O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith


Leeana Tankersley: The Swirling Waters

posted by Jason Boyett
LeeanaTankersley.jpg

I had the privilege of meeting Leeana Tankersley in April at the
Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College. We share a publisher
in Zondervan, and Leeana was there to sign copies of her debut memoir,
Found Art: Discovering Beauty in Foreign Places. It’s a beautiful,
literate, funny, and painfully honest story about a year she spent in Bahrain, right after getting married. Her
husband, Steve, was a Navy SEAL, and the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan were just getting underway.

At Calvin, when we were leaving the conference one night to return to our
respective hotels after a Zondervan party, Leeana discovered that the
battery had died on her rental car. Jump-starting a car is pretty much
the one semi-mechanical thing I know how to do, and in true manly
fashion, I saved the day. Leeana owed me, so I asked her to write a
Voices of Doubt guest post.

I’m glad I did. But it’s so good, now I feel like I owe her back. Here’s Leeana Tankersley:

————-

I reread The Awakening recently. Such a haunting story. Edna Pontillier, privileged by every standard, decides she’d rather end her life on her own terms than live by someone else’s. Barely able to tolerate her doting-yet-detached husband and two young children, Edna longs for a life she can’t have.

In an ultimate act of defiance, she strips down naked and walks out into the ocean–leaving behind her husband, her two young children, her creative dabblings, the lover she has taken up with–and she never comes back.

My husband, Steve, always gets a little nervous when I pull out this book. It’s like, “Babe, can we try and stay away from the stories about the women who drown themselves because they can’t stand their husband and children? Pleeeeeease?

I’ve always felt something for Edna. A recognition, an empathy, a melancholic sisterhood. I’ve always identified with her longing, that most exposing of human conditions.

Since becoming a mother myself, I’ve attached to the story even more. Motherhood has been harrowing for me so far. Twenty months into it, I’ve got a set of nearly perfect boy/girl twins, a deeply foul-mouthed internal monologue, and sub-par personal hygiene. My living room floor is the constant confluence of abounding joy and mind-numbing terror, so I get why a woman might need a little space.

I was driving earlier this week and saw a fresh twenty-something walking down the street. She had on enviable boots and her hair was pulled back into a messy-on-purpose chignon and she carried a venti Starbucks and an I’ve-got-things-together sort of handbag. She wasn’t drop-dead gorgeous or anything. She was just clean, newly washed, and I was the farthest thing from such ease. I started crying right there at the red light, watching her float down the street while I felt like nothing more than a big barnacle.

These are critical moments for me, the kind of moments when I will either torment myself with self-loathing and despair, or I will allow God to be near me. The toxic voices in my head beat me down, rehearsing all the reasons why I should drive West and walk right out into the water. “Why can’t you be more?” or “The good women can handle life, why can’t you?” or “It’s hard to believe you’ve become such a wreck.”

I deeply fear my own inadequacies, the pain I feel when I hit up against my human limits every day. I despise feeling wrung out and wasted and left longing. I hate that I can’t be more, that I can’t perform better.

Where is God in the ugly toxicity of my inner thoughts? Where is God when the rackets start raging against me? Where is God while I do time on the living room floor, crazed and unshowered? Where is God when, day after day, I am confronted with my own persistent ache? For belonging. For love. For worth. To become something or someone that matters in this world. For peace. For less striving and proving and managing. For the toxic voices to be silenced once and for all. For stillness and yoga-breath and sanctuary. For direction. For energy. For freedom.

Edna’s story touches on the longing I often avoid, often numb, often suppress. Not the, “man I’d love to own a little farmhouse someday and grow herbs in pots and wear those tall rubber wellies they’re showing in the Urban Outfitters catalog this fall” kind of longing. (You know, for example.)

What we’re talking about here is the longing that pools in the deeper waters. The place where my most exposed self resides, wrought with conflictions and contradictions and . . . yes…naked yearning. The place where I am literally crying out for salvation. The place that scares me because it is so unpredictable and unrefined and uncontrolled. The place that embarrasses me with its snot-dripping neediness and tearful angst.

On the Edna days, I surrender to all the wrong voices and give in to my own death. Not necessarily death by drowning, but death by drowning-out. When I choose the drowning-out, I am choosing to walk away from my need for God.

This is the moment when I begin to doubt, for the millionth time, that any of my believing matters anyway.

