I’d like to introduce you to my friend Helen Cottee, a fellow coach and leader whose post I suspect will resonate with many of you. You can read about her work at the end of this post. In the meantime, enjoy this piece of her story and the encouragement she has for you.
February 2014: I nervously boarded a plane from London to Chicago, ready to embark on a retreat with 20 women from across the U.S.–none of whom I knew. Deep down I knew this weekend was going to be a game-changer, although I had no idea what form that would take.
In all honesty, I just knew at this point in my life, something needed to change.
Rewind 18 months: I was the worship pastor in one of the largest churches in the UK, leading a team of over 100 people. I had the husband, the kids–one boy, one girl–the nice car, and the holiday each year. I was being invited to speak at events and conferences and was working on completing the manuscript for my first book.
On paper I was doing pretty well; people on the outside made comments like “You have a charmed life” and “Wow, you’re so lucky!”
But inside I was drowning.
Things at home were complicated. My husband and I were often on different pages, and one of our children was a terrible sleeper so we had basically been awake for half a decade. The church where I worked and spent most of my time, day and night, was becoming a place I didn’t want to step foot in. I was tired, untethered, and my identity was so tied up in the roles I had that every mistake I made caused a deep wound in my soul. And boy, did I feel guilty.
. . . and so I found myself on a plane to Chicago.
The Destiny Project Retreat is a guided journey helping you to find your true identity. That had been the pull for me, the opportunity to find what was really true about me. I had spent most of my life terrified that all the people around me would soon realize I was a total fraud as I had no idea who I really was.
From the first moment I touched down on U.S. soil, something started to shift. I met my ride at the airport, a sweet-hearted girl who drove me two hours west whilst holding my stories and my heart as she shared hers in return. We left the airport as strangers and arrived at the retreat as friends.
I was greeted at our home for the next four days by women who knew only my name but needed little else to welcome me wholeheartedly with hugs and excitement and hands-held.
We started the retreat by letting go of the things that would hold us back from fully stepping into the process, and as I finally wrote down the truth of my fears, disappointments, questions, and insecurities, the weight of trying to hold it all together fell to the floor and smashed into pieces.
Surrounded by the broken shards of what wasn’t, I felt peace for the first time in a long while.
You see, at my most stripped back, at my most vulnerable, when I had nothing to offer but empty searching hands–I found acceptance. I was loved by these women not because of what I could do, where I could lead them, or how well I performed; I was loved by them when they saw me at my most raw.
The house in Chicago suddenly felt like home–a place of acceptance, welcome, and love. Here I could strip off the masks, let things fall and smash to the ground; here I could be myself.
Those four days were indeed a game-changer, but on the final day I realized I had to get back on a plane to my real life–the roles and responsibilities, the job and the kids and the people who expected me to be and do to meet their needs and expectations of me. A part of me wished I could stay in this newfound home forever.
What do you do when you don’t want to live the life you’ve created? What do you do when it doesn’t work for you any more, when you realize that maybe it never did?
As I sat back in my plane seat on the return to London, I realized I’d had a taste of something I had been searching for for as long as I could remember–I had found home. Sadly, many of the “homes” I had known had been hard and complicated, broken in some way. They were places of disappointment because they were imperfect. I often felt I could belong only if I performed and met everyone else’s expectations.
My soul was searching for something else, and I had two choices: either I could quit my life (not really an option!) or I could start to create something new in the homes I already had. I could dream and imagine and do the gritty hard work of renovation–tearing down walls, firming foundations, building something new.
That was two and a half years ago, and my current reality is very different to the one I experienced back then. My life is different now because I decided to change it; actually, it is because I decided to change me. I am different and my relationships are different. I now welcome myself, and I do all I can to welcome those around me to a place where they can be the best, most authentic, most deeply true version of themselves. I have stopped hiding; what you see is what you get. I don’t pretend to be perfect, because quite frankly, I am a terrible actress.
We are all searching for a place where we feel welcome, at home.
Home is not just a physical place, it is the space where you experience all the safety you need to fully connect; home is the internal compass of the soul. There is a navigational tool inside us that is always pointing and leading us forwards to a place where we can be our truest selves, where we can be loved and nurtured and where we can rest and dwell. Sadly, many homes are broken and that is often our reality; the very places we feel should be safest become dangerous and damaging; wounds from here cut deep. We aren’t just searching for any old home, we are searching for a home we can thrive in. We are searching for a place we are welcome and wanted, settled and secure.
As we speak, my latest book is on a plane somewhere between the U.S. and London, mirroring the journey I made back across the ocean to rebuild my life in a new and authentic way. The book explains my search for home. Actually, it describes the search for a specific home, for Eden–that perfect place of connection, a little piece of relational paradise in our world where nothing is broken or damaged, hurting or hard, where we can be unshrouded from our shame and unconditionally loved when our true selves are revealed beneath the unraveled coverings of self-protection.
This is the metaphor that explains my soul search, and this book is the journey that I took to begin to find it.
If you find yourself searching for something more, something real, a place where you can be uncovered and thriving, I invite you to search with me for this place of home, this “Eden.” You don’t need to cross the Atlantic to find a place where you can truly belong; your quest for something else can begin right where you are.
Helen Cottee loves to communicate through teaching, writing, and speaking. She serves as a life and leadership coach as well as a mentor and teacher for an international theology, leadership, and personal development academy. She is the author of Choosing Extraordinary and Searching For Eden.
© 2016 Amy Simpson.