When I was in Grade 7, I stood at a bulletin board my teacher had near his desk and looked at it for something to read. My eyes came across a poem called, “Footprints in the Sand” (if you’re not familiar with it, you can read it here.)
I reached the third verse, where the author confronts God about the times in his life where he only sees one set of feet and says, “I don't understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me”. In my head, I immediately crafted what I thought the ending was going to be. “Of course God left! He left you in your saddest, lowest moments because you needed to learn a lesson by yourself. You needed to be left alone. Or maybe you pushed Him away. But you were always going to be left alone at some point.”
The fourth verse imagines God’s response, and ends the poem with this, “He whispered, "My precious child, I love you and will never leave you // Never, ever, during your trials and testings. // When you saw only one set of footprints, // It was then that I carried you.” At 12 years old, I hadn’t even considered that an option.
This weekend, that poem and moment popped into my head. I shook my head at how 12 year old Hannah jumped to the conclusion that she was always going to be abandoned when things got to their hardest point. And then I had to ask myself - does 24 year old Hannah really live her life in a different manner? Does 24 year old Hannah believe she’ll be carried in her trials and testings?
It’s the world’s worst kept secret that I don’t have a great relationship with my dad. I’ve been trying very hard lately to not let that terrible thing define me. Let my coffee drinking, semi-colon love, and deep love of Christ please define me, not the fact that my dad is deeply sick and doesn’t know how to love me & my sisters more than money.
But, despite no longer giving the power of defining to the terrible thing, it is a large part of my story. Ignoring it is fine and dandy until my back starts hurting or I get a deep crick in my neck when I actually have to deal with a problem related to my father issues. Ignoring it is great, until I’m treating people poorly because something in the back of my head tells me they’re just going to leave anyways.
I’ve got a full set list, packed with abandonment top hits - should we start with the evenings my dad just decided to not come home? The times he asked me to lie about where he bought something for me? Do we close out with how fun it is to catch him in lie, only for it to be explained away with further lies? Do we have a minute of silence for every month he went radio silent on us? Or do we just sing happy birthday, over and over again, once for every time he missed a birthday?
12 year old Hannah didn’t even know how much more abandonment, hurt, and heartache would come. She knew deeply of God and His love for her, but these truths were a little louder back in the day: when things get hard, people walk out. When hard times come, there would be living room interventions & one less parent at the dinner table. Life is meant to be lived alone & everyone has to learn lessons on their own.
I understand why she started to think she was going to be left to fend for herself when things got really hard.
I thought a lot about this moment this weekend, and tried to think of what would be the most helpful for 12 year old Hannah, and for 24 year old Hannah, and for everyone else who thought they were going to be left to fend and figure things out for themselves. I came up with four questions, questions I’ve recently started asking myself when I begin to assume why there’s only one set of footprints.
1. Am I controlling the ending?
I am the type of person who tries to guess surprises before they come, because if I know what’s coming, then I won’t be disappointed. It’s a sort of sophisticated form of control. This is what happened in Grade 7, when I first read “Footprints in the Sand” & it happened again in December, when I reminded my boyfriend we didn’t have to keep dating if the Dad drama was too much for him. To be honest, I am most comfortable when I am controlling the ending - but that was never supposed to be my job & still isn’t my job. The first question I have to ask myself is - am I controlling the ending? Am I limiting God’s hand in my life? Is this really mine to control, or do I need to relinquish trust & just let this happen? (Unless it’s an answer about whether to eat, it’s generally not mine to control.)
2. Am I believing an untrue narrative?
Like I said above, I have an abandonment repertoire. But I also have a repertoire of people who fiercely showed up for me - in greenhouses, at school plays, within church halls & residence dorm rooms, in our home in Orkney & on the farm in Jarvis, on school buses and in coffee shops. If I only believe in the abandonment repertoire, I’m believing an untrue narrative, because it’s not the only experience I’ve had. And if I believe God is a God of hope, healing, reconciliation, love, mercy, and justice, then what I believe to be ultimate truth about the story I’m living needs to line up with that. It doesn’t when I believe God abandons me to figure things out for myself.
