A hotel is for sale on Baltic Avenue.

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She asked if I would rewind.

If I could go back and rewind to a portion of life that was filled with boxes and suitcases, would I choose to never pack them? Would I choose to stay, instead of leave, New England? 

I was sitting on the countertop barefoot when her text rolled through. Half of a kale and grilled cheese sandwich on a plate beside me. I was waiting for someone to show up at my house and teach me how to garden. Dishes sat in the sink, content to soak a few hours before getting scrubbed good and hard. A candle burned, the smell of sandalwood filling in any parts of the kitchen that hadn’t felt like home just yet.

I stared at the screen for half a second. I wondered if this was the sort of thing we ever imagined would get sent in a text message. Like, when SMS first started, didn’t we always think it was going to be meant for quick communication? Like, brb. And see you in ten. But no, now I live in a world where text messages carry existential questions and I am forced to wonder about “what if” in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon where I really should have mopped the floor better.

If that text had showed up six months prior, I would have answered “yes.” I would have probably broken the phone by tapping those three letters– Y-E-S– so hard onto the screen. If it had been November, instead of April, I would have never even needed a moment to think and say, “Yes, I would have stayed. I would have never packed the car. I would have never chosen to be introduced to the antichrist known as IKEA furniture. I would have learned how to live in the same place I’d existed in for my whole life. The journey would have never happened.”

 

“If I had to rewind,” I answered back to her.

“I would have done everything absolutely the same.”

That text message alone– the confirmation of “delivered” on my screen– is proof that I am growing far more than I am shrinking these days. 

I would still choose boxes, I have decided. I would choose hard goodbyes. I would choose Siri speaking directions into my ear for thirteen hours straight as I navigated down Southern highways and stopped for sweet tea as a sign that hospitality was about to bear hug me tightly. I would choose the new furniture. The awkward conversations that eventually became “friendship.” I would choose to leave instead of stay.

 

I want to be clear on something.

Really clear. Because my mama is the devil’s advocate to every little word that comes out of my mouth and I love her fiercely for that. We all need the advocate for the “other way to see things.” We all need to be told every once in a while, “No, you aren’t always right.

If I had written this post a year ago, before I even packed to move, I probably would have tried to jam the idea of suitcases down your throat. I would have told you that you need to be brave. You need to leave. You need to heave yourself straight out of your comfort zone with no map and no manual.

I don’t feel that way anymore. You don’t have to go anywhere if you don’t want to. Some people want adventure. Some people want roots. Some people want an escape. Some people want a treasure hunt. We all want different things that keep us coming and going and staying and living. It’s better to just say, “You do you. You be your own manual. You be your own compass with the help of God that you want– the portion size you’ll take of Him. But I won’t preach at you with a suitcase in my hand. We all have our reasons for staying and leaving, and that’s just fine.”

I only say that because I’ve sat at a table across from my mother and she has said to me, “Not everyone wants what you want.” And I was forced to swallow hard and see her truth as truth– not everyone wants to get out. Some of us are wanderers. Some of us are fine where our feet are. Some of us wander in the hopes that our feet will finally whisper, “Stay right here. Here is where you need to stay.”

Staying is just as remarkable as leaving if you learn to white-knuckle-grip the perspective that lets you look at life and think, “We’re all going to find our way to gold. I believe that. I hope for that. We’re all going to make it out okay.” 

 

But me? I needed suitcases.

I needed suitcases one last time to finally unlearn how to be the girl who always wanted to leave. And not stay. And not endure the waves. And not feel the shards of a broken heart. And not sit with myself. I desperately needed a home that was hundreds of miles away from everything I knew to be true and safe if I ever wanted to get honest with myself and say: you’ve been running for a really long time, girl. Are you tired, yet? Are you over building walls, higher and higher, just yet?

I didn’t know any of that as I moved into my first Atlanta home. I didn’t know the next year of my life was going to be anything more than a honeymoon stage with a lot of cute boys in flat brim hats who hold the door open for you when you get into the car. I didn’t know that sometimes God drags you (you’d use the word “drag” when He’d probably use the word “lead”) to a place where you are forced to admit all that you are afraid to admit, “I don’t like unpacking suitcases. I don’t like staying. I don’t like letting my guard down. I don’t like being seen.”

Isn’t that just irony at its finest: when the girl who always “sees” people is too afraid to be seen for who she really is. 

 

I don’t know who I really am.

I am learning but I am not quite there yet. It feels like I have been playing some ridiculous and frustrating game like Monopoly for most of my life. I have passed “Go” half-a-hundred times without ever saying thank you for that two hundred dollars. I have been betting all my earnings on railroads and hotels on Baltic Avenue because I never had the courage to admit I wanted Park Place. Let’s be real, we’ve all wanted Park Place but it was easier to lift our heads to the ceiling at night and whisper, “I’d be fine with Baltic Avenue.”

I’m selling my hotels. The ones I built on Baltic Avenue, I am selling them for sure.

You know, I had a million ways to end this piece and every single one of them was preachy. Straight. Up. Preachy. So I said to myself, “Scrap it, girl. Scrap and tell someone what is real today.”


So what is real today? Today what’s real is that I am scared. I am scared straight over typing these words. My heart is nearly pounding out of my chest. I am scared because I am determined to make baby steps every single day that give me a life that looks a lot more like “living” instead of just “existing.” I am scared to find out that I moved nearly 12 months ago and it feels like I haven’t even put the foundation down yet. The foundation isn’t the good part, it’s the necessary part. I think I might be getting to the good part. Soon. Soon. 

I am scared because going forward, without looking back, isn’t an overnight thing. It is an everyday thing. An every hour thing. And I will not sit here and fake the process.

I cannot fake this process. This process is already breaking me. I won’t take an ounce of this year back– this journey to get right to the spot I am in right now: the moment of feeling like I get to start being really real. I get to stop looking for the suitcase handle and I get to start building a life. 

 

I want a life.

More than anything, I want a life. I don’t want boxes. I don’t want a geographic location. In the end, I did not move for a spot on the map. I moved because I wanted a life, not a place to live. It had nothing to do with people. It had nothing to do with apartments. It had nothing to do with what a location could or could not give me. It had nothing to do with cute, little coffee shops propped on the corner and neighbors appropriately named Little Bit. It had to do with myself– the one I have always been afraid of– and if I was willing to admit that nothing could change or budge or move inside of me if I did not just surrender.

