Good morning Baltimore.

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I take two white pills every night before I crawl into the sheets. They are a reminder to me, more than anything, that November happened.

November happened.

And so did December. January. February. A collection of months I wished, for so long, I could scrape off the calendar. I thought I knew darkness before those months. In a lot of ways, I didn’t know anything until those months came crashing on top of me. Sometimes you think you are fine until everything around you falls apart. And then you see the truth: everything was not fine. You were dying inside. You were clinging to other people to complete you. You were desperately in need of rewiring. 

I think there are times in our lives when we need an upgrade. Or a software update. And then there are times when we need all the little things inside of us to be rewired. I held it all together on the surface. I claimed I was fine. Really, I didn’t know how to turn my head upward to God and just be “enough” for my own self.

If you claim you love God and then don’t somehow commit to that most basic gesture, there’s probably a lot of wires inside of you that you’re resistant to let anyone touch. 

 

I went through depression once before.

Everyone told me afterwards to be thankful for it because a movement of love came out of it. I am thankful. But it doesn’t make me hate the dark any less. 

I didn’t know the statistics. The statistics say if you’ve struggled with depression once before then there is an 80% chance you’ll go there again. I kept telling myself it would never repeat itself. Bad things don’t repeat, I whispered.

I refused to see a counselor. I began to close myself off. I fell deeper into sadness as September danced. I ignored the warning signs. 

A girl at my speaking engagement last night asked me, “How can I make sure I don’t go through it again? The depression.”

“You can’t,” I told her. “But you can keep track of the warning signs.”

 

There were warning signs. Usually there always are. There was sitting on the floor of my office space– after consuming an ungodly amount of cups of chile– crying.

“I think everything will probably turn around in March,” I told one of my best friends. It was October. I thought if I could just push hard enough into a “new season” then God would follow suit.

She only looked at me. Nodded like she wasn’t convinced. “I don’t know if that’s true.” I hated her for being honest. Today I love her for only being honest.

There was Halloween night, surrounded by all of my best friends. I was wearing a T-shirt with the letters “LIFE” across my chest. A fitting role for Life, I passed out lemons that whole night– plucking them out from a plastic Jack-O-Lantern bucket and planting them into the hands of strangers at the party.

I remember being surrounded but feeling completely alone. I drove home crying that night (no surprise). I remember wishing I didn’t have to wake up in the morning. There was no reason for getting up.

There was sitting in my car on the morning of November 18th. My best friend didn’t leave my side. I slammed my hands against the steering wheel and screamed, “I don’t want this.” 

“You are not going to get out of this until you learn to be content.” She had told me this several times before.

I didn’t want to learn to be content. It seemed like such a distant and unattainable feeling– the feeling of contentment. 

“I am content,” I told her. “I have given God everything.”

“You are not content,” she snapped back. “There is so much you are not letting him have.”

All of these things– and then a dozen more– were warning signs. Warning signs that I was tumbling right back into the darkness.

 

My life broke into two on the afternoon of November 18th.

It’s a day on the calendar I will never forget. Nearly 9 months ago. People ask what I mean when I write “broke into two.”

Here’s the truth: some things in life don’t come with all the right words to describe them. All I can tell you is that I remember sitting with a friend in the conference room of our workspace. I asked her to pray for me because I was so sad lately. She prayed. I kept my head down and tried to convince myself that the prayers would actually work. At that time in my life I prayed to get attention and to make the Varsity team for heaven, not because I actually believed God was listening. 

I remember how she started talking about something after she said Amen. I was listening. And then pain. Sharp pain. All across my body. This sweeping feeling covering me from head to toe. All of a sudden, I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t move. My mind started racing.

“I feel so sick,” I told her. “I have to go home.”

Really, my mind was begging: What’s wrong? What’s going on? What’s happening? 

Sharp pain. Heavy fear. Tidal waves of anxiety crashing mercilessly into me. I didn’t understand. I thought I was going insane. Can life actually flip in a minute? 

The intern outside the workspace tried to bring me into a conversation about the time he went surfing with Rob Bell. I was trying to get in my car and leave.

“I’m sure Rob Bell is great,” I told him. “I’m sorry but I have to go home.”

I got into my car. Got home. Crawled into bed. Pleaded with God that whole night but the voices were stronger than I’d ever heard them before, “You’re no good. You’re a liar. You’re a fake. You are nothing.” 

I fell asleep shaking. Shaking with no answers.

That night was empty. I was afraid I was hearing God say the words he’d wanted to tell me all along, “Hey girl, I don’t choose you. I just don’t want you. I just don’t choose you.” 

 

The next morning I couldn’t get out of bed.

Not by my own strength. It took me a solid half-hour to just rise and put on pants and a heavy sweater and a bright red cap. I had a flight at 10am for Baltimore. A speaking engagement.

I sat in my coffee shop before heading to the airport. I tried to drink a London Fog but my hands were too shaky. I kept writing down questions: What is happening? What is going on? Why do I feel so paralyzed and sick?

It was 0 degrees in Baltimore. The most I ate there was two slices of hotel pizza. My hands trembled the whole time that I spoke. I remember telling myself I would never go back to that city again.

I hid inside of an empty terminal- my body sprawled across three seats as I lay curled in a ball crying and shaking. Not really caring if anyone could see me.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” I texted to my closest friends. The ones I knew would pray. I’d been dealing with the paralyzing fear for over 48 hours now. It hadn’t ceased, only grown.

I vomitted several times in that airport. Out of fear. Out of terror. That would be the start of months of no sleep and no faith that God was coming back for me.

Nine months ago, Baltimore became a place on the map I never wanted to return to. In the next few months, a list of places I never wanted to remember again would assemble itself.

 

The paralyzing fear was relentless for over four months. You wouldn’t know that if you scanned social media but life was utter darkness. I bring that point up only to say: we have to be extremely careful about assuming we know a person’s life based on what they post online. We have to be gracious– no matter what– because everyone is fighting a battle we cannot see. Sure, we like the idea of being real & raw on social media but honestly only a few will ever feel safe posting the real mess out there for the world to see. We rip into one another too easily for that. But be gracious, please. And maybe sometimes remind yourself:  it’s a lot of filters and pretty things but that’s not reality. Reality cannot be cropped and contrasted. 

In those four months, I slept. A lot. I didn’t watch movies. I didn’t go to group events. I wrote down every “small victory” on sheets of paper. We planned my move back to Connecticut. The mornings were the worst. It felt like heavy blankets of despair were being piled and piled on top of me. I’d get up at 4am because I could not sleep and I would sit wrapped in blankets holding a Bible that I struggled to believe in anymore.

I went from the most driven girl to the one who could barely perform three tasks in a day. Doctors gave me all these drugs with long names. The parts of me that lost friends to drug addiction was terribly afraid to swallow them. They just wanted to calm me down. Stop the tears. At night, there was sleeping pills. My favorite part of the day was going to sleep because– for the first two months– nothing stole life from me in my sleep.

I slept on an air mattress in one of my good friend’s apartments for a lot of those nights. In the morning I would crawl into his bed and he would hold my hand as I cried. It felt like I was trapped in a tiny room with no windows and no doors. I would cry out in agony because I could not escape the fog.

“I just want to fog to go,” I would murmur through the tears. “I just want the fog to go.”

He would squeeze my hand tighter and call me “baby girl.” 

I remember being curled in the corner of a doctor’s office in Atlanta. The man kept asking me questions. Do you think about hurting yourself? Do you have thoughts of hurting other people?

I wasn’t doing my makeup anymore. I wasn’t doing my hair. I’d lost 10 pounds. I was tired. I was wired.

“It seems you have severe depression,” he said to me. That wasn’t news. I didn’t need another doctor to diagnose me– I needed someone to grab my shoulders and yell loud, “You are coming out of the woods. Do you hear me, girl? You are going to come out of the woods.”

And then he stopped scribbling. He looked at me. I locked eyes with him. I didn’t want him to turn away.

“Are you a Christian?”

“Yes,” I whispered.

“That’s not a question I can ask,” he answered. “But my job aside, I want you to know– the devil is rejoicing right now and we will not let him have that.” 

That man– in his white coat– was one of the many beacons of light that convinced me I could keep going. I could keep fighting. I could be like Moses, in that moment where Moses had nothing left in him but he let the others hold up his arms.

That’s what friendship is at the end of the day– people who will hold up your arms.

 

I don’t have all the answers.

Not even a few. Honestly, I hate typing these words. I really do. Because I wanted to be passive for so long and believe in things like Karma and not ruffle feathers when it came to God. But as powerful of a source of light in this world that exists, there is also a powerful source of darkness. And if we don’t talk about the darkness, it starts to win.

The darkness can refine us but we cannot let it win. We must not let it win.

So let’s be real: I never planned to write this.

Let’s be more real: I am hesitating to publish it.

But I looked down at my plane ticket today and realized I was going back to Baltimore. A layover in Baltimore. And all I could think was, “I don’t want to go back to Baltimore. I don’t want this mess to take my body and my brain again.” 

