Wednesday, September 17, 2014

the one that changed my life

So... I think it's time. Truth be told, I came back to blogging at this point in my life because several people at several different times have told me to write this story down. It probably should have been my first post, but then what would I have had to anticipate for the past few weeks? (And the 3 weeks it's actually taken me to write this out and hit "publish.")

I should have done it, actually. We basically attended 3 family weddings and a funeral within about 3 weeks, not to mention starting Mady in a new school and joining a new small group. I cannot even begin to count how many times I was asked about my job in some form or fashion at all of these events--old family friends and relatives looking to catch up on my life... new faces attempting small talk (my fave). I think I took the time to tell the big story twice, which really does it no justice, but I wish I could have nonchalantly responded, "Oh. It's a great story. Here's my blog about it." I'm sure that sounds rude, but Reticent Cassie just does things like that sometimes. And Reticent Cassie was just exhausted by the end of all of these acquaintance-filled social events.

ANYWAY. If you've been in my presence over the last 8 months, you've probably seen this wristband. Though I have been known to engage in competitions to see how long I can go without taking off an event wristband (yay ONE DAY!), this was really just to serve as my own reminder to pray. It also led to a few great conversations.
In January, I met my (now) sister-in-law, Michelle in Charleston to attend the CHOSEN Women's Conference at Seacoast Church with my BFF, Laura. I LOVE these two girls. I LOVE Charleston. And I had a new-found love for women's conferences. :) 

A few months before the conference, we each had to register including two breakout sessions. To be honest, I was fairly convinced the highlight of this weekend would be getting to see Jen Hatmaker, and I really didn't have a clue who any of the other speakers were. Other than her session, I didn't care what we did. The sessions were themed according to the pieces of the Armor of God, so the "Shoes of Peace" sounded like a winner. Every woman could use some more peace, right? Sign me up!

The week of the conference arrived in a blaze of... ice. ICE. In Charleston, South Carolina. After my first flight was completely canceled and my second delayed, I made it there the next day within minutes of the band playing for the opening service. I could elaborate on the miracle that it was that I even arrived there, but let's just acknowledge that a place like Charleston does not deal with ice storms, like... ever, and cut this part of the story to: "We're lucky I made it."

The conference was awesome. Truly. They have some incredible things going on at that church and one of them is their ability to minister to women, for sure. But my moment came in our last breakout session on Friday. Laura and I went to hear Stephanie Haynes speak about having peace in your life. Stephanie started her session with an overview of what she was going to discuss: the idea of ordering the things in our life according to priority and then matching the priority placed to the amount of time spent on each thing. But then she kind of backed up and said she wanted to get to know her audience first. She asked us to raise our hands to several questions--How many of you are married? Have young children? Have adult children? Work full time? etc. Then she told us a little about herself. She and her husband met in college. They later married and lived in California. She was a high school English teacher, LOVED her job, and was good at it. She talked about how much she enjoyed being a part of a school and teenagers' lives--practices, games, clubs, school spirit, etc. (Obviously, I identified with her.) Then she had her first child--a bright little girl with a strong personality. She decided to find in-home care for her daughter. (She felt this was what "good mom's" do instead of daycare. I'm not knocking it, I promise. I just know exactly how she felt.) She talked about the struggle she felt with her little girl when she got home at night and how she realized later that this not-so-structured day for her daughter was translating to stress. She was trying to mold her in the hour or two they might have together after work, and her daughter was fighting it. They went through several child care settings and had issues with just as many. Then she got pregnant again. This time a boy. She talked about how easy-going her son was and how badly she needed that at the time. (You with me, yet? I was convinced, by this point, that she was telling my life story right there in front of me, Bizarre doesn't even begin to describe it.) Here's where her story and mine part ways. Eventually, the stress consumed her. Her bio on her website explains it like this: "A self-described “Recovering wanna-do-it-all super woman,” Stephanie spent most of her life rushing toward achieving every goal she set, usually all at the same time and to perfectionist standards. At the age of 31 she ended up so stressed that she was in peri-menopause, at high risk of a heart attack, and completely messing up her marriage and her kids. That’s when she surrendered her life to Jesus, and life hasn't been the same since." (from

Our session ended somewhat abruptly after we hurried through the meat of her message. To say I felt connected to her story would be an understatement. I knew God was telling me that I needed to slow down and pay attention to the mess in my life. I really wanted to talk with her when she finished, but resigned myself to my typical "I-don't-do-that" and left. The feeling, however, did not leave. I had a strong urge to speak with her, but I didn't even know what I would say. We passed her in the hall several times throughout the conference. I had many opportunities, and I even told Laura that I wanted to talk to her, but I never did. I just decided I'd email her later if I ever figured out what I wanted to say to her. (passive, passive, passive)

The conference ended Friday, and we spent the weekend enjoying Charleston. I was spending most of my thinking moments trying to figure out how I needed to re-organize my schedule to avoid stress. At lunch on Sunday before heading to the airport, I halfway admitted to Laura that I was thinking it might mean a big change. I remember asking her something like, "I mean, am I supposed to be staying home with my kids? Could this possibly mean that?" This thought terrified me, so I assumed I was being dramatic and needed to see what other options God had.

