A Long Exhale


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.