My search for certainty began when I was two years old. Though I didn’t realize that certainty was what I was searching for until four decades later, standing in a queue for a cup of tea in the corner of a conference room.
H and I were in California attending a three-day coach training certification course. On the second day, I awakened with a familiar low back ache that threatened keeping me in the hotel room rather than seated at a conference table.
Folding myself into a rental car, I returned back at the venue welcomed by a new comfortable swivel chair, ice pack lying in the seat, and a greeting card signed by others on the training course–ministry leaders and corporate execs. Obviously, word about my situation had travelled fast among a group of empathetic strangers.
During a coffee break, as I gently reached forward attempting to extract a plastic cup from the upturned stack, one of those leaders intercepted my reach, gently offering help.
“What brought on the back ache?” he asked, while pressing the lever on a thermos of hot water, filling the cup on my behalf.
“Oh, this always tends to happen whenever I am doing anything new. My back goes out when I feel overwhelmed or incompetent,” I whispered while holding pain in my lower back with both palms.
“That’s interesting,” he said, making small talk while ripping open a paper envelope holding a tea bag. “Do you remember the first time you felt overwhelmed by something new? Because our physical bodies often revert to the way we first held fear.”
And just like that, his question triggered a rewind on the filmstrip of my life story, freeze-framing on a childhood memory.
“Yes, I do remember,” I told him, “but I haven’t thought about that in years.”
He waited, making eye contact. And I replayed the event back to my new friend in short, pithy sentences.
I was fifteen. My mother had moved from Missouri back to her home state of Oklahoma-without me. Exhausted from co-dependency caused by her alcoholism, I made an uncommonly brave decision, choosing myself over her chaos. I stayed behind to finish high school. A few months later, things fell apart. And a favorite Aunt provided rescue with an invitation to share her one-bedroom apartment in Tulsa.
Leaving my childhood furniture in the house of my best friend, I boarded a Greyhound bus with a one-way ticket in hand. A giant furry teddy bear– a cherished parting gift from peers– was propped up in the seat beside me.
When was the first time I felt overwhelmed by something new and held fear in my back? I was a scared little girl frozen in the body of a teenager, trying hard to look brave while using a teddy bear as a shield of protection from creepy strangers.
“Our bodies often tell us when there is something unresolved that needs healing,” my new friend interjected. “What might God be trying to communicate to you through your back going out?”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was organically practicing his coaching skills at the snack station.
Coaching is a relational experience in which one person facilitates another to discover their God-given potential. Through the practice of listening to where God is already at work in an individual’s life, a coach creates an environment for conversation that leads one to make their unique Kingdom contribution. Breakthrough happens as the result of mentoring and coaching an individual’s personal development.
The purpose of coaching is discovery rather than teaching or telling because whatever we discover, we own. And ownership is the first step toward clarity needed for transformation. The more we discover, the greater the potential for making choices that lead to change.
I owned the epiphany that led to a breakthrough that led to making choices that have radically changed the trajectory of my life ever since.
When you become a listener of life rather than a responder to life, you break through facades of self-protection and discover the real-self that God has been protecting since he created you.
Assuming I was invited to the coaching course as a consolation of my husband’s leadership gift, my deepest fear was being exposed publicly as incompetent. I was a scared little girl trapped in the body of a woman who didn’t believe she was a leader yet. I didn’t believe I had influence of value that made me worthy of being in the room.
What was God trying to communicate to me through an uncomfortable back ache?
You are loved for who you are, not what you do. Your performance doesn’t alter my love for you. Your worth and value in the room come from your birthright as my daughter. You can do all things because I live within you. You are not in charge of outcomes; that is my responsibility.
Perhaps God is trying to communicate the same message through your uncomfortable uncertainty?
Now, when my low back begins to ache, the pain comes with a gentle warning; questions that perhaps, are not just for me, but for you too.
What are you taking on that is not yours to control? What are you attempting to create in your own strength? What false narrative you are telling yourself? What is the truth in the story God is writing for you?
I went on to finish the leadership coaching certification course, paired with a seasoned female coach who helps male corporate executives find meaningful breakthrough in their work. An intimidating resume but a teddy bear of a human being who ultimately coached me into launching a writing career when at the time. I could barely utter, “I am a writer,” with confidence.
