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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Please proceed to step out of the woods.

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You are more than the things you tell yourself on repeat. 

My god, you have no idea how badly I want to believe in those words. I want to say them on repeat. I want to grab people in public places and just shake them real good while those words shoot out of my mouth like promises I know I can keep.

You are more than the things you tell yourself on repeat. 

I wrote them in my palm. I kept opening and closing up my hand just so I could see those words, suck them in, believing for longer than a second that the words are true. They’re written in ink. I never want to stop reading them. I keep thinking they’ll act like a cloak that hangs over my shoulders and keeps me protected from the doubt and the insecurity that try to come crawling beneath my door at night.

You are more than the things you tell yourself on repeat. 

A friend of mine sent me a text the other day. She told me she’d had a dream about me. In thedream she saw me standing in the middle of a dark alleyway. I was hesitant. I was scared. I was unable to put one foot in front of the other. I could see the light that was waiting for me just outside the alleyway– so much light just waiting for me– but I couldn’t step out. And she told me, after she had that dream, that I needed to step out. Whatever was holding me back, I had to let it go. Whatever fears were burrowing themselves into my spirit, I had to find a way to let them go. She found me out. She found me out in that dream and she was telling me straight: you need to stop holding yourself back. The pity party must cease and you must de-invite everyone to your darkest parts. You need to stop thinking you have never deserved good things for your life. 

 

Just typing those words– you need to stop thinking you have never deserved good things for your life– makes me feel like I am the one punching my own self in the stomach. Again. Again. Again. But they’re true. They’re true on Monday mornings. They’re true on Wednesday afternoons and Friday nights and weekends that are packed with plans. We all, at some point or another, live with the lie that we don’t deserve good things. And it makes us hostile little creatures who don’t know to love things with our whole bodies.

You are more than the things you tell yourself on repeat.

Someone needs to read that today. Just that. Maybe it’s you. Someone needs to know they are not the lies they’ve told themselves.

You aren’t the sob story. You’re not the victim. You’re not the one who always gets left behind. You’re not forgotten. You’re not second-string. You’re needed. Can’t you just accept that? You are needed. 

 

 

This world needs you. It’s scary, crazy-broken and it needs you. And let me be clear– it needs all of you. And that means you must be willing to backburner your own insecurities so that you can become who this world so desperately needs right now. It needs the strongest version of you. The kindest version. The most refined version who is willing to go through the woods and out of the woods to ensure that someone else, someday, will be able to come out of the woods too. 

We all want to be out of the woods– have we forgotten that we were supposed to help one another find the way out

The world needs all of you– in your bravest skin. Please don’t let the doubt that’s falling on your shoulders keep you from your purpose. Maybe it’s been a while… maybe it’s been a while since someone came up to you and told you that you count. That you matter. That you play a role. We all play a role. And the point of this lifetime is not to look at other people and wonder why they got what you wanted.

The point of this lifetime isn’t to belittle yourself. It’s not to wait for the day when you feel worthy and good enough. It’s not to mark some date on a calendar when you’ll be a better version of yourself or a time when you think you’ll actually be able to look in the mirror without wishing someone else would stare back.

No offense, and not to be harsh, but we all need to step up and set expiration dates for ourselves. Expiration dates for the fear. For the doubt. For the lies we tell ourselves to convince ourselves that someone else is always going to have it better than us.

You’re here. You are here right now. And do you know how much that matters? Do you know how much that counts? Please– for the love of lovelier things– do not fling away your life and feed it to the lions in your head that tell you you don’t add up. You do. And the sooner you tell yourself that– whether you believe the words or not– the sooner you will find the backburner for yourself. And the sooner you find the backburner for yourself, the sooner you’ll understand what this life is really all about: helping others come out of the woods.
 

The stories you tell yourself– they’re lies. Lies meant to keep you in one place. Never moving. Never making the impact you said you wanted to. Those lies don’t have an expiration date… That should terrify you.

No one is going to change a thing for you if you don’t do it first.

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The fight to bury you.

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The salesman at the AT&T store wasn’t equipped to handle me.

He’s equipped to handle phones. And tablets. And angry customers who drop their phones and crack the screens. I am 100% sure that he is equipped to handle such things. But me? No, certainly not.