3. Am I letting myself be carried?
This goes right back to controlling the ending - I also like to control how much others care about me! (It’s sophisticated & terrible & I’m sorry.) I’m not great at letting others take care of me. I’d rather do everything by myself. I can count on one hand the number of people I ask for help. When I’m saying I’m all by myself, I have to ask - am I letting myself be cared for? Am I showing up or am I running away? There’s power in letting others in, in letting them carry you. I heard this on a podcast recently & I can’t get it out of my head: “You can always come here broken, but we love you too much to let you stay that way - we are a people of resurrection and hope.” Are you letting yourself be carried by loving people who want to move you to resurrection and hope? Or are you fighting the very hands that are trying to care for you? (I’ve been there.)
4. Am I thanking the cheerleaders?
If we pan the camera out of the beach scene talked about in the Footprints poem and then squint beyond the sand dunes, I think we would see a great cloud of heavenly hosts - the footprints - and in some cases, knee prints - of all the loving people who cheered us along. It’s really easy to get sucked into a cycle of, “This is all about me, God, and my terrible thing.” But I think we’ve had crowds of people cheering, praying, hoping, and loving us through it. Are we saying thank you to them for showing up? It’s not just for them to hear it, but it is so important for us to recognize - maybe out loud, maybe in writing, maybe just to ourselves - that you had people who showed up & fiercely believed in you when you thought you had to walk alone. What a blessing.
For a long time, yes - I thought I was going to be left along to figure things out on my own. There are still some days where abandonment is easier to believe in than community. But I’m so thankful for God, who carried me & continues to write an exceptional story for my life; for the cheerleaders, who loved me too much to leave me in my dark places; and that many years later, I can shake my head at 12 year old Hannah & lovingly say, “That’s not how the story is going to end, dear one. Trust. Have faith. Hope. You are loved too deeply to be left somewhere to fend for yourself.”
About six months ago, I posted a big long blog post about all these things I wanted to do before I turned 25. I hit a major milestone in achieving these goals - I turned 24, and now have less than a year to achieve a bunch of these things. And, since it's been 6 months since I publically committed to all these things, I thought I'd do a 6 month round up of what I've done, what I'm doing, what I'm having a hard time with, and what I'm adding (eep!!).
here's what I've done //
- My writing is published! More details on this soon, but I'm checking that baby right off.
- I ran a 5 K! And I'm obnoxiously proud of it! You can read more about that adventure here.
- I bought Blundstones! I love them. I never want them to leave my feet. I want to wear only them always, except during the summer. I recently started fantasizing about fall outfits to wear with those bad boys. Oof.
- Something... new! When I put this on the list in February, I was intentionally vague. I knew something was going to change in regards to my location or work (because long distance is sort of fun and games but also terrible and hard). I thought my location was going to change - and the Lord laughed, and laughed, and laughed, and said, "Hannah, you're staying put." I'm better for it. But that also got changed WAY faster than I thought.
here's what's in process //
- I'm reading the Bible in a year! I am a month and a half behind, so I'm not doing it well, but I'm doing it!
- I'm taking Instagram and Twitter off my phone! I've had no problem taking Twitter off my phone - I love having the silence and not reacting to everything D. Trump tweets, ya know? But Instagram. Dumb Instagram, and dumb Instagram people I like with their great Instgram stories that makes it very hard to have Instagram off my phone. I did it for months! And then summer hit. That being said, I have successfully done three social media free weekends (as demonstrated by Andrea Lucado here & I now want everyone to do it with me) & it has been a far bigger blessing than I can write about here in this lil post.
- I'm finding new music! I make a point of listening to the Spotify Discover Weekly playlists, but also love suggestions (big shout out to the last person that commented on a blog post suggesting music - I'm still going through it!) Favourites I've found recently include an acoustic cover of Cotton Eyed Joe (you need to find this on Spotify & you're welcome), new music from my sister (shameless plug but I don't care SHE IS SO TALENTED), and a song from Nichole Nordeman that made me cry the first time I heard it (and the rest of the day, when I left it on repeat.)
