being free isn’t just a holiday

Written by Shelly Miller

Editor, Living the Story Shelly Miller is smitten with the art of story to transform a life. She writes about her own struggles as a child of divorce and alcoholism, and the way God redeems it all as a clergy wife raising two teens. With experience as a full-time missionary, advocate for orphans in Rwanda and leader of women’s ministries for small and large congregations, she is passionate to help people realize calling despite circumstance. When her husband H isn’t leading a church planting movement in North America, they drive five minutes across the street to take a walk on the Atlantic, with a camera strapped to her shoulder.

July 1, 2013

livingthestoryfree

A thread unravels from the edges of her old shirt in the dryer and winds tightly around the cuff of a stray sock, collecting bits of lint like a magnet. Cupping it in her hands, she decides it looks more like a ball of yarn she accidentally threw in the dryer than a sock; an apt metaphor for her life.

Lately, she is a tangled collection of incomplete thoughts, unfinished sentences, and curious questions that threaten to strangle her inner voice. Grasping her purse dangling from a hook in the kitchen with one hand, she tosses the sock on top of the laundry heap with the other and drives to the beach while her family sleeps. A brisk walk along the sea is good for sorting out the knots.

The sandy landscape of the shore looks different at morning tide giving hints of the unseen battlefield raging in the dark waters beneath, like the ebb and flow of pieces of her floating to the surface. Today, starfish scatter among stray shells; their arms curl up toward the sun. As she steps over their remains, her heart reaches to the Light too, like a woman longs for the sign of her lover’s return on the horizon, the warmth of his familiar embrace.

But today He seems distant. She writes letters in her thoughts; a series of questions pervading hallowed space, knowing His answers may be prolonged. And she resolves herself to it.

She admits: I don’t know how to parent teenagers; the landscape of their lives is different today than it was even last week. And why do I feel like I’m losing my voice? The cadence that sings of you in lyrical melodies now hums shallow, void of eloquence. I fear you’ve left me standing alone on the shore without a life boat. How long until you return?

He answers: You must first lose your life to find it. Sometimes that means dying to your familiar voice and the way you’ve come to know yourself as a mother. You must die to who you think you are in order to find yourself in me.

Surprised by the swiftness of His voice, she grieves her own forgetfulness about the simple petals of truth opened in the glory days of her youth. Her legs wilt at the base of the groin, knees press into wet sand, and her head bows over the rugged sea swept altar as petulant waves pop like champagne corks randomly unleashed.

Bending over, she surrenders herself to Him again.

And their conversation continues further down shore. He asks her a question: What would you do if perception (the perceptions of others) weren’t a consideration in your life and you trusted that I love you for exactly who you are?

Freedom.  The only word bubbling to the surface. She would be free to be herself, she thought.

Afterward, she returns to her quiet house, closes her eyes to think before writing out her thoughts and remembers the starfish. A curious unrelenting nudge to look up the meaning of the sea creature fills her mental space. Now, go look it up now, she feels herself think.

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She does and tears drip down her cheeks in reading:  The starfish can represent guidance and direction. It is a symbol of love, intuition, and vigilance. The starfish is also able to grow limbs back that are damaged from the environment or predators. Because of this, the starfish is a symbol of rebirth and healing. The starfish represents positive change and salvation through trying times.

The sharp edges of Truth cut her free from the tangled knots of her thinking so she can breathe again.

She was wrong.

He wasn’t silent, but loving her all along, from the first moment she stepped on shore, over the starfish.

And her voice returned.

Can you remember a moment, a time, or a season when you felt truly FREE? Tell us about it.

Join the conversation on Mondays in July as the writers of Living the Story explore the facets of living FREE from the lens of our own experiences. Was it a moment of guidance or direction, a season of love, a time of healing or rebirth when you experienced true freedom? We want to hear about your encounters too.

Mark your calendar! On July 29, we welcome Heather Kopp, author of Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up With a Christian Drunk, as our guest writer with an opportunity to win her new book.

 

42 Comments

  1. Linda Stoll

    ‘A brisk walk along the sea is good for sorting out the knots.’ And in those words, Shelly, you have captured truth deeper than the sea itself …

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Ah, thank you Linda. Thanks for being here friend.