What if I trust and believe and pray and none of it makes a difference? What if God has better things to do than sit on the floor with me and my kids? What if I let him into the true state of affairs and he isn’t able to (or doesn’t care to) help me?

And just like that, this faith that I’ve been nurturing and nourishing for over three decades feels impotent.

Cue the swirling waters.

On the same day that I saw the girl gliding down the street, I began crying again. This time, I cried right in front of my daughter, Lane. I let myself go toward the longing, and I let myself feel it instead of numb it. I let myself ease toward the raw need.

Lane looked at me silently, and (I swear) knowingly. She brought me three stuffed animals from her pink bookcase and she crawled up into my arms. We held each other for some time, and right there on the floor of her bedroom, I felt as if Christ himself had his arms wrapped around my neck.

In fact, I don’t doubt it.

————-

Thank you, Leeana. Keep up with Leeana Tankersley at her blog, Gypsy Ink. And don’t forget to check out Found Art (download a sample chapter here.)

Previous posts in the “Voices of Doubt” series…

Robert Cargill: The Skeptic in the Sanctuary
Dana Ellis: Haunted by Questions
Rachel Held Evans on Works-Based Salvation
Winn Collier: Doubt Better
Tyler Clark on Losing Fear, Losing Faith
Rob Stennett on the Genesis of Doubt
Adam Ellis on Hoping That It’s True
Nicole Wick on Breaking Up with God
Anna Broadway on Doubt and Marriage



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Comments read comments(12)
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Scott Mitts

posted September 17, 2010 at 11:11 am


Love it. Brutally honest and hauntingly affirming.



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MARTIN S.

posted September 17, 2010 at 12:22 pm


How awesome and great is our GOD!!
When we give HIM praise due and
acknowledge our complete and utter
helpless, then HE shows Himself
to be the Mighty, Sovereign One
who is able to keep, able to save!!
MY GOD is omnipotent!!



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Corrie

posted September 17, 2010 at 3:46 pm


Love it. Beautiful. Familiar. Honest. Thank you for letting us in to this part of you.



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Wanida

posted September 17, 2010 at 4:01 pm


This makes me feel like I belong. Thanks Leeana.



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Joanna

posted September 17, 2010 at 5:31 pm


Gave me a new vision for the “Edna days” – thanks Leeana for sharing so deeply from your journey. Inspiring and hopeful.



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Haley

posted September 17, 2010 at 9:15 pm


Beautiful. Thank you.



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Lisa McKay

posted September 17, 2010 at 10:47 pm


My husband gets a little nervous with some of my reading choices too. “Lis, uh, a child’s memoir set in the middle of the war in Sudan. Really? This week? Do you want to perhaps think about where that will take you?” Thank you for your honesty. It is a beautiful gift you offer.



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Tatum

posted September 18, 2010 at 12:33 am


Wow Leeana. You put words to doubts I have had for years. “…the pain I feel when I hit up against my human limits every day…” spoke deeply to me. Thank you for being so gifted at what you do and bringing truth to what can be very foggy to me!! love you.



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Arlene Pellicane

posted September 18, 2010 at 12:52 am


I’m so glad Lane was there to give you those stuffed animals. I’m sure she did know what she was doing. I have been there dear Leeana feeling like a barnacle amidst beauties. Loved the post – thank you!



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Headless Unicorn Guy

posted September 18, 2010 at 12:29 pm


Okay, Martin, you’ve established your Christianese jargon credentials.
Now could you say that again — in English? And try to be as easily understandable as Lane giving her plushies to her crying Mommy?



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Stephen Henderson

posted September 19, 2010 at 10:58 am


Though I may strive to be truly good (perfect, complete, all that I was meant to be) I find myself always falling short. Had there never been sin, there would have been no need for a Savior. My sins contributed to the nails in His crucifixion. As the man in the Temple, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
As Jesus said that with the faith of a grain of mustard seed, we could move mountains. Lord, I know that my faith is far short of that. As the man at the foot of the Mount of Transfiguration I pray, “Lord, I believe; help, Thou, mine unbelief.”



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MainlineMom

posted September 20, 2010 at 11:39 am


Wow, as a mother of young children, thank you for this. I have been in that place, although I am not anymore. But we all have these longings that go unspoken, that we repress, that fill us with ache and sometimes with doubt. And God does draw near.



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