And the only way to get to that point of surrender was by saying, “I relinquish control to all the things I know and find comfort in. I am choosing to let those things go if it means I am going to come alive.”

That’s what I want more than anything– not a house with a brown picket fence, not a countertop that snakes around the kitchen, not neighbors who bring me jello. I want to be alive. I want to be able to read that passage in Ezekial, the one that is overused in every worship song ever written, the one about “dry bones.” I want to read about those dry bones, the ones in Ezekial 37, and actually believe that things can go from dead to alive.

I want to look at all the dead things and be able to whisper, “That used to be me.”

I want to look at all the living things– all the pretty living things– and finally be able to whisper, “This is me. Finally I am saying it: Me too. Me too.”

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When it started because of you.

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Jenna showed up in May.

May of last year.

She shoved out her hand in front of me and told me she wanted to help me in any way I needed her. I was new to Georgia. My furniture was barely assembled. I was learning in the daily that IKEA is just another same for Satan.

I was settling into a new office space and beginning to ask those questions. You know the kind of questions I’m writing about: What am I doing here? Why did I move? Why does this feel so strange and uncomfortable?

And then there was Jenna. Immediately, she was a light. She was only 19. She was the kind of person who’d stood on the earth for a quick & short time but her spirit was decades old. Her spirit had lived and died and breathed and broken several times before it met me in Cabbagetown of Atlanta.

I’m the type of person who does not know how to ask for help easily.

Maybe you’ve caught onto that. I’d rather be self-sufficient. I’d rather not flinch and say I need people. But when she asked if she could help I told her about my email. My inbox.

“There’s about 800 emails that stacked up over the last few months of book writing,” I confessed. “Click into a few and you’ll understand why I haven’t been able to get to each one yet.”

Truth told: emails are my favorite. People think it is letters but I really love the sort of emails where someone spills their heart and guts all over the white space and then clicks “send.”

So Jenna and I sat down one afternoon, side by side on the island countertop in my office. And we started clicking and reading. Clicking and reading. Some names I knew. Some names I’d never seen before.

We came across this one story that will never cease to be my favorite.

The story that changed the way I looked at humans and heartbreak altogether.

The story was from a girl who’d been going through all the grit and turmoil it takes to find that the person you love with your whole body just isn’t for you anymore. They’d been so in love. And now it was time to let go.

She wrote to me that she’d asked her boyfriend, that same boy, if they could please just have one more day. Just one more day where they acted like nothing was wrong, like nothing had broken.

He agreed. Somehow he agreed.

The day went well, she wrote. The day went well up until they had a picnic in the park. And in that park she lay her head into his lap and cried.

I bit back the tears as I read. I’d sat in that position before: the position you sit in when you realize something is over. Not for tomorrow. Not for the next day. But for all the days you’re ever gonna get on this sweet, green earth.

She just cried and cried.

It was in church that next morning that she saw the boy again. He looked like a mess. He was wearing the same grey button down he’d worn the day before. She could see her tear stains in the grey shirt.

It was in the moment, in the packed-out church, that she wanted to stand and scream, “Do you see those tears? Those tears in his fabric? They are mine. That boy- he’s mine.”

But then she realized what we all are forced to realize at one point or another: people are not things. People are not things and we cannot keep them.

Jenna and I sat there just staring at the screen.

We didn’t move. We didn’t know what to say. We could not keep ourselves from banging our fists on the table and yelling out, “People are just so cool. They have no idea how cool they are.”

You see, that was just one story.

Out of dozens. Hundreds. That had piled up over the months of writing. Heartbreak. Letting go. Finding God. Losing hope. Recovering that hope, resuscitating it with all a person had. A lot of times we didn’t know who they were, or what life had dealt them, but we were reading and hoping for them all the same.

We started scribbling lines down.

I started typing them out and lining the lines up on white sheets of paper on a concrete wall.

“She hadn’t forgotten him, she has just chosen to continue her life with the people that love her.”

“I think there’s a time in everyone’s life where they find themselves hysterically crying in a parking lot — my time was today.”

“We played checkers with the scars in our hearts like one of us had to win.”

I was afraid to let the words out of my sight. Afraid that if I stepped away from the poetry, the people would fade. The feelings would go. Every line was making me feel so much more human than I’d felt in a long while. I don’t know if you’ve ever had that feeling before: the one where you suddenly feel so alive and right that you’re forced to ask yourself, “how long was I dead for? How long was I burnt out and tired and unable to see the good in humanity?

The emails have kept coming.

They’ve only come stronger and harder in the days that followed. And we decided we just could not keep the words to ourselves. We needed to share them. We needed to find a common space for all these words that were making us suck in deep and whisper, “Me too.” Yes, me too.

So that is why If You Find This Email now exists. It’s a tribute to strangers and their mystery. It’s a tribute to cities & states we’ll never visit. It’s a tribute to the things that are harder to say. The things that tie us closer together.

It’s for everyone. Anyone who needs the reminder, “You are not alone. Really, you aren’t.”

I hope you look around today.

At your own life. At the lives around you.

I think we can get so caught up in what we are doing and why we need to be somewhere in ten minutes that we forget why we’re even here, why we even get dressed and walk outside each day.

It isn’t to fulfill a to-do list. It isn’t to a live a life that is better than someone else’s.

We’re here to make it easier for one another. We’re here to huddle close. We’re here to speak for one another when the words just can’t be found.

We need a reminder sometimes. A reminder that we are fragile. Joined. Resilient. Losing. Winning. We’re all looking for home. We’re letting go. We’re wondering where we fit in the world. We’re trying.

We’re hoping. All just hoping that tomorrow, maybe tomorrow, it will get a little easier and maybe be a little bit more beautiful.

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I need you to lean left.

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I have not written.

No, not recently.

The excuse is that I am busy. My calendar– my alibi. But that’s just a lie to mask the real reason: I am resisting. I have been resisting for a really long time. Because that is sometimes what we do when we love something so much that we are fully aware it could double back to hurt us– we resist it. Because it changes us. And we are afraid to change.

Me, especially.

I want everything to stay the same. I want the same barista. He should never think to pack his bag and move to Nashville. I want the same mug. The same seat. The same moments played on repeat so we can always do this dance of familiarity.

