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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How to be “less busy.”

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The tune flooded into my ear buds and I slowed my pace from a run to a walk.

A slow walk, I was huffing and breathing as the sounds of Judy Garland reached my ears. She started to sing, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas. Let your heart be light.”

The sun was setting. It was falling beneath a hill, just trying so anxiously to keep its head up past 5:30pm. Two silhouettes tumbled over the hill. I never would have noticed them if I hadn’t slowed down enough to walk and look around. It was a guy and girl. He was sitting in a motorized wheelchair and she was sitting in his lap. A fleece blanket was wrapped around her and that guy was holding her so tightly as if tell the world, “I know what I have and I am holding it tightly.”

The two barreled down the hill. They were laughing wildly and I couldn’t hear the words coming out from their mouths. As I walked past them, they both looked at me. They paused their laughter and looked at me in the eyes– as if they were both saying, “Come into our moment. There is room for you, too.”

The girl was grinning ear-to-ear and I bet she had her father’s smile. The guy’s mouth was agape. He was missing two front teeth and the rest of them were gold. Together, they went on laughing and rolling down the hill in their motorized wheelchair.

I watched them go on their way as the words continued to play in my ears, “from now on, our troubles will be miles away…”

I thought about the two of them the whole way home.

I thought about how I could have missed that moment– that beautiful and rare moment when you get to witness two people loving each other so fluidly. I thought about how perfect it was and I am still wondering: did they know how perfect it was? Do we know a perfect moment when we have it in our hands? No crying. No fighting. No broken dishes. Just laughter and the chance to be young and in love.

 

These are the things I miss when I am busy.

I say I want to be “less busy” but I forget that “less busy” is something you must train yourself to be. I think, these are the things I don’t see when I am trying just so hard to reach the next best thing. These are all the reasons why November shows up and I don’t know how to handle her. I don’t know how to handle her pauses. Her hopes that I’ll show gratitude. Her patience towards me when I want to keep hustling and she’s just fine to stand in the corner– letting me rip the days of her off the calendar– and only say once in all her 31 days, “You’re going to miss me when I am gone. I am the introduction to your most favorite season. And you’re going to miss me if you don’t look up, girl. Looking up is the whole point.”

Looking up is the whole point to this time of year.

Judy kept singing as I walked up the hill, sat on my porch and waited for the moon to hang and make the night jealous. I kept hitting repeat on that song– my favorite Christmas ballad– just so I could hear those two lines sung over and over again, “Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow.”

There it is, I think to myself, as if I can place a finger down on how this season makes me feel: it makes me feel hopeful. It makes me feel like the world is okay. And humanity is working somehow. And yet, I am sad. I am sad because all the songs are saying this should be the happiest time of the year. And yet, life didn’t get perfect just because November came. And the songs that trace the radio always seem to remind me: people pass away. Life goes too quick. People pass away and they stop calling you to ask if you’ve noticed the lights yet this year.

I want to live in a world where we always remember to go and see the lights.

It’s as if the air gets colder and we start saying things we never thought to say when the sunscreen was out– “I miss you. And I wish you were here. And why can’t you just be here? It’s not fair. It makes no sense. Are you doing ok? I hope you are doing ok. Life is fine. It’s good, even. But I don’t miss you any less.

There is someone I still want to call up and say, “Listen, I don’t even care where you are. It could be ten thousand miles away from me and I’d be okay with that, as long as I could still call you from time to time and hear your voice. I just want to hear you tell me you’ve been okay this whole time. Tell me dying didn’t hurt you. Tell me you’ve been laughing and you’ve been okay and yes, you managed to find some time to see the lights.”

Truth told: I wanted to started this whole piece by writing, “This is a piece about nothing and everything– all at the same time.” That is just how I feel about life these days.

I mean, there are moments when we swear we have everything we want. We are happy. We are invincible. We are seeing things so clearly. And then there are moments when we realize we are nothing. We are small– just flecks. And this whole thing passes us by so quickly. This whole thing slips from our fingers and we lose people before we are ready to let them go. We shake our fists at a God who makes us attend funerals for the people who made us feel like the only thing spinning in their orbit. And then we move on. Because there’s really nothing more we can do but go on living like time would be up for us too some day.

 

This piece is about everything and nothing at all.

It’s as much about that as it is about a night that happened a few weeks ago. It was me and two friends. The coffee shop with the pretty orange stools lined up by the ceiling-high windows closed at ten and we were still talking. The night was still young for us.

We picked up our bags, shoveled laptops into their cases, and walked to a bar across the street. It was the day I got a package in the mail full of two-dozen books. My book. Printed. Bound. “Galley proofs,” as they call them in the industry.

“This girl has a book,” my friend announced to the bartender as he took our order. “It’s a real book and it’ll be out in March!”

The bartender just looked as us strangely while my friend held the book high in the air and I just wanted to whisper, “I wrote that thing. He’s holding all the proof in my little world that I was capable of getting my heart out of my chest long enough to wrestle it down to a page.”

The bartender looked at us as though he thought life was going to disappoint us more eventually. For now, we were untouchable. I ordered a margarita. We split queso dip. And somehow, someway, I just started reading the book aloud. A few sentences. Then a few pages. We were laughing. We were crying. My voice was trembling. And one point, one of the boys paused and looked at me from across the table with tears in his eyes.

“It’s only cold air and songs,” he told me. “Those are the only things that make feel the way your words do.” Cold air and songs. I thought, that is the loveliest compliment I’ve ever heard.

“We’re going to remember this,” he said, snapping the somber moment in two. He motioned us all to take our drinks and hold them high to the air. “Years from now, I know I won’t remember everything but I am going to remember this night. I am always going to remember being here.”

We clinked our glasses together. If I had a photographic memory I would have snapped, snapped and chosen to keep that pile of seconds forever.

You’re right, I thought in my head as we set the glasses down on the table. You’re right, I thought again as I opened my car door and got inside just a few minutes later, waiting for the heat to trickle into the Camry.

You’re right, I will remember this too. I’ll remember that our phones didn’t sit on the table. We weren’t checking tweets. We were just completely here in a world that makes me feel us feel like we always need to be somewhere else. We were just as we are– young, and hopeless, and hopeful and here.

And it’s true– another season will come through. And we’ll get a little older. Some of us will make it. Some of us won’t. There will be more celebrations. There will be more funerals. There will be more parties, and black tights, and clinking glasses. They’ll be more gold and people who make us feel like falling in love and chunky wool sweaters. We’ll claim to be a little busier. We’ll promise to get a little slower.

Life will keep unraveling. It’ll keep coming. But, for now, I like to think we have it good. It feels good right now, like that moment when you are sitting in an empty coffee shop on a Thursday night and someone comes and opens their computer right beside you. And suddenly your shoulders relax and you breathe out and you feel less alone because they showed up.

That’s just how it feels to me. It might not be perfect. It might never be perfect. But it’s good and we’re here. And it makes me feel like I should call someone up tonight. I should call someone up tonight and ask them before it’s too late: “Hey, have you gotten a chance to see the lights this year?”

