After you make the murderer.

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The last few days of December 2015 are lost on me.

I don’t remember what I did. I don’t remember where I went. I just remember binge-watching “Making a Murderer” and Netflix-cheating on my boyfriend Lane because he just could not keep up with the hustle I am capable of bringing to a marathon.

This show has shaken up the whole nation. It’s basically a 10-hour documentary on the life of Steven Avery– a man who was incarcerated for 18 years because of a crime he did not commit. Just a few years after being released, he is charged again for a murder that a lot of people wonder if he actually committed or not.

It was suddenly a necessity in my brain to learning everything I could about this character Steven Avery who did not exist in my world the day prior. I was obsessed with him. I was reading every article I could find. I was plotting ways to free him. I was watching every interview. I instantly became enamored with this man I would never meet. I was bringing him up in dinner conversations.

I was walking around (and still am) as if Steven was about to walk through the door of my home and bake me ziti. We are on a first-name basis. I am 5 steps from putting a ring on this thing.

The obsession will eventually fade. I’ll stop talking about him. I’ll find something new to gravitate towards. The cycle will stop and restart itself all on its own.

Let’s face it though: I gain nothing from knowing Steven Avery. Steven Avery doesn’t pay my water bill. He doesn’t help me organize my inbox. Steven Avery does not like my photos on Instagram and he doesn’t contribute any letters to More Love Letters. I gain nothing from my obsession with Steven Avery but I am still willing to give him my time, energy, and dinner conversations.

And then there is God. I’m going to be really honest because Jesus is blasé about my fluff: Steven Avery thrills me a lot more than God does. I would pick episodes of “Making a Murderer” over quiet time. I would rather get to know this convicted maybe-murderer than the person of God.

I think we have to be this forward. We don’t help anyone grow deeper in their faith if we pretend we are doing fine when we really aren’t. We grow closer to God when we can be honest about the crossroads where we are forcing our own distance.

There’s been no zeal to my faith until this last year. And even now– with more zeal than a year ago– I am still picking things more than I am picking God.

I pick Netflix. And sleep. And people. And biscuits. I choose work over God. I choose coffee shops. And, when I do pick God, I choose to access him like he’s a Shake Weight. I approach God and ask him to reduce my problem areas and give me results. I don’t approach him just to know his character, just to let his glory be enough for me.

I’ve been committed to an at least an hour in the word of God daily since the middle of 2015. That’s testimony, really. This time last year you couldn’t force feed the bible to me with a spoon. I didn’t want it. I didn’t see the benefits of it.

The other night I asked God to give me something to chew on, a first that I could pull apart. Something to meditate on. Immediately, I’m flipping to Psalm 118. Verse 4.

“Let those who fear the Lord say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Normally I would be the type to dissect the last part of this verse, the thing about “steadfast love.” But that night I stared a little doe-eyed at the first part: Let those who fear the Lord say.

What does it look like to fear the Lord? Am I afraid of the Lord? Do I really, actually fear him?

When I dig deeper I realize that the kind of fear referenced in this passage is a healthy reverence– it’s an understanding that all things are made by God, all things come through God, so we should fear him because he is good and holy and righteous.

I don’t feel that fear enough. Oftentimes, I think I am bigger than God. I mean, I know I am puny in his sight but there is something about the way I run my days– the strict control I enforce– that keeps God in an assigned role as a back-pocket companion. There’s no time to fear him when I pick how and when he can enter my schedule, my relationships, my everyday thoughts.

One commentary writes: you must get to the point of deciding that knowing God is the most important thing.

Above your ambitions. Above your timeline. Above your hopes and dreams and fears and roadblocks. You must get to the point where simply knowing him– not even the hope of getting something from him– is more than enough for you.

Hello, challenge of a lifetime. Hello.

I wish God was more like Paris Hilton sometimes. Then he would have no trouble just being brutally honest about me and my faith life. He would report how I claim I can’t find him yet I am the one running. He would claim that I say I want him more than anything but I don’t clear the space. He would say that he beckons for me to come to him twice a day but I would rather text or tweet or do something that will never make me closer to him.

