overwhelm (me)

Choosing a word of the year has always mystified me a bit. Not because I didn't get the concept. Words are powerful and having one simple idea to focus on seems good.

But I've never had one. A word of the year that is.

At the end of December and into January it is so hard for me to look ahead at a whole year and choose one word for it.

There are people who don't choose a word so much as have one given, and I never experienced that either.

Until now.

From the very beginning I have been a cautious on-board participant in our hike. I am completely on-board but I have reservations. I always do, about everything. I bring realism to Damien's optimism, with a touch of pessimism (which I'd like to weed out of my heart) if I'm to be completely honest.

After reading a lot last year about long distance hiking I realized that this would be a mental challenge more than a physical one. That unnerved me since my initial acceptance of the doing this hike as a family was based on feeling physically strong enough to see it through. Then I find out it's not my physical strength that will determine our success but my mental strength, my resiliency. And I wonder, am I resilient enough?

At the beginning of this month, before Damien was sick, facing our long list of must-dos for the three months before our hike, realizing that the work leading up to the hike would be as challenging as the hike itself just in a different way, I told Damien, "this will be the undoing of me."

I know, rather dramatic. I'm kind of like that. If you've seen our Kickstarter video you'll know Brienne is described as a "drama queen" and me, an "excitable mother". Where do you think she learned the drama part? And take one guess which parent/child relationship in our home experiences the most tension and also unrestrained affection.

Damien's answer to "my drama" was to smile, and in his steady-as-a-rock way, affirm me that no, it won't be my undoing. (He's known me almost 20 years, he's used to my outbursts by now.)

I'm glad someone has confidence in me.

I came into this year with a heavy sense of overwhelm.

And then the Kickstarter campaign.

I hate asking people for money. Last year, Kickstarter was recommended to us to by friends as a way to raise funds for our video project. And I was SO against the idea.

I came on board, I almost always do, I just needed some convincing. But I know I carried apprehension about the fundraising campaign coming into the New Year, along with everything else.

I think there may be a personal growth conspiracy going on, just how many ways can we take Renee outside of her comfort zone in one calendar year?

My thoughts at the beginning of the year were, "God please don't let all of this overwhelm me."

Because I really don't want to lose it. Lose my mental sanity. Lose my health. Lose "my handle" on life.

I want to be strong mentally and physically, emotionally and intellectually.

I don't like not knowing the outcome of something. I'm scared of the unknown. I'm not that much of risk-taker. The first leap is always the one that counts the most, that's why it's a leap, and that leap is always so hard for me.

If "faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see", you could say there are many situations in which I lack faith. 

After a year of relative calm in our home, this whole year is full of unknowns, risk after risk after risk. Calculated risks yes, but still risks.

This is the reason for the overwhelm.

Last week our dear friends Marc and Emily supported our Kickstarter campaign. (So many wonderful people have supported our campaign and we have been humbled and encouraged by each pledge. Thank you.)

In contributing to our video project Marc and Emily pledged a generous dollar amount to bring our pledge balance to exactly $10,001, taking us just one dollar over $10,000. "We believe in you and know you're going to see this through to the end", was the message loud and clear.

Words can't express how loved we have felt in this process of fundraising. We send thank you notes to all our backers and this is what I wrote to these friends.

So, I've had one main emotion since the start of the New Year, overwhelm. Hardly "a word for the year". But this word is double edged, and I do think God is walking me through some very important lessons here, because the overwhelm goes both ways. I am at times overwhelmed with the enormity of the task we're taking on (the struggle for me personally is facing the unknown) and then equally bowled over by the generosity and support of people, many friends and many complete strangers. And your support at the exact dollar level to take us over the $10,000 mark is one such overwhelm. Thank you does not adequately express our appreciation and the love we feel in your gesture. Love you guys. ~ Renee

I'm going to stop my story for a moment to explain a few things about my beliefs in God.

I believe in a personal God who relentlessly seeks relationship with us.

I believe in a God who speaks to us through other people, and through words, actions, pictures, and symbols. And if I'm a dramatic person he's going to speak to me dramatically, with rich and dynamic imagery and symbols.

I believe in a God who speaks to us through our senses. This is why I love being in Nature so much. Nature is one of the dominant ways I hear, know, and experience God.

Since the beginning of this New Year in which I have felt so much overwhelm, I have had two dominant nature themes to express my experience.

