A Long Exhale

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Tina Osterhouse -A Long Exhale3

I came out of the womb with an insatiable need to be heard. I was a skinny little blonde girl with chicken legs and a voice as loud as a mega-phone. I never tired of talk. Someone once described my incessant need for conversation as the water that broke the dam.

Deep inside, in secret places I never mentioned to anyone, lay a restless fear that nagged and scratched at my prized vocal chords. If I were silent, would anyone notice? If I didn’t use my mega-phone voice would I descend into oblivion and be forgotten?

* * *

In the early years of my Christian faith, I wanted to preach, to get up on the podium and shout from the rafters. I was that girl who volunteered to pray before meals, wrap up the small group with a closing word, the one who over spoke, the one who over shared. If someone was invited to say something, I took it upon myself to be the voice.

To make matters even more intense, I cared about everything. There was no cause too small, no need too insignificant—be it justice, women’s rights, poverty, or the need for revival in the church. I cared. I preached. Heck, I’d have preached to the rocks. In fact, I did. I used to go on long walks and practice the sermons I’d give if only someone would ask me to be the keynote preacher. But alas, most of the time, those keynote opportunities were reserved for the men or the really pious girls who knew when to share and when to be silent, the ones who had it all together and carried themselves with poise and dignity. I have never, in all my life, been that girl.

I have always been the girl who flails about, losing her temper, and saying things people shouldn’t say in public. I was one big ball of passion.

In retrospect, I can see how God saw and loved my passionate heart and knew exactly what to do with it, but at the time I overcompensated.

Thankfully, I did get my turns to preach. Opportunities did come. All over the world.

* * *

Even there, working in ministries I loved, preaching the sermons I’d always wanted to preach, I struggled with insecurities. My need to be heard and to be significant was tied, like an invisible umbilical cord to a deep fear that maybe, just maybe, my life was inconsequential.

Maybe God loved me, but wasn’t all that interested in me.

I feared that if I didn’t make myself seen, even God would forget me. I didn’t want to be forgotten.

* * *

At the cusp of my writing career, right when I thought I was finally on the correct path, everything fell apart. Two years later, I was living off a dirt road in the middle of nowhere in southern Chile, cooking over fire, with slow internet connection and horrible cellphone service. My greatest fears had come to pass. I couldn’t find my voice, let alone hope someone else wanted to hear it. Everything had gone to hell and there was no getting my life back.

There, lost and forgotten, wordless and exhausted, disappointed in the God I had loved most of my life, we had our reckoning. I had just spent the better part of two years in one long wrestling match with God. What do you do when you give all you have to Jesus and at the height of your life-long living sacrifice to God, everything crumbles? Some of you would do quite well, I’m sure. You’d bless the Lord and press on.

I did not.

God and I went to the mattresses. I railed. I cried. I punched the air and demanded an explanation.

I received silence.

Until one day, I walked through my field with the sun hanging high in a cloudless sky and the birds swooping low. The tall grass brushed my bare legs, and flies buzzed. Cows grazed in the neighbor’s pasture and my dogs chased their own tails in circles. I talked to God about the events of the day. Nothing major, just the stuff of life. My passionate fire for God had burned down to low embers and I held onto my faith by a thread. All desire to preach and teach had blown away with the hurricanes of disappointment, and my primary interest was in survival.

Anyway, I’m in my field, walking around with the flies and my dogs, when Jesus shows up next to me. Right there. In spirit, in body, I had no idea. He just stood there with a long white robe and brown hair, a gentle smile, and the kindest eyes I’ve ever seen.

I’ve been practicing the presence of God for most of my adult life. I believe Jesus came back to life and is with us always, but even this was a bit much for my little mystical self. But there you have it. Sometimes we get a glimpse of the other side and it’s grounded and glorious all at once.

Jesus didn’t say much. He spoke one life-changing sentence to me, and then continued to walk beside me the rest of the afternoon.

“You’ve been a good friend to me,” he said.

Time stopped. All the disappointments, every shattered dream and secret ache stilled in the echo of his words.

Those words—”A good friend.” They carried significance and belonging all in one.

I let out the greatest exhale of my life.

* * *

Significance is not realized behind the preacher’s podium, or in any kind of loud performance. Instead, it’s found in authentic relationships, in the power of belonging. Likewise, the ache to be heard will not dissipate with a million fans, but by learning to hear the voice of the One who loved you from the very beginning and speaks to the hidden places of your heart.