And then, then I knew that I would write because no one benefits from silence. No one will talk about the darkness if we all try to act like it isn’t real, like it doesn’t matter.

 

It matters.

Mental illness matters. Warning signs matter. Not standing alone with your ghosts matters. You matter. And you are precious. 

I’m not saying that to be corny. I am saying it because I fought desperately hard for my life in the last few months. I fought really, really hard against mental illness to be able to be standing today. I wanted to give up. I suddenly understood why people even think of taking their own lives.

I’ve walked the line in the last few months of wanting all my memories of the darkness to leave me and knowing that I will never be able to shake the sleepless nights– the dozens of stories I haven’t shared yet– because they made me. The darkness made me. It burned me up and shook me good and I fought until I could finally breathe and say, “No.” No, the darkness cannot have me. There is far too much left for my little life. 

Life is such a precious gift but when a fog covers your view of reality it’s so hard to rest your body in the gift. It’s easy to be ashamed of the fog, the sickness, the illness. But what if we broke the shame with words? What if we dismantled the stigma by figuring out how to hold up the arms of others?

So here’s a baby step: Please talk about the fog. Please talk about the emptiness. Please don’t let yourself stand in the mess alone, so much so that you cave inward and you hoist up a white flag without anyone ever knowing you were dying inside.

Please speak. Please speak.

Don’t be afraid to go back to Baltimore.

Just don’t be afraid of Baltimore.

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A “hell yes” harvest.

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“If you have to ask me then you already know,” she told me over a Skype call. We’d been talking about relationships for the last few minutes. I’d asked for guy advice from a girl I barely even knew. That’s just my style though– I trust easily and thoroughly in the first five minutes and I get into the vehicles of stranger’s far too much (do not follow my example) (please).

“I go by this rule of thumb,” she continued, keeping her eyes locked on me through the screen. “If it is not a “hell yes” then it’s a “hell no.”

I never ceased to forget that. I’ve forgotten nearly everything else from our conversation a few years ago but I never forgot that statement.

If it’s not a “hell yes” then it’s a “hell no.”

I pocketed that. I went out into the world looking for the “hell yes.” The certainty. The brave and bold and undeniable assurance. I believed in the “hell yes” for a really long. And for a really long time I shut myself off to people– mainly guys– because I was looking for that “hell yes” and it just wasn’t showing up for me.

I was looking for fireworks.

That’s what I really wanted. Explosions. I wanted something to shift and shake my atmosphere and turn my world upside down and cause me to be unable to sleep at night because I was “feeling all the feels.” I was basically looking for a natural disaster of a human to prove to me that they were unlike the other ones.

Honestly though, why would God want that for my life? Why would he want someone to come into my life like a wrecking ball or a tornado? I forget too often that while he may be the God of burning bushes, he is also the God of little miracles & tiny things & slow, burning trust that takes days and weeks and months to uncover.

I can’t speak for everyone but I am ready to conclude this: a “hell yes” is impossibly hard to find when you live a life filled with Fear.

 

I’ve been talking a lot about Fear.

I think it is a bigger dictator than I ever wanted to admit. It has squeezed its way into every decision I’ve had to make. I think I have gotten so used to fear speaking in the background that I forget it was meant to be feeling- not a roadblock.

Fear is basically synonymous with Russell Crowe in Les Miserables– he was always meant to be a character, sure, but someone let him sing too much.

And here’s a last reality check on fear: if you are shrouded in fear– absolutely basted in it– then that’s not God. God isn’t fear. He’s quite the opposite. He’s love. And love, when you allow yourself to get close enough to it, will not resemble fear. Just like you gave fear the permission to grow, you have to give love that same chance to rock you too.

 

So how does a girl like me get to a “hell yes”? I’m not sure. But it starts with time. Everything begins with time and grace.

I have a friend named Jake who I wish every human could know. Really and truly, he is the male version of me. Put the two of us together and we will cry all the rivers and then somehow manage to drown in them. We are feelers. We are empaths. If you need a scale of how deep we can go then start looking at the bottom of the Atlantic because we are down there, straight chilling with the Titanic.

Even though I don’t know everything about Jake, as one of my closest friends I know this: he probably carries just as much fear as I do. He probably has just as hard of a time opening up as I do. And so every step he has taken in the last few months to heal from heartbreak and find love all over again makes me whisper beneath my breath, “I’m proud of you. I’m really proud of you.”

I texted him last night as I was writing. His is a safe message box to drop my fears and a smattering of emojis. I told him simply and plainly: I am terrified. I am terrified because some days I know what I want. And other days I don’t have a clue. I’m just so scared to let people in and let someone choose me.

“You don’t have to know,” he texts back immediately. Because that’s Jake: the one who texts back immediately when his friends need him.

“You’re choosing and that’s what you have to do,” he continues. “Just. Keep. Choosing.”

 

Instantly my mind gets pushed back to over a year ago.

I was standing beside a boy I wanted to love more than anything. I was angry, so angry with God, because those feelings weren’t coming. Nothing in my body was morphing into a “hell yes.”

I was living in Connecticut. I was resistant to the idea of Georgia even though I knew signs of me going there were getting planted before me on the regular. Atlanta would mean I would have to give me up my last shred of control. I was not cool with letting go of my last shred of control.

He’d asked me how I wanted the bookshelf to look. He was a builder and I was a girl who wanted a bookshelf.

“How do you want the bookshelf to look?” He asked it just like that.

It was a really easy question. How many shelves? How much room on each one? What kind of wood? I should have been able to spit it out right there, right there. But I didn’t know. So I trekked back and forth in the hallway that night asking myself, “What do I want? What do I want? What do I want?”

I got all clogged up and self-obsessed with my own indecision instead of just stopping, breathing, and making a choice.

I told myself that instead of “choices to be made” the story was really “you are a girl who doesn’t know what she wants. So figure out what you want and stop at nothing until you get to it.”

It was never about the bookshelf, friends. It had nothing to do with the bookshelf. It had to do with the fact that I stayed, and I waited, and the “hell yes” never came. It’s okay to have a game-over. When you’ve stayed and stuck it out and tried your hardest, it’s okay to have a game-over.

Up until today (this very moment), I believed I was a girl who knew exactly what she wanted and all my “hell yes” moments were going to stay in the distance until I uncovered them like buried treasure. That story could not be further from the truth so I am changing the script.

Beyond good people and a life that tests me, I don’t have a clue what I want.  I care too much about the things I want rather than what I know I need. I care too much about what other people want for me. It’s not about knowing what you like and banking on the hope that that will never change. Things change too often to rest your whole life in their certainty.

It’s simpler than knowing what you want: it’s getting brave enough to make a choice.

One choice. And then another choice. And then another choice.

You choose your “hell yes.” You choose it hourly. Daily. You choose it so much that you let it grow roots down inside of you.

A “hell yes” takes time. It gets stronger as you go. But just because you don’t feel it, right in this very second, doesn’t mean you should shut all the doors on all the people who might just be your “hell yes” in the end.

 

Take me back to October of last year and I know I could not write these words. I was a girl who loved the instantaneous things of this lifetime. I was far too easily pleased by getting things quickly. So if the feelings didn’t come in 2.5 seconds then I was splitting before midnight. That’s how I have known to abruptly and swiftly not stay in things that could actually be good for me.

And then life shifted and shook. I got my wrecking ball. I got my tornado. It didn’t come in the form of two legs and a beard– it was just Life flipping tables and yelling into me, “PLEASE DON’T STAY THE SAME. LET YOUR LIFE BE WRECKED SO YOU CAN JUST BE HEALED.

As I slowly reassembled everything in my life that used to be fine though not sturdy, I became the proud and hesitant mother of a garden bed. My own garden. I tilled the ground. I planted the seeds. I watered. I found patience. I surprised my friends- the ones who did not hold the faith that I could actually keep anything alive. And I didn’t “let” things go. They simply grew. I gave things the time and capacity and space to just grow– uninhibited by my expectations that are far too easily squashed and my fascist-like control sprees.

And yesterday I pulled the first of my cherry tomatoes from their vine, washed them good, and bit down hard. There was something sweet– matchless– about the waiting it took to get that harvest. The waiting, all in itself, was nectar.

I know I am learning to wait. I think I am learning to not hold expectations so close to my chest. God didn’t promise to honor my expectations. That would be such a sad, little life. He promised to prune me and love me just as I needed to be pruned and loved.

 

Dear you,

It’s okay if you don’t feel the “hell yes” right now. Take the expectations and the pressure off yourself. Rewrite the story and realize this: it’s not about knowing what you want, it’s about making slow and steady choices for the better of your character.

hb.

Dear Hell Yes,

You might be an instant thing or you might be a seed. I’m not so sure about you.

But sweet Hell Yes, if you are a seed then I am planting you today. I hope you grow. I so hope you grow to give me some of the shade I always needed.

hb.

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Why did the spider cross the road?

