Sam, will you go to prom with me?

Dear Hannah

In almost all of the blog posts I’ve read, you always write about how God spoke to you and helped you when you felt lost. You talk about him whispering revelations in your ear and sending signs like the spiders.

I’m not a religious person. I don’t go to Church. I don’t get on my knees and pray. I believe there’s a God in a superficial way, like how we say ‘oh my god’ and ‘please dear god don’t let me fail my exam!’

When I was going through a tough time in my life a few years ago, I turned my head to the sky and just started cursing at him. ‘Why do you let these things happen to me? What did I do wrong? I hate you for doing this’

I know now that it was wrong to blame him.

Recently, I had to make a difficult decision. I say difficult, but really, it’s quite superficial. I didn’t know whether I should seize the day and do something that would be uncomfortable but possibly worthwhile, or, whether I should just sit back and wait for the boy to come to me.
I asked God if I could have a sign of what I should do. I thought about your blog posts, and how God gave you epiphanies, and I asked if I could have the same

No one whispered in my ear and nothing fell out of the sky. But I did get many people telling me to just go for it. So I did. It was nerve wracking and made me want to throw up because of all the adrenalin flooding through me. But I did it

I have yet to find out whether it was the right decision, but all I want to know is- how do I know if God is talking to me? How do YOU know?

Love
A

 

A,

The other night I was driving. It was close to 9pm. I was sitting beside someone I really, really care about. I am sure you have that type of person in your own life, A. They make words hard to fumble with. They’re the person you want to call after they’ve just left you because you spent the whole car ride home coming up with a dozen more sentences just so you don’t have a reason to say goodbye so fast.

And I will always remember how full the car was with questions that night. Tears streamed down my face. It was dark outside. The yellow lines in the road were more pronounced than ever.

I wasn’t crying because of anything this person did, I was simply crying because I had this overwhelming sense that the words playing over us– coming through the speakers of the car– were actually true.

Love laid its breath against my chest
My skin was thick but You breathed down all my walls

Hallelujah Oh hallelujah
I found Your love when I lost my heart to You

I can’t really describe the moment at much more than that, A. I didn’t hear God audibly. No part of the car ride was interrupted by a booming PSA from the heavens above. But something within that dark car prompted me to pray to myself, “Be in this car. Be in this car.” I could feel some sort of thick presence. It grew stronger and stronger.

I have to believe prayers open doors where we cannot. I have to believe that a prayer of only four helpless words might be better than a long and stringy one. When my prayers are at their shortest, I believe God has more room to come in and breathe into the spaces where I am lacking.

I replayed the song on the way home.

Hallelujah Oh hallelujah
I found Your love when I lost my heart to You

I just am a sucker, like the rest of the world, for getting found.

“It looks like it’s time for you to get lost,” the text message read.

It came in this morning after I’d vented out all my frustrations to my friend Nia about the walls I keep hitting in preparing for the second book. Lucky am I have to have a friend who knows that the remedy for not being able to find the words is, instead, finding a place to get lost for a little while.

“You’re right,” I replied. “Where can I find the woods?”

Not even an hour later, I was walking through some trails 25 minutes outside of Atlanta with a backpack on my shoulders, my notebook inside, a flannel tied around my waist, and my hair knotted into a bun because I couldn’t find an elastic.

You see, when some people are stressed they seek solace in the gym. Nature. The beach. A reliable view of a city skyline that never dares to change on them. I release and unravel fully when I go off into the woods and I can get a little lost.

I like to find the maps posted in the ground along the way. I like to find the “You Are Here” dot.

Today, when I checked for it, the square blue dot that was supposed to help me see where I was had faded off the page. There was no indicator of my whereabouts. I just had to pick a trail and keep on walking.

 
I walked beneath a bridge. I noticed these pillars with letters drawn on them. One said R. One said O.

I stopped, pulled back, and noticed that there were four pillars with a letter etched out on each one. They spelt out P-R-O-M. One bigger pillar in front of the four had scripted, “Sam, will you go to prom with me?”

I stood there for a minute surveying the grand gesture. I thought about taking a picture but chose not to. I know prom-posals are a big deal now. I actually don’t remember if my boyfriend even asked me to prom or we just assumed we would go together but now there are floats and big productions and students trying out-do one another. It all leads up to this one pivotal high school memory that is either the “best” or “worst” of all time, or just supremely average. As for me, I will honestly have to tell my children one day, “All I remember is that I looked like a hooker (my mom should have never let me wear that dress) and the chicken tasted like rubber.”

Back to Sam and her epic prom-posal…

I don’t know Sam. And I don’t know the person who went through all that trouble to ask Sam to prom but I have to believe to that it wasn’t easy for them. Just the location of those pillars, at the top of a steep and rocky hill, was difficult to get to. The letters were massive. The energy exerted is definitely commendable.

For a moment I just stood in Sam’s shoes and I was thankful that someone, somewhere, decided to make Sam the center of their universe. I think that’s one of the most special things to see: when someone makes someone else feel like they are the only one.

I had a girl just the other day tell me over Skype that she isn’t big into faith and God but she likes to put her faith in humanity some of the time. I had to agree with her. For as faulty and messy as we are, humans have this commendable capacity to choose one another in deliriously great ways. It’s one of the most beautiful things to witness. One of the best restorers of hope and faith.

So I can only imagine that Sam, in that moment, didn’t feel like an accident. She probably didn’t feel forgotten about. I’m willing to bet Sam felt really chosen.

I’m willing to say you’ve wanted to be chosen too, A.

I wonder if you are anything like me, A. Anything like a girl who for so long let her questions and her anger get in the way of God. Anything like a girl who, even if God was screaming at her, she would have never heard him because God speaks in a language of love and she only thought the bible was a language of rules and “get better & holier” attitudes.