 

photo cred.

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This is just the night talking.

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I just want to be truthful with you.

On this quiet Tuesday night, I want nothing more than to just sit here— my fingers curled around a fresh cup of coffee (I am trying to adjust to this whole ‘getting dark early’ thang — and just lay down the truth, as if you and I were the type of people who had been doing this sort of thing for years.

If you ask me how I am doing in this moment, I have to say one word: “Blessed.” Not in some cheesy way. I am blessed. I don’t always feel it in my core but I also think I need to stop giving my feelings so much credit. I am blessed, even if I don’t always feel blessed. The things around me are good. I live in a beautiful city. I have a beautiful, little home. I get to come to my own office space every single day and create around other creatives. I am working on a second book. The holidays are just around the corner.

And I just need a space— a place to be honest— where I can say that I have grown so much in the last few months. Since starting and finishing my first memoir, since moving to a new place, my heart has grown and broken and reassembled itself and been made new. And so much of that is because of you.

I don’t say that to butter you up. I don’t say that to get more readers. I could honestly care less about readers coming back to a page. I don’t even want readers— I just want the kinds of people in my life who’d show up at a diner at 2am and eat pancakes with me if I needed them there. Are you one of those? Tell me, for real: blueberry or chocolate chip?

I have had the utmost pleasure for the last few years to get to know people all over the world.

It’s like a secret second life I don’t talk about that often but, if you get me going, I will never shut up about it. Ever since I wrote a blog post on October 10, 2010– saying I would write to anyone who needed a love letter– my life has never looked the same. My inbox stopped being an inbox and it became a place to find your stories & triumphs & heartbreaks & songs sitting and waiting for me every single day. I don’t say it often enough but that is my favorite part of this whole thing— getting to read you and know all about you. I seriously gush about you to all the people who circle in my circles. I can’t get enough of the things you tell me. I am strangely (and lamely) like a proud grandmother to all the little victories you drop into my inbox. You email me after first dates. You email me with successful (and terrifying) Tinder stories. You tell me about your broken hearts. I read every word because I know you are out there– you are out there. And even if I can’t see you or sit beside you, I have to be real: I’d give anything to see you if you needed to be seen. My god, I really hope someone sees you tonight.

You know, just to crack my heart open a little further, I got an email a couple of months ago from a girl who told me, flat-out, that she hated me. “I hate you sometimes,” she wrote. “And no, I am not going to choose prettier words the way you always manage to do. It’s my sheer, plain, simple truth: I hate you sometimes.” She hated my fonts. And she hated my references to coffee. More than anything, she hated that I wasn’t real. That she only could get virtual shred of me. She thought I was fake for that reason, that I claimed to see people even though I could not “see” them. There was just so much hatred spewing from her words.

I wrote back to her nearly immediately. I told her she was a really beautiful writer. She had fire inside of her. She should use those words for good because that’s our biggest problem today: we know words have the power to wreck people and we all want the power to be a wrecking ball to someone other than ourselves sometimes. 

I told her what I ache to tell you everyday, face-to-face: I do the best I can with what I’ve been given. And I do my best to show up for people. And I mean every single word that I write in a way that it actually makes me chest hurt because it feels like something is falling out of me. I can’t sit here and try to make you believe that but I would not be doing this if I didn’t feel the dull ache every single day. I feel it. And I know the emptiness. And I just want to do something that counts. And so I take the people God has given me, and I take the blog space I have, and I take the pages before me, and I try to make something beautiful every single day. And I fail myself sometimes. And I don’t feel like I’ve made the mark every single day. But I try.

But she was right, I wanted to tumble so hard into her life. But I couldn’t. I can’t. I want to be everything to everyone– but I can’t be. And if I always try to be, then I will miss the chance to be something to someone. I will miss the sacred chances to be “someone” to just a few. 

You might think it’s silly but I have read thousands of emails — thousands upon thousands.

They are all the proof in the world I need to just stand here in my corner office in Atlanta and tell you what I really think about you: I think you’re brave. I think you’re cooler than you give yourself credit for. I think you’ve been through a lot and you try to play it off like it’s not that big of a deal. It’s a big deal. And hey, it’s okay to cry. I cry about 16,000 times a day. I play this specific commercial to make myself cry. I have a whole folder on my desktop entitled “For when you need to weep, babycakes.” You don’t ever have to be ashamed of crying.

I think you carry around these broken pieces of yourself for too long sometimes. I mean, who doesn’t? And I think some of you are afraid to let someone really wonderful in. Someone who could shake up your entire existence and that scares the living snot out of you. Because changing seems scary. And love seems scary. But fear is not a driver. No, fear cannot sit in the driver seat when it comes to your life. That’s not fair to the parts of you that have always deserved joy & good things & that strange-somersaults-in-your-stomach feeling when you sit beside someone wonderful.

I think you’re a boss. And a baller. And all these other words that you’ll probably just laugh at but I wish you could see it as truth. One of you emailed me a few months ago and you told me he walked away last Tuesday and you feel like the strength came back on Sunday. And another person emailed just to follow up and say, “I beat it. I really beat it.” And cheers to you— you beat cancer. You’re amazing. You’re freaking amazing. I am just so honored to be beside you in these moments, even if it is miles and screens and years and life that keeps us from knocking knees beneath the table.

I think and I know and I believe and I see that some of you are stuck. You are stuck inside of this box that other people have constructed for you. You feel trapped. You feel alone. You wish you didn’t check your phone so much. You wish you were really living but life feels like a waiting room more than anything on most days. You don’t realize the power you hold. You don’t see how capable you are. This isn’t some fluffy, juju pep talk, this is just the honest truth:

You. Don’t. Get. To. Do. This. Again. Really and truly. We don’t get to plan things. We don’t get to say when the time is up. And we wait too long to get brave. We wait too long to gather up the threads of our lives and just call them all gold. Because that’s what you have in your hands right now. You are carrying gold. Your struggles. Your insecurities. Your hopes. Your ambitions. The fire that sits inside of you and burns so hot and you think that no one understands it. But I do. I do understand that feeling.

I know that feeling of being unable to sleep at 2am because everything you want to do is rattling inside of your brain and falling out of your chest because you just want to be seen and known and valued and told that you’re worth it. That you could do it if you tried. And I don’t know how to do much more than just cheer you on in that. Because I do believe in you. I believe in you even if we’ve never met. And my reasoning for that is simple:

Once upon a time, I desperately needed someone to look me in the eye and tell me I was golden. I needed them to tell me that I could go out there and I could do amazing things. It would have never mattered to me if it was a loved one or a stranger, I needed to hear it all the same.

So maybe this is for you (and please know that I write this with everything inside of me): I think you can do it. I am betting all of myself on the fact that you can do it. It will take discipline. It will take a devotion you haven’t tapped into just yet. It will take everything inside of you but I know you can do it. I know you can. And I will show up every minute of every day if it takes just that to push you from that same old spot you’ve been standing in for too long. That same spot, where you never move and you never breathe and you never go, is heartbreaking. Your heart is supposed to be broken like bread and passed all around, not left in pieces on the floor.