But you know what? That doesn’t make me “less than” in the eyes of God. I am just as human as you. I think we need to stop being so hard on ourselves, deeming ourselves unworthy, and just do more work. I think we need to have our little honesty hour– get real with where we are at– and move on.

You either want to change or you don’t. You either want to get to the point of wanting more God or you don’t. The rest is all the baby steps to get closer to that. 

I see the work that needs to be done. I see the work I cannot possibly do. My prayers must continue to get more honest:

God, I don’t know you in a way that makes me crazy. There is no obsession like I crave. I know if I pray for cravings, I will have to make the room. You will move and I will have to make the room for you.

I will need to make the room for you to come in and break down walls dare not put back together the things you don’t want fixed or mended.

Give me the capacity to be crazy about you.

God, I act like I like a criminal in Wisconsin more than you. I need you to step in and change that.

Field Notes: Vol. 7

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Where I am getting every recipe lately.

There’s still time to set yo goalzzz.

My favorite column now has a podcast.

My new travel bag.

Newest obsession :: I’m a true crime junkie.

If you need a novel that is basically crack.

How I would choose to stock my coffee shop.

The new urban tribes.

For all the people who fell in love with Serial :: season 1.

Thought-provoking piece on Christian culture.

A most recent watch obsession.

Boyfriend loved this dish.

Happy that the Field Notes are finally, finally back! I look forward to bringing you the good stuff on Fridays! Any big plans for the weekend? 

And that’s how you grow up.

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I’m growing up a lot these days. It’s painful, weird and kind of beautiful.

I used to think growing up was just a matter of paying your bills on time and figuring out how to properly clean a bathroom. These days, that’s just the tip of it. Within learning how to cook and clean, I’m slowly learning that growing up is the realization that other people hang in the balance of your own life. Growing up is the process of taking the world’s spotlight off of you. It’s the process of seeing people. It’s putting your selfishness on the back-burner to make sure someone else feels like they can conquer something today.

I’m not implying that you are selfish. However, if you are anything like me then you want to be constantly improving. You want people to like you. You want to be seen as humble and good. Somewhere in the search to be seen in the right light we forget to place our best energy on the people around us. We sacrifice our energy to build shrines of imperfection for ourselves. We live in these little self-made sanctuaries where we could always get better, do more, care more, and live more. These buildings with the pews we build for ourselves are where we sit and kneel and stand and pray that we will get our way. We worship improvement, not God.

Instead of always polishing our hearts, we should learn to give them away. Instead of needing to be perfect before stepping outside, we should understand that this whole life is a process. You’re never going to be perfect. It is not a destination. Perfection is a paper town– it sits on a map but you can never actually get there. And it might actually be really sad if you somehow did become perfect—if you found that land and pitched a tent– because there’d be no more need to grow and change and learn the hard stuff.

I’m not an expert at this. I am nowhere near an example. But the more I am invested in the process, the more I am finding fulfillment in daily life. It’s easy to become deflated when we feel like our daily lives are supposed to deliver us into a constant state of fireworks and celebration. It’s dangerous to think our kale, and our planners, and our meetings should thrill us. We will always be let down if life is always about us. On the adverse— it’s really easy to log onto Facebook, notice that 7 people announced their engagement during the workday, and feel belittled and small for the things we don’t feel like we’ve accomplished. We swing back and forth on this pendulum. Back and forth between “I really should be heralded for my accomplishments” and “I don’t really like myself at all.”

If you spend your days looking at the highlight reel of other people, you will never see your life as anything more than ordinary and plain.

Life is not a constant state of fireworks though. Usually it’s the opposite. We wake up late. We sit on the horn when we shouldn’t. We stick closer to our phones than new people at dinner parties. We prove ourselves to be unruly, hangry, irritated and worrisome more often than not. Somehow— in a world that does not meet our expectations— we must learn to live and love and breathe and keep going. We must learn to train our hearts to engage in the process of “becoming” rather than fall in love with the idea of finished products.