      Reply
  2. kelli woodford

    you brush up against a meaningful truth here, Shelly. one that we must return to over and over, i think. Margaret Mitchell (author of Gone with the Wind) said it like this: “With enough courage, you can do without a reputation.”

    your walk – returning to the timeless rhythms of deep ocean stirrings – such a beautiful surrender. such a beautiful becoming who you were all along.

    (oh, and btw, i think third person worked very nicely for this story 🙂 )

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I’m glad you think so Kelli, it felt a bit odd writing it that way here, but right. There is something about the sea, its like an altar of worship for me, a place where His presence is palpable..

      Reply
  3. Nancy Franson

    And just when I thought I couldn’t possibly love the beach anymore, it breathes new life into my soul. And the starfish is my brand new favorite sea creature.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I’m sure I won’t see a starfish quite the same ever again Nancy. He breathes new meaning and the mystery unfolds continually. I never stop being wonderstruck by His goodness.

      Reply
  4. ro elliott

    This life is full of seasons…each season teaches us of Him and ourselves…and as I age, I understand through His LOve…a dismantling must take place…old scaffolding of my thoughts…beliefs about Him and myself and with world we live in must come down…and as this happens I now have an anticipating joy because I know new freedom comes to fill the spaces taken up by old bars that kept my thoughts in prison. Yes…His love is always as work in every season. blessings and freedom my friend.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      It’s actually quite a beautiful ugly process I think. One I’m grateful for, yes indeed.

      Reply
  5. Kris Camealy

    Gah! Shelly. This is achingly beautiful. While Im not parenting teenagers yet, I wither sometimes under the weight of this motherhood thing, and how will I ever get it right, and is it enough, am I enough? What does enough even look like? And I see it clearly this morning, Christ. Christ is who holds us in the crazy of our days. Thank you, my friend. You’ve set off a rambling in my heart…

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I was thinking about that question he posed about letting go of perceptions and how much that being enough stuff effects so many areas of life. It is a bit of a brain twist to actually get a grip on what it looks like to live that kind of freedom. But I’m trying to, one step at a time. Rambling with you . . .

      Reply
  6. Jody Ohlsen Collins

    Shelly, first off, I agree with Kelli–the 3rd person voice sounded perfect for this. Second–the joy at hearing Jesus speak to you through the ‘just so happens’ characteristics of a starfish–ah, He is so good.

    Three–my ‘aha’ moment of feeling free? It has been a series of moments, opening up my vision to see God in the every day–I am spending so many more moments watching the light on the trees or noticing the streaks of reflection in a stream of dishsoap. (That probably sounds mundane, but there is amazingness in the ordinary. Truly.)
    I am also, through LL’s book, learning to let go of what I think ‘Christian’ looks like and letting God decide for me, according to his wide wonderful world, how to open myself to possibilities–for discovery in the word and in my own life.
    Nothing so lovely there as your starfish, but I’d say it probably began with the chickadees outside my window….

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I love hearing about the evolution of your “seeing” anew Jody. It’s so rich and inspiring. Chickadees, starfish – God uses them all to speak of His love for us.

      Reply
  7. Patricia W Hunter

    “Oh, how He loves you and me….” How He reveals Himself through His creation in personal and miraculous ways is like a lifting of the veil…if only for a moment…but we are forever changed. Beautiful, Shelly. Simply beautiful.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Nothing more fulfilling than being aware of that moment when he lifts the veil Patricia. Can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be, can you? Thank you.

      Reply
  8. DIna (causerie.typepad.com)

    wow… I was going to leave a comment, but I’m honestly at a loss of words…

    Reply
  9. Jen Ferguson

    I think I feel free most every time I hear His voice. Because to hear it reminds me He is in charge and I am not. He is ever present, ever loving, ever God. And I am not. Which is why I so desperately need Him and long to hear Him.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I feel the same way Jen.

      Reply
  10. Janis Cox

    I am free when I can let go of me – my thoughts and ideas and actually listen to God. Then I know peace.
    Blessings,
    Janis http://www.janiscox.com

    Reply
  11. Diane Bailey

    speechless…

    Reply
  12. Amy L. Sullivan

    And now you’ve made me cry.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Glad it was in a good way.

      Reply
  13. Lisa Van Engen

    Only when I embrace all I am in him. So hard sometimes. This is beautiful.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Thanks for leaving a comment Lisa, I appreciate it.

      Reply
  14. Leslie Durham

    Loving this powerful message this morning. Especially the Starfish. I love it when God uses nature to speak to our hearts. Great work!!