- I'm reading 1 book a week! I'm actually doing really well on this, and have been tracking my progress on Goodreads. I may have to up the goal! (That being said, I've gotten VERY into the Pretty Little Liars TV show and my reading has basically been halted in the endless pursuit of WHO THE HECK IS A). Some of my favourite books from the last few months have been: Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis; God on Mute; The Road Back to You (please, someone, talk Enneagram to me so my roommate doesn't have to listen), Small Great Things, and At Home in the World.
- I'm cooking - sort of! I did a failed experiment in Whole30 in June & July, and I also moved in June - to a lovely home with an excellent kitchen. Since then, I've been cooking a lot more. Largely because SUGAR IS THE DEVIL AND IT IS IN EVERYTHING GOOD, and also because of this next in progress thing. . .
- I'm giving up spending for 6 months! "What, Hannah, that's so intense? Live a little!" may be what you're thinking. But let me be real with you: I do best when it is an all or nothing challenge, and this is one area of my life I have to get control of. I also want to live my life in the disciplined pursuit of intentionality & just less stuff, overall. My goal is to have less than 10 vendors on my bank statement at the end of each month, so we'll see how it goes!
here's what I'm having a hard time with //
- I'm so bad at sending snail mail! I am SO terrible at this. I send a couple of cards once a month, at best, and it's just not great. I want to explore some habit stacking techniques. If we're counting work, though, I'm killing this - I send about ten pieces of snail mail a week! (Work does not count.)
- I am not blogging more regularly! Well, I wasn't blogging regularly. I tell myself two main lies: no one wants to hear what I have to say & I don't have time to write. To that, I tell myself two things. One - I write for myself because if I didn't, I'd probably implode & explode at the same time. And if one person gets one nugget of truth from me sharing my word vomit, then that's all I need. Two - If I have time to scroll through Pinterest and the Instagram explore feed, I have time to sit down and write. (I also set up a calendar where I schedule out when I'm writing about what. It's been two weeks, but I like it so far.
- I'm not shutting up and I'm not spiritually disciplining myself! Suggestions? Books to read? Tips on how to become a better listener and a better disciplined person? Let me know because I am feeling STUCK on this one.
here's what I'm adding //
First - a word. I don't know if I'm supposed to be adding things, but I finished some big things on this list and wanted some specific new things to add in for my 24th year. I didn't take anything off the list, but I'm considering these to be extra challenges - extra ways to pursue excellence & what I'm passionate about for the next year. And if I'm not allowed to add things, I say whatever, it's my list, I do what I want.
- I'm writing for a certain amount of time every day! I've started off with just 5 minutes, with the intention of writing for a little bit longer every month. I'mma just work my way up. I will sticker chart my way to victory on this one if I have to.
- I'm going to regularly attend an exercise class! Thank you, YMCA, for being so close and for making AquaZumba & Yoga so cheap and so fun.
- I'm going back to counselling. I hesitated sharing this one, but I think it's important to say so I'm sneaking it in at the very bottom. (; If I can be a little vulnerable for a moment: December was really, really hard. It was very cold in Edmonton, I was not with my family, friends, or a community that knew my weird family history well, and the rug had been ripped out from under me. So, this is me, taking a giant step in dealing with what happened in December, but also dealing with the last 24 years of weird family stuff that made me into who I am today, and balancing how some of the worst stuff gave me the best gifts.
- I'm going to celebrate my 25th birthday. Maybe some of this will be unpacked in therapy, but I am not a huge enthusiast of my birthday. I used to be - obnoxiously so - but as I grew up, it was a reminder of broken promises, being carted between two parents, and it felt easier to count on people for disappointment than for actually showing up (looking at you, Dad). But there's something to be said for letting others care about you and celebrate you, instead of being sure that they will disappoint you. Also, I'm a little bit of a control freak, and I think (okay, I know) that not letting others care about me is controlling how people love me, and that is not great. So - I'mma throw a party, or go on adventure with friends, and I'm not going to dance around it or give coy answers to when my birthday is. Here's to living with the expectation of celebration and good things.