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I am looking for signs.

Always. Big and bold signs that tell me I am going in the right direction.

You see, here’s the thing with me: I am fearful. That’s not a shocker. That’s not something I am trying to hide.

I am a rule follower. I am always trying to do everything right. And I think it’s a great strength and also a great weakness. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that a sense of fear is normal, necessary and creative. However, you must be willing to face your fear and ask the question: What am I so afraid of?

What am I so afraid of? 

Maybe I am afraid to ask that question.

 

So when I was younger, I would pray for blatant signs.

I wanted brightly colored roadmaps. I wanted to turn the radio on and have God speak to me through a song. I only listened to rap music for a such a long time. If he was using the radio to give me signs then he only ever told me to “get low” and “move like a gypsy.” I don’t think that was God.

But I was persistent and adamant to “do his will” and “live in his path” and all these other Christian terms that left me wondering: is it really this hard? Is it really this hard to know what God wants from me?

I think that’s one of the reasons why people steer away from God. I mean, you don’t always feel him. You can’t always hear him. And you’re afraid he will strike you dead if you make a wrong move. No one wants to love a mute monster. I think some people need a better experience with God before they will actually invest their heart to follow. I know that was me. 

I needed to figure God out apart from humans. If humans have damaged your perceptions of God then it might mean you need more God, not more humans. God and I, we needed to create our own language.

 

I remember moving to New York City in August of 2010 and making my prayers more clear and desperate than the days before: Listen, I am not going to do this the traditional way. The traditional way has not worked for me. If you want to show up then show up. But I am not looking in a church. I am not looking in a steeple or a passage of scripture. Be real to me in the world around me. I desperately need that from you.

I don’t know how honest we can with God. I don’t know if there is a barometer on those sorts of things. A boy I like says we can yell at God because he can handle it. He says God already knows what’s going on inside you. He’d rather us choose to expose things ourselves. I think he’s really proud of us when we can expose things ourselves and be brave enough to not repress it again.  That rolls back to fear: you have to choose to expose fear. Thaw it out. Unfold it. Refuse to let it stay unnamed. 

 

I dated a boy in the sliver of space between graduating from college and moving to New York City. He was wonderful. Really. Greek. Big Greek. I should have been happy because he picked me up for dates and kissed me softly and wanted to meet my mother. Even at the start though, I wanted to go.

Just because you are afraid to be alone doesn’t give you reason enough to keep someone chasing for your heart. 

At the same time I was trying to get down low to the ground with my faith. I was really trying to figure out this God character. I got a book out from the library. It had a black cover. I thought it would teach me a thing or two about Faith. Grace. That stuff.

Turns out, the book was really a construction worker disguised as a book. It showed up to dig in the trenches of my heart.  I honestly never knew that God could stir you in a way where you feel it physically. But there was demolition underway.

One day while nannying, I was reading the book among a battlefield of Nerf guns and blond bowl cuts with tan torsos flying through the backyard when I looked up to see a spider spinning a web in the corner of the kitchen window. I was captivated. Enamored. I could not explain it. For reasons I may never fully understand, I would have watched that spider spin its web all day.

It was the first spider of dozens. Dozens that I would see in the next few days. One after the other after the other. Make no mistake, those spiders had to be a sign. They started showing up everywhere. The front yard. The kitchen table. The window sills. My dreams. Spiderman toys. Plastic spiders. Everywhere I turned.

I went home that first night, put my palms down on the kitchen table and faced my mother: “I am going insane. Legitimately insane. Spiders. Are. Everywhere.”

We spent the night Googling spiders. Coming up with their origins. Trying to figure out the root of them. Wondering what they could actually mean. Looking in the Bible. Were there spiders in the Bible?

Tell me I’m not crazy, tell me I’m not crazy, I whimpered into the night as I tried to fall asleep. I woke up the next morning to find three spiders spinning a web of fresh silk over the coffee pot on the stove.
The spider signs grew bigger and bigger and bigger. Every time I saw another one I could feel everything inside of me saying, “Let the boy go. Let the boy go.” I didn’t want to let him go. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to win. I wanted to somehow, someway, be worthy of being the center of someone’s universe. But still the whisper roared, Let. The. Boy. Go.

I closed the book. Hid it away. The signs stopped. The spiders ceased. The voices quit. The stirring in my stomach fell away. I didn’t feel full or at peace, but at least I didn’t feel pushed.

Weeks later, we ended.

I left. I took my stuff and went. It ceased over something as stupid as the color “yellow.” You could call it “bound to happen all along” but I just call it “yellow,” even to this day. I got in my car. I felt freedom on my chest. I drove to the ocean. I sat in the sand by myself and I reopened the book right where I had closed it.

Two pages later, I stumbled into a story about a woman walking in the woods. A spider web appeared. And she stopped to watch that spider spin. She could have watched that spider spin its web all day. And then she heard from God,

“I am spinning. You are not. Let me go ahead of you. Stop trying to drag your own mess into my intricate picture. Don’t bring anything more into the web.”

It had been there the whole time. Just two pages away from me. But I couldn’t see it, I couldn’t see it. Not until I was ready to stop dragging around my own mess.

Don’t. bring. anything. more. into. the. web.

 

I’ve shared that story once before in this space. And another time in a room full of high school students who were trying to figure out faith. Spiders are my comfort in a way no one will ever understand because it sits in the depths of me like rocks. Spider webs are a reminder to me, when I see them strategically placed, that he’s already ahead of me. I don’t have to be so fearful. I don’t have to be so afraid. I don’t have to create messes just to tire someone out with the constant need to tidy things up.

People get tired of your too many messes. I think that’s one of the strongest cases for needing God: We are too needy for people. Too messy to fix one another. There must be something bigger to whisper, “You’re okay” when human breath won’t cut it.

 

All this to say, I walked outside today. I walked outside, already too much in my head at 8am. And if you never stop and breathe then you don’t really know what you truly feel– you just sit in the fog and wait for someone to untangle you. Maybe that’s another case for God. We need to be untangled. 

I opened the door to my house. I didn’t even take a step outside before I noticed a web spun wide across the door frame and the spider sitting there at waist-level looking at me like, “Come at me, boo.” I’d have to break the web to walk outside. There was no getting over or under the web that spider spun for itself overnight.

It’s like that whisper came back in that moment, “Girl, you are growing. You are growing beyond what you can even imagine. And so now, it’s no longer time to keep spinning webs and catching things with the hopes you can save them for later. It’s time to break the web. Break the web and walk on through.” 

Obviously, that whisper evolved throughout the morning. It wasn’t as clear and succinct until I sat down with my morning coffee and tried my hardest to focus on words on a page but all I could think of was that web. Strategic in its placement after a night where I tossed and turned with worry and fear.

“Stop spinning your webs, sweet girl. And just break the web. Break the web. Break the web. For so long you’ve lived this way– you’ve lived this way of doing it as you please. You’ve loved me halfway because to get fully there– to the part where you love with abandon– would require you to let go. And you don’t like letting go and giving up control. Love is about giving up control and letting someone else lead. 

Stop dragging in your fears and saving them for later. Stop thinking you know what you need more than I do. Stop being the star of this show and see people in the way I need you to see them. People cannot be chosen when you’re off in the corner spinning silk out of your fears. 

And love, sweet girl, is all about choosing someone. For better. For worst. For all of it. Whether you understand them or not. Whether they talk a lot or not. Whether they’re perfect or not (they won’t be). 

Break the web. Break the web and walk on through.” 

 

Sometimes he gives us big, blatant signs. Other times, we get led slowly through pain and heartbreak and joy and uncertainty. With each bend of the road we get flattened and refined a little more. We drop the needs for signs and just listen in. We figure out how to find our way. Confidence kicks in. God stops being a roadmap with too many of the “do this” rules that make us feel woozy and fill us with a fear of getting lost. He starts leaning into us like a compass. We drop the rules. We get a little lost but the birds still sing. We just start walking. We walk on through. And suddenly, it’s not so hard to find North anymore.

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Old Camel Knees. 9 parts.

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Part 1.

We prayed for three hours.

Three hours. That is worth repeating once more: three hours.

There is little that I do for three hours. In fact, there is currently a list— a very short list— of things I am capable of doing for three-hours blocks of time. Those things include:

Reading a good book.

Eating copious amounts of nachos.

Watching anything Bradley Cooper related.

That’s about it. It’s a pretty short list. Prayer has never made the cut.

Still, in spite of me, we prayed for three hours. This is all because I found myself stumbling into a small chapel on Saturday. It was instantly myself and four students of a ministry in Atlanta. I didn’t know a single one. Sprawled out across chairs in a small chapel, tucked in the back of a white brick building, I eyed the plain walls covered in Sharpie marker prayers.

“We’re just going to stay here until it’s done,” they told me. “Until we feel like it’s time to end. You pray for whatever is on your heart.” There are no limits in this place. 

Part 2.

I’ve been praying a lot about prayer lately.

