I heard about Onsite through a few friends (Annie F. Downs, mainly), who had attended the Living Centered Program at Onsite, which is located about 45 miles outside of Nashville. At the end of their seven-day complete unplug, they all came out believers. But believers in what? I was curious, so I started doing some research. I am a firm believer in therapy—I don’t know if I’ve ever overtly expressed that to our readers, but it’s true. I have been in therapy for 10 years and really taking it seriously for the last five. And yes, there is a difference. I often tell people that having a therapist is the biggest step I’ve ever taken in getting serious about self care. So I was most intrigued when I read that attending the Living Centered Program is the equivalent of one year of therapy. If I am being perfectly transparent here, that scared the hell out of me!
In the season in which I was contemplating this journey, life was complicated. I had a ton of giant decisions that I was being pressed to make. Questions that ranged from work to how am I supposed to be brave enough to get married… again? After all, my filters on life are completely different now. I had been married before, but never with an authentic faith and groundedness in my relationship with God. But still I was battling a ton of feelings that all pointed me back to a word I have dealt with my whole life: U N Q U A L I F I E D. I have heard those whispers for nearly 35 years. I have heard them as a mom, as a leader in business, and in almost all of my personal relationships. Again, a shining example of why I am committed to therapy.
Unfortunately, our doubts don’t seem to disappear even when we know they are lies, even when we pursue new healthy habits and patterns to drive out the bad. Those voices pop up. I have been slightly obsessed with the “WHY.” Why? Why, even when we leave the unhealthy habits and patterns—and sometimes even people—behind, and we pick up new habits—good and healthy patterns—and surround ourselves with new people that are good influences on our life, still old patterns can rear their head. And for me personally, I ground myself in God and in my faith as a believer; and still, fear and doubt and anxiety can rule me. Ugh. So incredibly frustrating.
Which leads me to why I decided to go to Onsite in August of 2018. I felt like my life had been flooded with answered prayers. And yet, there were still times my doubt and fear about making the same mistakes I had in the past would paralyze me or cripple me. Personally and professionally. My fiance at the time, Shane Quick, said to me, “Nothing lives in a vacuum. If we are controlled by fear and anxiety at work, then that will also affect us personally. If we are not loving God, then we aren’t loving ourselves or others—its just that simple. Even if we think we are experts at compartmentalizing, we aren’t. Because nothing is in a vacuum.” Powerful.
Shane had just returned from Onsite the month before. Funny story actually—he had taken my original spot and I rescheduled. He went in a man exhausted and fatigued, juggling several businesses, craving community but fighting the pattern of being a loner. He went in having a difficult time talking through our future and what it would look like to do the work to blend our families—Shane has a son, Ethan, who is 13, and my son Clay is 15. Family, God, work, and what felt like insane schedules...not to mention fear of failing again in an area of our life in which we had both committed we wouldn't—marriage. He went in that man, and he came back lighter. There was a peace about him. He was over the moon about the friendships made in those seven days; he came out committed to the idea of two degrees of change; he came out and proposed. He came out of Onsite and PROPOSED.
The week before I left, I was nervous. And ENGAGED. That may mean nothing to you, but I don’t do nervous. And being engaged to Shane Quick felt surreal in the best way. I felt like, “Man, I’m ready for this. I am healthy. I just want to be even healthier. I want to believe that God will fill in my gaps and shortcomings. I want to believe I am ready to be a wife.”
I went to see my therapist of 3 years, Don Richards, the week before I was set to leave and asked him, “So what do you feel like I should focus on? My broken family relationships? Preparing to be a wife? Motherhood? What are you thinking?” His response was not at all what I was hoping for. “Laura, I want you to crack open every door you feel you have closed, and trust the Holy Spirit will open the doors that need to be opened and close the ones that need to be shut.”
“Are you kidding me? Umm. No. I have worked super hard to shut those doors,” I explained. He didn’t budge. I reminded myself on my drive away from his office that day how much I trust him and how much stronger I have gotten under his guidance. But OPEN EVERY DOOR? You kidding me, Don?
Shane and our two boys took the beautiful scenic drive to drop me off at Onsite. It's a quick drive from Nashville, and even the drive is relaxing and somehow starts to prepare you for the next seven days. We pulled into the Onsite driveway and drove under the canopy of trees that revealed a clear view of a mansion at the top of the hill. The main house—or mansion—reminded me of the type of place I always imagined my future grandchildren coming to visit for summers and weekends and holidays. Shane pulled into a parking place, and the boys grabbed my bags. I watched as Shane looked so lovingly at this place that made such an impact on him just weeks ago. I loved on all my boys and waved as they drove way, off to enjoy their boys’ weekend. I’m engaged to this man. And my future is pulling out of the driveway of this stunningly beautiful and yet extremely mysterious place called Onsite.
I made my way to my room to get settled in for the coming week. I felt like I had walked into a Pottery Barn catalog. Onsite is a warm place that bodes emotions of home. Quite the contrary feeling of, say, sitting in the waiting room of my therapist's office.
It would defeat the purpose of the whole process if I walked you through every mind-blowing moment of my seven days at Onsite. Instead, I thought I would tell you just enough to intrigue you into considering making an investment in yourself mentally this year. I walked in to the Living Centered Program at Onsite with the hopes of preparing to be a good wife—and with the echo of Don’s words to crack open every door. My hands subtly shook as I handed over my cell phone and laptop for safe keeping. I could see my anxiety was shared by most everyone in the room—all 50 of us making the same proverbial commitment of disconnecting from the world in hopes of reconnecting with ourselves. The faces were all different—some much older than me, and some surprisingly younger. Onsite asks two main things of you at the beginning of the process: release your technology and do not share what you “do” for a living. Wait, what? I mean… these are some pretty major conversation starters that are being completely removed—I can’t stalk you on Instagram and I can’t ask you what you “do.”
They were inviting us out of the state of HUMAN-DOING and into my forgotten existence as a HUMAN-BEING.
My technology addiction was somehow soothed and quickly put in the rearview with each delicious meal eaten on the beautiful wrap-around porch, replaced with contagious laughter from new friends and my unbridled curiosity, wanting to somehow tie all the threads of these different walks of life and personalities together. We all paid and willingly showed up to this unplugged, therapeutic, week-long commitment. We started with 50 people, and halfway through, as our “work” and our “processes” were being revealed, no one had left. And for the first time in a long time, the curious writer that takes residence inside of me is being met by equally curious human beings.
I thought I was going to become a good wife, become a better mom, become a better leader, become a better you-fill-in-the-blank. Maybe there would be a therapist there to reveal to me all the secrets to escaping my human condition.
This week was so much more about unbecoming. We are all walking around this world with our own baggage. Maybe you are younger and you have a carry-on bag, or maybe you feel like me—like you have a trailer full of things that need to be dropped off at the storage unit. And then you throw away the key. Or light the whole storage facility on fire and hope no one will know.
S H A M E. It convinces us we don’t want others to see our baggage, when really it’s rooted in our not wanting to come face to face with the things we shoved, or even cried into those bags. Our shame is often rooted in the unknown. It isn't the obvious mistakes we have made and tried to hide from—most times it’s instead the trauma we survived that reshaped our “normal.”
Unbecoming and shedding our shame, or baggage, or whatever you want to call it, really does take work. It is a process. We don’t get to escape the human condition, friends. I know it sounds scary to drive over to your storage unit full of mistakes and shame. And I won’t lie—it is! But that’s life. The decision to unpack the scary stuff, the hard stuff, the hidden trauma that you buried to survive life, is not the sum of who you are… but it could most certainly be keeping you from stepping into who you are intended to be.