I think sometimes God just whispers, “chosen,” and we only have a view of him that makes us hear, “less than.”

As I kept walking into the woods, I could not help but invest too much energy into Sam and her prom date. Did she have a good time? Did that person win her heart? Are they together still? This one, elaborate gesture on a pillar was making me plot out the existent or non-existent history of Sam and her prom date’s love story in my mind.

And all I could think to myself was that I hoped her prom date knew that big gestures are cool– just like big signs from God– but it’s the little stuff that will win a heart and grow a person’s trust in you.

It’s little choices. Little moments when you decide to fight for someone. Saying it anyway. Doing it anyway. Showing up. Figuring out how to say. Opening a door. Sharing a secret. Pushing past a barrier. Letting someone in.

I think this all becomes the sort of evidence you could place on the table of a court room. If the evidence was good enough– strong enough, recorded well enough– then a jury would be convinced of whether or not a person chose to fight for you.

A, I don’t know you. You don’t fully know me. And I am sorry if I ever made it seem like I was hearing God audibly all the time. There have been times when I have that undeniable push in my gut and times when I have felt a whisper. But at the end of the each day, I am just left to account for and record the evidence of when I felt like God had fought for me. When I felt like he stepped out on a limb to get to me. When, even in my suffering, he surrounded me with people to lean into.

I, too, have screamed up at God and asked him why he would allow something like “this” to happen. But I already know the answer: if I was a whole person, if I wasn’t someone prone to suffering and falling out of my own faith, I would not need God and I would not need people.

And why create us– why even be here– if we don’t need one another to push into tomorrow?

A, whatever you chose to do, I am proud of you. I think you made the right choice and I am usually, always, the advocate for taking the route which makes you feel like you are going to vomit. It’s not the easy way but it makes you feel alive.

I think God wants that too. I think he wants us to make choices and feel alive– as opposed to dead and exhausted by this world– at the end of the day. I think he wants us to open up our eyes to the little moments and find a way to treasure those.

Not every moment with God comes with a prom-posal. It just doesn’t. It doesn’t always come with a whisper either. Sometimes there are just moments where you feel okay. Or you feel at peace. Or you whisper to someone holding your heart, “I don’t have all the answers.” And it’s a safe place when you both can agree that there are no answers pulling one of you ahead of the other to win this race faster.

This is not a race. This is not a fight for fireworks or whispers. This life is just a collection of evidence that a fight took place, if you ask me.

You won’t hear him all the time. You might not see him everyday. But please still look for the evidence. You still standing here, somehow making it, is good evidence to start with.

tying you closer than most,

hb.

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The rain you can’t control.

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Today is Sabbath and I am trying, with everything in my being, to walk it out.

I’m not a Sabbath type of girl. If I am not hustling then I really don’t know what to be doing. I spent the first 5 years of my career being allergic to the concept of rest. I first started to see this as a budding problem when I really didn’t have anything to talk about besides work. More than that, I started to see that work was a cover-up for me. A safety zone. Something I could hide behind to keep people from getting too close.

2015 has been a year where I have come at my ugly roots with a weed wacker. And, as a result, I’ve been learning to rest. And break. And figure out what makes me happy.

So today Sabbath looks like me wrapped in my favorite reliable flannel (though the thermometer is sweating at nearly 90 degrees), sipping tea on my countertop, and writing words without a word count to aim for. To me, this is space is not work. It’s life-giving.

I’ve always prayed to God about this little corner of the internet, “God, don’t make this space one where I need to perform. Let it be a place where you are louder, I am smaller, and, through this language, people realize they’re capable. More than capable… brave.” He has kept me at my word.

He has let me come here, day after day, and not worry about metrics or reader stats or ads. Just the practice of writing.

I get a lot of emails from people asking about my writing process. What it looks like. How long it lasts. How I know when I am finished with something. Mind you, you’re hearing from a girl who used to (and sometimes still does) apply rules to everything. Ask me these sorts of question three years ago and I would have only given you a polished answer. That’s all I gave people for a long time: really polished things.

Now my answer to the “writing process” questions can be summed up fast: write a ton of words. When you feel like it. When you don’t feel like it. ESPECIALLY when you don’t feel like it. When you are hormonal. When you are sad. When you are heartbroken. And after first dates. And always after the moments where you find yourself pausing and saying, “I really don’t want to forget this.” Write those moments down. You will forget.

Don’t just write a ton of words. Write a ton of crappy words. Write letters of closure to old boyfriends. Rewrite the Psalms in your own language. Do whatever you can to make the words come out.

I used to believe in Writer’s Block because it gave me a really good excuse to not be writing. You can tell anyone, anywhere, that you have Writer’s Block and they will understand. They will nod their head and agree with you.

There is no blockage, friend. The “block” that writers talk about does not exist. At the very least, the writing process is like learning how to drive a standard vehicle. There is a great deal of preparation before you even start moving. Once you do start moving, you are likely to stall out. A lot. But, with every stall, there is a chance to restart the engine and try again. Eventually you will get to first gear. And then second. And then third. You’ll be cruising.

I am willing to bet that not many stall out and then decide not to restart the engine until 6 weeks later when they feel inspired to try again. You restart the engine because there is a place to go. You stall out and you keep going.

The same practice of determination should be applied to writing: you stall out and you keep going. You stall out and you pick up the pen again because there is a place to go. The day you stop seeing your words are created to transport someone somewhere else, you might as well quit.

At the center of every writing day for me, there is an hour I spend walking. It’s arguably my most productive writing hour of the day and I write nothing down within it.

I leave my phone behind. I bring no distractions with me. I give myself a purpose in that one hour: drop off the mail at the Post Office. I could easily drive to the Post Office but something happens as I walk. I think. I write things in my head. My brain has a chance to breathe and detach from the empty space of a word document. The pressure to always know what comes next. 