I met a girl named Sarah a few months ago at a youth conference I spoke at.

I came off the stage to find Sarah waiting for me. And before I could even catch my breath to say anything to her, she was rattling off every shortcoming she could name. “I’m not good at this… and I hate myself for this… and one time I did this… and it make me feel this way… And I cut last week… And sometimes I don’t think I even want to be here.”

There was this strange sense of awkward insecurity in the way she spoke to me, looking down a lot and fidgeting with her hands, as if she were waiting for me to turn in the other direction and walk away.

Instead, I grabbed her shoulders. I literally pulled her in for a bear hug, of sorts. I drew her in as close as I could. And I just whispered into her ear so that only she and I could hear it, “Sarah, you’re okay. Stop looking for a reason to not be okay. You got up today. You’re right here. You’re okay to me.”

It was this really quiet, grace-filled moment where I was surprised to find I reached out to grab onto her so tightly. And she just broke down into my arms. She was sobbing. And we just sort of rocked back and forth together for a short spell of time. I don’t really know how long we rocked for. I think all the words in the world stopped working for a little while.

And this is the strange part— the really strange part— where I wish, more than anything, that I could just force my arms through this screen and grab you tight. Seriously. I wish that more than anything— that I could just give you enough truth to carry you through this week:

You’re okay. Stop looking for a reason to not be okay. You need to make a step this week. That’s what I need of you— one step. One step that you’ve been afraid to make. One leap that you know is the thing that must come next. I need you to go out there this week and I need you to take that first step.

And then come back to this space and let me know what you did. I want the email. I want the report. I want you to know that someone is in your corner. And, at the very same time, I want you to know you were not made for the corner. It’s time you let that insecurity go.

You’re right here. You. Are. Right. Here. And yes, I know you fight up against the fact that it doesn’t matter, that it wouldn’t really matter if you were gone tomorrow. I think we all fight that sometimes. And I think it would matter. I do think you matter. I think you need to be here now.

hb.

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Love is not a piece of cake.

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Love is not a piece of cake.

That’s the lesson I am learning these days. The other lesson I am learning these days is this: when life has a lesson you are clearly meant to learn, the whole entire world shows up to teach it to you. You get reminders of the lesson in songs. In traffic signs. In conversations. In strangers. Everywhere, through everything, the world shows up to teach you good. And it seems as though life beats that little lesson into you until you hold up your hands in exasperation and say, “Okay. I get it. I’ll learn this. I won’t ignore it any longer. We good? We good?”

Love is not a piece of cake.

Yea, that’s the lesson. And I don’t even mean that to play on a metaphor. I just mean, love is not some sugary, empty thing that looks surface-level pretty but fails to keep you full. If you keep meeting that sort of love then I think maybe you’re meeting an imposter. Some other thing dressed up and pretending to be love. Take caution, I’m no expert. I’m not someone who is going to yell in your face and tell you about the love you deserve. I’m just going to take off my own mask and finally admit it: I’ve worshipped the wrong definition of love for far too long. There was a strange kind of comfort in worshipping my own definition of love— it meant it could never hurt me, control me, surprise me or wreck me. My own definition of love let me be in charge of hurting, controlling, surprising and wrecking myself first.

Love, to me, was this script on repeat:

“Win people. Be worthwhile. Be the one that people want to love. Do what it takes to please them.”

And if someone came to me and said, “Listen, we need to borrow your definition of love. We want to print it in all the dictionaries,” then I would need to pity the world who would have to try to live inside my definition. Because love, to me, was blues eyes that stopped looking in my direction. Love, to me, was begging to my own strength to try to get it all right. Love to me was hearing scriptures like “love your neighbor as yourself” and laughing as I whispered, “That’s so funny. I barely even like myself.”

Love was promises we could not keep. Love was disappointment. And walls built up to keep me safe. Love was moats around castles. It was writing notes to ghosts. It was hinging my worth on being chosen. Love is all I ever wanted and the one thing I still feel too insecure to admit: I don’t want it. I need it. 

When my friend asked me to attend the church with her on Sunday, I was hesitant.

Like, really hesitant. It’s not that I hadn’t heard good things about the church. I just heard it was “traditional.” Simple. And the part of me that likes big, flashy church productions seems to naturally rebel against the idea of “simple.” To be honest, I think sometimes I like the flashy productions and poppy music because it makes gives me more layers of distraction to put between myself and God. Music. Trendy clothing. Attractive people who will surely mate and make even more attractive babies (though that’s everywhere). I’ve gotten used to going to church for people, not God.

So when I walked into the church, placed next to a super market I’ve driven past a dozen times before, I’d already scratched the hope for said-church off my list. I’d already given up on the church.

The lights weren’t low. The sanctuary wasn’t grand. We pursed cups of coffee in our hands as we waited for the music to start. I felt a bit like Lorelai Gilmore just because I am watching that show too much on Netflix these days. There was no flash. No opening. Just two guys and their guitars on stage. The whole hymn sat on the screen in simple white letters. They sang a song you only hear at funerals. The words pelted against my skin like rain in the moment you remember you like feeling it:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know, 

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

I stood in that church as the funeral song played and I thought to myself: I add so much excess to my own life. To my definitions of love. To my relationships. To God. And people. I still am stuck believing that if I just give you all my excess and all my barriers then you’ll be too afraid to love me. And you will leave me. And love will stay this “empty” thing. The “need to win” thing it’s only ever been to me.

Fittingly, the pastor spoke on love. She spoke on that overused verse: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your soul.” I always read that verse as: Love God and love people in the ways you know how to. But no, I never heard: love God and love people with your whole entire person. With all your doubts and all your fears. With the things you understand and things you’ve never understood. Love someone, even when you think you hate them. Love God, even when nothing is moving the way you wanted it to be moving. Love someone, even though you were never promised forever. Love people and God as if love were the kind of thing that has layers. Layers that let you go deeper and deeper, past whatever you think you are capable of.

To be completely honest and unscripted, I stood in that church and wrestled with God, saying: I only want love if it has more layers for me. I don’t want emptiness. I don’t want something that 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’s 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 got an email just the other day from a girl who finally got the guy.

She got him. He finally said, “I am all in. We are doing this. No games. No hesitation.” Nike should maybe sponsor their newfound relationship because the two are about to hustle and do and jump the hurdles to make this precious love of theirs work. 

But anyway, she was emailing me, of all people, to say she was afraid. She got exactly what she wanted and now she was afraid to fail him. She wrote, “I’m scared. I’m scared that I won’t learn to actually let him in. That I’ll be so afraid & so guarded for so long that we’ll just hit a ceiling & never get better. I don’t want that for myself & I really, really don’t want that for him.”

Love is not a piece of cake. The lesson rears its annoying little head again as I start to type back to her.