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      He speaks through what he creates often with me Leslie, which is something I’ve grown into over the years.

      Reply
  15. bluecottonmemory

    I so get this – the raising of the teen, the challenges, the just wanting to go Home to Him – and how our kids look at us during rebellion is NOT who we are – and the seeking to find me through Him. I think he seems far away when He wants us to draw closer – and, I think, too – that our children were prepared for these times – that He didn’t leave them ill-equipped for these challenges – that when He formed them, planned their days – He knew the challenges they would face – and equipped them for it:)

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I think He equips us for each season. I can remember feeling this way when I gave birth, the first day they went to school, when they started driving . . . and He has always been faithful to lead me, even when I feel inadequate. Thankful for my wonderful kids.

      Reply
  16. soulstops

    Sigh…breathing in the loveliness of your words…I always love to go to the beach…wish I lived closer to one…Thanks, Shelly, for your heart shared here 🙂

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I don’t take living five minutes away from the beach for granted. It is truly a gift I’ll take for as long as He has me here. Thanks for being here Dolly, appreciate you.

      Reply
  17. Ahyana

    In all of my excitement knowing this month I will spend time with both my west coast nephew (age 6) and my east coast nephew (almost 2) I am reminded of how kids are so great at just freely being who they are. In fact it’s we the adults who are constantly saying “okay now that’s enough” and usually with good reason (if they go any further they will fall off the back porch or an extra cookie will mean a stomach ache, etc.) . But kids know all about freedom and it’s interesting that as God’s adult kids we do struggle with embracing the liberty that comes with Him being in charge, knowing He is the giver of every good and perfect gift, in times of distress he freely gives wisdom when we ask. I think in Christ we have more freedom than we often know what to do with. I think one of those freedoms is to be exactly who created us to be, who he has and continues to love us to be is one of the best freedoms we have every single day.
    Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I think you are right Ahyana, I am resting in all your words here dripping with truth like a towel saturated in a tidal wave of his kindness.

      Reply
  18. Laura Boggess

    Oh, just lovely. How your words stir the bittersweet, my friend. Freedom seems to be that thing I keep reaching for lately; for, although I am free in Christ, it seems all the noise of life keeps me strapped most days. But your words here help me unfetter. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I feel the same way Laura. Today my head is swimming with so many thoughts in so many areas of life. I am exhaling a bit and remembering what freedom feels like again. I have to be reminded often.

      Reply
  19. Mary Bonner

    The sea is good for the soul. I needed this today, Shelly. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Yes, it truly is Mary. There is something about it that stirs me in deep places, unlike anything else.

      Reply
  20. floyd

    Uplifting story. Our heart mends and expands as the predators of this life take a piece of it, often deliberately seeking to do damage, but the hand of our Father heals us much like He does the starfish. We become stronger, wiser, and blessed in the difficulties of this life.

    We’re on teenager number three… and I still don’t have a clue. The heart of caring from God does the brunt of the work I believe.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I wish you weren’t right about the difficulties, but I haven’t met anyone yet that hasn’t had to go through them to become who God created them to be.

      It’s nice to know we’re both clueless and God’s grace is sufficient. Thanks for being here Floyd.

      Reply
  21. Claire Florine

    How beautiful. You have a wonderful way with words. Thank you for sharing, and reminding us of who our identities truly rests in.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Thank you Claire.

      Reply
  22. dukeslee

    I was right there with you, on my knees, feeling the good Lord whispering love straight into me, as He did with you. So grateful for this, Shelly. And for you…

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I’m so glad you felt it Jennifer. May His peace carry you today and know you are loved. Grateful for you too friend.

      Reply
  23. Ashley Jones

    “What would you do if perception (the perceptions of others) weren’t a consideration in your life and you trusted that I love you for exactly who you are?

    Freedom. The only word bubbling to the surface. She would be free to be herself, she thought.”

    🙂 I love this. So often, I have struggled with putting what other people says about me as my identity or what defines me. The more I seek God, the more He removes all that weight, and heals abundantly.

    It has even changed my morning times, for now I want to read the word to know who God says He is, and who God says I am, and who God says the people I am about to encounter are… It is so enlightening, and I feel as if my soul has woken up. Thank you for posting this. You write so lovely!! 🙂

    Ashley
    http://graceforthewearytraveler.blogspot.com

    Reply

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being free isn’t just a holiday

by Shelly Miller time to read: 4 min
43