I imagined he’d probably gotten up that morning and slugged a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee without any plans of ever encountering an anxious malcontent in a bright red hat who was hoping to get an upgrade and a clean slate– all in one sitting.

“Do you have everything backed up?” he asked me.

“I don’t think so,” I shrugged and looked off to the window. “Does it really matter? Do people actually do that?”

“Ummm, well…” he looked at me, as if staring long enough might be the key to me cracking a grin and telling him I was just kidding. I wasn’t kidding.

“Yea, they do,” he said.

“What would I want to keep?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Pictures? People usually want those. Notes?”

“Does that really matter? I mean, we are all going to die anyway.”

“That’s one way to look at it,” he laughed nervously. I mean, really nervously. I didn’t flinch.

“Let’s not back it up,” I told him. “Let’s just start fresh. Start clean. Haven’t you ever wanted that? A new start? A chance to just begin again?”

“I guess so?”

Like I said, he had no idea what to do with me. I think if his facial expression could translate itself into words it would have simply said: I am genuinely terrified of you, girl in the bright red hat. I am genuinely terrified, and yet somehow intrigued, all at the same time.”

I wish I was kidding right now. I wish I did not have to sit here and tell you that these are the exact words (verbatim) that slipped out of my mouth the other day as I waited on one of those bright orange AT&T stools to get my iPhone 6 upgrade.

You’re probably all like, “There’s Hannah and her morbidity again, lounging back and creeping out men who really don’t want to approach existentialism over tiny metal phones.” You’d be proud of me though– I made no references to the sinking of the Titanic and that, to me, is a pretty big win.

 

But really though, haven’t you ever wanted that? That one sliver of a solid chance to just start over. To clear the slate. To say, “There are things I am finished with and I am digging my heels into the ground and deciding to be done with them.”  Please just tell me I am not the only one who has ever been so tired of the way Yesterday stays crumpled on the floor by the bed like an old lover’s sweatshirt. Please just tell me I am not the only one who wants to forget sometimes.

An old lover’s sweatshirt.

That’s what I think about these days. It keeps coming up. People keep making references. It’s kind of strange– actually. Because it always pulls me back to a navy blue sweatshirt with a big ol’ First Aid symbol on the front of it. He’d spray cologne on it so I could burrow my nose into the material and pretend he was with me when distance came in like an unruly dinner guest and ripped us both apart.

I remember that navy blue sweatshirt and how it held me together. It’s crazy to think that. I mean, I wonder if the hands that made that sweatshirt ever juggled with the idea that an eighteen year old girl, probably countries away, would one day grip that sweatshirt like it was oxygen and her existence all mashed up in the cotton material. I wonder if people ever see the fragility of holding something tighter when you can hold someone no longer. It’s painful. It’s real.

Even when we broke, even when I could not steal his voice through nighttime phone calls any longer, I kept that sweatshirt in my bed. I kept it beside me like it was the lantern to give me light. Like it was the hand to feed me. Like it was my worth and my purpose and my identity all wrapped into one hooded thing that once cost the boy too many pretty pennies at Abercrombie & Fitch for a girl who stole his heart to just go ahead and take it.

Maybe that’s the common thread I didn’t see up until this week. If anyone ever asks you, you can now say with full conviction, “Yes, there is a common thread between wiping away all the memory you neglected to back-up and the hoodie of a boy with blue eyes who owned a laugh that left you as fringed as blue jeans. There most certainly is a common thread.”

The common thread is this: You get choices.

Every single day is stacked with choices on more choices. You get to make decisions. You get to stand at the crossroads of your own life and decide if you want to change, and let go, and forget some things, and walk away.

You get to decide if you want to forgive yourself. Because you, like everyone else, deserves to be able to bury your past in a bright tin box in the backyard and never look back. You, like everyone else, deserves to be able to say, “I could hold on for ten thousand more years. I really could. But I choose to let go and give myself permission to just be okay with never having all the answers.” Just because you can hold something or someone longer does not mean you should.