I am afraid of people leaving. There, I said it. I am afraid of people being taken from me. I want to always believe we will make it out of this thing together. I know that won’t always be the case and that hurts like hell. Changing hurts like hell. When people change, they get thirsty for new things. What if you stop being thirsty for me?


I read an Instagram post from 18 weeks ago tonight.

I know I am not the only girl who has ever laid in her bed, wrapped in a sunshine-yellow blanket, and scrolled through pictures that made up the fragments of yesterday. I read the caption and I started to cry because I didn’t remember praying such a bold prayer in the window of my favorite coffee shop as notebooks full of Charles Spurgeon quotes lay open on the countertop. I prayed to God with an ultimatum underneath my breath: I only want love if it has more layers for me. I don’t want emptiness. I don’t want something tha keeps me full for five minutes. But I don’t want to front it. I don’t want to fake it, either. If you’re real, then be real. Wash over me. Wreck me. Make me feel weak and woozy. I only want this thing if it is real. I only want love if its the kind of love I can go ahead and stop trying to understand. Make this dance too exhausting for me that all I can do, in my own strength, is step on your toes and let you lead.

I prayed that prayer 18 weeks ago. And then my life broke. A week later, my life broke and I still lack the words to say anything more than just that. One day we will talk about it. Maybe one day.

My life broke and I am only starting to see now that God wasn’t being a dictator, he was answering a prayer. He was answering the prayer of a girl who pleaded to know if love was real, if she could actually trust love to be real.

And as I stretched and broke to figure out love, I stopped writing. I just put the pen down. I walked away from writing when I couldn’t walk away from God. It was my last shred of resistance towards him. That last way of saying, “You have me in a corner. You have me pinned to the ground. And I will withhold my favorite gift you’ve given me if it means I have a last sliver of a chance to stay the dark.”

Staying in the dark is easy because it’s a hell you can control.

It takes changing to get out of it.

And changing is its own private hell until you realize the truth: one day it won’t hurt like this anymore.

 


So I realize that writing is a lot like God.

Both are sacred. Both give you life. Both will wreck you once you realize they were never here to keep you fragile. Both will free you, when you are ready to be free.

Not when you “hope” to be. Not when you “want” to be. No, when you are “ready” to be free. When you stop resisting the page and you heed to the process. You break to the process. You let go and whisper beneath your breath, “I let go. I believe we’re going somewhere better than here. So I finally let go.”

The fog clears. And suddenly I see the truth in God: it’s like everyday he stands in a crowded room waiting to lock eyes with me. Like a dance floor the moment a slow song hits it, I search for other partners frantically. I don’t want to be left standing alone. I search for the partners who I know will let me down so I can cry to my best friends while knowing I expected to be let down all along.

That’s how you stay guarded and resistant– you only let near the ones who won’t stand too long at the lock before they get tired of fumbling with the keys.

And then there is God. And if he is the God of the bible then he never takes his eyes off of you. They don’t wander. They don’t stray. He watches you because he is wild about you.

He likes the drama you bring into daily life. The unruliness of your hair. He digs the freckles you’d prefer to hide. He doesn’t mind the chipped nail polish. He knows that a lot of parts of you are chipped. And that’s because he knows you are human and “human” is just another word for “lovely, messy and trying.”

He is not phased by you. He is not surprised by your darkness. He does not get bored or exasperated or want for something more beautiful to look at. You’re it. You’re just it. He looks at you and sees poetry, not a mistake.

He aches to be trusted. He sees a whole new life for you just standing and waiting on the other side of “trusting you won’t be hurt when you finally surrender.”


We need more chapter books on trust.

Trust & God. God & Trust. In God, we trust. All that jazz.

We need chapters on trust edited, rewritten, and tattooed on our skin. Because trust is hard. And we don’t all trust God and people. We claim to and then we let our actions tell stories about something opposite of that.

Even just yesterday, I was standing in a circle of boys with beards and grease on their jeans. I’ve been hanging out in a motorcycle shop most nights after work. Last night was one of those nights.

“Come on,” one of the guys said to me. “We are going for a ride.”

He hands me a helmet. I tell him it’s not really my thing. He ignores me and waits for me to put the helmet on and climb onto the back of his bike. I do. Eventually, I do.

Soon we are riding. I am holding on tight. I am releasing fearful words from my mouth. Every word is just so fearful that I cringe to think I don’t know how to talk any differently about life and the adventure of it all.

“We are going to turn left,” he says to me. “And when we turn left, I need you to lean left. Okay?”

I am worried he will mess it up. I am worried we will go down and get battered. I am worried that we won’t make the turn. He will let me down. I will have had all the right reasons to be so afraid.

Regardless of if I am ready, we turn left.

He leans. I lean.

We make it.

Again, we turn left.

He leans. I lean.

My grip loosens. We are in a straight away and I raise up one hand in the air to let the wind trickle through my fingers. I laugh for the first time in a really long time. We go over a speed bump and I don’t flinch. After the third or fourth bump, I stop noticing the rise we get in the air.

I realize in that moment, with the night and the engine roaring loudly, that if I ever want to enjoy this journey then I am going to need to learn how to trust. How to let go. How to admit that I am not in control. I am not the driver, I am just the one who leans left.

So I loosen up the grip and just trust we are going to make it.

I need not be afraid to lean.

We are going to make that left turn.

We are going to make it.

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50 Shades of Honesty.

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I wonder what I will tell them.

I mean, my kids. I wonder what I will tell my kids one day about the world I grew up in. I wonder how their world will look different than my own. I wonder how connected or disconnected this world will be when their hair is long and their knees are scraped and they’ve been standing here long enough to learn that life is both a symphony and a tragic, little poem.

I hope I will have the courage to reach them from beyond the screen. I hope they will see by my own life that I didn’t hide and I didn’t avoid the hard stuff. I wonder if I will have to swallow hard and tell them, “It’s really easy to pretend.”

Because that’s the truth: It really is easy to pretend. It’s easier to hide behind a good story. It’s easier to crop things and filter things and pretend you are holding the world together all on your own. It’s easier to get validation from “likes” instead of hard conversations. We live in a world where slipping out the back door, quietly and unnoticeably, is easier than it used to be. We have more stuff to hide behind than ever before. More password-protected caves to store our identities inside of.