Ironic, I know. The concept of prayer keeps rapping on the door of my heart— persistent as a Tinder date who turns out to have a strand of “stalker” stuck in their DNA. It’s coming up over & over & over again.

I’ve boxed prayer up. I’ve reserved it for early morning drives in the car as I simultaneously plow through Spotify and late night talking-at-God as I drift off to sleep because it makes me feel like a better person. Prayer is one those elements of the faith life that I’ve checked off when I am looking to take inventory of how “good” of a Christian I am. Honestly— I don’t think God has any care for me being good or perfect. He just wants me. All of me. And how do I wrestle a thing like that— a thing like communicating with him just because my heart is needy and empty— to the ground?

Part 3.

I’m needy and empty.

You should know that. I’ve questioned God a lot. I’ve been delighted to find out that he isn’t phased by my persistent begging to know him better. I think he’d rather have me ask all the questions my heart can’t help but whisper than to stay silent and afraid of the person I’ve built him to be in my head.

I’m a really good story-teller. I’ve told a lot of stories about God that have turned out to be lies. It’s all lies and half-truths until you sit down long enough to get to know someone for yourself.

Part 4.

When I was in my Second Semester of Depression (that’s what we’re calling it now), nearly six months ago, I imagined myself praying all the time. I made promises to myself nearly every night that I would clear the space to talk to God. I pictured myself wrestling with God— just like Jacob— until he would bless me. Until he would zap the depression from my eyes and help me gain the ten pounds back. Until he would give me a new name.

The story of Jacob is my favorite in the bible. I love the thought of God giving me a new name.

That never happened though. I never wrestled. I’d just sit on my bed, press my palms up towards the ceiling, and yawn. I’d will myself to stay awake. I’d curl into a ball on top of the covers.

Part 5.

Here’s the reality: prayer is essential.

Prayer is like a lung— we need it, we need it, we need it. No compromise. No cutting corners. And yet Prayer 101 doesn’t exist. And even the monks and greatest theologians struggled with their prayers. You can trace through their prayer journals and watch their insecurities dance wildly: I’m too verbose. I’m too selfish. I’m too distracted. I’m too much for you, God.

I’ve been told to pray. In struggle. In strife. In times of confusion— pray, pray, pray. I want to double back and claim I don’t know how to pray. I’m good at saying, “Well, I’ll pray for you” because it’s a blaring and sweet EXIT sign for a conversation I want to escape. I’m good at closing my eyes and pretending. I’m good at making lists of things that keep me from being content. I listen to other people pray and I make to-do lists in my head. I’m really good at humming loudly and thanking Jesus randomly. I’ve fooled the world unintentionally. It’s just that no one taught me how to pray:

How to be still.

How to listen.

How to quiet my racing thoughts.
How to not get distracted.

How to want God badly enough.

How to beg him to come closer.

Let’s be real: You never beg at the things you’re afraid of to just come closer. And this world? And this culture? Well it’s really capable of making me afraid of God.

Part 6.

If my prayers could be acted out in coffee shops, God sitting across from me with some trendy iced latte stuff in his hand, then he’d probably cut down my walls and lay me bare.

“You’re awkward,” he might tell me. “You’re a bad listener. You’re self-involved. You’re self-indulged.”

But no, He’s God. He wouldn’t say hurtful things. But out of love he would say, “Just relax. Loosen up. Why are you so afraid to ask anything of me? Why don’t you think I’m good?”

“I don’t know, God,” I could answer. “I’m good at impressing people though. This much I know.”

Maybe that’s the issue I find within the church so much: it’s easer to impress than to be real. It’s easier to impress and secretly be dead inside than to be real and finally alive with the thought of no more chains.

In prayer circles with musicians who cuff their pant legs and keep their top collar button fastened, I learned how to pray wordy prayers. It wasn’t those people who taught me. They aren’t to blame for the way I would spit fire with my words in the hopes that someone would be impressed by me. I wanted to be seen by people more than I wanted to be heard by God.

All this to say: I’m weary now of what I do to impress boys with tattoos. The ones who smell like cigar shops and talk loudly about whiskey. Half of the time, what I’m saying and doing is not real. It’s not me, at least. And it might get my number programmed into a phone but I’ve never seen Forever make a bed inside a house that isn’t real.

Part 7.

Tim Keller. He was the game-changer for me.

His book “Prayer.” We might as well drop all the microphones and say, “Tim, you are the Michael Jackson of prayer. You are the Beyoncé of hands clasped and knees hitting the floor.”

Read the book. He gets it. He just gets it.

Someone will be quick to tell me, “No one can teach you how to pray.”

You’re right. No one can teach me how to listen to God. But someone needed to sit me down, take my hand, and tell me sweetly, “This is how you shut up. This is how you stop running scripts and lies in your head. This is how you exit yourself.”

Prayer is just another term to sit beside the definition of “exiting yourself.”

Part 8.

I dug in my bible just yesterday and came across the book of James. What stuck out in the introduction is that James got a nickname during his ministry. They called him Old Camel Knees because he spent so much time praying– so much time that his knees hardened like those of a camel. It’s not the most flattering nickname but it’s certainly bold. I mean, could you imagine someone calling you out from a crowd and saying, “That one prays so much.” That one is a warrior. That one isn’t afraid to say she needs God more than anything. If I were as cool as James, I would flaunt my camel knees. 

To my knees, to my knees, to my knees. 

I am overwhelmed to find there is nowhere else to go but to my knees. People don’t save me. Busy schedules don’t save me. Social media doesn’t fill me. To my knees, and I stay there until I accept that surrender has nothing to do with talking at God while still so resistant to letting him rearrange me.

Part 9.

The crux of prayer is sitting and being still. I know this. It’s like waiting for a bride to appear at the door of the chapel. It’s hoping they will come. Hoping God will show his face.

And when I sit long enough, when I still this wild thought process long enough, he speaks: “I don’t need you to be the most impressive person in the room. Really, I don’t want that. I just want you. I want your heart. I want your aches. I want you to admit what we already know— you aren’t perfect. If you were perfect then you’d have no need for me. And I’m here because you need me. Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted? To know someone was there in those dark nights?”

It’s taking all the words of song “Amazing Grace” and hoping desperately that they’ll be literal. I know I’ve been blind but I want to be seen. I know I need to be saved, so please save a wretch like me.

I sit in the small chapel. I squirm. I wait. I listen. I scribble notes. I speak.

I tell a boy across the room who is mouthing out his problems that he’s afraid. I could be wrong but he’s afraid. He’s scared to let go of who he was yesterday. Aren’t we all? I see tears in his eyes. “Boy,” I want to say. “I don’t know your history. I can’t draw your pain. But maybe prayer is just two solid words for you: Let go. Let go. Let go.”

My hands are on fire. I can’t believe I called out a stranger. I finish speaking. And then I apologize.  A girl from across the room wrapped in a blanket calls me out for saying sorry.

“When you say it, don’t apologize,” she says. “God knows your heart.” I wince when she tells me this. He knows my heart- he knows all the cards I’m trying to hide from him.

My mind traces back to scriptures I’ve always been jealous of: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

I want to see God so bad.  No one in the world can fathom how badly I want to see God.

I sit. I stew. I pull out a book that’s been sitting in my backpack for days, going unread. I scribble a prayer that is honest and true more than anything:

God, I’ll wait.

I’ll wait. I’ll wrestle. I’ll stay. I want a new name.

There’s nothing eloquent about the stream of words.  And I find surrender starts when my prayers cease to be wordy and just trudge on to be honest: God, I don’t want to need you. You already know this. I’m human. I’m stubborn. I want to be fiercely independent. You know this too.

God, take my fears and my doubts and my worries about you and help me to believe that you are good— that you have good for me.

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My intern made me write a love letter. This is the result.

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When I was a little girl, I always wanted to be the hider.

Not the seeker. When the game got played I’d find the most obscure places. The tiniest places. The places no one ever wanted to even dare lurk around so I could never be found.

I would stay silent and curled in a ball for long after the game was over. Long after everyone else had been found and I knew it was safe to come out. There was something terrifying— downright breath-losing— about being found. I can’t explain it. Not beyond these terribly written sentences, I can’t tell you why I’ve never known how to be found.

It’s been 15 months and 13 months.

15 months and 13 months.

15 months since I bit down hard on my bottom lip, sitting by the window of a Starbucks by Yale University, the day after a break-up with a man I tried to fall in love with. That’s when I heard him. God, I mean. I heard him whisper, “Go.”

13 months since I actually listened to that whisper, packed up my Toyota with the tinted windows of a drug dealer, and moved my existence to Atlanta, Georgia.

15 months since I winced and whimpered, “Please just me let stay in a town that keeps me comfortable.” Comfort is delicious and contagious.

13 months since I broke my comfort zone. My comfort zone exploded into a million bedazzled pieces on the floor of a new house with too small of a bathroom and an endearing neighbor with no teeth named Little Bit who would acquire bicycles and new clothes and all sorts of things in the time I lived across the street from him.