The walk to the Post Office is 1.6 miles. I weave around the neighborhood after I drop off the mail. That’s an extra mile. And then I walk back. In total, I am walking at least 4 miles a day.

My route is usually always the same. I trot down Metropolitan. I snake up Eastside. I stop by to see my friends at Brother Moto. I greet the homeless on their benches along Glenwood. I visit my old house on Blake. I pass by Newton and shoot up Van Epps. 

Three days ago, I was walking and about to turn down the road that would get me home the quickest. Clouds were forming. I could tell it was going to rain. But something inside of me told me to keep walking. I felt it coming on strong, “Keep going.”

I thought to myself, I don’t know the way if I keep going. It’s not a route I am familiar with. But I listen– because I believe in hunches and gut feelings– and I keep going.

I bob down connecting streets for a while, really unsure of where I am. The clouds are still collecting and it begins to sprinkle. I keep walking because I have no other option. I don’t have a phone. I have to trust that I will figure it out. I will find my way.

Eventually, and pretty quickly, it is pouring. The rain is coming down hard, and harder, and harder. I am drenched. And it occurs to me that this is probably one of the first times I have involuntarily gotten caught in the rain. We talk about dancing in the rain all the damn time but every time I have danced in the rain, it was because I wanted to. Because I planned it way to feel the spontaneity in my lungs.

I’ve never been placed in this spot before where I must keep walking, and I must keep going through the rain, because I have no other choice. All that surrounds me is the houses of people I don’t know. The trees can’t shield from this kind of rain. This is the hard rain.

You and I both probably thought this would be a piece on writing and it turns out that the real superstar of the day is rain.

Rain. The rain you can’t control. Just one of the things you cannot control in a world where we love to be dictators to whatever our hands get to hold. In that moment, I felt the freedom of having no control. No direction. No GPS to bring me home, just the assurance in my gut that I would get home eventually.

I would be soaked. I would be muddy. But I would eventually get home because, after all, it was my gut that told me to keep going in the first place.

Keep going and moving and pushing into the places where you don’t know the way, it said.

If you always knew the way, if you always knew the words that would come out of you when the pen hit the page, then where would spontaneity and grace and failure and dependency get their runway? If you want spontaneity, you must give it a catwalk. If you want something new to happen, you must sacrifice the maps. If you want real direction, you must let go of the thing inside of you that knows it would take all the credit when you finally found your way. Pride isn’t a canteen meant to fuel you as you go, it’s a journey killer. Pride will dehydrate you. It will take you down.

When I finally get home, sopping wet but skin glowing, I take no credit. I feel lighter knowing that it wasn’t my control– my need for everything to be polished– that brought me back to my door. It’s never the control, it’s always the moment you surrender to something else mapping the way.

I stand at the door and I wonder why I worry so much. I always make it home eventually. Even with the rain.

Arguably, there’s never been a time where I got so lost but never found my way. I am always, somehow, found– regardless of how much or how little I try to control the journey leading up to that point.

I don’t remember when I turned left or when I turned right. The details fall away quickly.

I only remember that thing in my gut as I wash the rain my hair, that thing in my gut that pulled me when it said, “Keep going, even when you don’t know the way.”

photo cred.

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Stripping down.

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It’s Friday night and I’ve been curled up on my countertop for the last four hours researching minimalist blogs.

Minimalists fascinate me and my roommate is out on a date. My best friend and I sat on the couch and waited for her to be picked up just a few hours ago. We watched the guy show up at the front door. I definitely creeped him out when I told my roommate I would be spooning my boyfriend, Jesus, when she got home tonight. Because that’s the advice people give you after a breakup: date Jesus.

I just want to be completely honest and say that I have never understood that sentiment. I’ve really tried to be on board with the idea of dating the elusive savior but I don’t know how you a) date someone you can’t touch b) date someone who has a Holy Spirit sidekick/counterpart and c) ever get over the fact that your boyfriend took away the sins of the world. You’re never going to be the impressive one in that relationship. You’ll always be dating up. Out of your league. Maybe that’s the point?

Either way, I’ve never been able to tell someone I was just taking the time to date Jesus. To this day, Jesus and I have not dated. Not yet.
All that was really to say this: I told my roommate that by the time she came home tonight I would officially be a minimalist blogger.

As she got ready for her date I’d rattled on to her about how I was going to create an anonymous blog on minimalism so I could write mysteriously like Gossip Girl about the need to clear excess out of my life. For approximately two hours I had plans to pour myself into this new blog for the rest of my career and go by name of “Mini.” I was pretty certain this was my calling– the reason God put me on this good, green earth. I would eventually sell all my belongings and move to a tiny house in the middle of New Mexico. A rugged man would show up at my door and he would, appropriately, also be a minimalist. Forever we would live off the land and blog on occasion about our 16 minimalist children. We would eventually start our own society. There would even be a mayor to make it all legit.

I should comment that, more than being a minimalist, I am a bit of an extremist. My closest friends would tell you that I preach baby steps but I don’t know how to follow them all that well. I am an all-or-nothing sort of girl.

I always want to create something new. I always want to wipe the slate clean. I always want a fresh start. I never thought that could actually harm me more than it helped me.
“Why do you want to be a minimalist?” my best friend asks me. She sits on the couch beside me ordering a Dominoes pizza for herself.

I tell her the truth I know so far. All my life I grew up with a father who never knew how to let things go. He is a hoarder. We make jokes about it but there is a full attic, basement, garage, an old van, two sheds, and a storage unit to prove that he doesn’t really like to let things go. Each is full to the brim with items, I imagine, he thinks he might need to use one day. His mother is also a hoarder. I’ve never once stepped inside of my grandmother’s home but I know it is covered in newspapers, coupon cut-outs, and packets of Saltine crackers.

