I am looking for signs.
Always. Big and bold signs that tell me I am going in the right direction.
You see, here’s the thing with me: I am fearful. That’s not a shocker. That’s not something I am trying to hide.
I am a rule follower. I am always trying to do everything right. And I think it’s a great strength and also a great weakness. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that a sense of fear is normal, necessary and creative. However, you must be willing to face your fear and ask the question: What am I so afraid of?
What am I so afraid of?
Maybe I am afraid to ask that question.
So when I was younger, I would pray for blatant signs.
I wanted brightly colored roadmaps. I wanted to turn the radio on and have God speak to me through a song. I only listened to rap music for a such a long time. If he was using the radio to give me signs then he only ever told me to “get low” and “move like a gypsy.” I don’t think that was God.
But I was persistent and adamant to “do his will” and “live in his path” and all these other Christian terms that left me wondering: is it really this hard? Is it really this hard to know what God wants from me?
I think that’s one of the reasons why people steer away from God. I mean, you don’t always feel him. You can’t always hear him. And you’re afraid he will strike you dead if you make a wrong move. No one wants to love a mute monster. I think some people need a better experience with God before they will actually invest their heart to follow. I know that was me.
I needed to figure God out apart from humans. If humans have damaged your perceptions of God then it might mean you need more God, not more humans. God and I, we needed to create our own language.
I remember moving to New York City in August of 2010 and making my prayers more clear and desperate than the days before: Listen, I am not going to do this the traditional way. The traditional way has not worked for me. If you want to show up then show up. But I am not looking in a church. I am not looking in a steeple or a passage of scripture. Be real to me in the world around me. I desperately need that from you.
I don’t know how honest we can with God. I don’t know if there is a barometer on those sorts of things. A boy I like says we can yell at God because he can handle it. He says God already knows what's going on inside you. He’d rather us choose to expose things ourselves. I think he’s really proud of us when we can expose things ourselves and be brave enough to not repress it again. That rolls back to fear: you have to choose to expose fear. Thaw it out. Unfold it. Refuse to let it stay unnamed.
I dated a boy in the sliver of space between graduating from college and moving to New York City. He was wonderful. Really. Greek. Big Greek. I should have been happy because he picked me up for dates and kissed me softly and wanted to meet my mother. Even at the start though, I wanted to go.
Just because you are afraid to be alone doesn’t give you reason enough to keep someone chasing for your heart.
At the same time I was trying to get down low to the ground with my faith. I was really trying to figure out this God character. I got a book out from the library. It had a black cover. I thought it would teach me a thing or two about Faith. Grace. That stuff.
Turns out, the book was really a construction worker disguised as a book. It showed up to dig in the trenches of my heart. I honestly never knew that God could stir you in a way where you feel it physically. But there was demolition underway.
One day while nannying, I was reading the book among a battlefield of Nerf guns and blond bowl cuts with tan torsos flying through the backyard when I looked up to see a spider spinning a web in the corner of the kitchen window. I was captivated. Enamored. I could not explain it. For reasons I may never fully understand, I would have watched that spider spin its web all day.
It was the first spider of dozens. Dozens that I would see in the next few days. One after the other after the other. Make no mistake, those spiders had to be a sign. They started showing up everywhere. The front yard. The kitchen table. The window sills. My dreams. Spiderman toys. Plastic spiders. Everywhere I turned.
I went home that first night, put my palms down on the kitchen table and faced my mother: “I am going insane. Legitimately insane. Spiders. Are. Everywhere.”
We spent the night Googling spiders. Coming up with their origins. Trying to figure out the root of them. Wondering what they could actually mean. Looking in the Bible. Were there spiders in the Bible?
Tell me I’m not crazy, tell me I’m not crazy, I whimpered into the night as I tried to fall asleep. I woke up the next morning to find three spiders spinning a web of fresh silk over the coffee pot on the stove. The spider signs grew bigger and bigger and bigger. Every time I saw another one I could feel everything inside of me saying, “Let the boy go. Let the boy go.” I didn’t want to let him go. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to win. I wanted to somehow, someway, be worthy of being the center of someone’s universe. But still the whisper roared, Let. The. Boy. Go.