It’s not a piece of cake. Love is not some sugary, empty thing that looks surface-level pretty but fails to keep you full. It’s not run by your own insecurities. It’s not susceptible to your own nasty thoughts.

Love is not a piece of cake.  If anything, love is a seven-layer dip and we just really comfortable with sticking to the surface with all those crunchy Fritos. We think, we’ll just stick to the surface and keep all our barriers up so that we can never get hurt.

Love is not a piece of cake. It’s a fist fighter. It’s a wrecking ball. It’s more than blue eyes and ghosts and slow dances that never became yours. It’s deeper than your own perceptions. It’s things you can’t see or touch.

It’s anything, anything but a piece of cake. I’m learning that old definitions must die hard. They either die hard or they swallow you whole. And me? I need a definition of love that feeds me more than a piece of cake with inflated frosting falling off the edges of it.

And so my request these days becomes: Show me love that is bigger than my brain, my bullies, my ballads and my bruises. I want a love so rich and so foreign that when it comes in my direction I think that I must give it a new name to make up for all the years I never knew what to call it.

I think I need a name for this thing called “love” so when it comes to knock at my door— to rearrange my heart like furniture I’ve grown fine with seeing sit in one place— I’ll know to let it in. I’ll know to let it in and wreck me good with its layers.

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The book is ready for pre-order!

To my readers,

I’ve written and rewritten this post about a dozen times.

Every time I think I’ve nailed it I sit on the backspace button and start over. My heart is thudding. My lungs are full of breath that I don’t know how to release. I am more nervous than that time Andrew U. asked me to be his girlfriend in the 8th grade and I fumbled to change my relationship status in my AOL profile (yes, I was severely nervous about that one).

I’ve come to the conclusion that I could either dress this post up in really pretty words or I could just come out, bite down hard of my bottom lip, and just say it:

It’s here.

It’s finally, finally here. 

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I am excited to share that my first book If You Find This Letter  (March 10, 2015) is available for pre-order!

Like, today. Like, right now. At all the major outlets where books are sold:

Amazon    B&N   Indiebound   CBD.com   Books a MIllion 

You can order it as a hardcover or ebook.

I’ll be honest: I’ve been crying all week. If you’ve followed along on my book writing journey then you know the truth already: I put my everything into this book. Absolutely everything. And you’re getting all of me when you get this book. It was exhausting & wonderful & a once-in-a-lifetime process to produce this book and I am just now getting the confirmation I prayed for this whole time: It was all so incredibly worth it. Thank you for that. 

So here’s the nitty gritty:

Pre-order sales matter a ton. They show booksellers and publishers that there is interest in what you’ve written. It would mean the world to me if you would preorder a copy of my memoir so that I can keep writing books for all of you. As a thank-you for pre-ordering, I’ll be continuously picking people out of the pre-order pile every month leading up to the release date of the book (March 10, 2015) to meet for half-hour online coffee dates. We will talk life, love, big plans, business, whatever you please! Just you + me + lots of coffee + heart stuff.

You can be eligible for a sweet, little coffee date by sending proof of purchase (a receipt, a screenshot, a selfie with your morning coffee, whatever!) to preorder@hannahbrencher.

And here’s another sweet thang:

I know March is a ways away, but I’ve got another project– a fold-and-mail stationery pad for writing love letters– that hits stores on December 23, 2014. It’s full of fun & funky prompts and it is perfect for the folks who adore snail mail.

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You can snag a copy here.

Sappy little side-note that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else in this post: 

Each of you has no idea how much I’ve been encouraged by your comments, your tweets, your emails, and letters. Thank you for inspiring me to keep writing and keep pushing. I feel so blessed to have you in this community and I don’t know if I say it nearly enough: thank you for taking me just as I am. You are the gold that makes this whole life good.

hb.

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Stop sleeping with liars.

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First things first, stop sleeping with liars.

Stop crawling into bed at night, pulling the covers over your body, and letting liars hiss inside your ear: you’re unworthy. You’re not good enough. You’re falling short. You’re a burden. You’re alone.  

These liars take up room. They snicker and grow when you give them credit. They hold tight to your ankles. They make you feel like less: less of a lover. Less of a mover. Less of a shaker. Less of a person.  Please– for the love of lovelier things– do not fling away your life and feed it to the liars in your head that tell you you don’t add up.

You need to stop holding yourself back. The pity party must cease and you must de-invite the little liars to your darkest parts. You need to stop thinking you have never deserved good things for your life. 

 

It’s a relentless grind to figure out the point of this life but life is not a puzzle.

It is not a race. It is not a mystery to be solved by human hands. Life is a dance. A hands-all-in, feet-all-in sort-of dance that we start living the second we stop pulling it apart for answers.

And sometimes life (mentioned above) is just too short to buy groceries. Or do the dishes.

We all have a life we didn’t live. It’s there. It exists. It grows with every choice we didn’t make. I want to say the golden spot in all of this is reaching the point where that life you didn’t live can be surveyed without regret.

Not everyone in life is going to care about you, your favorite breakfast foods, or your pet peeves. Don’t even try to make them. Just appreciate those who come into your life and do care.

Find the line– the one single line of poetry or prose or song lyric– you would tattoo to your face. No, really. If someone came up to you and was like, “Today you MUST get a face tattoo,” you should know what pretty little line would inked on your face for all of eternity. If you don’t know yet, go out there and figure it out.

Self-pity doesn’t have an expiration date. That should terrify you.

Keep a diary. A real diary. And write down silly little details like the way his jeans were ripped or how the air seemed to smell on the morning after you two broke. You’ll want the memories later. You’ll never regret that diary on the day you crack it open and get to say, “I wrote it all down. It’s all right here.”

 

We’re all trying.

Really, we are. We all want to matter. We all want to count. We all want to be seen. So there’s your purpose for the day: Want people. Count on people. See people.

Tweets that get stuck in draft form are a sign from God that you weren’t supposed to write them. Don’t send them.

You already know the truth. It sits inside of you like a rock. Give yourself more credit. Stop saying you don’t know. You know. You know. I repeat, You. Know.

Not everything will be okay. And you know what? That’s okay. Sometimes you’re gonna lose. You’ll be a loser. And you’ll join the loser club, just like all of us. And then you’ll win again. It will be great.

Don’t write fear a love song. Fear has never deserved your love songs. 

It’s hard to leave. It’s always going to be hard to leave. It’s like there’s something stitched in our DNA that makes it feel nearly unbearable to let people and places go. But, at the same time, hard stuff is important. And sometimes you know it is time to leave. Don’t deny your feet when they tell you it is time to walk away.

Either life will be an adventure or it will be a waiting room. You pick.

Stop waiting for someone to come along and tell you that you can do something. You can. It’s already within you. You’re getting lapped by the people who never waited on approval. Hustle. It’s a real thing. This is your tough love siren going off in the distance: if you want it, step up. Stop telling yourself weak stories and just step up.

They might not change. You have to be willing to see that. People don’t always change. Even though we want to. The takeaway from that is this: People aren’t projects. They’re just people. We don’t get to fix them. You can’t build a life around an idea of person. You have to build your life around real things. Real and good things.