I guess I am afraid that I could just put up a flimsy little status and you’ll always, always think that I am doing okay.

One time I got an email from a woman who told me I wasn’t as lovely of a human being as I pretended to be. She sent it anonymously. She said in the email that she had watched me and she didn’t think I was lovely.

And honestly? Her email broke my heart. I remember what coffee shop I was sitting inside of. I remember the drink I was pursing in my hands. I remember feeling like I had let a total and complete stranger down and I wondered where she’d seen me, how she’d known me. I wondered what her agenda was in sending me that email. Her words were mean and graceless and steaming off the page.

I remember how much that email stung me. How defeated it made me feel. How much I wanted to just say through the screen, “I’m sorry if I let you down but I am trying. I can promise you that I am trying.”

That’s all I can do these days: I can show up and I can try my hardest. I can try to let you in. I can try to hold on tighter. I can try to stay in the mess of myself and finally look at the root of the pain instead of projecting it on people and places outside of me.

And more than anything? I can be honest. I can tell you that my mother once said to me, “You think you are really vulnerable and you’re not. You’re really actually guarded.”

I can tell you I have been so incredibly guarded for so long. I don’t know where the walls come from. I can tell you that I am not a cuddly human being and one night at a happy hour, a few months ago, so many people hugged me in one period that I actually started to cry. Pathetically. I cried because it felt so good to be held after a long day.

I can tell you that when I was in middle school we used to vote people out of the lunch table on a daily basis— survivor-style. I had a stint of time as a mean girl and I still cannot get over the way it is so easy to reject other people with actions. That hard truth stays on my skin like permanent marker. I still cringe over the things I did just for people to see me and want me at their table.

I can tell you that I used to have a tongue as sharp as a razor and I could use it to lash out on the people who hurt me. I could tell you that my words are my greatest strength and my greatest weakness, all in one. They can build a person up effortlessly. They can be used to tear myself down completely. I can tell you that I am really good at extending grace to other people but I struggle to even let myself have a tablespoon of that same grace. I invite other people to sit at the table now but I still struggle to even let myself have a seat.

I can tell you that I’ve always known how to hide behind letters. It’s the best way for me to say what I need to say. I can tell you I have a stack of letters I’ve never gotten the courage to send. A lot of those letters are addressed to “Timmy.” Timmy is my brother. I love him though I don’t know how to tell him that and I chose to write all the sentences about him in my book in the past tense with the hope that things might look different for us in the future.

I can tell you that I’ve always dated boys with close sibling connections. I don’t know if that makes me envious or if that makes me hopeful.

I can tell you that one time a speaking engagement in Seattle got cancelled and I still boarded the plane anyway. The three kindest souls picked me up from the airport. We played “Shake it Off” too many times to count. They bought me sunflowers and I felt like Meg Ryan over and over again on that day. And when we got to a coffee shop, and finally had steaming brews between our hands, one of the girls looked me in the eye and spoke out, “Can I ask you something I’ve wanted to ask you for a really long time?”

I obliged. I told her I am an open book.

“What is your dad like? You never write about him,” she said. Almost immediately.

I remember thinking it was the best question in the world. She was right, I never do write about my father. And I proceeded to tell those three kind souls about the greatest man I have ever had the privilege of knowing. How my father is the hardest worker I know. He worked the longest hours all throughout my childhood so that I never had to know what “wanting” felt like. I told them I got the “dirt beneath my fingernails” work ethic from him and I’ve only ever wanted to make that man proud. Turns out, he doesn’t care about if I succeed he wants me to be happy. I remember him dropping me off at the airport a few months ago and just saying as he pulled my bag from the car, “Don’t take things so seriously, Hannah.”

I remember wanting to answer back, “Can we just erase all the times I never said what I needed to say to you? Can we just spend the next few years loving each other right?”

I think that’s all it boils down to loving each other right.

It all boils down to love and honesty and humility. It doesn’t always have to come in that order. Love to fill in the spaces. Honesty to sew up the gaps. Humility to keep us coming back to one another, more human than yesterday and more flawed than tomorrow will allow.

I can tell you that I am terribly, terribly afraid of making a mistake and loving people wrong and losing people. But I am so damn tired of being so afraid.These days I am willing to be a loser if it means I at least tried to love other people right. 

I can tell you that I am trying to be a lovely human being. I am really, really trying. And it has nothing to do with screens or a character count or a good website or a brand. It just begins with admitting I’ve been wrong before.

I’ve been wrong so many times before and there’s something really lovely about that.

There’s something really lovely about finally being flawed, and seen, and hopeful.

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Mapless.

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We had everything.

Oxygen in our lungs. Wind in our hair. All that cliché stuff.

We had plans for the next morning. Brunch in our bellies. Boys who’d gotten into the habit of missing us back home. We had things we wanted– reasons to be hungry.

We didn’t know it then but we had everything. If we could have been given a moment to step back and survey the spots we were standing in then maybe one of us would have breathed in deep and whispered, “It’s all right here. We have everything.” 

 

That’s the thing though, we never learn that we have it all.

We don’t learn how much we really have– the things to be grateful and sappy over– until something feels like it’s been wrenched away. Maybe that thing is freedom. Maybe that thing is love. Whatever the thing, the thing that goes absent from the room, it makes us feel like we once used to know invincibility until life put on boxing gloves and hit us hard.

Isn’t that just how it happens though? It’s not even a massive crash sometimes. It’s a slow winding down of our bodies and our hearts until it’s harder to get out of bed. The tears come. They come hot. And you stop wanting what you wanted yesterday. Life feels harder. Breathing feels harder. You spend hours scrolling through Instagram photos from 26 weeks ago when you swore you were happier, smarter, braver.

“If I knew I had it that good, I would have never complained,” I whisper to her. I am 13 weeks back. She is 45 weeks back. Maybe our weeks will somehow meet in the middle and we’ll both land on a space in our own internet worlds where Happiness was like a third sister. When we were a trio.

I am wearing no makeup. She is wearing gym clothes and doesn’t care that her socks don’t match. We don’t care about the things we used to care about. We’re wondering who is going to show up in the next few hours, or the next few days, and offer us a map. I don’t know if it will happen but I think we are both so hopeful that someone is coming with a map, a map that will tell us where to go.