That’s what Atlanta is to me: the shattering of my comfort zone.

It started at a coffee shop with white walls called Taproom. The shop opened its doors for the first time one week before I arrived in Atlanta. I took it as a sign that God had made the coffee shop for me. I was meant to sit inside those four walls and read too many books and meet too many strangers and draw too many doodles in the corners of my notebooks.

Mornings were flushed with pour-overs and people-watching.

It quickly became my neighborhood coffee shop where the baristas would pray for you when you needed a nudge and they’d brew you a second cup on the house when they noticed your head had been down for several hours. I liked all of them instantly because they were real. I mean, you can’t really train someone to ask “how are you, really?” and teach them to linger around long enough to actually hear your honest answer— that’s just a trait of good people, not baristas.

The people at Taproom Coffee make the meanest London Fog you will ever consume. It’s not listed on the menu but order it anyway. Turns out, happiness is in white cups and foamy drinks inspired by rainy days in England.

I’ll never forget sitting at Taproom one late night talking with the owner. I always felt like I could not escape him, as strange as that sounds. But there are just some people who make you feel like you can’t actually hide from— they see you. As much as you don’t want to be seen, they see you.

This was the city I could not escape from because everyone was adamant to see the cards of mine I never placed down on the table.

He looked at me and then turned away. He turned back.

“I wonder about you,” he said quietly. “I wonder who picks you up from the airport. That’s all.”

They always ask “if a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?” He could have never asked that question and it still would have somehow made a sound.

I am the girl who doesn’t know how to mumble, “I need you.”

“I need you so bad.”

Secretly, I am hoping I can return to this page in a few months from now and change that last sentence to past tense.

That’s just me: I don’t know how to need people. So when you buy my coffee or give me ballads to knock the air out of my lungs and you make me take bites to balance out the liquor, I cave. I cave into myself and I reach for the suitcase and the running shoes. 

I’d rather dazzle you with a false picture than make you endure the parts of me that still cry out with inconsistency and resentment.

It’s been 13 months and I am still here somehow. And I call Taproom Coffee my place and I sometimes cry when I drive home on backroads at night because I am no longer traveling home— every part of this city adopted me. And people are beginning to know my real middle name. And I feel seen and I am thankful for whoever created that word and wedged it into a dictionary for a hopeful girl like me. My god, I’ve wanted to be seen & uncovered & told I am okay for so long. It was the simplest thing in the world and I could have had it years ago.

I guess that’s growing up, right? Realizing you might only have one shot to get it right so you better keep this good thing going, even when it scares you half to death.

People always told me love was quick and instant.

The kind you have after blinking twice, too slowly. And that was how I always felt about New York City— like I loved her before she ever let me in.

My walls are higher and my stakes are more and love isn’t quick for me anymore. Unless it’s cheap coffee or a Christmas song, love isn’t quick for me anymore. It’s slow and quiet and a process I want to rest my whole body inside of because I think could be safe here.

Cities have never made me feel safe. Coffee shops have never made me feel wanted. People have never made me feel like I didn’t want to hide anymore.

Until now. Until this.

Welcome to the fight it takes to keep me here.

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I got 99 problems but a budget ain’t one.

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Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

So I created budget sheets recently.

You should really laugh over this. The girl who is the absolute WORST when it comes to numbers is now creating budget sheets. 

But honestly? I would argue that this is precisely why it needed to be me who made these budget sheets a reality.

I am completely aware of what I need: I need to kill my student loans. I need to be smarter with spending. I need to eat less tacos. I need financial goals. 

I also know exactly what I need to get on the budgeting train and stay on it: I need the set-up to be simple, smart, and minimalistic– with a touch of sass. That’s me. That’s what will motivate me to budget and keep my finances in order. It won’t be big terminology. It won’t be some complicated system. It will black & white sheets of papers with gangster quotes on them and simple boxes to fill in that even a writer like me can handle.

And now they exist. 

You see, money and I have always had a strange relationship. 

As strange as the relationship I once had with a Greek (I’m only emphasizing it because he emphasized it. A lot) and I must have had panic attacks every 2.5 seconds of our relationship because I was genuinely terrified of him. (Don’t worry, he was not dangerous.) It’s stupid to admit but I was afraid of the way he held the door open for me. I was afraid of how he paid for dinner and met my parents and would randomly compliment me for no reason. I was afraid because I honestly did not believe at that time– in the deep, deep of me– that I deserved him. That I deserved someone good like him. If you don’t believe you are worth something, you won’t ever know how to accept it with open hands & gratitude. 

Enter money.

And the daily struggle that comes with making money, counting money, managing money, saving money– all the while, struggling to know and understand what I am worth in my industry and what I deserve.

I’ve been self-employed since July 2012. I am coming up on my 3-year “working for my self” anniversary. It sounds like a dream but it has come with a lot of major bumps. Synonyms for major bumps include (but are not limited to): creating a LLC, filing 1099s, paying taxes as a freelancer, hiring a lawyer, getting trademarks, understanding copyrights, managing a team, sending cease & desist letters, working with bigger companies that are evidently smarter than me, not vomiting when someone brings up operating budgets, navigating the world of contracts & riders, finally getting a point where I actually don’t flinch or twitch over the terminology used in this whole list. 

All in all, I’ve learned so much about myself, others, and the way I handle money through working for myself. Reality has smacked me in the face. I’ve had good months and bad months. I’ve appreciated every hard to swallow lesson. It’s the greatest challenge of my little life and I am thankful that I get to approach it with fresh eyes daily to try my hardest to be a better business person– hour by hour, day by day.

I am not an expert on money but I am giving it all I’ve got this year. I’m gathering knowledge daily. These are the little thangs I’ve learned along the way about my finances and budgeting.

1) Giving with purpose creates new drive. 

Giving is my #1 priority when it comes to finance. I don’t believe in giving 10%– I believe in giving generously where I can, when I can. Giving, to me, doesn’t fit into a box– I budget out money to give to my church, sponsor girls’ education, donate hygiene products to homeless shelters, mail packages to readers, and deliver pizzas to friends. I think giving gets stale when assign too many rules to it.

Giving should not be a chore, it should be a privilege. A way of getting to say, “I am thankful I have the ability to work and make money– with that blessing, I will open up my hands and bless others.”

2) Sallie Mae must die. 

I loathe her. I loathe all my student loans. But I take all responsibility for them– I am the one who racked up a sweet bill. So what else is there to do but pay it off, bit by bit? I believe in swiping at Sallie Mae with large blows to the face. I budget monthly and then roundhouse kick Sallie to the face with the remains, every chance I get.

I’m having a massive Going Away Party for Sallie Mae when she is finally gone. It’s going to be epic. You will get the invite.

2.5) Why I need budget sheets. 

I am learning the truth: math is not meant to stay stuck in my head. I need to see the numbers in front of me. Otherwise I am going to break out in hives and convince myself that I’ll be homeless by next month. I, personally, need the digits to be written down in paper form. I have used these budget sheets since October. I’ve improved them as I’ve seen fit for my own needs. They are ideal for anyone who is employed by a company or working for themselves.

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Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

3) Know what you need. 

Self-employment sounds like a dream until you realize you are your own boss. You control the cash flow. You determine the hours. The game is yours and you have to figure out how to play it right.

I’ve played the game right. And I’ve played it so wrong. I’ve worked too many hours. I’ve been the girl unable to say “no” to projects. I’ve killed the balance in my social life and been guilty of having absolutely NOTHING to talk about on a date besides my work (womp womp). But I’ve turned all that around recently. I’m not perfect but I am improving daily.

Every month I budget out what I absolutely need to pay for (rent, subscriptions, insurance, office space, etc) and then proceed to budget in what I will, without a doubt, spend money on (coffee, exercise, too many tacos). I factor in taxes, how much I want to save, and how much I want to put towards debt. That allows me to know how much work I need to take on and divide it out into the four pockets below.

People often ask how I make an income. I am an open book when it comes to these kinds of conversations. I treat all my work with an open-handed (I am thankful to just be able to work and love what I do) approach.

My income is made up of 4 parts:

Copywriting projects.

Speaking engagements.

Book Writing.

Creative Consulting.

I garner no income from running More Love Letters. All money from partnerships goes towards the overhead of our company. We are completely fueled by the love of our community and the love of the work we do. My reasoning for that is simple: I am called to steward More Love Letters and I will not budge towards profit unless a door opens for it to be done with all our pure motives left front and center. Income, for me, comes through these four different avenues and allows me to continue to steward the organization I’ve been given by God.

4) Don’t. Let. Money. Scare. You. 

Like anything we don’t fully understand, we feed the fear of not “knowing” and we become afraid of it. I know that’s the truth when it comes to me and money. Because numbers intimidated me, I claimed I was no good with them and I couldn’t be bothered. I saved a ton of money (I’ve never had an issue with spending too much) but I didn’t recognize I could be actively killing debt instead of hoarding like a squirrel.