Here’s the thing: we are feisty humans who want all the answers. We want to play God and doctor up the mystery that is simply meant to just be “mysterious” to small things like us. We want to know why our memory fails us. We want to remember just the sweet things. And then the reality hits us like a car, head-on: It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t going to last forever. It was going to end, like all and most things. And you couldn’t stay in that spot forever. Though it would have been easier. You know, it’s always easier to cling to the things that used to keep us alive with false senses of identity. It’s so much harder to admit the truth: your past is not a name tag you wear on your chest. Your past is not who you are when someone reaches for your hand at a party. Maybe you’ve acted like it could be though. Like some story or some poem or some other set of eyes could actually set you free. You know what’s really freeing? Looking forward instead of clinging to the rearview mirror like a lifeline. It’s not a lifeline. It’s simply over.

This will always be your fight. It will always be your choice.

It will always be in your power to shred the name tag or give away the sweatshirt or clear the memory of an old phone so that you, too, can taste “beginning.”

Some would call that “grace.” Some would call that “forgiveness.” Some would call that “finally letting it go and sealing it with an “amen” to wash that thing away.”

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Welcome to the valley.

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“You’re in the valley,”

she says to me, grabbing my shoulders and keeping her eyes on me— they never once wander away from me and find another thing to fix on.

“You’re in the valley,” she says again. “Welcome to it.”

We were standing in the middle of a crowded church lobby. I was rambling on about a boy in a coffee shop who wasn’t choosing me and a plane ticket I wanted to burn and a city I wanted to give up on because nothing feels safe or comfortable or certain inside of the name “Atlanta.” I was home for a short visit. I’d been living in the city for six months— waiting for God to speak and tell me why I was there. I wanted answers from her. Because that’s what you want from a spiritual mentor— black-and-white answers.

I was rambling with the hope that, when I ceased, she would tell me I didn’t need to go back. I could just choose to stay in my comfort zone. I could get a refund for the plane ticket.

“You have had some big mountaintops in your life,” she told me. “God is teaching you how live to inside the valley, the everyday life.”

With a thud of resolution— not the quick answer I was hoping for— I heard her truth: You have to go back. You have to stand inside of this valley. You have to figure out what it looks like to stand still and wait, without ceasing, on God. Even when you swear He isn’t moving. Even when you think He’s forgotten to speak.

I’m learning, as of lately, that God doesn’t give me Hershey Kisses the way He used to.

I mean, He used to give me lots of those and they came foiled in the form of affirmations— you’re doing great. I’ve got you. You’re remarkable. Onto the next thing!

As God and I have grown, and as we’ve both planted roots in the ground and decided not to leave, He seems to deliver to me things I need to chew on and unpack. They aren’t sugary and sweet. They are changes to my character and who I will be in the long-run, not boosts to my exterior that will gain me worldly praise. And let’s be real— refining like this hurts like hell. And the hardest part about refinement? He needs you in one place to finish the work out. He needs you firmly planted, both feet in the ground, and asking no more questions of how long it will last.

But I just want the instant solutions. I want the clarity. I want God to pluck me out of this time of waiting, give me all the answers I am asking for, and then send me on my way to my next adventure.

And so I tell him, “Pluck me out of this time of waiting, give me all the answers I am asking for, and then send me on my way to my next adventure, God. Let’s do this thing!”

But no. He just leads me to Leviticus. Like He is sending me to my room, I get sent to the confines of Leviticus. And Leviticus is not the book of the bible you read when you want to be affirmed or told that you are a good little child of God who can do no wrong. So I stew with the Hebrews. And I grumble. And I don’t understand how, after leaving Israel, that whole nation camped out at the foot of Mt. Sinai for two years. Two years— and they spent those two years resting, teaching, building, and meeting with God face to face. And that just leaves me speaking upward to the ceiling, “No way. Absolutely no way would I spend two years just resting and hanging out. I need to be doing. I need to be going. I need chaos to add order to my life.”

We’d label those Hebrews as lazy in the world we live in today. We would say they were making little progress. And that’s because our culture is fixated on the hustle and the grind and how stinkin’ good you look standing on a mountaintop and getting all the glory. Our culture is slowly, so slowly, convinced and coaxed into the slower, harder things: rest. Community. Questions that cut deeper than “how are you” and “what do you want to accomplish.” Our culture is slower to ask questions we can’t answer (we like the questions we can answer): Where is God? And why can’t I play God? Why don’t things move when I want them to move? How can I escape the valley? I would like to be done with this valley now, so how do I leave? 

I don’t have the answer.

