Posts in verbal processing
Long drives, deep thoughts and bees
Photo by    Matthew Henry    on    Unsplash

Last week we talked about what verbal processing looks like to me. Today, I unpack one of my processing road trips. Who’s ready to hop in the car? Let’s go!

Between Dallas and Houston are about 260 miles of flat, wide open spaces and big, blue skies. I make this drive fairly often and find it’s a good time to think.

And, sure, I let Jesus take the wheel occasionally so I can sing at the top of my lungs and gesture, although what I do really isn’t dancing. It might qualify as an Oscar-worthy impression of someone caught in a bee swarm, but it is definitely not dancing.

An especially meaningful drive happened early one Friday morning as I headed out of town for the weekend. Asphalt, dotted white lines and solid yellow ones flew by in my peripheral as I began to wrestle with some questions.

I was coming out of what seemed like a prolonged season of slumber in which I had been reluctant to engage in life and with people. A couple of months had passed since I began rubbing the sleep out of my soul, and I was gradually waking up again to the purpose I had in life and in God.

Against the background of engine noise and tires on the road, I was talking myself through uncovering the ‘why’ for my recent hibernation. The metaphor of slumber was really helping me make sense of things as I looked inward. What deceptive lullaby had I listened to or sung to myself? What smothering quilt had I wrapped myself up in and burrowed into that allowed such apathy and distance?

I rounded an overpass to take the next highway and began to pray out loud, eventually recounting some disappointments and things that hurt. There wasn’t any bitterness in my words, but there was sadness and a sense of depletion. At this point in my prayers, I usually don’t linger. I move fairly quickly into quoting scripture and asking God for help.

This time was different

This time, I didn’t have the strength to ask for help. And in that moment of exhaustion, traveling at 70 mph with the car on cruise control and my hands at 10 and 2, something happened. For the first time in recent memory, I found myself lingering, sitting in my sadness and asking God for comfort, instead of help. Help was still very much needed, but comfort was higher on the soul’s Maslow hierarchy of needs.

As I asked for comfort throughout the drive, it dawned on me that I wasn’t exactly sure what my request meant, but I knew I needed it. With each passing mile, it felt like that weighty quilt I mentioned earlier was being slowly lifted off me by giant, gentle hands. Turns out, it was much, much heavier and more suffocating than I realized.

After arriving in Houston, I took the key out of the ignition and sat quietly for a little while. As I unfolded myself out of the car (I’m 5’9”, it was a little car) and began to walk across the pavement to the hotel where I was staying, I had the strongest sense of being known and loved. It wouldn’t be long before I could say the sleep had finally fled my soul.

I was awakening to the discovery that I had been familiar with receiving conviction, guidance and help from God, but asking for and receiving comfort was altogether unfamiliar.

Hush, little baby, don’t say a word

One of the lullabies that had helped me drift off to sleep whispered that I could manage my own comfort. The melody amounted to little more than distractions in the form of work, play, entertainment, and even in going through the motions of prayer and attending church. At first the dissonant chords of insufficient comfort were cringe-worthy, but eventually they no longer grated as I decided God could not be trusted with my comfort, which was no comfort at all.

The difference in comfort and help might be semantics for some. But for me it was more than that. My pleas for help focused on external relief and an almost surgical removal of sadness. While pleas for comfort invited God to sit with me and love me in the midst of sadness, and eventually to tunnel through it carrying me to the other side.

It’s a vulnerable embrace better than any temporary distraction or activity. It’s about being, and letting God do the doing.

It’s the truest expression of companionship as the author of life gathers us up mind, body and soul. It builds our confidence in God and releases us from futile efforts to comfort ourselves.

If you find yourself in need of comfort, and we all do at one time or another, it’s my hope that you’ll reach toward God and loosen your grip on insufficient comforts. Even if all you can do is lift one finger or cast a single thought His way, please lift, and cast. He is safe. He is sure. He is the God who comforts.

On my drive home to Dallas that weekend, there was much gesturing of gratitude. I think it was some contorted combination of the Charleston, the Macarena and an original sequence of creative movement called ‘the-bees-are-coming.’

How has God comforted you?

It’s always helpful to hear how God shows up for others. Feel free to chime in by posting a comment to share how the Lord has comforted you. If you need comfort, below are a few scriptures to consider and pray through. You might also want to give this song a listen. It’s been a great encouragement to me. I’m praying this week for all who need comfort.

  • Psalm 23:4 “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff they comfort me.”

  • Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is near the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

  • 2 Corinthians 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.”

Up next week: Coming up in the next post, we have a bit of fun with words. It’s the first post in the category ‘the lighter side.’ It includes lobsters and make believe, and I’m having so much fun getting it ready for you!