I used to want to take every project on for free because I didn’t want to come off as prideful or boastful. I’ve learned a few things from freelancing though that don’t make me prideful- they make me a smart business woman.

  • It’s smart to know your worth.
  • It’s smart to charge what you are truly worth (don’t shy away from it).
  • It’s smart to offer your services at a discount when starting off to gain experience for your portfolio.
  • It’s smart to have an hourly wage and a project-based wage.
  • It’s smart to raise your prices every 6 months.

5) Don’t leave home without a list. 

Seriously though, going to the grocery store or any department store without a list is like throwing money down a toilet that is shaped like the Target logo. Target is the queen of making you aware of everything you didn’t need until you saw it on the shelf.

These days, I am making lists. Otherwise, I am buying SO MUCH FREAKING kale. No person needs this much kale. I have an ungodly amount of kale– all because I’ve been known to brave Trader Joe’s without a list and come out triumphantly thinking I am going to eat brussel sprouts & edamame & salmon by the droves that week.

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Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Grab your budget sheets here.

Please feel free to post your comments + freelancer // saver questions about money matters below (and any tips you have!). I will do my best to answer all of them but I am very much aware that I am no investor from Shark Tank so have mega grace for me.

Please + thanks. 

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A 17-word love story.

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“Do you think you would forget her?” I asked him.

We were weaving down the sidewalk beside Ponce De Leon Avenue. Him and I were just two small flecks to the cars whipping by— him in a bright green shirt, me in red flats that always garner compliments from strangers.

“I mean, hypothetically,” I retracted a bit. “If you could, do you think you would forget her?”

We’d spent the hour talking about his love story over boxed sushi lunches and water with lemon. That’s always what I do with a lunch break— find a good love story, in book or human heart form.

He talked about her like she was the only thing that ever existed in his orbit. Like he forgot to ever look around to see if others existed. Like she could easily sweep in and take the sun’s place. I mean, the way he talked about her could make the moon jealous.

“You have a good love story,” I told him on the walk back to the office. After he’d paid for the both of us. I really meant to say: I hope it works for you. I know you are struggling to tell her how you feel. I know you might never get the courage. Instead I simply said, “You have a good love story.” The makings of a really good love story.

“I mean, it’s not like Romeo & Juliet or anything classic like that,” he laughed.

“You really think that one is all that classic? We can do better than that.”

Call me strange but I’ve never understood why that story— of all the love stories— is considered a classic. I guess it just doesn’t pull me the way it pulls other people.

“Fine,” he said. “Name a good one. Name a good love story.”

I didn’t hesitate. “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

“Favorite,” he said.

“I know.”

It’s been my favorite for a while too, though I never told you that. I just love the premise, the whole idea: One couple. Two individuals. Both facing the turmoil of themselves and one another. Deciding to break it off. The classic pain of losing someone— burning up inside, swallowing you whole. And then them both discovering there was actually a way to get one another erased from their memories. An actual procedure out there that would allow you to completely erase a person from your memory, and leave no traces behind. All the memories gone.

You’ll call me morbid and hopeless, but I always thought there was something too beautiful about the idea of getting to erase someone from your memory. Like, if I wanted to, I could let you go tomorrow. You’d be gone. Classically extinct.

When he talked about her, I thought of you.

I thought of all the coffee bars I’d visit and all the wine glasses I’d hold just to be able to say your name out loud. Even when you became a ghost to me, I still loved to tell people about you. Because you, my dear, were the one who got away. I never told you that but you were the one who got away.

You’d laugh in my face if you really knew that, if I ever got the courage to be honest about that. It was almost two years ago now that I saw you at that restaurant— the one my parents liked so much with all the pasta— and it was your friend who told me my name had come up in conversation between you two that day.

“What are the odds of that,” I said, biting back the tears as I watched you out of the corner of my eye. I hadn’t seen you in so long. You still had that little boy smile. Those teeth. I was surprised to find out I still could cry just from standing beside you in a room.

“I don’t know,” he said wrapping his arm around me. “But I told him you were definitely the girl who got away.”

“Oh, stop,” I laughed. I wanted to say so much more: we’ve been history for a long time. We’re basically textbook. The kind of textbook that is outdated and you can’t even use it in the classroom anymore.

“It’s true,” he continued. “And he agreed. He couldn’t say anything more to me except that he agreed.”

We stood there silently for a second. He changed the subject. Your eyes traced me and I wondered what you were thinking. I couldn’t read your mind anymore.

That would be the first memory to go, I think.

If I could sit in a chair at a doctor’s office and have a man in a white coat tell me I would get to let you go for good, that would probably be the first memory to go: the way you were still able to trace me even when I’d erased myself from your presence.

Then it would be the night in your driveway. All the nights in your driveway. Then the ferris wheel. Then the slow dancing in the middle of the woods. Do you remember that one?

We’d found a secret spot to park the car. We’d go there all the time to just escape from the rest of the world. We’d put the seats down and open up the back of the car so that the stars could come in too.

But that night, as you slid out to drive me home, you reached for my hand and I took it. Tightly.

“Dance with me,” you whispered.

“There’s no music,” I answered.

“I’m playing your favorite song,” you said, pulling me in and humming into my ear.

You moved me around and around that little wooded area slowly.

“And I’ll be better when I’m older.”

You kept on humming.

“I’ll be the greatest fan of your life.”

I never knew the feeling was real: the feeling you could love someone so much that the seams of the sky ripped. The feeling you could love someone so much that you could steal for them all the grace in the world and it still wouldn’t be enough of a gift. The feeling you could love someone so much that you’re suddenly somehow jealous of every step they ever took, every birthday party they ever went to, every patch of ground they laid in without you right beside them.

I didn’t know I was capable of loving you so wide. I surprised myself with every room I let you add into my heart.

I’m afraid of what will happen when I meet someone else.

I am afraid of how we will hold my hand. How he might look into my eyes and see whatever you left of yourself inside of me. That’s what happens when you let a person in: you give them all the permission to either hem you or break you. I think that would be our 17-word love story: We hemmed each other for a really long time, making one another better, and then we broke.

We broke and I still worry about you at night. Because you are my insides. You are my third arm. I stand in empty rooms and beg to say your name just to make the walls jealous that I had you once.

You’re like one of those old retired Beanie Babies floating around a flea market in Alabama. One of those rare ones that only a few people ever know are worth more than their own existence.

You’re all the words I never said. You’re so many words that don’t exist just yet– they’re just waiting for definitions to get assigned to their names.

“Do you think you would forget her?” I asked him.

We were weaving down the sidewalk beside Ponce De Leon Avenue. Him and I were just two, small flecks to the cars whipping by— him in a bright green shirt, me in red flats that always garner compliments from strangers.

“I mean, hypothetically,” I retracted a bit. “If you could, do you think you would forget her?”

“Yea,” he answered. No trace of hestitation stood in his voice. He sounded like surrender. A slow and tired surrender.

“Yea,” I mumbled back. We kept on walking, the sun beating down on the crowns of our heads. I finished my sentence. “Me too.”

I guess the truth is so slow to spill: I would probably learn to forget you too.

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I am not the point.

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It was Maya Angelou who wrote how you can learn a lot about a person by examining the way they handle these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.

Rainy days have always been my jam and lost luggage is just a sign to be patient with the imperfect gods of Delta and circumstances in life beyond your control. But it’s those Christmas lights that have me tripping— straight-up, worried sick.

You see, I lack patience. I try not to and I am constantly needing Big Mac portion sizes of grace in this area. I hold a secret wrath for the slow walkers of this earth and the tasks that take a person 4 hours to execute when I know I could have handled it by myself in 15 minutes. I was the intern supervisor back in the day who wanted to do all the work for the interns just so it would be finished and done well. I had to take my sticky fingers off so many situations, breathe, and just say, “Girl, let someone have a breakthrough and a moment of celebration on their own. You once celebrated over your small and slow victories too.”

In the words of Michelangelo, “Ancora Imparo” (Still, I am Learning).

So when it comes to Christmas lights and other cords I’d rather not untangle them. I tell myself life is too short to sit on the floor and untangle cords. I mean that. The evidence would be the fact that my hair straightener and curling iron have been tethered to one another for nearly seven months now. The cords are so tangled that you have to stand close to the outlet in order to use them. You have to get your head basically next to the outlet if you want to use the straightener. This is the definition of someone’s worst nightmare but I somehow let the tangled cords make my life more difficult daily instead of just stopping, unplugging the devices from the wall, and taking the twenty minutes necessary the detach the two for good.

Embarrassing to admit but I actually raised my needy palms up to the ceiling yesterday and asked God, “What does this say about me? What does this honestly say about me?”

I’m the silly girl who finds life revelations in tangled product cords but that’s just because I’ve only ever known how to view every inch of life as a series of small encounters meant to improve your character. Really. Truly. I can analyze the snot out of how people maneuver holding glasses of wine and cheese plates at weddings. There is a science to how people order things off Amazon or tackle the grocery list and how both tactics might improve their state of humanity. As you can imagine, I’m instantly the life to any party.

