the surface (or are just incapable of doing so) where it is “safe”.

  4. this is stunningly gorgeous. awesome, awesome, awesome. throwing yourself out there like this, guts waving in the breeze…it gives me courage to do something similar.

    also your new place is so beautiful.

  5. Love this. Stepping up is lonely work. If it gets too crazy I’ll jump in with you. Just text me and I’ll skype in from the windy city.

  6. “Can I tell you that I have learned the hard way not to trust people at their word, when they ask me to hand them my entire heart?” Yes to this. I relate to this so much right now. It’s such a balancing act between wanting to be open and love people and just wanting to sit and guard your wounded heart.

    Thanks for your bravery. I’m a long way from Atlanta, but I can’t wait to hear about your IF gathering! 🙂

  7. So exciting: your If conference. Listen. to each other and to the Lord. Maybe my word for the year is Listen. (I don’t usually figure it out for a month)

  8. can I just say that I adore you? You are so heartily yourself, and you are needed. I’m so encouraged by you. I’m usually the one who starts out alone in the deep end. I get it.

  9. I know you can’t make vulnerable happen and you can not make closeness come about if only you are all in. It takes two to make that work and if only one is willing then it was fail. All relationships will only go as far as the two parties are willing to let it go. I think it rare to find two people who are willing to be all in one with another. Sometimes one will and the other tip toes around stuff and never opens up and it stunts the relationship. I see a lot of marriages like this. Sometimes it is both parties who are afraid to be totally honest and sometimes one and not the other. So much richness is lost in the mistaken attempt to avoid pain. I know because I have done it.
    To have someone love you and be all in with you when they know all the good the bad and the ugly is so rich and so rewarding.
    I pray that it goes well.

  10. I’ve been the one who went first many times. I’ve been real with the wrong people many times. It sucks. But I think something good happens in us when we’re brave enough to open up, even if we fall on our faces.

  11. Not many people choose to swim out into the deep. It’s the only place where I feel content. The shallow water near the beach is so noisy and crowded. You’ll find me in the deep, Abby. I only wish I could support you locally at the gathering. You are a brave heart and I feel your tension. That’s courage and the stretch is good, I sense. I believe it’s going to be good, really good, and that you’ll be amazed and pleased!

    • Gold is my maiden name! Where you from? (And IF is a new conference idea – Abby can tell you about it. Women’s gatherings all over the country. . .

  12. I am for vulnerable. I am. But I am also for making room for those who aren’t quite as comfy as you or I might be with lettin’ it all hang out. Some folks need gentling toward the Full Monty, you know? So go for it, sister – but be sure to remember that for some people authentic = shy, uncertain, unwilling and/or unable to spill. That’s all.

  13. Girl, you are my soul sister.
    This week I had a new prayer triplet. We all shared. I sobbed throughout the entire 30 mins and laid it all out. (No one else cried).

    We are the girls who tell it all, and who sob messily, snottily. There aren’t many of us. But I reckon it’s quality, not quantity, right??

    So glad you are my friend.

  14. I want mess, guts and realness too, and it’s what I bring, but it’s often not pretty. and that can be hard. I reckon you will have a great time with your guests, and they will love that they have been invited and accepted as they are. Be courageous. It is your writing about the real that has emboldened me to start writing too . You are not in that deep end alone.

  15. Pingback: Five [Awesome] Things I Read This Week, 1.17.2014 | pink-briefcase

  16. Pingback: Breakfast Quinoa, books and whimsy: What I am Into January 2014 | Accidental Devotional

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s