I lift my palms up to the ceiling because I don’t have the answer and I don’t have an exit strategy. I would much rather choose to leave. That’s always what I want to do when change is happening around me that I control: I want to flee. I want to push away. I want to make my own momentum and solve my own problems. But there is a whisper that is stronger than my will to leave, because the whisper knows what I know: you can leave, you can go, you can flee from the light find your answers— but you’ll still come back to the valley empty-handed and tired.

That whisper, it calms me and stills me and begs me to wait, saying, “Stay. Just stay. Something is happening in the valley. Something is stirring and building in your restless soul. Things are being repaired. There are things being released. 

You are not forgotten in all of this, you are becoming something new. Lay down your armor. Meet things face-to-face. Let the work be done. Let the slow and quiet work be done right. 

You are in the valley. Welcome to it.” 

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You can’t be all the things.

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I want to be all the things.

If I am given a space to simply breathe and be completely honest then that’s the truth I choose to share: I want to be all the things.

I want to be a friend. I want to be a good friend. I want to be a best friend to every little human I encounter. I want to be a sister. A daughter. A girlfriend. A wife.

I want to be the person who gets called at two in the morning. I want to be the one who shows up at the door with coffee and a heart that is just ready and amped for whatever truth you want to let sit square in the middle of the kitchen table. I want to take people as they are. I want to hold people as they come.

I want to be the mysterious one— the girl in the corner of the coffee shop with the bright red hat. I want to be the rebel. I want to be the one who doesn’t care about the rips in her tights. I want to be a writer.  I want to be a poem. I want to be the one you can’t stop thinking about. I want to be the one you never let go of, the girl who managed to maneuver herself away like a magic trick. A great Houdini act that left the whole world asking, “Where’d she go? Did anyone get her name?

I want to be the one who feeds the homeless. I want to dress the orphans. I want to remember to pray when I say I will pray for you. I want to be the reliable one. The simple one. The one who needs no excess in her life— she gets it and she knows what is really important. I want to be the secret keeper. The girl who you always know is going to cook the meanest, baddest appetizer for that dinner party. I want to be the one who dances at weddings. I want to be the life of the party. Yes, I want to be the life of the party.

I want to be the one who remembers to look up. I want to be the organized one— the one who has ridiculous control over the content of my inbox. I want to be the one with systems and rules. I want to be the adventurer. The wild one. The cool girl. I want to be the one who never lets a single soul down.

I want to be all the things.

“I can’t be all the things,” I said into the phone yesterday. 

I stopped in the middle of the road as I said it, surrounded by all these trees that are begging— straight begging— to keep holding tight to the pretty yellow leaves that are ready to fall right off their fingertips and leave them forever. The girl on the other side of the phone was driving to me. She’d packed a bag and she was driving to Georgia for a few days. She was stopping in Atlanta for dinner to see me.

But here’s the thing: we are no small talkers. If you get us on the phone to talk about an estimated time of arrival, we will end up picking apart the shreds of our existence and holding them up to the light for each other to see.

“You can’t be all the things,” she answered. “We all want to be all the things and we just cannot be.”

“But I am seeing something even bigger than that,” I told her. There was something at the root of wanting to be all the things. Something I didn’t see until now: When you make promises to yourself that you can be everything to everyone, you are really just announcing to everything outside your orbit, “I don’t need you. I am everything I need to be, and I am everything to everyone, so I don’t need you.”

I don’t need you to show up. I don’t need you to come here. I don’t need you to answer my prayers. I don’t need you to tell me that you miss me.

And let’s me be honest: not needing people, and not knowing how to need people, is the saddest thing in the world. It’s sad and it’s empty and it will leave you hollow and begging for the “more” you don’t know how to swallow your pride and ask for.

Not needing people is fueled by a lie, not by a truth: the lie that if you really needed people then they wouldn’t come. They would not show up. They would not knock at your door. No one wants to be abandoned and so we all just try to be the ones who jump ship first and swim off in the distance to save the rest of the world. We tell ourselves that feels less lonely. We tell ourselves that feels better than being left. Unchosen. 

I can’t be all the things.

I wear that truth like a sweater these days— a chunky maroon sweater that comforts me and makes me claustrophobic, all at the same time.

That’s the hardest and grittiest truth I’ve been forced to swallow since I turned 26. It’s like 26 showed up with a hammer and nails and got all gangster in my face, saying, “Girl, hop off. You can’t be all the things. Just hop off that reality you created for yourself.”