I’ve never dug deeper with my father on why he chooses to keep everything (absolutely everything) that comes into his orbit but I imagine, if he is anything like his daughter, then he is scared to be left wanting. He is scared to be left needing. He is scared of the moment when he no longer controls the circumstances and so he makes it his agenda to surround himself with things he never has to let go of, at least not on his watch.

 

“I want to be a minimalist because I am so tired of how I have manage to live,” I tell her. “I always say I’m going to change something and go back to the same habits a week later, whether it’s food or fitness or boundaries. Minimalism is about getting rid of enough things, just enough for you to realize that things were never really the point to begin with.”

For me, it is not even an excess of things. It’s an excess of people. Emotional baggage. I like to be a collector of scars and bruises. I like to be fully stocked with all the ammo I need to always tell a good story. I like to be busy. I love distractions because they keep me from getting too close to myself. I am a hoarder when it comes to fear. My dad might have spaces full of lamps and old coffee tables but I have a heart that is stacked with layers of anxiety that God will give up on me.

I’ve hung around with humans enough to know that we all carry the DNA of control freaks and it just manifests in different ways. For you, it might be things. It might be relationships. It might be a place on the map you’ve worshipped for a little too long. Whatever it is, you’re probably capable of investing your hope in things that don’t hold. I guess you don’t ever think a star on the map or a wardrobe can break your heart the way a human can. Isn’t that what we are all aiming for deep down? A little less heartbreak? A little more safety?

 

In the last two weeks I have pulled away from social media a lot. I’ve been hyper-sensitive to it. I got my heart broken. I’ve cried a lot. Over the Duggars. And Jared the Subway guy. And Ashley Madison.

But there have been victories too. More victories than heartbreak, I would argue:

I began a Whole30 challenge seven days ago and I am seven days separated from all grains, processed foods, sugars, and alcohol. I feel amazing. I have so much more energy.

I meal-planned the entire week and actually stuck with it.

I handed over the passwords for my social media accounts to my best friends so they could monitor them while I took a step back.

I’ve gotten to step back and ask myself what I feel like doing. The result of that was watching every morbid and crazy documentary that I’ve been wanting to see on Netflix.

I made muffins for people I loved, while frying bacon and eating kale. It was the most “adult” I’ve ever felt to this day.

I used said-muffins to lure a grocery store clerk into the aisle with me and give him a mini lesson on the unnecessary ingredients we are consuming through processed foods (which I learned from a documentary on childhood obesity). I think he was a little terrified of me and told me politely how he didn’t want to know what was in his hotdogs, he just wanted to keep eating them. I have high hopes he will be an advocate one day soon though and he will probably save the food industry.

I am in the thick of a bible study on Daniel and I feel God standing with me in it. Daniel and I have a lot in common– we are both on some ridiculous diet that only lets us eat veggies and we both think the world is pretty jacked-up.
I started a workout group with seven other girls in my neighborhood. We’ve managed to meet six times in the last 10 days.

I filled three bags of clothes to the brim and took them to Goodwill.

I am doing everything and anything I can to wipe out the excess. The baby steps are adding up.

“What should I name my minimalist blog?” I ask her.

“Can’t you just blog about it where you are?”

“No,” I said abruptly. “It can’t bleed into this blog.”

“Why not?” she asked. “It’s you, isn’t it?”

I don’t have an explanation for why I felt like I’ve only been half of myself on this blog lately. I haven’t even written in a few weeks because I have nothing perfect to offer you. You can’t wait on perfection to arrive before you start offering what you’ve got to the world.

So here’s the truth of me for this moment: I am making my life better. I would like to write about it more. I am surrounded by so many amazing people and I am figuring out how to actually kill the rulebook that lived inside of me like a compass for so long. I am trying to really dance it out with God instead of some rigid slow dance where I pretend that everything feels intimate to anyone who asks me. I think you need my honesty, and I need yours, more than we need a perfectly polished blog post on grace or whatever.

Grace, I am learning, is seeing whatever mess I am standing in right now and then forgiving myself for not being perfect within it. It’s figuring out how to be okay with mess. How to clean up the mess so it doesn’t come right back. How to break habits. How to actually, really, finally build that life I want.

This world is full of so much “fake” and “getting by”- I want to be real and okay. Real and way better than okay.

“I don’t think you need to create another blog. You have a place to write already,” my best friend says to me. “It’s easier to start something new, to start all over again.

It’s harder, but better, to redefine what is already there.”

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Take me to church.

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Last night I attended the church of the kitchen floor.

It was me and a handful of my girlfriends all curled up into one another. The episode of the “Bachelor in Paradise” stood paused in the background. We had managed to move 6 or 7 boulders out-of-the-way before we even pressed “play.”

Admittedly, this is why we have gathered for the last year. We have gathered— all thirteen of us— every Monday to watch girls and guys pass out roses. It’s cheap television but we’re still hopeless romantics. We laugh. We crack jokes. We let no other occasions touch Monday nights on the calendar. This is sacred— not because of the roses, but because of the community it took us two seasons to build.

We built community after every episode. Between every commercial break. Within every group text. And now, a year later, we gather on Mondays for one another. We wear sweatpants and we don’t bother putting on makeup if the day wiped it off. We are unapologetic when we get to one another and we are ready to admit bruises from the last seven days. Sometimes nothing heavy happens beyond a few guys getting sent home in a limo. And then sometimes church spontaneously combusts on the kitchen floor.

It’s a beautiful and hard thing when you are able to look around from grief-stricken face to grief-stricken face and realize that this is church. This stuff is church. At the end of a Monday that has sucker-punched us and won, we are a bundle of questions. We are a thread of unanswered beings. We are anger. We are misunderstanding. We are resentful. We are pained. We are wanting someone to drive home. We are hoping someone else will come back to life.