Write poems. Without rhyming or worry about iambic pentameter. Without judging them. Just write poems because they are groovy. Write poems because life is poetry. We’re the poems.

Drink hot chocolate. Abandon chairs to sit on counter tops. Screw the calorie count every once in a while. Find an author whose words are like truffles for you. Sit on the countertop, drinking hot cocoa, screwing calories, and reading Neruda out loud.

 

Not everyone will be your cheerleader.

Not everyone will understand. Let people think you are crazy. Crazy is a good thing. Wild hearts are necessary.

Stop waiting for someone to come along and tell you’re brave and capable and ready and here. Don’t hitch your life and all your hopes on someone coming along and telling you you’re brave and capable and ready and here. Sometimes people will tell us those things. Sometimes they won’t. Proceed believing in them anyway. You’re brave. You’re capable. You’re ready. You’re here. Do something about it.

Also– you’re human. That’s it. You’re not super human. You’re not subhuman. You’re just plain human. You make mistakes. You don’t scale walls. You hurt people without ever intending to. You get your heart ripped out of your chest. Some days the only language you can endure is tears and you’re like, “I’M SO FLUENTTT IN TEARSSSS. WHATTT ISSSS WRONNGGG WITHHH MEEE???” Like I said, you’re human. Go with it.

There is a time to tell the truth. And then there is a time to do anything but tell someone the truth—you have be so careful over the things you’re willing to let someone carry for the rest of their life.

There is an underlying storyline to all of us. It’s common and it’s overlapping: we all want to belong somewhere. For that very reason—be kind. Be graceful. We are all just trying to make our way home to one another after time on a road that left us tired and wanting for someone to ask us to stay.

Stop waiting for someone to come along and tell you that you can do something. You can. It’s already within you. You’re getting lapped by the people who never waited on approval.

We all have a life we didn’t live. It’s there. It exists. It grows with every choice we didn’t make. I want to say the golden spot in all of this is reaching the point where that life you didn’t live can be surveyed without regret.

 

You’re a vault.

Don’t let anyone tell you different than that. You’re a vault. You’re deep. You’re an onion with all the layers intact. Give yourself that credit. Don’t let people belittle you into acting like you are less than worthy—you are equal to everyone else on this planet.

Suffering is a real thing. I wish I didn’t have to type those words. But it’s real and it is, a lot of times, secret. Be kind to people. You don’t know the secret suffering they take to bed with them every night.

When you reach a point in life where it is nearly midnight and your friend asks you to go on a boat ride– to see the lake at night– you’ll be tempted to weave towards your bed instead. You’ll make some comment about how old you are getting. Hold up. Rewind. Accept the offer. The night will kiss you with stars. You’re gonna feel so small and lovely.

Accepting yourself will prove to be one of the biggest journeys of this lifetime. Pack the bags. Bring the toothbrush. March for the door and go. That journey is worth taking.

We make choices every single day. That’s what we do. Life is just a stacking of yes and no questions. Yes, I want this. No, I don’t. Yes, this is worth it. No, it isn’t. And each choice takes us farther and farther from away from the person we did not end up becoming. You make the choices though. And you get to pick the person who will stand in the rear view mirror. You get to decide if you’ll miss that person you didn’t become or not.

We live in a world where it’s easy to associate being single with missing pieces. That’s a tangled little lie that doesn’t deserve the energy it takes to untie it from itself. Being single doesn’t mean you are missing pieces. Single serves a purpose that has nothing do with the hunt to find someone else. In your own singleness, you can kick some serious ass. Don’t miss the chance.

Be open to criticism. Let it come from the lungs of those who want to see you better and thriving. Guard yourself against haters. In the words of Taylor Swift, the haters gonna hate. It’s up to you to shake it off.

Ban Adele. Not forever. Not for always. But in times when you feel low & down & insecure, Adele doesn’t help the situation. She enlarges the wound with her haunting language of loss. She makes us want to gouge our eyes out with pencils because WE. FEEL. SO. MUCH. If you are fragile right now, pump the brakes on Ms. Angel Pipes for a little while. Find some rap music. Listen to jams that reek of baller-status.

The quest to believe in something is personal and sacred. It’s a battlefield and a pilgrimage, all in one breath. And people will believe in a lot of things: God, boyfriends, altars, plane tickets, the works. It might not be your job to dictate to a person where to go or how to open up their hands. Some people will want your roadmaps. And some people will only want to know that you’re the reliable kind, the kind to stand at the front door with the light on– promising to be there waiting when they find their way home.

 

Love is a severely underestimated word.

We don’t give it enough street cred. That word should have you crawling on your knees in a struggle to just get better with it. You should surround yourself with people who challenge you on that word. What better honor in this lifetime than to be surrounded by people who make you constantly think and say, “My god, I want to learn how to love you so well.”

Turn your whole life into a quest to be good to those people. Like, make your whole life into a quest to figure out how to show up for them. At airports. On birthdays. On days where you know there is a decision lurking around the corner and they’re scared and wondering. Those good people are your people—fight for them.

And again, it’s worth repeating: stop sleeping with liars. 

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New girl.

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“Clothes,” I say.

“Plans,” he rattles back.

“Seasons.”

“You hair color,” he laughs.

We keep going back and forth. Ricocheting against one another. Only the roaring of the washer standing between our breaths of silence.

This was our favorite game. Categories. The game where you exhaust one another with all the possible types of cereal and sports teams you can think of before someone gives up and someone wins out. This was our own version of Categories. The category on the table: things that change.

“College majors,” I said.

“Shoes.”

“Shoes fall under clothes. I win.”

“Not true,” he denies. “Changing your shoes is completely different from changing your clothes… Keep going.”

“Fine. Profile pictures.”

“Good one,” he says. “Twitter bios.”

“Totally gave you that one.

We could go on for days like this, I kept thinking to myself. We could go on bantering and joking and having one another in this playful little way and nothing would need to be examined for a second or third time.

“Seasons,” I tell him.

“Kind of the like the weather but I will still give it to you,” he nudges me playfully. “Your coffee order. Definitely your coffee order. For instance, will you be a skim latte today or will you go for pumpkin?”

“Us,” I cut him off. “This.”

He doesn’t say anything. I let the silence fall on top of us like a blanket. All I can hear is the washer still going: whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.

“You ruined the game,” he said. “This was a dumb category anyway.”

“You picked it,” I answered him silently.

“I wouldn’t pick this,” he said back. His eyes were on the barren walls. The space that didn’t hold my things inside of it anymore. “I didn’t pick this.” 

Change isn’t just in the aftermath of falling in love or falling apart.

I’m learning this. I’m so used to pairing change with love stories that haven’t worked out in the creases the way I’ve wanted them to that I forget how change is so much more than that. It’s a location. It’s a best friend. It’s a person who raised you. It’s a place where you and I used to meet up and suddenly, suddenly, there isn’t room for one another anymore. Change is always wearing different costumes. It’s always wearing different makeup and capes and teeth. Change is just this thing that never fails to make me feel like I am standing in the Halloween aisles of Target, trying to figure out how it will dress up and show up at my door the next time.