 

Honesty for this moment: I just want a map.

I want a freaking map. I want Siri to show up and tell me that I should not veer in this direction. I want anything, anything to say straight to me, “Go right. Skip that. Move past that. Up ahead, just watch for what is up ahead.”

But you want to know the scary thing? The cool thing? The thing I have not accepted up until this very moment? No map is coming. No coordinates are being planted. I am mapless. 

I am mapless and thank God for that. 

I am the one who knows that if you gave me a map, I’d somehow use the flimsy piece of paper to keep myself hiding. I’d take that map and spread it wide across my face and use it as another wall to keep people from getting to me. That’s what my actions really say half the time, “I am trying to build walls and place things around me that will keep you from coming in. If I know where I am going then I will not need you. I won’t need anyone at all as long as I know the way.” 

I am mapless and still I am digging my heels into the ground and looking for direction. I am asking for it. I am letting my knees hit the hardwood floor at night. I am cloaked in a bright golden blanket. I am wondering about going north or staying south. I am just trying, with all my decent strength, to build a life I actually want to live inside.

 

We are never going back there again.

It’s sad but it’s true– never again will we be able to hide in the skins of yesterday. Yesterday is like that old dress, the one you loved so much. That dress was so good to you. It made you feel unstoppable. And then it stopped fitting you. And you had to take it off and fold it up and figure out what to do with it. I know, it’s so hard to figure out what to with yesterday. Do you just forget it? Do you pass it along like a testimony? Like a song? Or do you try to do the easiest thing: wear yesterday one more time. 

I know that’s me. I am the girl who has tried to fit into the sleeves of yesterday. I want yesterday to still be good and sweet to me. I want to pretend like I could be the kind of human who does not need to grow or move or change or become someone different. That would be the sweetest thing right now, to be the kind of person who was fine enough to just stay this way forever.

 

We had everything.

That is what I thought at least.

There was no trembling. She didn’t cry at night. I didn’t wonder why the mornings were the hardest. And yet there was so much in those moments– in the moments where our biggest worry was what kind of inky symbols we’d want to place on our skin forever– that we didn’t know. There was so much we didn’t know about life. There’s still so much I don’t know.

We didn’t know what kinds of fighters we could be. We didn’t know that there was so much strength sitting on the inside of us. We didn’t know that I would be a light and she would be a lantern. We didn’t know that sometimes you have to battle, and wage war, and face demons. You have to do all these things if you want the kind of story that makes other people face themselves. We never even figured we’d be hungry for that kind of story– the kind that makes people want to clear out the darkness with a shovel and a snowplow.

We didn’t know that people actually need you to get down to the bottom of yourself sometimes. God needs that of you, too. It’s only there– at the bottom– where you ever have to tap into the courage it takes to sit up. And with sitting up comes standing. And with standing comes figuring out how to walk again. 

We didn’t know that walking would be just fine. After a time of no standing at all, walking at a slower place would be more than fine. It would teach us to be quieter. It would teach us to look around. It would grow into our bones this idea that there is no need to be fast and quick. We could slow down. We could take our time. The world would allow us to take our time and just suck in the moments deep.

And with each small step, the truth comes back with a vengeance that is clear as 20/20 vision: it’s all right here. We think we are pieces but the pieces are all right here. Nothing is missing. Nothing got lost. We don’t need a map to hide behind, we just need to breathe.

It’ll be okay, it’ll be okay. 

We still have everything.

Everything is still somehow here.

Everything just looks different than it used to but it’s all still here. 

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My book, love notes & giveaways.

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Deep breaths.

Big, deep breaths.

It’s drawing closer and my book is coming out in one month… Just. One. Month.

I’m flipping just a little… Just a tad.

But really, it was the biggest honor in the world to have the chance to write my story down and it’s an even bigger blessing that it gets to meet you in just a few short weeks. Trust me, trust me, you are getting all of me wrapped into a spine when you pick up that book and start flipping through the pages.

The hardcover copies showed up today. I wept. What else is new? Do I ever stop crying?

But today is not about tears… it’s about giving some sweet thangs away. Mainly these:

 

  • Two (2) copies of my Love Letter Writing Kit (with love letters from me tucked inside!)
  • One (1) copy of my memoir (autographed) that I have personally gone through and tucked notes and secrets inside of. I love nothing more than filling books with messages & highlights & scribbles so you’ll get all my personal notes & thoughts from the original book.

You could win one… you could win all three. Who knows?!?!


Entering this giveaway is as simple as it gets:

1. Send or resend proof of preorder purchase of If You Find This Letter to preorder@hannahbrencher.com

AND // OR

2. Instagram + hashtag (#loveisinthemail) in a photo of you & your Love Letter Writing Kit (selfies are ALWAYS welcomed).


Looking forward to sharing more fun things with all of you.

May the odds be ever in your favor :)

tying you closer than most,

hb.

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When waiting.

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When I used to live in New York City, there would be days when I would meet up with my friend Libby in the middle of Grand Central Station at the end of our workday.

We would climb the stairs up to overlook the grand foyer, right where the Apple Store now sits, and we would not say much for a little while. We would just look down at all the people rushing to get home. We’d point out all the ones who were waiting for something. Specifically a someone.

“That one,” she’d point out to me. “Him.”

“He’s waiting on her,” I’d connect the dots, finding the girl in the red tights from across the way who would soon be running up to him to pull him in closer.

We’d point them out from a distance. One by one. A guy and a girl meeting up after a longer day.

I don’t know how many times we did that. How many times we sat and we talked about our days with one another while we watched other people waiting. Regardless, it is still one of my favorite things about Grand Central– it’s a reminder of how there is something terribly romantic and awful about waiting. And the two feelings seem to exist at the same time.

I didn’t date much while I lived there.

Not that year. I cried too often and figured therapy was a better option than dating ever could be. I kind of tortured myself thinking. “I’m too broken to be date-able.” And while I don’t think dating is the key to not being a train wreck (one must be willing to pull themselves out from a wreckage), I also think we are too hard on ourselves sometimes. Life is really short. We can be super dramatic. Perhaps sometimes we are supposed to wear the red lip stick, go out, and meet the cute boy.
So I signed up for a dating site. One of those free ones where people seem to sit on the Emoji button a little too much. And I went out with an extremely sweet bagpipe player who also played rugby (I still don’t know if there is a better combination than that). He had the kindest eyes and his texts made me feel seen. He didn’t ever know my heart was already broken and trying to put itself back together daily.