We’ve invited God into this place on the kitchen floor. We are reading promises from Isaiah with tired voices. And this is church. This is the church I can attend without feeling like I need all the answers and all the perfect things to say within a world that is hard. Often too hard to stand inside of without falling to the kitchen floor.

I am a regular attendee of the church of the kitchen floor. Admittedly, I sometimes sit there more than I sit in pews.

Monday beat me yesterday.

It wore boxing gloves and it managed to ravage my insides before noon.

I worked as much as I could. I went home. I sat wrapped in a sunshine-yellow blanket, crying to my mother, and read pretty words on grace. I wondered if my heart had fallen from my chest in traffic and I would have to go search around East Atlanta Village for whatever was left of my left ventricle. I ate french fries that I wished would grow arms long enough to wrap me in tight and spoon me.

My mother is 16 hours away from me. But she is still the constant I’ve needed her to be. She waits. She lets me bellow. She lets me curse about adulthood. She answers me simply, “Less words, more work.”

That’s what she tells me: less words, more work. Cry your tears, pick yourself up, and go back to work. She isn’t talking about spreadsheets. She isn’t talking about articles. She means the kind of work that is expected (but not actually acted out by all humans): the work of being Jesus to people. The work of being the church.

This is why I love my mother. One of many reasons. She is never going to preach Ben & Jerry’s ice cream at me. She’s going to remind me, “If God breaks your heart then hallelujah. Hallelujah— you’re finally relatable and not so puffed with your own pride that you miss the others.”

Just a day earlier I agreed to participate in a survey about the Western church.

The qualitative research nerd inside of me swooned. My undergraduate years were crammed full with research. I was ready for this person’s questions up until I wasn’t.

With a microphone dangling next to my lips, I didn’t have nearly the amount of answers about church that I thought I would have.

I’m sure the individual conducting the survey meant well but the questions asked were invasive. They were blunt. They carried an agenda that I could not quite put my finger on. They pried into dark rooms. I would argue that half of the questions had very little to do with church and maybe that’s what they were going for. I don’t really know.

But when it was over, when they stopped recording the conversation, all I could do was get into my car and weep as the lights turned red and green all the way to the Westside.

I cried out in pain, screaming “what the hell” prayer on God over and over again. What the hell. What. The. Hell. What. The. Hell.

Anne Lamott believes there are three essential prayers out there:

“Help,” “Thanks,” and “Wow.”

I’d add one more: “What the hell.”

What-the-literal-hell.

“Why?” Better yet, “I can’t even.”

I feel like I could pray the “I can’t even” prayer seven times before dinner.

There are so many instances in the world today that permit the “what the hell” prayer to be used. It’s my way of saying to God and the ceiling, “I don’t get it. I don’t understand it. I don’t know what’s the point. The point of this pain. The point of our ignorance. The news we watch. The cruel things we do.  I can’t even, sweet Jesus. What the hell do you want me to do?”

God is big. I think he can handle the moments when all I want to do is scream and cry and sniffle and say, “God, if you orchestrate apologies then I hope you are planning a big one.”

My doctrine doesn’t say that God apologizes. My doctrine has a lot of questions that leave themselves unanswered. And where I think it all goes wrong? When we start looking for answers more than we sit in the questions— and all the grey of them— with others.

I don’t care how much black and white data you want to gather, life starts when you can no longer fill the grey area of someone’s pain with your faulty existence.

Maybe that person will get all the data they need but I see too many broken hearts on a daily basis, too many people already bruised by church, to know that tactful answers to the culture’s questions won’t help or heal a soul.

If someone you love dies, you are never going to thread through your issues on abortion to make it better in that moment.

If someone you love leaves the family without a note, you are never going to need a debate of sexuality and the church to mend your heart.

The church was made for the broken-hearted.

The church was made for the ones of us with different questions: How do you put your faith in God? How do you pray? How do you know God is even here? Or good? I need a church that teaches me to say, even when I don’t fully believe it, “And if not, God, you are still good.” If not, you are still good.

If you take this away from me, I will still follow you.

If people beat me down, I will still follow you.

If I am left broken and broke, single and alone for the rest of my life, I will still follow you.

Teach me how to follow something— when life kicks me to my knees and makes me cry out “what the hell”— and I will actually stay. Teach me how to follow, and I will stay and figure out how to be your light.

The year is 2015-

We have enough questions and angry Facebook rants. Enough anger. Enough pain. The media is full of wanting the church to answer questions. We all get a little cray with our megaphones and character counts. And I rarely ever speak up but I have to say this- the God of the Bible didn’t grill people on their political stances. The Jesus of the Bible didn’t sit and wait for someone to sit and hash out their sins to a jury of their peers. The Jesus I read about had one simple question and one command to follow it:

Do you love me?

He asked that three times to Simon Peter.

Do you love me?

Not, are you perfect? Do you never sin? What is your view on sex outside of marriage? What is your view on homosexuality?

These questions will never lead us into an answer that can actually help a hurting world where people feel scared and unsafe and already not belonging.

Do you love me?

That’s the simplest and question: Do you love me?

And if you love me— if your answer is “yes”— then feed my sheep. That was his command: Feed my sheep. Show up for my people. Listen to their stories. Cry when you need to. Step away when you have to. Give until it hurts. Until it breaks you. Until you think you can’t go on any further. Stay in the mess. Stay in the trenches. Look for the holes. Dig in the deep end.

Feed my sheep. Stay up through the night. Get them breakfast. Meet them at diners. Sit in their questions. Give them your shoulders and your tired arms. You are not the answer. And you cannot save a person from their darkness but please don’t ignore it and act like it does not exist.

Stay up. Wait for them. Just wait. Be a light that is still on when they finally come home.

Everyone comes home eventually.