Months ago, I would have lied to you. About this whole change thing. I would have acted way more gracefully and told you: change is a good thing. It’s necessary. We need it.

I still believe all those things but I think I’m giving up the graceful act— I know I am clumsy when it comes to change. I still fight this thing inside of me that doesn’t want to move. I still cling. And there was this one time when I spent a whole day in the library— a whole stretch of day— with every book I could find on butterflies flapped open and lying on the floor. I felt like a crazy person. A literal crazy person. Still, I spent that day tracing every step in the transformation process. Caterpillar, cocoon, butterfly. Caterpillar, cocoon, butterfly. Looking for any clue that something as dumb as a caterpillar could know the potential it had to actually fly. I stayed in that spot on the floor just until my soul could be fed with enough reassurance: even something as pretty as a butterfly clings to its old life as long as it can. Because it has no idea what will happen next. And all it can see is the dark of the next step. So no, you’re not wrong to cling. It’s okay to cling.

Change is not a trick-or-treater.

Isn’t that the scary part? Change knows exactly what it wants when it comes to your door. It’s you. Your whole body. Your whole being. The parts of yourself you said you didn’t want to release so soon. That’s change— always looking different and always asking for the same thing when it reaches you: the permission to come ripping into your life to shove you around like furniture. For the better. For the worse. For the chance to leave you different than yesterday.

It’s okay. Really, it’s okay. Don’t be afraid if you are changing. If you are not in love any longer. If you are stretched too thin. Don’t be afraid.

This whole thing— this entire journey— is about change. It’s about an equation you’re not supposed to be able to solve. It’s about dreams that feel too big for your body because you need those sorts of things. We all need things that are bigger than our bodies to keep us hopeful and to keep us going.

This whole thing is about learning to tell yourself ‘yes.’ And ‘no.’ And ‘stay.’ And ‘don’t stay.’ And allowing yourself to let go of the lie the world tries to feed you, the lie that tells you you cannot become someone different if you want to be. You can. I promise that. You can. It starts with change and a lot of little action verbs: breaking. changing. morphing. molding. doing. letting go. laughing. enduring. fighting. leaving.

Don’t be afraid. This is all a part of the process.

Today is the first day that I actually believed it.

The first day I actually believed fall might be a real thing in Atlanta. That people weren’t just lying to me when they told me that one day, one day soon, the leaves would shimmy and turn and crumble to the ground. The temperature would dip low and give the southern humidity a one-way ticket to go somewhere else for a little while.

It’s like I want to tell everyone around me who has an ear to hear it: This isn’t October the way I am used to. I am a girl who grew up watching the summer die. I could watch it in the trees. I could see it in the air. Summer dying, where I come from up north, is the most remarkable treasure you never had to pay for. It’s given unto you. And I hope I never take it for granted again.

There’s just something about those leaves though. Watching them change. Watching them cling to the green until the brown and yellow and red take over up until the point when they can’t hold on any longer and they fall to the ground.

It gives me hope. Like hope that I could become as good as change as those leaves. That I could stop clinging long enough to become a different shade or color of myself. That I could stop whispering the lie in my own ear: things don’t have to change, they can stay the same. 

Things don’t stay the same. They just don’t. People move. They leave. They don’t become who you expect them to be. You grow out of one another. Friends leave. We all shut doors. We open new ones. We shut more. And goodbye sometimes brings heartbreak and it sometimes hauls miracles into your life.  You have to let it fall off your lips sometimes just to know.

You will still watch the leaves fall off the trees whether you witness it with open hands or arm crossed over you in resistance. If you are anything like me then you need to be the one to beg yourself not to miss out on one of the most back-breaking beautiful things of this lifetime: you get to change. You. You. You are not forgotten in all of this. You get to become something new too.

And maybe that’d seem nicer if you could see the change before it pushed you into newness. But then again, it must not work that way for a reason. There’s got to be a reason why I have to be someone new but I can’t know everything about that new girl yet.

Maybe it’s the process. The unknown of the process that gets you good. Turns you gold and all that stuff. Maybe it’s the process– not the destination on a map but the dotted lines that get you there. 

Maybe we should go and see.

Maybe, let’s just go and see.

:: photo cred ::

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Do what it takes to make me your gold.

descanso

He’s been talking lately.

Like a boy who goes radio silent for weeks before his name starts showing up on your screen again, God has been talking in that way.

I guess I should state the facts: he’s probably been talking all along. He probably has been whispering and trying his darndest to yell above the noise of my life and I just haven’t heard him. That’s usually the case– I am running, and doing, and pulling, and prying, and trying my hardest (my absolute hardest) to make life move without him. And that’s just the second fact: I like to be in control. I like to know the elements around me. I like to know what follows after Step 1. And so the idea of a God of the universe has always, sort-of rubbed up against me like sandpaper because I don’t want to let anything in that might make me unclench my fists and give up control. 

 

Give up control.

That would be the anthem of my life these days. Give up control & let me work.

That’s the first thing I heard when my car pulled onto the campus of the retreat center I was staying at for four days last week. I only had to speak one of the days. The other three days were like God’s perfect, compact entryway to tear into my life and show me all the parts of me that he could stand to change. It’s like he had a list. A List of Things to Change. 

I think that’s the part of God I’ve always resisted. I think maybe that’s why a lot of people resist God and try their hardest to disprove him, or hitchhike away from him, or make him a sliver of their life but not their whole entire life.

I used to think the people who made God the center of their orbit– the sun within their solar system– were crazy. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand it. I thought, “Don’t you want control? Don’t you want to hold all the cards?”

That was God to me. God and I, we’d talk every once in a while. I didn’t look for him in the trees. I prayed when I needed stuff. God was like Santa Claus– I came to him with lists and I wanted him to leave presents for me while I was sleeping. I remember being really clear when I told God, “Listen, you get parts of me. You get very tiny parts of me but you don’t get all of me. Sorry. Not working that way.” Like I said, control is my thing.

 

The world has constructed a lot of gods out of God.

We live in this culture that does a really good job of taking one characteristic of the God of the universe and blowing it out to proportions where it smothers all the other characteristics.

I mean, it’s easy to believe in a God of Wrath. It’s easy to believe in that Leviticus kind of God. He’s the dude that ruins the party. He thinks less of us already. He holds his measuring stick high to our chins and whispers, “Just try, if you want. You’ve already fallen from grace in my eyes.” He points fingers and names names. And we throw up hands and curl in corners because this God never fit us. And this God failed the already failed ones.

When that is your own perception of God then it makes it so much easier to walk away from him. It’s easy to be free from the dictator God. It’s a perfect opportunity to bash him in circles and find common ground among the people who also have been hurt by a God of Wrath.