If you know me very well at all, you probably know how much I hate small talk. Airplanes just kill me. Nothing like sitting centimeters from a perfect stranger and breathing the same awkward air. Flying Southwest and waiting for people to pick the seat next to you makes me wanted to poke my eyeballs out with a fork. Yuck. I love to fly, but it might be at the very bottom of my list of least favorite social settings. So I get on my plane awkwardly alone and sit with my headphones in so whoever sits next to me doesn't expect conversation. And do you know who sits next to me? STEPHANIE HAYNES. I instantly text Laura...

"I am sitting beside STEPHANIE HAYNES."

To which she replies...

"You better talk to her! It is not by accident, you know!"

And I think my response was something like, "I'm trying."

And I did try.

At least in my head I tried. I thought through every possible way I could strike up a conversation with this woman, and I just COULD. NOT. DO. IT. (Yes, I understand that something about me is not right.) I would play out scenarios in my head... When the stewardess comes to take our drink orders, that will be an open in conversation... Maybe I should get out my notes from the conference and see if she notices... and my last ditch effort - When we stand to get our luggage. Surely we'll make eye contact, and I can say something. Anything! But do you know that I did not say one word to her? It was the longest flight of my life. Torture. I just kept digging myself in deeper to the hole where I was hiding. And worst of all, I KNEW I was being disobedient. I'm not sure I've ever so directly avoided something I knew I was supposed to do. I was in tears by the end of the flight.

I walked off the plane BESIDE HER. Didn't say a word. She went to the right. I went to the left. And I had missed my chance.

I went to the nearest restroom to try to pull myself together before I went to find Darin and the kids. Listen - I have failed at plenty of things in life, but this was one of my toughest. I have no idea why it hit me so hard, but I was beyond frustrated that I couldn't make myself speak to her. How dumb! What kind of fear was I allowing to paralyze me? Yuck.

I pulled it together as best I could and decided to exit the bathroom stall, face all blotchy and everything. AND. THERE. SHE. WAS. Stephanie Haynes, who I KNOW had walked in the other direction. SHE PUTS HER HAND ON MY SHOULDER and says, "You have the most beautiful eyes. You were on my plane, and I noticed them then."

(Looking back on this, I credit the whole eye-noticing-thing to my crazy tears. My face turns bright red when I cry. My eyes contrast it and almost look fluorescent. Only when I'm crying.)

I then, of course, burst into tears once again. I thought, "I don't have beautiful eyes! No one ever says that about my eyes. I mean, most people tell me they can't even see my eyes! I don't have beautiful eyes. I am supposed to talk to you." (Fill in with much blubbering.) I explained how I had been in her session at Chosen and had felt like my life was being told right there in front of me. We talked for what must have been an hour... cried together, laughed, prayed... right there in the airport restroom. She gave me her contact information, told me to email her when I was home, and she sent me her book.


I went home that night and told Darin that I was beyond sure I was no longer supposed to be teaching. So NOT an easy decision. An obvious one at this point, maybe, but not easy. I have never wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I know that sounds awful to some, but I loved my job. And I just didn't really feel like it was for me. But HELLO. We needed to change this.

So we did it. More thoughts on this process to come, I'm sure. :)

***EDIT: I need to put a few disclaimers on this. #1 - I am in no way saying every mom should quit working and stay home with her kids. I completely believe that some women are capable of working a full time job and being an awesome parent at the same time. In my own weird way, I was a complete workaholic. I worked a ridiculous number of hours - mostly by choice. And that's not to mention the amount of time my thoughts were consumed by work/stress. I may have looked like I was on top of everything, but I was truly failing. #2 - We were in no way financially ready for this. We had never ever planned on me staying home. Since I made my decision to quit my job, I cannot even tell you how many women have said something like, "Good for you. If we could have afforded it, I would have done the same thing." Ummm. I'm not really sure we can "afford" it. And I honestly barely considered that. It will be ridiculously difficult, I'm sure. But sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. ***