We’re all just wondering if someone will leave the light on for us when we finally start to find our way back.

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Drop the mic & go find Sarah.

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“What were you like at 20?”

Her text came through this morning in the middle of my writing hours.

I had to pause. Walk away from the computer. Find a space on the floor where, if you sit in just the right spot, the sunlight will flood through the window and cover your knees like a soft, thin blanket.

I honestly haven’t given much thought to who I was at 20 years old. That was seven years ago. I was a junior in college.

I responded to her text with a bunch of scenarios:

When I was 20, I had my first internship with the city’s newspaper. I wore high heels and strut around the campus center like I was really important— an absolute boss.

When I was 20, I was enamored with a boy who would read me Walt Whitman poetry at 2am and then take me for walks around campus at 4am. I wrote poems about him. I haven’t written a poem since him.

When I was 20, I was a perfectionist. As much as I would like to write that I was free and happy and spontaneous, I was really wrapped tightly into rules. I was dying for the approval of others. I had to look perfect at all times. It was a front & a facade. If there was a position at stake, I had to get it. If there was a grade to be made, I had to make it.

When I was 20, I had a lot of questions— most of them revolved around God. I wasn’t in the mode of trusting God, or actually even liking him. I was a bit angry about the amount of “hurdles” people seemed to place in front of the prospect of getting to God.

But I know I prayed big prayers. I know I prayed on more than a dozen occasions, “God, if you give me a voice then I will use it. If you give me something big to take care of, I won’t let you down.”

When I was 20, life could not move fast enough for me. People could not love me hard enough. The world could not understand me well enough.

I wanted more responsibility. I wanted more purpose.

“Does that help?” I type back to her.

She digs deeper.

“What was it like for you the summer before your senior year of college?”

“The best summer I’ve ever had,” I say. “I met my best friends. Last time I felt really known up until now.”

She goes on to tell me that everyone she knows is either engaged or moving into houses with roommates. She says that when she runs into the people, they just look at her like they expected more out of her.

“I’m not engaged or married,” she says. “I’m not even in a serious relationship. I don’t even have a person. I’ll graduate and probably still be living with my parents.

It’s 2015: the year nobody wants to be in love and everyone owns a selfie stick. And I’m starting to think the two are kind of related. We are stricken by the fear of missing out.”

This girl is wise. I cannot imagine people looking at her, at the age of 20, and thinking, “What happened to you?”

Why are you not married? Why are you not swallowed up in white and flowers and bridesmaids by now?

I have to be starkly honest:

Singleness has been the single hardest thing about living in the South.

It’s not the heat and it’s not the religion— it’s the pace in which life moves down here. If I was in New York City people would give me at least a few more years to be single and figure it out. In New York, we often pick career over spouse. We pay a ridiculous amount of rent for an incredibly small space. Dating apps are actually incredibly useful, not overly stigmatized. Life is a collection of Chinese takeout and conversations at 2am on someone’s rooftop where we keep plotting to “change the world.” 

In New York City, you explore a lot of religions. You meet a lot of opposition. You learn to be accepting and open and real. You mess up and you pair up and you break up and you grow up.

This isn’t a slam on geography or culture, it’s just my verbose & romanticized way of saying: some people think its incredibly tragic that I am 27 and still single.

And honestly? I finally think it’s beautiful.

It’s taken me nearly 7 years to finally be content with a naked left hand. I can tell you this though: at age 20, I made a sacrifice. I would make the same sacrifice at the age of 22 and 24 and 26— the choice to be alone and to be single instead of taken. The choice to invest everything I had— every hour I could— into the generation rising up.

To invest in a generation, you need to be willing to make sacrifice. It’s not like God came to me and was all like, “Boo, you have to be single (Paul-style) if you want me to give you big work to do.” Never. But I realized I only wanted a boyfriend to plug up some bottomless hole inside of myself. Just in the way you are not a lifeboat, someone else is not your hole-filler. Stop taking all the good job descriptions away from God.

I’m learning that the right person won’t make you want forfeit your whole being. The right person will make you want to grow into your whole being. The right person makes you want to fill up the space you once apologized for.

By the age of 24, I was the girl in the airports that old people pitied.

They thought if I was spending so much time in airports then there was no chance I could be in love and traveling and still be giving so much of my time to my work.

“There is no way you have time to be with someone,” they would say, looking at me with disdain. They probably wondered about those lonely, double-bed hotel rooms in Baltimore and Buffalo more than I did.

But by the age of 24, God was giving me everything I prayed for when I was 20. He had built my character, and my faith, and my capacity up until that point. He was handing me plane tickets, big stages, book deals, late night diner trips with strangers, and signings. More than anything– though I didn’t see it at first– he was handing me a chance to be with his people.

People always want to talk to me about the big crowds and the glamorous parts of traveling. These days I smile and say, “All of that matters until you meet a Sarah. It is lonely but it still matters until you meet a Sarah.

After you meet a Sarah, none of that “status stuff” matters any longer.”

I met Sarah at an awkward youth conference where I was speaking.

The kids didn’t really smell good. They had bad attitudes. I felt deflated on stage because that’s what teenagers can sometimes do unintentionally: make you feel like the least interesting creature to ever be placed under bright lights and given a microphone.

I came off the stage to find her waiting for me. Sarah, that is. 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 made me feel this way… And I self-harmed last week… And sometimes I don’t think I even want to be here.”

She looked down a lot. She fidgeted with her hands. I think she was waiting for me to look in the other direction and walk away.

Instead, I grabbed her shoulders. I drew her in as close as I could. I whispered into her ear with the loudest whisper possible, “Sarah, you’re okay. Stop looking for a reason to not be okay. You got up today. You’re right here. You’re okay.”