But I remember there were a few times when we would meet up after work in the middle of Grand Central. Him and I– by the big clock. I have to be honest– I haven’t really found the feeling that is better than the one that comes from knowing someone is waiting for you. Wanting you. Hoping you’ll show.

It’s a waiting game.

A lot of us are waiting. For answers. For people to love us. For someone to change. A lot of us are waiting on love. It’s like we grew up into a world that promised us one day we would get love- our missing piece of the puzzle. And I guess I still want to believe in that. I want to believe that hope isn’t just something that got me through high school, and got me through college, and pushed me to stay optimistic. And while I no longer believe that there is just one person in the world for us, I still want to believe he’s out there.  (Hey you– I still think you’re out there.)

So we get a lot of choices. And sometimes those choices look like waiting. Sometimes those choices look like being wild. Spontaneous. Deciding to step forward and into the woods– facing our fears and deciding not to talk of them any longer.
Life isn’t a waiting room and yet so many of us are waiting. We can’t help it.

And I guess we could either feel gutted or hopeful. Gutted or hopeful. There are the two options. We could either trace people in Grand Central that are getting what we want or we could see the truth: the ones who have that “one thing” are probably often waiting for something else. We won’t always know what that is. We are all waiting on secret things that we neglect to write in our diaries at night.

Maybe it’s for the fog to lift. Maybe it’s for someone to finally leave us. A lot of us are waiting on disaster. I am not certain why but too many of us are waiting for God to give up. Like he’s gonna turn around, see our crying face, and finally whisper, “Enough. I am through.”

But maybe, just maybe, the opposite could happen in our waiting. A miracle might come. A blessing might show up. Maybe God is gonna be the one who scoops us up–  as if he saw us helpless and doe-eyed in Grand Central that whole time– and finally tell us the words we need to hear, “Little one, the waiting is over. The waiting is over.

Come on, we’re moving. It’s gonna be so good.”

 

You know, even in those times where I knew no one was going to meet me by the clock, I had someone right beside me who asked me about my day. She would meet me in the middle of any day when everything felt like it was falling apart. When I stopped seeing myself and the good in who I was as a human being. She’d be there– whether I was crushed in spirit or ready for another round of resilience. And together we could pluck the people from the crowd who were waiting, just like us.

We wait. That’s certain. We wait for things.

But we never are waiting alone.

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Thank you for staying. (Probably Part 1)

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I have stood on countless amounts of stages and delivered a talk called “Stay.”

The talk is broken up into three sections. Stay Hungry. Stay Small. Stay Here.

I never had an issue with being hungry. I have been hungry for my whole entire existence. I was always the girl who wanted to be used. The girl who wanted to be chosen. I wanted to serve God if it meant he would give me things to do. I remember wanting that before I even had a relationship with God. I remember high school parties. The room spinning. The drunkenness. Me in the corner, just thinking, “God, am I an accident for wanting to do so much and make such a difference when no one else seems to care?”

I never had an issue with being small. I have never puffed myself up to be big. I’ve honestly never believed in myself enough to do that. I’ve spent the latter half of my years not even believing in the worthiness of my own story. I probably need to learn to get a bit bigger. We’ll see.

It’s the staying part– the “staying here” part– that has always been my struggle.

I don’t want to be too hard on myself, I just want to say that staying is really, really, really hard. And I know this because I sat at my favorite coffee shop in Atlanta– the one where the baristas write you little love letters when they serve you drinks– with one of my good friends and we talked about love. And how loving someone and giving your heart to someone is really, really, really hard.

I don’t remember all the words we said but I do remember saying that loving someone is hard because staying is hard. The two correlate. They function within one another. And if you stay, you eventually have to let someone in. If you let someone in, you eventually have to drop the facade. You have to drop the act. You have to unpack your suitcases.

This probably goes deeper. I could probably write a whole book and just call it “Thank You for Staying.”

Thank you for staying.

That’s what I texted to one of my friends during one of the hardest seasons of my life. Thank you for staying. It was simple. It carried weight for me to say it.

And honestly? I used to look at that friend in church before I really knew her and I would  think, “She has it all together. And her life is full. And she would not want to be my friend. And there must be no room for me.”

And while I don’t know which ones of those things are lies, I’ve learned that I have to be really careful with that last one: there must be no room for me.

That’s a damaging lie to staple to yourself: there must be no room for me.

What I am learning lately is that it’s not about the dishes.

It’s never really about the dishes.

I used to live in a community house in the Bronx, New York. I lived with 4 other girls. And “community” is a tough and gritty word that I still don’t really like because it feels too hard and it makes you face yourself pretty honestly (spoiler alert: you won’t always like what you see).

I remember them telling us during the orientation for the program that, at one point, someone would forget to do the dishes (or in my case: I would leave food on the dishes just because I am an inadequate cleaner who is too busy writing love stories in her head). And then someone would neglect to confront the dishes. And then another thing would happen. And then another thing would happen. And eventually, there would be an explosion. And all the little things would come crashing down on top of one another. And you will realize that it all started because of the dishes. Suddenly, it wasn’t about the dishes anymore.

You let it build and build and build, instead of just facing it when it was small.

I think that has a lot to do with the lies we tell ourselves. The fear we tolerate. The things we do or don’t do.

It starts small. And it grows and it grows and it overtakes us when we don’t confront it. It gets hungrier. And hungrier. Until there is a breaking point. Until you’ve convinced yourself that you’re the sum of your fears & the sum of your worries & the sum of your lies– as if each one was written upon your skin in Sharpie marker and people could see everything when they went to shake your hand.

I don’t know how to hash all the lies out just yet.

I am trying. I like to think I am getting better than ever before. But I know that it doesn’t come from moving away from it.

The easy solution in my head is always to move. To go somewhere else. To escape. To get away. And that’s never going to give you a full life– it is going to give you a life of running with a suitcase you can’t seem to put down.

That person I didn’t think would have enough room for me, she stayed.

She prayed. She became a warrior. She reminded me to laugh. She has a full, full life and yet she keeps the doors and windows opens for newcomers who show up tired & empty.