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Tina Osterhouse
Tina Osterhouse is passionate about living deeply and authentically. Through fiction, blog posts, and creative essays, she writes about ordinary life and the way God meets us in our everyday circumstances and creatively weaves the sacred into them. She studied ministry and theology at Northwest University, most recently lived on thirty acres in Southern Chile, and finally returned to the Seattle area in June of 2015.
Tina Osterhouse
Tina Osterhouse

Latest posts by Tina Osterhouse (see all)

  • With much discussion going on about platform, this post is well-timed. Even with words about the importance of the one lost sheep, the one missing coin on our lips (and in our creed) it’s hard to let go of the quest for big numbers and a microphone. Thanks for this affirmation of the work that goes on around two steaming mugs of coffee — or quietly over an open Bible.

    • I wrote this before all the platform/branding stuff hit the internet, but I was thinking the same thing!

      Our lives, our real work is so much more private and hidden than we’d like to accept. At least for me.

      Thanks for reading, for commenting, and for being present. Love to you, T

  • Tammy Chase Whitney

    For many reasons, this bolstered my spirit today. Thank you.

  • LInda MacKillop

    Oh, I’m so moved by Jesus’ words to you. I want to be a good friend to Him, too. Thank you for this, Tina.

    • It’s a game changer to think of our life with Jesus as a friendship, isn’t it? Our long journey home… friendship, companionship with Jesus. xox

  • Lori Constable

    Thank you for this touching glimpse of transparency. It encouraged and blessed me. I, too, am not a “quiet, submissive” girl but one who lets her opinions and thoughts out even before I know they exist. I want Jesus to shine through me and one day say, “well done, good and faithful servant.”

    • Oh friend, I’m sure Jesus is already saying it to you… through time, through your life story, always and forever on your side and loving you.

      Thank you for reading my piece. Love to you,

      T

  • “You’ve been a good friend to me.”

    It only takes that one sentence to reverberate through time and space and fill so many holes we don’t even know we have.

    You had me in tears. So beautiful, Tina.

    • Oh, I love how you put that… one sentence to reverberate through time and space… yes. That’s how it was. Of course, it’s so hard to really capture how much this moment impacted my life. I questioned if I should write about it. I’m thankful it resonated with you, dear friend. Love to you…

  • “Significance is not realized behind the preacher’s podium, or in any kind of loud performance. Instead, it’s found in authentic relationships, in the power of belonging. Likewise, the ache to be heard will not dissipate with a million fans, but by learning to hear the voice of the One who loved you from the very beginning and speaks to the hidden places of your heart.”

    I feel like this belongs on a poster, a banner, or the back of a book. This is so true, and so beautiful.

    • Oh Beth! Thank you so much. These are the hard, painful lessons we learn through loss, aren’t they? Love to you…

  • meema fields

    Painfully on point this – we have our passionate determinations that drive us, especially when we are young and overfilled with a sense of great destiny. And then we discover all we had to do was be a good friend. Sort of files things down doesn’t it? 🙂

    • Yes. I like how you wrote it, “Sort of files things down.” Indeed. xox

  • Wow, Tina. Thank you for this honesty. I struggle with significance – whether as a mom, as a teacher, as a writer, as simply a human contributing to society. Often I feel like my many small moments aren’t big enough. Thank you for reminding me that it’s found through the small-but-big work of relationship building and listening. Of creating spaces for stories. I needed this encouragement!

    • Thank you! I think these are such normal struggles. We’ll all want to feel significant, don’t we? I really appreciate that you took the time to comment. xox

  • Olivia Butz

    I identify very much with being “a big ball of passion”. Ha. I often feel that that part of me is more of a liability than a blessing. As a result, I have had trouble finding my voice for the past few years – I have tried to push it down and keep quiet. Thanks for the reminder that God knows (and enjoys) this part of myself and wants to partner with me as I am (and not as I imagine I should be).

    • As one ball of passion to another, I say there’s no use in pressing it down. You were born to shine … shine on!

  • Kelley J. Leigh

    I love this so much. That is all. Carry on.

  • Stephanie Thompson

    Tina, I am so glad I have been introduced to your writing. Your stories draw me in as you bare your soul. I felt so sad as you described your longing to preach and finding no venue. Why don’t people understand that one one part of the body is hindered, we all suffer? Nonetheless, your persistence to follow your calling and yet allow God to shape you as a vessel testifies to the significance of humility-even when we think we are doing “Godly” things. The beauty is found in God’s glory rather than our own. And we have to (to use your own words from another post) step out of the way in order for others to see that. That process can be a painful reshaping.

    • It is so nice to see you here! Thank you for reading my work. I’m really thankful we got to meet over cyberspace. It’s kind of amazing how many like-minded friends are out there. xox

  • Oh, wow, Tina. Crying right now. Thank you for sharing this intimate moment with Jesus.