My second year of life was one of stoic quietness accompanied by a hunger-strike coinciding with my parents’ divorce; a time often described by relatives as “the year Shelly didn’t smile.” Age and experience aren’t requirements for the soul to know something is awry, slanting the natural order of things.
Perhaps I knew intuitively then, what I understand experientially now. Circumstances don’t determine the future or alter your purpose. Your uncertainty is God’s opportunity to make the certainty of His love known to you.
Listen to your life and hear you are fully known and deeply loved. That certainty is why you can be courageous and live into what feels beyond you.
As someone who has learned to listen for where God is at work alongside others now for nearly a decade, coaching has become one of the most fulfilling things I do in ministry to date. We cannot get to clarity alone. And it is a privilege to help you achieve breakthrough. If you are stuck and need help moving forward, lets’ start a conversation. Begin by answering a few questions on the form linked at the bottom of this page on my website.
Shelly, I loved reading this for a number of reasons, not least of which is to see God’s beautiful purpose for your unfolding in a myriad of His ways, overcoming a childhood that would have left many in the dust of defeat. God is so good, isn’t He? And it is always poignant to me, somehow, that what could have been your less-than-promising beginning began right here where I still live: St. Louis. Look where He has taken you! Coaching is one word for friendship, and I love how you come alongside to listen and to discern, and to help others find the ways in which their purpose can unfold before the Lord. I also have considered taking spiritual direction for myself. This was offered on my pilgrimage to Iona, and it was such a blessing to me. You also demonstrate the biblical truth that two are better than one–that when one falls, the other is there to help lift him. And bottom line: None of us is alone when we go with God. He has proven Himself faithful to you over and over again! Thank you so much for sharing!!!
Hi Lynn, I’ve missed your voice in my world. I was just re-reading the words you gave me during our wait to get to London. Unfolding is one of the words that I think of when I look back at that time. There were a lot of butterfly metaphors! Spiritual direction is quite in vogue these days and slightly different than coaching, though I tend to wear the hats of mentor, spiritual director, and coach when I meet with clients. And I love that reference to friendship–it’s really true. Thanks for being here friend, you are a blessing to me.
I found this so interesting. I know that parts of my body injured in the past are the first places that ache during sickness or stress. When I feel myself holding stress in these places I know I need to relax and let go of what is bothering me.
Yes, I find that we all have a weakness somewhere in our body. I see those weak places as reminders or warnings–when I become self-reliant, I must shift to God-reliance instead. Thanks for being here Theresa!
Oh, I love this, Shelly! So much truth.
Thank you Helena! I gasped (in a good way!) when I saw you here. I so appreciate you taking the time to read and leave a comment. I’m honored.
Battling back pain has been part of my life for many years, due to a slight curvature of the spine. Surgery in 1996 helped tremendously; exercise keeps the pain at bay most of the time. No doubt stress likes to settle in my lower back where it can cause the most mischief! Thank you, Shelly, for informing our battle cries against the lies that can cause stress, battle cries such as: I am fully known and deeply loved! I am not in charge of outcomes, God is! I can be courageous and live into what feels beyond me! Hurray and Amen! P.S. SO appreciate the sharing of your personal story too. God has certainly created miraculous outcomes from YOUR life!
Well, one more thing we have in common Nancy. Thank you for your kind comment, I’m grateful this story resonated.
This is a beautiful story of revelation and unfurling, and the coaching you speak of sounds a lot like spiritual direction. 🙂 What a wonderful gift you received, and now you give as well! Thank you!
Thank you for being here Christine, I’m honored. Coaching is nuanced differently from spiritual direction but I do a bit of that as well as mentoring when I am coaching clients. God uses it all, yes?!
Thankyou for this post. I am in the healing process as I know we all are to some degree but this feels different. There is the sense that to go forward I need to go back and allow God to show me why I have struggled for so very long and how only He has the ability to rescue me from the prison. I cannot do this anymore but I am leaving responsibility at the door and await my rescuer to come! Andrea, daughter of the King xxx
Thanks for reading Andrea, I’m honored that you left a comment. The healing process is different for all us but I have found that going back is helpful, as long as you don’t stay there too long. I prayed for you today, that God would answer the cry of your heart.