And me? I know I would give everything and the rest of the world to be just like her. To know how to open my windows and open my doors and ask people to come in, saying, “Hey, I know you’re tired. I know you’re stressed. And I want you to stay. I want you to stay and undo the latches on that suitcase and take out everything and put it away. Put the things away for good.

I am going to make some tea. We are going to talk. And you are finally, finally going to stay.

And you are going to fight. There is enough room for you.”

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War is over (if you want it)

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The battle has been bloody and we’ve lost limbs.

Okay, no. That’s a bit of an exaggeration. The battle has been bloody though— the battle that has somehow consumed my life for the last few months. It’s ongoing still so maybe I hesitate to write this but I am a girl who wears a tattoo on her wrist to remind her of victory so I wanted to come to this space and this page and not be afraid to type out the word: Victory. Victory for this day.

The battle has been bloody in the sense that I am having to shed the weight of things carried for days that became months and months that morphed into years. Insecurity. Pain. Worry. Fear. Fear— that’s the big one. Fear is the costar for most of our days.

We write a lot about punching fear in the face but we never seem to be honest enough with the times when fear throws us into the wrestling ring and batters us good with jabs and right hooks. We say those sorts of fears are the ones that don’t get said out loud.

Fears like:

I am afraid to be unwanted.

I am afraid to not be seen.

I am afraid that I am just a face in the crowd.

I am afraid to sit with my morning coffee, touch my hand against the windowsill, and realize I don’t matter. No one will miss me when I am gone.

That was the haunting part about New York that I haven’t yet found in any other city: the feeling— the knowing— that people are here and gone so quickly. In the shuffles of commuters. In the seas of people who come and go and live and die and love and fight and cry and surrender a thousand times a day on any given subway track.

I never felt so nameless, so faceless, than in that big city.

I know you’re out there.

I know you’re there because you thrust your heartbreak into my inbox.

My mama used to collect sea glass with my daddy when they were first dating. They filled vases and lamps with all the tumbled shards of blue and green glass. And I think to myself, “That’s what I do with the pain I come across. I fill vases and lamps with it. I try hard not to forget it. It is a constant reminder to me: we aren’t alone.” Your pain is like sea glass to me. I’d collect it all if I could. 

I know you’re out there laying awake at night. Whispering mistakes into the night. I know that when the phone screen doesn’t light up in the way you hoped it would, you’re a bit devastated. You wanted so badly to hear from him tonight.

I know you scroll and scroll and scroll aimlessly through Instagram, looking at the pieces of other people’s lives for peace and solace and community. I know it doesn’t fill you. I know you wished you filled your bedroom with prayers at night as you fell asleep, not the faces of people you don’t speak to beyond a wave in the hallway or an occasional text message.

I know you wonder how to even pray sometimes. Because God is so big. His to-do list must be massive. And you? You think you’re just a fleck who let him down. You think you’re the one who wrecked the party- the one who should be benched in the middle of the game. I don’t even know that God could ever be let down but we sure like to put big words in his mouth.

I know you wonder if anyone sees you. In a room full of people, you still shift from foot to foot and wonder if you’re enough for the crowd you are standing inside of. You cry but no one sees it. You fumble and wonder if joy is real. You’ve hurt yourself— in ways you won’t admit. You think of giving up sometimes. You swear you never will but the thought still exists like a spin cycle in your mind on days when no one seems to pick you.

I know you’re out there. I see you.

This comes from a girl who used to talk endlessly and endlessly about her love for strangers. She loved the idea of being a stranger. The kind of girl who walks around like mystery and makes people whisper and say, “She’s the sort of girl who boys with guitars write songs about.”

I used to love that idea until I didn’t love it anymore. Because that girl in the songs— the mysterious one in the coffee shops— never has a name. She is always nameless. She is always, somehow forgotten when the lights shut off, the machines are unplugged from the walls, and the doors close at night.

I want to have a name. There, I said it:  I want to have a name.

Not a big name. Not a proud name. Just a name that gets tucked in the prayers of a few and the phone calls of fewer. I just want a name that becomes a treasure to one. A couple. A few.

The battle has been bloody, I say out loud this morning.

My palms are fixed upward to the ceiling. My eyes are on the “WAR IS OVER” poster clinging to our living room wall. And I close my eyes. I breathe deeper. I ask Him, “What have we been fighting for?”

Because that’s all I want to know: What have we been fighting for?

I wait. I breathe. I hush out voices that are my own.

“We have not been fighting,” I hear the whisper huddle close to me. “I’ve been fighting for you. For a long, long time, I’ve been fighting for you. You haven’t seen it. With fists clenched and eyes set on hopelessness, you haven’t seen me fighting for you all this time.

You fight to hold on to old things. I beg you to open your eyes and see the new things. The good things. That you aren’t sitting inside of a nameless story.

You have a name. You have a name.

This is the fight to show you I love you. I love you, though you don’t love yourself so much. I choose you, though you don’t choose yourself always. I pick you, even when you can’t wrap your mind around being picked by anything or anyone.

I will fight and claw and knock and show up until you see it: You are not just a face in the crowd.

You’ve never been just a face in the crowd.”

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Give her back those silent nights.

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I want to tell you that 2010 was the year that leveled me and flattened me good.

That would be a lie though.

If I properly retrace my memory down to the bones of it then 2010 was the year I acquired baggage. Lots and lots of baggage. Except I didn’t really know how to call it that at the time.

Looking back, I see what I didn’t see when I was graduating from college and moving to New York City: I heaved around suitcases of heartbreak as if I were the inventor of suitcases, myself, and I handed out sleeping bags to every “not good enough” comment rattling in my head. I gave all the baggage room to sleep. And the longer you let baggage sleep in your mind, the harder it is to clear that baggage out and call it all lies.

I know this all happened in 2010 because at the cusp of 2011, in the middle of a party with hats and cheesy bread, I felt like I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I was just a girl with lots of baggage. I could trace the faces of my friends and I wondered if they looked at me and thought to themselves, “Where’d ya go?”

And I didn’t know how to let go. I mean, how do you even start to let go and just give yourself permission to be free?

It was 2011 that leveled and flattened me out.