And similarly, it’s easy to believe in a God who is lukewarm. A passive little God who fits smug in your back pocket and you get the chance to pull him out whenever you need him to fight your battles. He’s like a Pokemon. I mean, it’s convenient to believe in a God who will always be smaller than you. It’s convenient to worship a God you get to play god over.

And then there is the God who showers you with praise. And the God who winks and nudges you at when you notice the bible verse on the bottom of the Forever 21 bag. It’s the God who doesn’t ask you to change and just exists to stroke your ego and tell you everything– every little thing– will be more than okay. He’s the God we plaster the quotes of on coffee mugs and journals. He’s sunshine and roses, always. Always.

But it gets uncomfortable when you meet the God who could stand to change you. The God who says, “Yes, I made you but I never had the plan of keeping you this way.”

This is the God who wants to morph you and mold you into something better. That’s supremely uncomfortable to believe in because the molding hurts. And the morphing hurts. And it would be easier– so much easier– to just stand in one place with the God of Wrath, or the Passive God, or the God who never needs you to dig deeper beneath the surface.

 

I met the God who could stand to change me.

I met him the moment I drove onto that campus and wheeled my little, red carry-on into my bedroom, the one with the rooster lamp and the strange farm scenes playing out all over my blue bedspread.

You see, I’ve been to this retreat center before. I’ve stood in this bedroom before. I know that if I walk to the closet and open the door, I will be met with all sorts of Sharpie marker scribblings all over the walls. The scribbles are from people who came to this retreat center with marriages crumbling and holding on by threads. Hoping God would move. Hoping God would pulse. I knew when I stepped into that room that, if I opened my closet door, I would find redemption stories dancing all over the walls in red and blue.

I left the suitcase at the door and I walked into the bathroom. I remembered the bathroom from the year before because the tub was massive, it was the type of tub I really hope I have one day. The type of tub that makes me think you’re a real adult if you have a tub so big.

I stared at the tub for a minute or so before stepping inside– clothes on and shoes on– and sitting down square in the middle of that tub. I am serious, I laid in the tub with my Nike pumps kicked up against the porcelain and I just closed my eyes. And I opened them. And I closed them. And the silence was deafening and I hated it so. I hate that kind of silence you can’t escape from, the kind that encloses all around you, because you know God is going to speak eventually. And you are afraid of what He will say. You are so afraid of what he will want of you.

I just stayed. Right there. I didn’t reach for my phone. I didn’t look for a way to push into some new distraction that would take me away from him so I easily. I stayed. And I started to pick at the polish of my nails. Flecks of red fell off and all around me into the tub. And as I chipped, he spoke. As I chipped, he spoke. And I was torn between interrupting. Interrupting to say, “I’ve missed you. Where have you been?” But I know his answer already.

I know he would have said right back, “I never left you. I never leave you. You’re just busy. You’re busy and you’re hustling and you are doing all these things that allow you to stay distracted enough that you never need to come to me. 

But haven’t you felt empty, child? Haven’t you missed the feeling of being full? Child, child, put your armor down. I never left you, you’ve just been trying to get away.” 

 

He’s right, I’ve been trying to get away.

Because I am human. And that’s what humans do. I pack and I flee away from the light. I look for the answers in the world all around me. I think I steer better and own my dreams better. But more than that, I have not stopped convincing myself yet that I am a better keeper of my own emptiness. I think I am really so good at guarding my own emptiness and letting no one near enough to touch and tell me, “You could clear this all away if you really wanted to.”

“Fine,” I whisper in the depths of that tub. “Just do it. Just do your work.”

Chip. Chip. Chip. The paint continues to fall away.

“Just make me into gold. All those bible verses, they tell me that I could be your gold. Do what it takes to make me your gold.”

Chip, chip, chip…

I feel him doing his work. Whispering into the old parts of me, “Done with this. Over with that. Gone goes that ugly part of you.”

Chip, chip, chip…

“Never again will you find your worth in this. Darling, aren’t you tired of holding this? Don’t you want to just let it go?”

Chip, chip, chip…

And then the quiet. I stay still. I close my eyes. Open them. Close them. And the voice comes back, the one that sounds like silver and victory. It rushes in to stop my sobs for good, “You, I love you. Gosh, it hurts so to express how I love you because I know you don’t see it. Somehow you don’t see what I think of you– you only see yourself through the lens of a world that wants you to get so small that you disappear altogether. 

I want so much of you. I am so jealous for you. I love you bigger. Bigger than your little mind can ever know. And that is why I can never leave you this way.  Sitting in the tubs of your own emptiness. That is why I can’t keep you here, clutching old garments of your past.

I have so much new for you, little bee. I have so much new for you. 

Baby, baby, all will be well. But you have to let me take it from here. You have to let it go and let me take it from here.”

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My booklist brings all the boys to the yard.

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A lot of readers have asked for my book list. And it kind-of, sort-of existed but it had been a long while since I updated it. In creating this list, I realized something: my day is torn between continuing to build and build upon this list and actually getting work done. I could write about books forever. And I could keep making a list and never be satisfied with my own selections. So I have decided that I will continue to build upon this list as time goes on. I will add categories. I will add new selections. And you can chime in through the comments to help me build upon this list.

Happy reading season!

hb.

 

A little fiction never hurt nobody.

Little Bee: I told my mother I was coming up with a book list and she nearly fell into a fit of rage jumping up and down with fists clenched screaming, “LITTLEEEEE BEEEEEEEEE. RARRRRRRRRRRRRR.” But no, seriously, you need to go read this book and then decide which room in your house you want to redecorate with all the pages. Next week on the blog I will post a tutorial on how to turn Christopher Cleeve’s book pages into wallpaper so that you can drool over it while cooking pasta in the kitchen or brushing your teeth in the bathroom.

Hemingway’s Girl 

Beloved

I Know This Much is True

El Girasol: A restless young woman searching for more finds herself in the arms of a Channing Tatum-esque man who just so happens to own an orphanage in El Salvador. Nuff said.

Plain Truth: Jodi Picoult is the junk of fiction. She does it all right & in an effortless kind of way like, “Oh, I just made your heart fall out of your chest with my ridiculous plot lines. Want another?” So read Plain Truth and then go build a bunker in your local library and camp out with all the books she’s ever written. The Pact is another solid one. And when the security guards come to remove you, scream that you’ve caught the Jodi and you are absolutely incurable. They’ll be sympathetic. I’m sure.

Firefly Lane: This book is perfection for the ones of you that feel like sitting in a pile of your own snot and tears tonight. A great story about friendship that will surely curl close the memories with your own best friends but there is just one thing I recommend: Keep your phone preset to dial 911 for the exact moment that you fall from the couch to the floor and begin choking and hyperventilating over your tears.

The Help: You is kind. You is special. You is important. This book is designated for a day where rain is cluttering the window panes and all your body is screaming for is a hot cocoa with whipped cream on top. These are the kinds of characters you want to pile up in your minivan and drive around town with stopping at various Starbucks to show off what a groovy clan you’ve got. Minnie will want to sit in the front seat, or maybe even drive the minivan. Fair warning.