Sarah broke instantly. She crumbled and was suddenly in my arms sobbing. I didn’t know what else to do but hold this stranger and rock with her for as long as she needed me to hold her and rock her. 

I don’t really know how long we rocked for. I lost track of time. In that moment, nothing was an accident. Not my singleness, not my geography. You learn really quickly that nothing is an accident when you just show up. 

And then came the broken hearts in New York City. The redemption stories in Cincinnati. The broken dishes in Los Angeles. The unrequited love tales in Seattle. The questions of identity in Boston. One girl in Minnesota cried as she told me that she finally discovered self-worth on a Fall day while wearing her favorite red sweater. The mother of a child who tragically passed away held my hands in Michigan and thanked me for the love letters we sent her in her time of grieving. A boy in Southern Alabama told me it was a letter from me— mailed back in 2010 at the height of my depression— that was one of three letters that would save his life.

At the age of 27, I have spoken in rooms with only 15 to arenas of over 20,000. I’ve been on over 100 stages. I have stayed after to talk with hundreds of college students. I have enough experience to confidently say this: we are all looking for the same thing today. We all want to belong. We all someone to see us. We are all so hopeful that our lives will not be an accident. We struggle with the fight that exists between God and culture.

Culture screams, “Be big! Be bright! Be front! Be center! Be the one on fire!”

God proclaims, “Be small. Be patient. Be humble. Find your place on the back-burner. Drop the mic, this isn’t about you.”

The things I worry about the most when it comes to my generation?

That we will somehow fall too in love with the glory that comes with being “liked” and “retweeted” and “shared.” My fear is that we love and hate ourselves too much, all at the same time. My fear is that we never learn to speak or find a voice because the culture is keeping us on some treasure hunt to find the Missing Pieces. The spouse. The house. The relationship. The child. The next step. The promotion. The job. The education. I could keep going.

My fear is we’re distracted. We are all just scrolling idly through the streams, hungering and searching for the Missing Pieces. We all miss chances when we are digging ourselves into the trenches of self-pity just because we think we should have found someone by now, lived somewhere different, accomplished more.

What if you are missing no pieces and you are simply missing people?

What if you are missing Sarah? What if you are too distracted to just see Sarah today? 

This I know: God doesn’t orchestrate accidents.

He isn’t looking at your life right now and thinking, “If you just tried harder, I would have moved more. If you hadn’t fallen for him or gone for her, I would have loved you more.” That’s not God, that’s simply the lies in your head that you so graciously bestowed with a microphone.

You don’t need a plane ticket to rescue a heart.

You don’t need be someone’s “person” to be complete.

You don’t need a house with a yard to prove you’re worthy of taking up space in this world.

The person with the home often wants the love.

The person with the love often wants to do the rescuing.

The person doing the rescuing often wants the home.

We all like greener grass. We all could have part-time jobs when it comes to worshipping the greener grass but God’s gonna do what he’s gonna do, regardless of our attitudes.

You could let him lead though. Open your hands. Take your foot off the brakes, or the gas, or wherever you’ve got it placed out of fear. You could learn contentment in the way you learn the details of a boy in a coffee shop. You could stop thinking about accidents so much— where you could have gone by now, who you could have met by now.

You could go your whole life convincing people that they, themselves, are not an accident.

Or you could do the work to see that you, yourself, are not an accident.

Your questions— not an accident.

Your geography— not accident.

Your darkness— not an accident.

Your pitfalls— not an accident.

Your relationship status— not an accident.

There is nothing accidental about the fact that you’re still here.

So come matter here. Please, come matter here.

There are Sarah’s who need you– they need you to pay attention long enough to see them just so you can tell them they’re okay too. We all need to know we are okay. We all need to hear the words, “Me too. I feel that way too.”

So please come here. Please drop your mic.

Drop the mic and go find Sarah instead. 

Tell her she’s okay. Just tell her she’s okay today. 

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An open letter to Joe.

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It’s been a year since I last saw you.

It’s been nearly two years since we met, since you came right up to my table and told me you liked me. You didn’t know why but you liked me but there was some sort of light to me.

In that conversation I found out you were 77-years old. You came to that coffee shop everyday to laugh and talk with your gang of friends.

“If I were your age, I would date you,” you said to me. “I would see exactly what I had and I would not let you go… Some boy is never going to let you go one day. He’s going to be the lucky one.” 

I didn’t know it then but I know it now: you were reassuring me. You were finding a way to tell me, “Don’t lose heart, child. You get to fall in love one day, just like the best of them.”

“What do you love?”

I remember you asking me that question first.

“What do you love?”

No one ever asks that sort of question. We ask each other “what do you do” and “what do you want” and “what is your plan” but we never stop long enough to just seek out of the love in one another.

“Words,” I blurted out instantly. “I love words. Nouns. Verbs. All of it.” I was tickled you asked.

“And what do you love?”

“Numbers,” you winked at me. Before I could stop you and tell you math wasn’t my thing you were pulling my notebook towards you from across the table and you were scribbling a math problem down into the pages. It was fractions.

“What is the answer to that?”

I started at the numbers for a long time. I remembered failing math brutally.

“I don’t know,” I finally whispered.

“That!” you said to me. “THAT is the reason why I love math. If I were to ask you ‘what is the capital of Arizona’ and you didn’t have a clue, and you couldn’t google it, then you would have to tell me “I don’t know” but I have given you everything you need to solve this problem here. So the answer is never ‘I don’t know’ the answer is simply ‘I don’t know yet.’”

From that day forward, we were a thing.

You’d come and sit at my tiny table in the middle of that cliché coffee shop enduring its rush hour. You’d sip your coffee. You’d ask me questions. You’d read my blog and stare at me for long spells of time. You’d tell me I was peculiar—  a 80-year-old trapped in the body of a 25-year-old. And you were really 25, trapped in the body of a nearly 80-year-old man.