I know it now for sure. I don’t know if there are any real defining moments you’d pick out from the crowd but I remember the pieces that made me feel like dust: I was a full-time volunteer. For an entire year, I’d made a commitment to make no money and serve in the Bronx, New York. New York City had been sucked dry of all her romance as I struggled with the unworthiness of trying to be something “chic” with a $25 a week stipend.

I was riddled with an eating disorder. My eating disorder was a quiet whisperer throughout the day. She controlled every step and action, every crumb that did or did not reach my mouth. She watched me until I went to sleep. She sang me stingy lullabies as she sat stiff in an armchair I never did learn how to like.

It was the parts of me that were hungry that would come out of hiding after.

After she took her eyes off of me.

After my roommates went to sleep.

After the lights flickered down the hallways.

After I could crawl from my sheets and tiptoe down the long hallway and sit atop our kitchen table with a bowl full of food and finally admit to the the ceiling and mice hiding in the walls, “I am hungry. I am so hungry. To love. To be enough. To stop being so fearful. I am so hungry to not hate myself so furiously.”

The nights were never silent back then. No, they were never were so silent.

That year was full heartbreak for me.

I look back and think I was young, and maybe naive, but I knew how to decode heartbreak and the breakdown was still pretty titanical to a girl who was 22 and trying to put her life together. And it was hard to write a whole book on that year because I struggled daily with wanting to call my editor up and just say into the phone, “I don’t know how to focus on anything but heartbreak. How do I change the story? How do I find the good in what I long-convinced myself would always be bad?”

That’s the hardest hurdle you’ll ever get over, writer or no writer at all: Deciding that you’re going to love the mud that once transformed you. Deciding you are going to finally pass a buck of grace to yourself for not holding the world together all the time.

I just remember this one time, at the start of 2011, where we went on a weekend retreat to Atlantic City for the volunteer program. It was before the boardwalk got obliterated by Sandy (that little tyrant). I remember how cold it was outside and how I tried to breathe hot air onto my fingers as I forced myself to run that boardwalk. Up and down. Up and down. Because sometimes running makes you believe in new beginnings again. And the sweet Lord knows, I needed to believe in something good and optimistic in 2011.

But more than anything, I remember getting to the cottage. And my roommates and I found our separate rooms. And I nearly cried because there was a full length mirror hanging on the wall. As if God was giving me a present, there was a full length mirror waiting for me.

I took that mirror off the wall immediately.  And I cradled it in my hands before propping it up on the floor in the closet. I got down on my knees and crawled into the closet. It was such a compact space, whoever once lived there never needed much room for clothes.

I sat Indian-style, facing the mirror. I closed the door to shut me in. And I wondered how long I could just sit there. How long it would take to reconcile the pieces of this broken girl.

Call it dramatic. You know what, I will call it dramatic before you do but that’s all I really knew how to do during that time in my life when I wasn’t crying: sit in the mirror and look at myself and wonder what I was doing. I did it often. On several occasions. In bathrooms. And fitting rooms. And the quietest places I could find in New York City.

I wanted to know why I was my own wrecking ball. I still want to know that: why we decide to become our own wrecking balls when life is just a miracle we’re asked to hold.

I guess I am afraid to find out that I am holding paper chains. Maybe that is my biggest fear, just like the one Marianne Williamson put out there: “”Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

I want to raise up my hands. I want to tell her and tell everyone that I don’t know how to be something apart from inadequate. So no, that quote doesn’t fit me so well because I don’t want to be anything other than the girl who messes up the bigger story. That’s silly to even admit— God is far too big and far too wide for you to ever worry about messing up his bigger story.

But inadequate is a sweater I’ve always worn, even if I don’t like the feel of the material or the itchiness of the collar. And who am I without it? I mean, who am I when I choose to say “enough” and just walk away from the smaller anthems that tell me I will never reach the point of Enoughness. As if it were a destination, I need to reach the land of Enoughness.

Enoughness is not a word but maybe it should be. Maybe it should be a program of studies at NYU. The Studies of Enoughness. Because we worship that word long and hard enough to make a science out of it.

We carry it like a suitcase— like baggage— into relationships. Into careers. Into family matters. Into all the places where we should have never been riddled with those sorts of questions: Who do you think you are? And why do you think that you matter? And will you, oh, will you ever add up?

Like I said earlier, I am afraid to find out that I am holding paper chains. I am gripping them so tightly. And it would just be a matter of ripping them— one by one— to be able to say to the paper and the staples that held the loops intact: you are finished. You are done. No more. No more.

I wish I could go back sometimes.

With all the strength and might that sits inside of me, I wish I could go back and wedge myself into the closet to sit beside the girl— the 2011 girl— who is trying to find her worth in a mirror. I wish I could wedge my way in and find a way to tell her the truth.

“Hey you,” I’d probably whisper. It sounds like a friendly enough introduction. “ Hey you, I am sorry all of this is happening. I am sorry that you are still in the muds of it. But you’ll be thankful one day. I just need you know that: one day the darkness will clear and you’ll crawl out of this tiny space and you’ll be thankful.”

Because only in the darkness do we know light. Only, and only, if ever there was a word called “darkness” would there be a reason to create another word to counter that word called “light.” And maybe that’s just life: patches of darkness and patches of light. Sometimes we see it all so clearly. Sometimes we don’t know the way. Sometimes we grab the hands of others too tightly and they’re just thankful— just so thankful— that you’re finally grabbing on and needing to be held.

It’s dark. And we weren’t called to walk the road alone. And you could always look up. Don’t you know that? You could always just look up if you need something to catch you. 

And maybe that’s why the stars are so pure and so golden. Maybe that’s why it is important to stop and breathe and bundle up and climb out on the roof to look at the stars at night.

The stars are beautiful. And reliable. And they ask no questions. They sort-of just let you be. They let you sit there and feel so small and ready in the still of silent nights and hopeful that the morning is going to come.

I don’t know about you but I believe someone made those stars. Every big, batch of heat and light was crafted and ready to serve a purpose. And it wasn’t an accident. Just like me, those stars were not an accident. They were not a mistake. They were just big balls of light that would one day make a girl like me so hopeful when I watched them stand there in the night sky. Not moving. Not budging. Not going anywhere.

That’s all I want to believe on any given Friday or Monday or Thursday: that if the stars that guide me home are enough to be adored, then I could be too.

I could be too.

No questions asked.

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