Over the last two years, I have had the privilege of meeting many of my theological heroes. Such titans as Brian McLaren, Frank Schaeffer, and Diana Butler Bass have talked with me, signed my books, and even shared a hug. It’s not a competition, of course, but last night, I had the pleasure to meet someone who has impacted me beyond theological concerns–in the realms of mental illness, parenting, marriage, and… life. Last night, sick with anxiety, I met the incomparable Glennon Doyle Melton: truth teller; founder of Momastery and Together Rising; love revolutionary; fellow sweaty, anxious bad ass.
Something you should know about me: I live my life in a near constant state of fear. Along with the lupus (which keeps me in a constant state of pain), I’m a life-long anxious over-thinker. Growing up, I was afraid of almost everything. No one’s fault, it’s just how I’m built. I pushed past it and hid it when I could. Other times, I would just burst into tears seemingly for no reason (elementary school friends may remember this about me). Anxiety runs thick in my veins, it pulses and shoots through me at various inconvenient moments. It’s been manageable and it’s been overwhelming, but it’s always been there.
Anxiety may be the most consistent thing about me.
Fear of social situations is probably the worst of it. I’m almost good meeting with someone one-on-one or with small groups of people I know. I’m okay with going to an event if I have someone to tether me with their presence. I’m semi-comfortable going places I know well (why do you think I’m at Barnes and Noble and Starbucks so much?). And yet, even in these situations, I’m still under a slight haze of anxiety that propels me to, at the very least, pretend to be “normal.” Outside of this, things can get… dicey. From anxiety attacks to all out panic, my fight or flight reflex is usually working overtime when I’m out of the safety of my house.
Such was the situation at Trinity Episcopal Insights series last night. I was sick with worry all week. But Jessie, what’s the WORST that could happen? Well, friends, I. Could. Die. I even tweeted about it Wednesday night, only to get the kindest reply in the history of replies from Glennon, herself. This reply gave me a talking point and allowed me to at least show up, sweaty and scared as I was.
When I got there, my heart was racing and I literally felt like I was going to throw up. This is no exaggeration. Seems overdramatic, maybe, but it’s accurate.
If you want to strike fear into my heart: “reception” or “meet and greet” will suffice. But I did show up. I walked into the room (early, natch) and stood there like the anxious mess I am. A nice man offered to bring me wine (no, thanks) or water (yes, please!). I sat down at an empty table, occasionally glancing up at groups of women, friends who seemed to belong to each other in real life. I was alone, terrified, and intimidated by their effortless ability to exist.
Then Glennon walked in all… Glennon and I just sat there, teary-eyed, terrified, wanting to run the hell out of there, and unable to move. I texted my BFFC–best friend from college (Hi Emma!)–who introduced me to Glennon a few years back. She reassured me as she’s done about a billion times since we met in Psych 100 almost 16 years ago.
I was pretty sure I couldn’t do this. I would just stay at the table. This was too much. I was too scared. I think someone sat down at the table in the meantime. I’m pretty sure she introduced herself. I’m certain I barely got any words out.
Then, a very kind soul from the church approached pitiful looking me and asked, “Are you okay?” (I think that’s what she said, I can’t really remember because: anxious haze).
“I’m just REALLY nervous…”
“Well, would you like to meet her?” Friends, this was mercy. Who was the miraculous angel who saved my life in that moment? I wish I knew. Luckily, the tears had started to dry in my eyes by then. If I’d gone up there teary, I would have bawled. And you guys, I’m an UGLY crier. Seriously. A red-faced, blubbery mess. It’s not pretty.
I don’t remember the walk up to meet Glennon, or even what she first said to me (anxious haze), I just knew I had a talking point: “I’m really nervous. You tweeted me last night. I’m Jessie from Twitter.”
“Are you the girl who was afraid to come tonight?”
“Yes, that’s me.”
“Awww. But we’re here! We made it!” she exclaimed. I tried to respond to her exclamation, I don’t know what I said–it was probably words. But then came a hug that made me instantly feel better as hugs tend to do.
Hugs, for me, are grace. I’m a hugger from way back. Hugs comfort and speak volumes in moments when words fail.
We talked like “sisters” do because that is what Glennon does. This is what she does even when she, herself, is anxious. She relates to people. And she did that with everyone in that reception hall. She gave me anxiety advice for these social situations (first, get some food). Then spoke to me about our mutual love for the UCC and my seminary studies (she applied to CTS a year or so ago. My seminary, you guys. I could have had CLASSES with Glennon Doyle Melton. But she can’t go, she’s already doing her important work, obvi). We took a photo together. She signed my book (and the free book I’m giving to my BFFC). The inscription is perfect and reads, “Jessie, Be still, preacher warrior sister…”
Later, when we got to the actual “event” part of the event, Glennon candidly spoke on stage as only she can: with humor, authenticity, wit and wisdom. She told the truths we all know too well about love, life, marriage, parenting, pain, anxiety, Jesus, kindness, and faith. She is exactly who she appears to be online in all her messy, feeling, human-ness.
I have more to say about the event; it was formative for me in many ways. I want to talk about what she had to say about “hate,” politics, and about how we love, but right now, I just wanted to get the experience out and share some of it with you. Some parts can’t be conveyed in words and I want to keep them for myself.
But here’s today’s take away (tl;dr):
I showed up.
I showed up scared.
I showed up scared and alone.
I showed up scared and alone and no one died.
Hi, I’m Jessie, and I’m an “anxious, sweaty bad ass.”
I’m also a preacher warrior sister. Glennon said so, so it must be true.
Thank you, G, for reminding me that I, too, can do hard things.
Grace and peace.