Truth told: I’d choose not to untangle things.

If this was my show, which it used to be, then I would choose to not face things or untangle them and just let life be ruled by more difficulty. Things like “loves lost” I’m cool to untangle because I like to be poetic about the past and cry over things lost. Something like “singleness” I’d prefer not to untangle or even look at. I hate admitting that I’m single. I hate knowing there isn’t a person for me yet. And then when it comes to a thing like “fear,” I’ve been left with no choice but to try and untangle it— little by little— every single day.

I am learning the truth: if you untangle your own mess then you give other people the permission to try and maneuver through their own. We all want some kind of permission to look at our messes without fear of what we will find when we sink our hands in deep to them.

“You are not the Christmas star,” he whispered.

Clearly. He said it. “You are not the Christmas star.”

I was sitting cross-legged on my bed. Christmas had just rolled to the back of the calendar. I was stuck in a headlock of anxiety and fear for most of that December and crying out every morning for God to just speak to me. “Just tell me,” I would pray. “What are we fighting for? What do you want to take out of me? Just take it, God. Take it.”

His answer was audible that one morning: You are not the Christmas star. A chill rushed down my spine. I ran downstairs to my mother, standing by the countertop fixing drip coffee.

“He told me I am not the Christmas star,” I announced to her.

“Who told you?”

“God told me.” You see, in the relationship between my mother and I— God is a third person. He’s an everyday contributor to conversations. He’s like the third homie. The third member of the Hanson band— probably the wise one, Isaac. If my mother is Kelly and I am Michelle then God is the third member of Destiny’s Child— Yonce. If I am Lisa Left Eye Lopes, and my mama is Chili, then God is definitely T-Boz of the TLC group. Let’s be real: T-Boz was the ultimate boss.

“Are you sure God says those sorts of things? That’s a stretch.”

“He definitely said it,” I retorted. “Because I know exactly what he meant.”

He meant to say, in a gentle and nudging way, “You are the not center of the universe, sweet girl.”

I’m not. I’m not every person’s favorite person. I’m so far from perfect that it hurts. I was not made to be front and center. It’s exactly like that bible verse that I’m simultaneously finding shelter and a roundhouse kick of reality to the face inside of these days: John 1:8. “He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” That’s about John the Baptist. It could very well be about you too.

I think that’s God’s way of saying, “Maybe you are gonna shine but I never called you to be your own power plant and gobble up all the credit. You don’t need street cred, little one. You need a smaller purpose.”

“I want to start a movement.”

I cannot count the amount of times I’ve heard those exact words blurted out before me at a speaking engagement or networking event. I want to start a movement. I want to create something big. It has to be big. I want to change the world.

Trust me, that was me 5 years ago. I was 21 and obsessed with making an impact somehow and someway. I could barely see the people around me because my worth and value were tangled up in what I could offer the world. I wanted the big titles. I needed the big names. Baby steps would never serve me. I was always, always that girl.

And wanting to do something bigger than myself was always the driver until I realized that baby steps are queen and God sets the course. He sets the course.

Since the start, he set the story. My mother leaving me love letters. My ache for people I didn’t know. My fascination with New York City. My love for the internet and how it binds us all. He put all those pieces together and it wasn’t until I was stepping and stepping and stepping that I could look up and realize, “I’m not the star. I’m just the vessel. I’m just the instrument.” I’m not the star. I’m not the point.

I have to remind myself of this daily, hourly, when I want to get too handsy with gifts in my life and control every aspect of them. I get way too proud. Way too proud when I think I was born for big assignments— Christmas star missions that just allow me to stand there and shine bright.

There’s a certain and unquenchable beauty in untangling the Christmas lights. It’s humbling. There’s something desirable and lasting when you take your position as the tiny little bulb on the string of lights, instead of the centerpiece who sheds light to the whole tree. When you are a tiny bulb, you become an intricate part of the untangling process and you learn the coolest truth about humanity: when we untangle things, like the lights, we allow more of those little bulbs to stand apart and shine. When he squash our pride for small work and just help others out, we teach others to be lights. And with more little lights, we illuminate more space and territory in a darkened, hollowed place. 

I am trying to untangle the things I am afraid of.

It’s the only thing worth giving my life to anymore these days. I could continue with a prideful saunter and talk loudly about the things I already know but that story is tired, it’s rehearsed, it’s heard. So, instead, I listen to the whisper that tells the truth I am afraid to face, “Little one, you’ve built so much of your life out fear. It’s time to build with love instead.” It’s time to build with love instead. And the first step of love is exactly what you’re shaken over: untangling the mess and realizing you’re okay.

You’re okay. 

Build with love. Untangle your fear. Be a small light.

Build with love. Untangle your doubt. Be a bright light.

Baby steps, baby. Baby steps.

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Field Notes: Vol 6 // Mason Jar Edition

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hey you– 

So “Field Notes” lived for a little while. And then it died. Pretty hard. For several months.

It’s back though– with more purpose and vengeance than ever before. A little re-introduction: I come across so many cool companies, heart-gonna-fall-out-my-chest missions, swoon-worthy words, and inspiration on a daily basis and I often wish there was a place to stockpile it all. So here’s to “Field Notes”– a collection of the most baller people, places, & thangs on a Friday. 

Onward.

hb. 


 

So a little about me: I am 26 years old. I am self-employed & I work out of a creative space in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s a space for creatives & artists & anyone looking to not work specifically out of their home 24-7. I did the whole “work from home” thing while working on Book #1 and I needed, more than anything, to leave my house when I came to Atlanta. It was my only way to make friends, create community, and be in a space where I didn’t constantly feel stuck in my own world. My space full of other creatives has allowed me to break that cycle in a remarkable way while linking arms with good, good people.

So all is well & good in the world of going to an office space until lunchtime hits and I want Chipotle. Like, so much chipotle. So many burritos. And honestly? I waste a ton of money haphazardly buying groceries without a list and then still going out to grab lunch based on what I am feeling. Word to the wise: never base your food decisions on how you feel.

In my own life I am trying– quite diligently– to morph clean eating into a healthy habit. I have one solid month at home in Atlanta and I am putting my head down and working on creating habits that can follow me no matter where I am– at home or in airports. I am learning that habits come existence through months & months and years & years of patterned behavior. Negative & positive habits make up who you are and contribute to your overall quality of life. 

I’ve been looking for ways to make meal assembly efficient (with the hopes I will actually slow down long enough on a Sunday and do it). And friends, I found a good ol’ Southern tradition that is blowing my mind. I posted the above picture on Instagram this past week and I got dozens of emails from people wanting to know what I was putting in my mason jar lunches.

Side note: I feel like the least domesticated individual on the face of the planet who has managed to survive on burritos for a really long time and I’ve somehow managed to execute this. That’s all the proof in the world you need to know and believe mason jar lunches are quick, easy, and not complicated. 

Side note #2: I do all my meal prep on Sundays before the week begins. This way, I am able to not feel overwhelmed preparing every day + night. I allow myself to eat out twice a week. 


 

BONUS POINTS FOR MASON JAR LUNCHES

1) Glass trumps tupperware. Food prep is made easier + food keeps more flavor. ALSO- it’s cheaper. I got a dozen Mason Jars at Target for $9 this past week.

2) Portion control. I didn’t know if putting my lunch in a mason jar was going to be enough food for me but I can honestly say YES, it has been. I bring a small metal bowl with me from IKEA to work and I dump the contents of the mason jar out when it’s time for lunch, stir it up, and chow down. I love the portions so much I’ve even started putting my snacks into mason jars.

3) Easier assembly. Setting up an assembly line is easy & fun. I managed to make 5 lunches in a matter of ten minutes (apart from cooking the chicken & turkey). Blast some Drake and get to it, boo. You might mix them up and make two of one day or three of another day.

4) People will think you are cool. For some reason, mason jars are an “in” thing and people will think you are suppperrrrrrr hipster for putting your lunch into glass containers. They’ve been around for ages but hey, why not score some cool points for being cheap & fun?

5) Salads are saved FOR-EV-ER. One of my biggest pet peeves to packing salads for lunch was either having to bring the dressing with me or endure the sogginess of the kale//lettuce after it had been soaking in the dressing for half the work day. The mason jars are perfect because you add dressing or any kind of liquid to the bottom. That way, your ingredients don’t get soggy. I had four of these meals sitting in the fridge, waiting for their day, and not one of them was soggy as long as the greens were kept on top!


 

A NOTE ON FOOD:

I’ve posted 5 recipes for the 5 days of the week below. You’ll notice that the ingredients I’ve listed are simple & basic. I’m doing my best to stick to clean eating & all of the ingredients below can be found at your grocery store or local Farmer’s Market– whichever you prefer.

 

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Death of a game player.

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It was two summers ago. 2013.

I would have told you, in a nonchalant tone of voice, that I was “keeping my options open.”