Fire and water.

Trial-by-fire. The burning. Drowning in waves.

God speaks to me in Nature.

Fire, water, earth, air. There's a reason these four elements speak to people. Why they show up in religions and mythology, the world over. They are primal. They speak to from-clay-we-were-formed creations like ourselves.

It is no surprise then that fire and water are dominant Biblical themes. They spoke to the ancients - the flood, Moses and the burning bush, the story of Elijah's sacrifice, and on and on. And they spoke to the first century Christians - Pentecost fire, baptism in water, Jesus walking on the waves, etc.

Understanding (on the surface level at least) the importance of fire and water symbolism in the Christian faith, I want to share my friend Emily's response (with her permission) to my Kickstarter thank you, in which I shared my sense of overwhelm.

This is a business card sized icon that I created in either 2000 or 2001. Our oldest was a baby and we were dorm parents at the boarding school. I had a very basic image design program and took a picture of a campfire and overlaid a water filter. My prayer at the time was to be more dependent on God... no matter what it took.

It is one of the few pieces of stuff that we have moved with us and that has become more dear over time. The symbolism of the water and fire in the context of our faith has become more and more real and less and less symbolic...

The imagery was not surprising, like I said fire and water are dominant symbols in the Christian faith, but the message I heard did surprise me a bit.

What I "heard" very clearly, not audibly but in my heart and mind, on Thursday, January 16th was this:

Renee you did not fall into overwhelming circumstances, you fell into me. I am the wave that wants to drown you. I am the fire that wants to burn you. Will you let me? Will you let me overwhelm you with my love and every good thing I have planned for you, and every good thing I have planned for you to share. Will you let me burn away the constructs you rely on, instead of relying on me?

Renee, I want to overwhelm you - with my love - and I want you to trust in me. And sometimes the only way I can do that is to rock the boat of your carefully crafted life. Yes, to push you out of your comfort zone. When you fall off the boat, you don't fall out of my reach, you fall into me. When you feel the burn, it will not destroy you, it will refine you.

You know that spiritual maturity you long for? The closeness with me you seek? How do you think that comes about my love?

Will you let me overwhelm you?

I said yes because really what else could I say. And then I said thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

And I cried. I know I said I was done crying, but this was different. This was salvation.

I was already overwhelmed I just hadn't seen the truth for what it was. God is the fire in my life. Forget the life preserver. God is the sea!

And when I flail against these things, fight them, I fight the very purposes He intends to accomplish in me.

Overwhelm me. This is a very scary thing to invite God to do in my life. But I feel I have no choice. It's happening anyway, why not surrender to it?

For the first time ever I have a word for the year. A word that scares me incredibly. This is not a cozy feel-good word like rest, light, beauty, captivate, or hope. This is all out surrender. And there is nothing soft and squishy about that.

This is heart-thumping in your throat with terror and excitement at what may come out of this.

What does it look like to be overwhelmed by God's provision? To be overwhelmed by his heart for me? To be overwhelmed by whatever he has in mind? What does it look like to live with that knowledge in your heart, not just your head?

I don't know but I think I'd like to find out. (See there I am again, cautious. I can't help it.)

This is the message of the cross. This is salvation. Salvation is dying in the fire, in the water. It is being overwhelmed. Going under. Burning up. Being made new.

Salvation is to be at the end of self. To fall into the God of the universe and simply surrender.

Overwhelm me.

A prayer. A word (or two) for the year.

« Remembering my life preserver
A hat for January »
  • kyndale

    kyndale on Jan. 21, 2014, 3:54 p.m.

    Your'e amazing Renee.  You're a real person.  And you're an optimist, because if you weren't you wouldn't be doing all this searching for answers.  I will be supporting your campaign too, I'll be doing it soon because I wouldn't miss your video blog of your trip.  I believe in you!  Much Love, Kyndale


  • Tonya

    Tonya on Jan. 21, 2014, 9:14 p.m.

    Thanks for sharing from your heart Renee.

    We are going to support you also - things have just been really slow on the business front - but will very soon.

    Love, Tonya


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 21, 2014, 10:19 p.m.

      Dear Tonya (and others), If people are unable to support/pledge right now they can always subscribe later to the video series. No pressure, at all. :)


  • Kimberly

    Kimberly on Jan. 22, 2014, 4:06 a.m.