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A thousand words paint quite a picture

For my first post after launching the website, I wanted to share a little insight into how I process life. Love to hear how you process too in the comments. For me, a thousand words really do paint quite a picture. I’ll explain.

One Saturday I was in Walgreens to pickup a few things, and I saw a young mother pushing a shopping cart down the makeup aisle scanning the shelves while talking to her toddler. The little girl was in the cart and she was repeating everything her mother said, elaborating with great enthusiasm and wild hand gestures. Her ponytail was swinging, her lips were moving and her eyes were dancing.

It was amusing and brought a smile to my face, until it wasn’t and it didn’t.

I started to hurry my pace to the next aisle to escape the constant chatter, and it hit me. I had just traveled back in time to 1980. That toddler was me and that mother was my mother. As soon as I got to my car I called my mom to apologize and say thank you. Mothers of verbal processors deserve medals for endurance in listening and Emmys for their smiling and nodding even if they don’t catch every word.

I’ve been a verbal processor for as long as I can recall. This doesn’t mean I talk incessantly, but it does mean if I need to wrap my mind or heart around something the only way that’s happening is out loud.

The puzzle pieces of my thoughts snap into place as the words come out of my mouth. Put me in a room, tell me to gather my thoughts, and then tell me I can’t speak. Chances are I’ll make remarkably little progress. I’ll have the same blank stare no matter how much time passes.

What it looks like, sometimes

One winter I interviewed for a job in another city and was considering what I would do if I received an offer. My sister, who is one of my closest friends, was sprawled out on her couch earning an endurance medal in listening as her eyes and ears followed me around the room.

I was pacing, wearing a hole in the carpet as I talked through no less than 13 possible best case/worst case outcomes. I repeated these phrases over and over, “Best case scenario, this could happen…worst case scenario, that might happen...”

As I inhaled to begin rattling off yet another option, I suddenly realized from the dazed look settling over my sister’s face that I was wearing her out and pushing the limits of sane reasoning. Also, the heater was on high in the apartment, and I was sweating profusely. It was obviously time for a ridiculous comment and a laugh.

I pivoted mid-rattle and with auctioneer-like speed said something along these lines:

“Best case scenario, the offer comes in next week, I take it and get off to a great start with the new team in a month. Worst case scenario, I wear too many layers on my first day and end up in the ladies’ room furiously tucking paper towels in my blouse and armpits to absorb the perspiration. Then, as I tour my new work site, I unknowingly leave a trail of damp, fragrant paper towel bits behind me as I go!”

We laughed until we almost cried and may have experienced other leakages, having just consumed Route 44 Diet Cokes from Sonic. Cackling, re-living the moment and trying to one-up each other with ridiculous worst case scenarios became the challenge for the remainder of that weekend.

As exhausting as it may sound to those who are internal processors, working my way through those scenarios aloud helped me identify what I wouldn’t do, and ultimately, what I would do. The help my sister provided was not in solving the problem or giving direction, but in listening and asking a few helpful questions.

It doesn’t have to take two (people) to do this tango

Verbal processing doesn’t necessarily require another person. Talking through things by myself on long road trips works like a charm too because I’m confined and there are limited distractions. In fact, long drives often lead to moments where something clicks between head and heart, between thoughts, faith and emotions.

Sistine Chapel, source Lonely Planet Rome

Sistine Chapel, source Lonely Planet Rome

I wish I could say these moments were as picturesque and majestic as Michelangelo’s God and Adam reaching toward each other on the painted clouds in the Sistine Chapel. A more accurate depiction is Michelangelo’s God reaches out toward me, and I’m grasping for a cloud with one hand, the other thrashing about, body dangling toward the earth craning my neck heavenward to see God. All the while, I’m thinking out loud in halting sentences and rambling metaphors.

It’s like a verbal, Cirque du Soleil while I’m driving down Texas highways or headed to the midwest on I-35 to see family. I actually quite enjoy it, regardless of what truck drivers or future sirloin steaks in my peripheral may think.

God is the most faithful of listeners. He out-medals all the moms, all the sisters, brothers, friends and spouses. He can handle all of it – the questions, the ‘what-ifs’, the scenarios, the exasperation, the rabbit trails, the dreaming, the things we feel like we can’t say to others.

No matter how we process what’s happening in our lives, God hears and He will provide guidance. It may not be at the time of our choosing, or exactly what we want to hear, but He will speak.

And in His voice we find what we need. Reminders of who He is and who we are in Him.

Any other verbal processors out there? What’s your go-to method for thinking out loud? If you’re an internal processor, love to hear from you too. What do external processors need to know about how you think?

Catch up: If you missed the first post where I talk about why I started this blog, catch up here.

Up next: Coming up in the next post, I unpack one of my verbal processing road trips. The word bees might be in the title. Sounds fun, right?

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