He and I, we weren’t official. We weren’t much of anything at all besides a few dinners and a person to report back to at the end of the night. I knew that if we talked about it then the consensus would be mutual: This won’t go too far. And it’s okay if there are other people you talk to at night.

He was sweet though. Schooled me in enchilada-eating competitions. Took my hand at the movies. Sang (out of pitch and out of tune) right along side me in the car.

You could have thought the world of him. You could have told me he was certainly “it” but my conclusions were certain and drawn already: I knew I wasn’t going to date him long-term. We wanted different things. I wanted to get out of that state. He was leaving that state. This was our summer. The only one.

We were laying down one night on two separate couches, across the room from one another, and I felt this pull in my heart. This nag. This tug. This urge to not ignore it any longer. This tiny voice that whispered before roaring, “Turn off the back-burner. Turn off the back-burner and step away.”

Game over, girl. Game. Over.

I can’t pinpoint exactly where I learned to play the game.

You might know the game I am talking about: The texting game. The “wait until he calls me” game. The “don’t respond for at least a few hours” game. I used to play that game so hard. I’m not trying to boast as if it were a good thing, I’m just trying to be honest that I enjoyed the “game” a lot more than I didn’t.

There was something inside of me that craved attention far more than real love. I craved something instant instead of something long, and winding, and sprawling. I craved curbing the loneliness more than I actually wanted a person to get to know. I don’t know why. I think I figured if I could always be the detached one then I would never need to hurt or lose when the other person turned to walk away from me; I’d have been expecting it the whole time. 

And so I was the girl who my friends could not keep up with because there was always somebody new to like. Always somebody cuter. Always somebody more endearing. And I always had a reason why it was going to be over soon— falling away, but still always there like a dull flame sitting on the back-burner.

I remember that summer specifically because I was trying to forge a road between what I wanted for myself and what I thought God wanted for my life. The two always seemed to look different back then. And I am typing all of this so honestly because I never want to act like me and God are perfect and prim homies or that I’ve stopped sinning and needing the constant handfuls of grace he gives. It ain’t true. I am very much human. I am very much learning. And I am learning that you are capable of being with God, and forging relationship with him, even if you don’t feel good enough for him. He doesn’t want you to be good enough, that’s the whole point. 

When I heard that small voice, “Turn off the back-burner,” I immediately knew what the voice was saying. It was talking about people. It was talking about people in my life I was mistreating, people in my life I was keeping around to be my safety net.

People are not safety nets. They’re just not.

They’re golden. And they challenge us. And they push us. And they make us want to be better than yesterday. And some may make us worse. But they are not safety nets.

I didn’t need another text at night to prove I was not alone but I desperately thought I needed another attempt to try to mouth back at God, “I am in control.” I am in control because I am afraid you will not bless me with the life I want. And so I want to take this into my own hands and control this situation.”

And maybe you don’t think it is a big deal but I just feel like I learned that summer how I could be so much less hasty with other humans. Sadly, it happens everywhere. We cheat. We ignore one another when we get tired of the back and forth banter. We don’t confront. We don’t commit. We slide off the radar when things get stale. We seem to reinforce this idea that our actions determine the love we think we deserve and our actions seem to say sometimes, “I am sorry you are second string. I am sorry you are just something to be caught. I am sorry you are just a game.”

That scares me more than anything: to always be playing a game and never actually falling in love.

So I had to believe God had good for my life.

I still have to re-believe that every single day. But when I nail down that truth then I must swallow the second sister-truth like medicine: If God has good for my life then that means other people deserve that same good too.

It’s easy to think that for strangers and people we see on the news. It sounds too simple and basic to even voice out loud: God likes you just as much as the person next to you.

But let me be real: I know I forget that too easily when I’ve been hurt or my ego has been bruised. In those instances I want justice. I want karma. I want that person to cry as loudly as I am crying at night. I want to be missed. I want to not be forgotten. I want all those things that will ultimately scream into the ear of the other, “You deserved this. You deserved this when you broke my heart. Be sad for a little longer.”

That’s not how God plays though. And it was hard that summer to come to grips with an even bigger mistake on my part: the fact that I was playing games with people whose hearts were just as fragile and wanting as mine.

I was afraid to not be wanted. So I kept a board full of people always hanging in the background as stale proof to myself at night that I wasn’t actually fragile and wanting.

And I wasn’t giving those people full permission to just be human. To fail my expectations (because we do that, even when we don’t mean to). I was not acknowledging how it might break my heart to be treated like something that was only meant to be caught before shoving it to the side, never fully realizing that every time we crash into one another— catch one another— we leave marks, we do damage, we take pieces.

In the past, I’ve called them the “fishing lines of loneliness.”

The ways we bait one another into communication because we are all so afraid of what would really happen if the screen shut off and we had to face ourselves. Alone. Single. Separate from the wreckage of relationships we should have said goodbye to yesterday.

The fishing lines of loneliness come out on a Thursday night or a late Friday evening when the world gets quiet. You can’t handle scrolling through the Facebook streams any longer and you feel this loneliness in your core that is hard to give words to. It makes you feel unworthy. You feel all alone. You struggle with guilt. But your iPhone reveals a slew of numbers you can text to make that loneliness disappear for a while.

They’re old flames. They’re friendships that never had any boundaries to them. They’re people you’ve strung along without ever having to define anything. They’re past relationships–broken and battered– that never needed another stir of the pot.     

You send a few texts. And then you wait for the fish to catch on and the conversations to begin.

“Hi! How are you?”

 “I’m good. How have you been?”

“Great! I’ve missed you…”

There’s a tone of sobriety and sadness in the conversations, as if you both know you aren’t going back to where you once were but you are trying to salvage something all the same.

I’ve brought this up to about a dozen women in the last week and every single one has raised up their hands and said, “Yes, I know exactly what you mean. I know exactly who those people on my list are.”

And no one feels particularly guilty about these fishing lines of loneliness if it makes the hollow feeling inside fade for a bit. And so we carry on conversations we really don’t need, and we hash out memories that don’t have a place in our lives anymore, and we cling to anything that makes us feel special, and wanted, and worthy for the moment, even if it’s two-dimensional and someone else’s feelings get played with for a while. We hurt one another because we know how to. It’s not that we ever wanted to, we simply know how to.

Back to that summer. 2013.

The one before this last one that came with all the Georgia heat. I was laying there on the couch, across from a boy who wore Vans, and I was hearing this nearly audible voice say to me, “Cut off the back-burner, dear.

The back-burner does not work for you anymore. The game does not work for you anymore.

But you won’t stop playing games until you get rid of the pawns. Unless you finally learn to look a person in the eye and say, “You are not a piece. You are not a pawn. And even if you do not reciprocate these feelings, and don’t always treat me with the love I deserve, I have to be better to you. I have to be sweeter to you. I have to be kinder to you. I have to let you go because the grey zone doesn’t fit us anymore.”

I thought maybe I was crazy, hearing these voices as he laughed beside me. Maybe I was crazy or maybe I was growing up. Maybe I was learning what I needed to see for too long of a time: people aren’t safety nets. They aren’t lifeboats. They aren’t grenades you throw and then leave before the wreckage ensues. They were not made to be left on the back-burner just because you don’t want to have to sit with yourself at the end of the day.

I made a vision board on December 31, 2014.

It’s a tradition. Every December 31, myself, one of my very best friends, and a few other folks gather together with all the scrap magazines we’ve got and we make vision boards for the year ahead (y’all– if you’ve never created a vision board then you need to stop reading this… and go make one… pronto… vision boards are an everyday sort of thang. You don’t have to wait until December 31 for this!!). But we make ours on December 31. And we compare each board with the one made the year before. And the brightly colored collages hang in our offices all year round as a reminder, “At one point, you ripped this out a magazine because it symbolized something you wanted. Go for it. Don’t be afraid. Just go.”

And it is funny because every year I am consistently surprised by what shows up on the vision board. Last year it was a lot of kettles and pictures of homes with white walls. And this year, the board was just LOUD. A lot of LOUD words at a time when I was not feeling loud about anything in life.

I showed it to two of my friends, feeling defeated by the lack of clarity coming through the board, and I said in the smallest voice I could muster, “I don’t know what this means this year. It looks a lot like I just want to be loud. And I’m mad.”

One of the girls said back immediately, “But all of the words are in black and white.” I scanned over the board again. She was right. All the words were in black and white. “Maybe this is your year to have things be black and white. No grey zone.”

When she said that, there was peace. Peace nearly instantly. The thought of canceling a grey zone was liberating to me. Because I used to take grey in all 50 shades and use it for every corner of my life as a way to say, “I don’t know what I want. So I will just stand in the fields of No Clarity as long as I can.”

I thought to myself, “How many times have I lived inside of the grey zone? How many times have I handicapped people within my own grey zone?”

How did I get so far without realizing I am the one who gets to choose black and white? I get to choose.

No grey.

No games.

No pawns.

No back-burner.

It had always been my choice.

But it always had to start with me.

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