That’s where I am in this present moment: figuring out what it looks like to not be all the things— to not be everything to everyone. To just be something to a few. To remember to call that few. And cheer that few on. And finally resolve the debate in my mind that has always told me that, to be valuable, you must sink your teeth into quantity.

Quantity will make you known. Quantity will make you well-liked. But quantity has nothing over quality. They were right to burn that into our brains in the 5th grade. Quantity will leave you going wide, and wide, and wide, but Quality is a beggar that needs your whole being. Quality is the one who takes you into its arms and strokes your hair as it says, “This won’t be the easy route. It’s not gonna be easy to go deeper with just a few. But aren’t you ready for the layers to come off you? Aren’t you ready for someone to know you for who you really are? If you keep skimming the surface— if you keep a constant dance with Quantity happening— you are never going to feel known. And darling, feeling known is the best feeling in the world.”

When you are trying to be all the things, you are layered.

You are bundled. You are like one the wooden Russian nesting dolls that keeps itself hiding beneath all the other layers.  And there are a few extra layers that are heavier than the others— wanting to be there for everyone. Wanting to save everyone. Wanting to stack the world upon your bony shoulders and turn away anyone who tries to tell you they are here to help.

“I don’t need the help,” I want to say, holding up my hand. And really, if you chipped away at all the pride inside of me, you’d get down to the truth: It’s not that I don’t need the help, I just don’t know how to ask for help. I don’t know how to say— even in the smallest of small voices— please help me. Because I am too proud. And I am too fixed on saving things. And I am too busy thinking that I must be God— I must be God— to ever ask for the help of someone or something that is evidently bigger than me.

That’s a real way to slap God and people in the face—wham, wham— at the very same time: when you find a way to say with your actions and your words, “What you are trying to give me is not enough. I already think I can do better than you.”

She scouts out all the random and weird and delightful coffee shops hidden in the limbs of Atlanta and she is one of my best friends here. She gets me. She gets my love for classic literature. She gets my ache for a good cup of joe. And she and I can just sit at a table for hours and talk about Life like it is the third person sitting beside us and we are doing our best to analyze its stony personality and unpredictable ways.

Hodge Podge. This time her recommendation was Hodge Podge. It’s a half-mile from my house though I never ventured in that direction. I think I should probably explore.

“They have paleo brownies,” she told me. That sealed the deal. I was on a paleo kick at the time.

We sat in the middle of that coffee shop, inside of a room that is giant and filled with tables that look like they belong in an art classroom. I shimmied the brownie out of the cellophane. We picked at it as we talked.

“What do you need from me?” she asked.

I wasn’t expecting the question. She asked it again. Rephrasing it this time.

“As a friend, what is it that you actually need of me?”

I didn’t know. I really didn’t know.

And I don’t know if she and I have figured out what we actually need from one another yet. I still don’t even know if we know how to ask. But it started slow and simple and fixed and I want to think I’ve gotten better at asking her for the things I need:

Someone to talk to when the world feels like it is going haywire and  you all you want to do is rant or cry or shake your fists in the air because it is November and Atlanta is having a field day with the 70 degree weather.

Someone to venture out of the city with and try to pitch a tent and camp in the wilderness.

Someone who has a great laugh that seems to fuel you.

Someone who is just as wide-eyed and just as unsure but they are on a quest to find beauty, just like you. They are searching for something— maybe just about to scratch the surface— on something they haven’t quite touched yet, just like you.

Maybe that’s what we all need on any given day: a person who just stands besides us and nods their head when we finally get the breath to say, “I don’t understand. I just don’t understand. And I try. And I lose. And I win. And I had it really, really good this one time and I keep trying to fumble my way back to something that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s probably better than it was in that moment but I just don’t know how to see it right now.

And I am trying to pray. And I am trying to be an adult. And I am trying to pay bills. And I am trying to figure out the names I want to go by, the titles I want live inside of. I am trying to figure to figure out how to just be a good human being— and that is hard enough on any given day. 

This whole “I have you then I don’t have you,” “I need you but I don’t know how to keep you,” “I want you but you aren’t for me” thing is hard enough.

Please just stay. I guess I just need to not be left alone right now.”

so there’s a book coming out in March…

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