I closed the book. Hid it away. The signs stopped. The spiders ceased. The voices quit. The stirring in my stomach fell away. I didn’t feel full or at peace, but at least I didn’t feel pushed.
Weeks later, we ended.
I left. I took my stuff and went. It ceased over something as stupid as the color “yellow.” You could call it “bound to happen all along” but I just call it “yellow,” even to this day. I got in my car. I felt freedom on my chest. I drove to the ocean. I sat in the sand by myself and I reopened the book right where I had closed it.
Two pages later, I stumbled into a story about a woman walking in the woods. A spider web appeared. And she stopped to watch that spider spin. She could have watched that spider spin its web all day. And then she heard from God,
“I am spinning. You are not. Let me go ahead of you. Stop trying to drag your own mess into my intricate picture. Don’t bring anything more into the web.”
It had been there the whole time. Just two pages away from me. But I couldn’t see it, I couldn’t see it. Not until I was ready to stop dragging around my own mess.
Don’t. bring. anything. more. into. the. web.
I’ve shared that story once before in this space. And another time in a room full of high school students who were trying to figure out faith. Spiders are my comfort in a way no one will ever understand because it sits in the depths of me like rocks. Spider webs are a reminder to me, when I see them strategically placed, that he’s already ahead of me. I don’t have to be so fearful. I don’t have to be so afraid. I don’t have to create messes just to tire someone out with the constant need to tidy things up.
People get tired of your too many messes. I think that’s one of the strongest cases for needing God: We are too needy for people. Too messy to fix one another. There must be something bigger to whisper, “You’re okay” when human breath won’t cut it.
All this to say, I walked outside today. I walked outside, already too much in my head at 8am. And if you never stop and breathe then you don’t really know what you truly feel-- you just sit in the fog and wait for someone to untangle you. Maybe that’s another case for God. We need to be untangled.
I opened the door to my house. I didn’t even take a step outside before I noticed a web spun wide across the door frame and the spider sitting there at waist-level looking at me like, “Come at me, boo.” I’d have to break the web to walk outside. There was no getting over or under the web that spider spun for itself overnight.
It’s like that whisper came back in that moment, “Girl, you are growing. You are growing beyond what you can even imagine. And so now, it’s no longer time to keep spinning webs and catching things with the hopes you can save them for later. It’s time to break the web. Break the web and walk on through.”
Obviously, that whisper evolved throughout the morning. It wasn’t as clear and succinct until I sat down with my morning coffee and tried my hardest to focus on words on a page but all I could think of was that web. Strategic in its placement after a night where I tossed and turned with worry and fear.
“Stop spinning your webs, sweet girl. And just break the web. Break the web. Break the web. For so long you’ve lived this way-- you’ve lived this way of doing it as you please. You’ve loved me halfway because to get fully there-- to the part where you love with abandon-- would require you to let go. And you don’t like letting go and giving up control. Love is about giving up control and letting someone else lead.
Stop dragging in your fears and saving them for later. Stop thinking you know what you need more than I do. Stop being the star of this show and see people in the way I need you to see them. People cannot be chosen when you’re off in the corner spinning silk out of your fears.
And love, sweet girl, is all about choosing someone. For better. For worst. For all of it. Whether you understand them or not. Whether they talk a lot or not. Whether they’re perfect or not (they won’t be).
Break the web. Break the web and walk on through.”
Sometimes he gives us big, blatant signs. Other times, we get led slowly through pain and heartbreak and joy and uncertainty. With each bend of the road we get flattened and refined a little more. We drop the needs for signs and just listen in. We figure out how to find our way. Confidence kicks in. God stops being a roadmap with too many of the “do this” rules that make us feel woozy and fill us with a fear of getting lost. He starts leaning into us like a compass. We drop the rules. We get a little lost but the birds still sing. We just start walking. We walk on through. And suddenly, it’s not so hard to find North anymore.