This post is from my journaling in 2016 when I began allowing myself to question and consider not being an evangelical. I wrote it in the second week, day 2.
Thinking back on that time now…well…I almost don’t like to. It’s like remembering a death. No, it’s like remembering a dying. Painful. Frightening. Uncertain.
But this was one of those days of turning and I think if I’m going to do this (be public about breaking from evangelicalism), then I have to share the hard and vulnerable stuff, too.
Week 2, Day 2
I went to Miami today, hopeful that some windshield time could provide the thinking space needed to keep figuring out what I believe and don’t believe. I spent the entire drive trying to dig down and figure out what’s niggling at me. By the time I reached my first meeting, I still hadn’t unearthed it and frustration mounted.
In a mood to take the long way home, I tapped the Google Maps screen to try forcing a re-route onto 41/Tamiami Trail/The Trail. Unbeknownst to me, Google ignored the command and re-RE-routed me back onto I-75, landing me smack-dab into four car accidents. FOUR. The interstate was a parking lot. Since I had nothing else to do but stare at taillights, I checked the cell phone map to learn how far the red line went…which is when I realized that I’d been re-re-routed onto 75. Huffing and muttering about technology’s takeover of my life, I took the next exit, which happened to be Okeechobee Road a/k/a Highway 27.
And Okeechobee Road leads to Highway 997 South.
Naked trees stud 997, some of them streaked with black left behind by a wildfire. It felt desolate.
Mile after mile of 10 and 15-foot tall trees, stripped of even the hint of a branch bud. Just sticks, really. Big, tall, naked sticks. And road construction. I zipped down a tight lane hemmed in on one side by a concrete barrier and the other by oncoming traffic.
Not that much oncoming traffic existed, really. People who came this direction were on their way someplace else. Nothing here to stop for.
Then 997 dumped me onto The Trail.
The green and quiet and liquid Tamiami Trail.
Fate put me here during the Magic Hour.
Dusky air floated between tall scrub pines dotting vast fields of sawgrass. Here and there, patches of water caught the light, little mirrors hidden within the blades. Other things hide there, too. Alligators. Snakes. The boa constrictors that have become a real nuisance.
The danger and calm and sensuous beauty took my breath. Before this moment, if someone asked me to name the landscape that is gorgeous and home, I’d have named Northwest Tennessee. But now, Florida seeped into my soul and whispered a request to be seen and taken in deep.
Only a fool would refuse that request.
Before this journey, I’d have been thanking god for making such a lovely place, complimenting him on his handiwork. But now, I drank it in for the miracle it really is: planet Earth. Just that. No giant hand making clouds and sunshine and rain and grass and alligators and crows. Nothing behind it. Everything in it. All there is to acknowledge right there, outside my windshield. I feasted on it, on this wealth of fascination spread out all around me.
And then I entered the Miccosukee Indian Reservation.
Pine trees towered like redwoods, their long needles swinging like the waves not too far away. On the right, a wide canal lapped close to the road’s edge. Copper sunrays played along its rippling surface and water lilies stood proudly a couple inches above. Tall trees, draped with Spanish moss, rose up from the water’s far bank and curved toward the road. All along the left-hand side of the road was a shorter, wild hedgerow of bushes and vines and scrub trees. Occasionally, a break in the hedgerow popped up unannounced. A quick glance showed the same arrangement each time: short road leading to a grouping of homes, all with some sort of grass/thatch-covered roof, and a large open-air gathering place in the middle covered with the same kind of roof. The sense of belonging and community rolled out of each new opening.
Here, the Miccosukee live and work and play. What must that be like, to live in tight community but be steps from the exquisite wild of unknown, powerful nature?
And, just like that, all the mental drilling I’d been consciously trying to do all day hit paydirt before I realized the drill was still in my hand.
Who is my tribe now?
As Shonda Rhimes puts it, who are my people?
Definitely my little family. Oh, definitely. My Ella and Andy and Charlie. We are a fierce tribe who will fight to the death any threat that comes.
But what about beyond them?
Breaking with an acceptance of the god concept uproots me from my tribe.
I felt that tearing all the way to my heart, to the marrow of me. I gasped. A death. A ripping, gut-wrenching death. Right then. Of everything and everyone, of all those relationships, of being accepted and trusted, of knowing how I fit and with whom I fit. My tribe. Gone. Because even if they stay in relationship with me once they know, it will never again be as it is right now, with them not knowing.
Struggling to breathe, I looked around again at the emptiness of the land that stretched as far as I could see, and felt that settling in my bones of true knowledge that’s always been but never acknowledged: this is my home. Out here. Wild. Quiet. Alone. Powerful. Untamed. It is where I am, at least now. A new land, unknown and unexplored, lies ahead.
A desperation to plunge myself in, before I could scare myself out of the honesty of it, pushed at me. I wanted to get into this beauty, to wrap it around me, to push my feet into the soil and run across and swim across and then run again until I knew the exact way the land gives when my foot moves from solid ground to swamp to canal. I wanted to stand under one of those trees 100 yards out, and know the sound of the wind through its leaves and feel how the shade changes the sun’s heat on my shoulders when the breeze blows.
But stepping out of the car meant stepping into the uncontrollable danger of snakes and alligators. Did I want to chance a bite, possibly a serious one, out here so far from help and a cell phone signal? I realized I was crying and wondered why. Why tears? Sadness? Anger? Confusion? Exhaustion with this journey already?
Tearing myself from my tribe, but too scared to step into the perilous world of the next one.
Yes, that. Definitely that.
I cried because of limbo. Because of uncertainty.
I cried because it is all too much and it is nowhere near enough and all of that leaves me barren, desolate, abandoned, tall, powerful, alive, wild, and untamed.
A split second before I realized it, my tires whirred right by a black snake on the shoulder. From the rearview mirror’s advantage, I watched him slither away.
The one tribe I know I will always have needs me to come home safe. Okay. I can do that.
But I also needed to taste, just a little bit, the untamed out there.
So, as I turned onto Highway 27 to make my way back to I75 and civilization, I rolled down the windows.
Pockets of water dotted the road, remnants of a passing summer shower that I wished I’d gotten to see crossing the vast fields now behind me. I inhaled deeply and puzzled over the new smell. Not like the earthy scent of my Tennessee home. Not like the one in my Naples home’s backyard, either, though. What was this?
A word floated across my mind, pulling up the corners of my mouth and stopping the last of my tears.
This was the smell of a new beginning, a re-birth, of being born again. From the corner of my eye, I caught the sight of a barred owl’s wing as it flew through the growing dusk to the upper limbs of a tall pine. I drove past sign after sign warning me of wildlife in the road ahead, of the fact that this was an area of panther crossings.
New worlds are full of beauty, but fraught with danger.
But, somewhere in this new world is my tribe. They are a people who notice what is around them, who care for living things, who are kind and curious, loyal and brave. They are helpful and receive help. They know their mind but also know there is more to know and, rather than be scared by it, they laugh and eagerly await and explore it. They are imaginative and playful. They love stories. They get lost in beauty and pain in equal measure.
They marvel in the wonder of existence.
That’s my tribe.