    Overwhelmed...what a perfect word for what I am feeling, Renee. Thank you. I am overwhelmed by the loss of both my

    mother-in-law and my father within a day of each other. Even after this, I am comforted by a sense of hope that as overwhelming as it is, I am not alone. That God is with me, with us..as we go through this very sad, painful but necessary experience. 


  • Jamey

    Jamey on Jan. 22, 2014, 8:31 a.m.

    Renee, thank you for this. I admire so much that you are able to share your faith in a way that is interesting and inspiring to non-Christians. Few people are able to cross the divide in this way. 


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 22, 2014, 1:11 p.m.

      Jamey, thank you so much. This is something I have "aimed" to do with my writing.

      I am not ashamed of my faith and I am very much an active, Bible believing Christian, it's just not something I write about a lot because I don't want to write just for other Christians.

      In my "real" life most of my friends don't share my faith, I assume then also that a lot of FIMBY readers have different beliefs and worldviews also. So I'm always mindful of that in my writing that it's not full of religious speak or Christian-ese (I wouldn't talk to my friends that way, why would I write that way).

      And yet there are times when in order to share what's really going on in my life I have to go right to the heart of the matter, which is my faith in Jesus Christ. And I wrestle each time I do that to make sure my words are true to my experience but also still accessible to non-Christian readers. I'm not a preacher. I'm a story teller and people come to FIMBY not for sermons but for stories.

      I'm very gratified for your comment then, so thanks, it means a lot. 


      • Peggy

        Peggy on Jan. 22, 2014, 3:03 p.m.

        This was so beautiful! I am so very glad that you decided for this time, and for such a time, that you wrote this post! Yes, remembering the non-Christian readers as we write, when we ourselves are in such love with Christ and want only for them to experience that love. The overwhelming love that consumes and creates anew bringing life... yes Renee much food for thought for us to remember when we bring pen to paper. Blessings on your adventure!


  • Dad

    Dad on Jan. 22, 2014, 1:07 p.m.

    Renee, After reading your blog there is nothing that I can add to the comments that have been posted with the exception that we have kindred spirits and have the same DNA blood running through our hearts. Your ability to put to pen the fears and anxiety that you have experienced and how you have processed those feelings is truly a gift to the rest of us. Your honesty and transparent expressions of your heart has led you to a truly "God experience" . The faith that you have shown and experienced has encourged and uplifted all of us. You (we) REALLY are in good hands! 

    love dad


  • Jeannie

    Jeannie on Jan. 22, 2014, 2:58 p.m.

    I am so thankful to have found your blog and your family's project through The Outdoor Hour's blog! Our homeschooling family dreams of hiking the AT in 10 years, when our little children are older (they are all 5 and under!). I was so happy to support your video project and eagerly pledged our support. Excited to read more about your story, I checked out this blog. I can't tell you how blessed I was to find your professions of faith in this post. I am so glad that God put your family and your adventure in our family's path. I am eagerly looking forward to following your journey and fueling the fire of our dreams to hike the AT one day!

    many blessings!

    The Demney Family in SW Ohio


  • Dawn

    Dawn on Jan. 22, 2014, 3:08 p.m.

    Wow.  This was so good to read, so beautiful.  Thank you for sharing.  I've never commented here before.  I came via a link that Heather shared on FB.  What you said about relying on God and surrendering was so relevant to my own life too, 


  • Ashley

    Ashley on Jan. 22, 2014, 7:33 p.m.

    "Salvation is to be at the end of self. To fall into the God of the universe and simply surrender." I always feel like God speaks to me through your page, Renee! Thank you for always sharing your heart and being so honest.  I wil be praying for you and your family as you prepare and go through your hike!


  • Wanda

    Wanda on Jan. 23, 2014, 2:36 p.m.

    Thank you so much for sharing Renee.  I had a prof. last year who said the longest distance in humanity is from the head to the heart.  Here you are bridging it.  Your vulnerability inspires me to lean into God's faithfulness.  

    And How blessed you are to have your parents support even here on your blog.  

    Much peace to you.


  • Kelsi

    Kelsi on Jan. 23, 2014, 8:22 p.m.

    Thank you for sharing. This is beautiful.

    We'd (my family) would like to pray a specific prayer for your family. What might that be?


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