You were my first constant coffee shop companion.

You asked me what I believed in one day. I told you I was a Christian. I believed in the bible. You told me you were an atheist, a proud one.

“I like atheists,” I smiled and said. “They have a lot of wisdom.”

“So you actually believe in this stuff?”

I shrugged my shoulders. I was timid then. “I think sometimes its just nice to choose something. To go all in with it.”

“You actually believe the stuff in the Bible?”

“I do,” I said.

“Then what about…” you went to say.

“I don’t really like to debate things,” I stopped you. “I think people with bibles spend too much time debating with people and not enough time trying to understand them.”

We both got quiet.

You spoke after a few moments.

“My son came to me a few years ago and told me that ‘he’ is actually a ‘she,’” you said to me. “Now I have a daughter, not a son.”

You waited.

“What do you think of that?”

You were waiting for me to have an opinion. You were waiting for me to turn on you. My cheeks only burned. I felt embarrassed and a little bit sad that you thought I was supposed to have a narrow view, look at you differently, all because of the light the culture has shined on my belief system.

“I bet she’s lovely,” I think I said. All I can remember is the subtle pain in your eyes– the remnants of a religion that had failed you at a lot of corners. I loved you a little more. 

“I used to have so many views on that topic,” you said. “Until someone I loved was standing in the wake of it.”

I still think about your daughter so much. She gets my micro-prayers when I am driving in the car and when I am cleaning the sinks and trying to be an adult. I know that she’s lovely. Your daughter is lovely.

I never told you that for longest time I kept notes inside of my bible that weren’t mine.

I don’t know why I held onto those notes for so long but the handwriting was foreign and I didn’t know the woman who took them for me beyond a few simple facts: she had two children, she liked Obama, and she cared a whole lot about salvation.

She insisted on taking those notes so I could focus on the Bible and the teaching. I’ve never been a girl to let other people take notes for me. Even when I missed an important biology class and desperately needed someone’s scribbles in order to catch up, I always copied them over in my own handwriting. My own handwriting feels safe to me– like the ‘y’s and ‘g’s won’t turn on me.

In that faith journey— the one that pushed me away from church— I was taught not to ask questions. That was really hard for a girl who only ever wanted to know “why.”

But I would trace over those notes at night, after we were done studying, and they just felt distant. I kept thinking to myself, “Doesn’t God want my questions? Doesn’t he want to know if I see him as more of a puzzle than a protector?”

I kept them in my bible for too long– too long after everything fell apart. I think it was maybe my way of holding onto pain, holding onto a way I felt a human had hurt me and called it “Jesus” at the end of the day. I wanted to stay mad at God for longer than I thought. That’s how I am with God and people: I am looking for the reason to not trust you anymore so I can finally leave and make a shelter out of my own self. Self feels safe. 

I don’t like the thought of building something when you don’t know how long it will last.

I once loved a boy so hard that I knew every detail of him. And when it was over, I didn’t know what to do with all the pieces of him. Breaking up was like slowly writing a dictionary with someone and then realizing you could no longer use any of the words you still loved.

I think I built walls up after that. I think each year and relationship was another layer of concrete on the walls.

And here’s what I am certain about (sidenote: I’m not certain about much): We often funnel God through imperfect human interactions instead of funneling human interactions through a perfect God.   

We think if someone breaks us, wrecks us, treats us poorly then that’s how God will treat us too. We think if someone leaves– forgetting or not caring to take their cologne bathed sweatshirts with them– then God will eventually do the same too. He will find the backdoor, just like the others.

Here’s what I never told you:

I never told you that I loved you. All those months sitting across from you in the coffee shop. I never told you I thanked God for you. That you will be one of the people I talk about for a very long time because you gave me permission to ask harder questions and be okay with silence and no answers.

I’m never going to be able to go to God at the end of this and give him an inventory of my faith that consists of a cross, and a bible, and a pew. I am going to say the inventory of my faith was a lot of uncertainty, a few bad Tinder dates, a good mother, the feeling of grace, a yellow room, the play Les Miserables, a slew of coffee shops, and you.

“Ask him all your questions.”

That’s what the boy across from me in the coffee shop tells me to do. He’s the one who sits in your place now and does exactly what you used to do: gives me no answers, just asks me more questions.

He doesn’t flinch. He never really wavers. He just hands me books to read that already hold his underlines and uncertainties inside of their pages. He has asked the questions too.

I feel chaotic. He tells me Moses asked a lot of questions. It deepened the relationship Moses had with God to go to him honestly and say, “I don’t understand. Could you open my eyes a little more today?”

The answers might not come dramatically. They might not be right in front of my face. But maybe if I keep going, keep asking all the questions that get laid on my heart, something miraculous might happen: I might find a few answers or I might find peace with the not knowing.

I just hope I never stick two fingers up to your lips and whisper, “Shush.” There is grace and mercy in asking big questions. To ask big questions is to go before a God who can handle all parts of us– our junk, our nastiness, our hopes, our failures. I think God is big enough for your big questions and bigger frustrations.

I have to ask more questions.

It’s been a year since I last saw you.

I think about you a lot. I think of how I’ve grown and how I used to try to fill conversations with the most amount of words possible. I don’t like the silence but I am finding that it helps a lot more, a lot more than trying to play God to someone else through my words.

Instead of words, I am trying to choose the air. I am trying to listen and ask more questions.

Maybe I didn’t ask you enough. Maybe I should have asked more. Maybe you and I had exactly what we needed to have— you with your questions and me with no answers.

Here’s the thing I do know though: you were onto something when you shifted that math problem across the table.

You were right.

I have everything I need right here to try and solve this problem. To try and find the answers.

You were right.

The answer isn’t “I don’t know.”

The answer is simply, “I don’t know yet.”

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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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