The messed up sides of you will like these selections.

Gone Girl

Room: Also known as “The book that won’t stir you until page 50 but don’t give up on it yet.” I’ll admit that I stumbled and stammered and almost put the book down but that everything changed when I reached the 50-page mark. You go from barely holding up the book to gripping it tightly, sucking the oxygen from the teeny tiny pages. Twisted plotline. Twisted perspective. So delightfully gripping.

The Virgin Suicides: It took me a while to get into the actual plot of this book… or to distinguish if a plot even existed. But the way the author puts words together is its own form of crack. Like, if we were crack dealers he would probably be the king of us (so many crack references…).

Looking for Alaska

The Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

 

Creative Nonfiction is my crack.

The Year of Magical Thinking: Do you know how ridiculously tough it is for me to even type out that title. I get choked up. I want to retreat far, far away from this computer space to curl up in a corner with Joan Didion’s book and just weep & pour over it. Joan Didion is the loomer or the loomstress or the seamstress (whatever you call it) to literature. She chooses her words carefully & wisely and spins you into a better person because of it.

Me Talk Pretty One Day

The Opposite of Loneliness: This girl is on fire. Period. End of story. Marina Keegan passed away suddenly in a tragic car accident just a few days after she graduated from Yale University. Her writings went wildly viral as a result. Her words are gonna grip you and pull you and rip you apart. And you’re gonna be addicted to what she left behind.

Reading Lolita in Tehran

The Diary of Helene Berr

On Writing: a memoir of the craft: Three words: “Kill your darlings.” For any writer, this is the stuff… The. Stuff.

 

Lady Friends to Travel With.

Wild: You knew I couldn’t make a list without mah girlzzzzz– Cheryl and Liz. This book made me want to pack a backpack (quickly), invest in hiking boots, and then haul on over to the Pacific Northwestern Trail. Get ready for a good journey, babycakes.

Tiny, Beautiful Things: This. Just this. I can’t say much more. This book is my designated “I give it to every single friend going into any sort of life transition” book. I can’t type much more than that… I swoon.

Bread & Wine

Never Have I Ever: This memoir is hilarious and unbelievably relatable. This is the kind of narrator you hope to have always– one who writes to you as though you both are sitting down to coffee, retelling every detail. Pick it up and laugh. Hard.

Eat, Pray, Love: This book is a classic in my book. My loyalties are pinned to it. I will never deviate. Liz Gilbert is my favorite writer, hands-down. And this book brought me through a number of monumental things– break-ups, starts of new semesters, transitions, and my own book-writing journey.

Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: I read this book when I was 14-years-old. It made me want to be a hysterical writer. Susan Jane Gillman is the kind of gal you want to go traveling with. She is honest. She is brave. She. Is. Brilliant.

 

Dat dude upstairs.

Blue Like Jazz: I am still quite certain that there will come a day when Don Miller and I are sipping sweet tea out at the front of a wraparound porch. The man is genius. I’ve never had a single tempting to get a tattoo but some of his sentences are just so sticky that I think I want to ink them on my body in a forever sort of way. All of Don’s stuff is pure goodness. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is another one I highly recommend, especially if you are beginning to wonder the purpose within your little bones.

Traveling Mercies: If God were to grant me a small pocket of time to be Tyra Banks and judge this book as it strutted down the runway, I’d say something so Tyra-like, “Fierce. This book… all its pages and stories and plots within… all of it is FIERCE.”

Help, Thanks, Wow. 

One Thousand Gifts: If grace could grow pages and a spine, it. would. look. like. this. book. Beautiful language. And a beautiful thought process living on the page. There is no possible way that you will turn away from this book not being better or stronger in your walk with God.

The Hiding Place

When we were on fire. 

Speak.

Where the Heart Waits: Not to be confused with “Where the Heart Is” about the girl who gets pregnant and delivers a baby in Wal-Mart. I am a mega fan over any ink that Sue Monk Kidd places down on a page. This book is perfect for anyone going with a dark period with God.

Tables in the Wilderness: This book isn’t due out until October but I got to read an advanced copy and Preston Yancey delivers a moment that body slams you and your current state of spirituality. I love this boy something fierce and I know this is just one of what will be many, many books from him.

Radical: This book should be renamed. To something like, “Hi, My name is David Platt. And I am going to smack you in the face with truth. And it’s gonna be uncomfortable. And maybe you will move to Africa when you are done reading… TBD.”

 

Young Adults are Underestimated.

Hunger Games: I don’t care what a single individual says: These. Books. Are. Awesome. Sauce. And Rue’s whistle is my current ringtone. Read the first one and you’ll suddenly find yourself dropping off the face of the planet to read all three. They are addicting so please, only start these books on a week when you don’t have engagements to attend. And let me know if you want to put in an order for a t-shirt that reads, “Real Men Bake Cakes” from my one day, some day clothing line.

The Book Thief: If this book were actual crack then I would be a junkie in a heartbeat. I don’t know what more to say than this book needed to be read by you yesterday. Go, child. GO.

The Fault in our Stars

The Perks of Being a Wallflower: This ain’t because More Love Letters is sitting pretty at the back of the new book (wink) BUT the story in general is one that will yank you back to your high school shoes and all you ever felt about fitting in and wishing to be infinite for a little while. A real coming of age story that shakes and stirs at any age or angle.

 

Sometimes I wish Seth Godin was my daddy (and other things you’ll say after reading these business books).

Start Something That Matters: Blake, the founder of the TOMS movement, tells a compelling play by play of all the nuts & bolts behind a grassroots movement turned global. I reference this little ditty often with More Love Letters and it is perfect beyond perfect for anyone that wants to dig into business but is allergic to numbers and case studies.

Quitter: This book was a major player in helping me find the courage and the resources to quit my day job. Jon Acuff is smart and spewing with know-how when it comes to the topic of living out your passion in a remarkable way. I would recommend this book to anyone-a-n-y-o-n-e- who is looking to be humored and inspired and challenged, all at the same time.

The Firestarter Sessions: I worked with Danielle Laporte for six months, once upon a time. And everyday was as inspiring as this book. It’ll kick you in the pants. It will drive you to new levels. And it will touch on a topic you probably need to face: FEAR. Plus, it’s really, really pretty and bright orange so it’s a great addition to any bookshelf just for its aesthetic.

Tribes

GirlBoss

If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: One of my favorites. PR Master Kelly Cutrone spits truth about the hustle. Be warned– it’s brutally honest and candid but you’ll learn a lot. She’s kind of like a merciless big sister.

The War of Art 

Essentialism: I have been on this wicked crazy rampage as of lately… One where I want to cut all the excess out of my life and just start fresh. This book is basically that idea, but in business format. Get ready to cut, cut, cut the junk out of your life.

Manage Your Day-to-Day: I don’t know if this book is available as more than an e-book but I got my copy for $2.99 or some absurdly cheap price. Which is crazy, considering it helped me completely restructure my day and squeeze the maximum amount of productivity out of me.

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