I wrote last week about the friend of mine who is on mile 3. He is the one who wanted to give up on dating a girl because she kept breaking all the plans and making up excuses. The fact that he wanted to give up on the girl was perfectly fine. Every single one of us coached him into doing it the right way though: be honest. Be forward. Finish the story right.

When we don’t finish the story right, we walk around acting like we are entitled to making up the ending. That ending rarely is a shout for victory or a lesson learned. It’s usually a fearful little ending that results in us feeling small, battered, and wounded. We carry that ending into new relationships. We expect another person to scale the walls of that ending we wrote for ourselves— too high for another person to get over.

This weekend he ended it right. He asked the girl to be honest with him. In turn, she was honest with him. She told him she liked him, that he was a great guy, and that she just didn’t think she could invest what he wanted into the relationship.

“I’m so proud that you kept going,” I told him. “How do you feel?”

“I just asked myself, ‘did you do everything you could’ve done?’ and, perhaps for the first time in my life, I could honestly answer yes to that question.”

He hadn’t played the game the culture tries to make us play. He hadn’t copped out of the story too early. He hadn’t constructed a grey area for she and him to dance around inside of much longer than necessary.

He devoted himself to the process of dating her with the reality present that she might not want him just how he wanted her. He did it anyway. He showed up to live the harder and better story that comes when we realize other people need us to grow out of the games we used to like to play.

“And that’s how you grow up,” I said back to him.

That’s how we all grow up.

Kill your pity party and just do work.

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I’ve had to tell myself not to cry at least three times this morning as I tied a flannel around my waist, slipped into my Converse, and headed for the door to grab my morning coffee.

Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. 

It’s one of those mornings… you know the kind: You wake up late. Nothing you put on your body seems to fit you. You check the scale because it’s possible you gained 10 pounds overnight because spinach dip, no matter how much we say it is a good idea, is never a good idea. Your hair won’t do anything. Your to-do list is long. And nothing, no sweet texts or gentle embraces for the day, will please you.

This is my morning and I have to try really hard not to let the tyrant inside of me– the one who already believes her day is crushed– rule for the next few hours. 

A bad attitude about what you can or cannot accomplish throughout this day is never a good idea. Trust me. If you were going to be running a race this morning you would never think to invite a person who was going to ridicule you until you reached the finish line. In the same way, you should not invite the parts of yourself who want to have a continual, 24-7 pity party into your work day. Forget “haters gonna hate” and just stop hating on yourself for being not enough. 

Today I am deciding to kill the pity party and dig deeper into some of the things I do that help me feel less overwhelmed inside of an overdrive week.

  1. Do one small thing. 

It seems too simple. Especially for the ones of us who want to fix all the world’s problems by 2pm, it seems way too simple to think one small task is going to change anything. But honestly? Every good thing and every hard thing begins with one small step in the right direction.

I thought of a million ways to begin writing this morning and none of them were getting me anywhere. I knew I needed to blog today (it’s been about a month) but I felt crazed when I looked at all the potential topics. It’s my job to get out of my own way though and so I sat down and resolved to write something. Anything. This is that blog post. It exists now. It is small and may never serve a mighty purpose but it’s proof that I’ve accomplished as task for the day.

2. Get organized on paper

My boyfriend has been helping me come up with a system for the last few weeks to manage my tasks and sort out the different projects I am working on. I can’t sit here and claim it’s been easy. I’ve been stubborn. I’ve wanted to reject nearly every idea. He is patient and analytical so he is already processing all the tasks I have to get done with a spreadsheet mindset. Me? I am a hurricane who actually delights in her own chaos. If you clear out my chaos then what could I possibly be dramatic about? It’s a bad habit that seriously needs to kick the bucket if I want to be more productive in 2016.

So we are trying out different task management applications and I would love to get your input on things you like and things you don’t like. This morning, my great friend Lara Casey suggested I try out Things. She wrote a really awesome blog post on her own organization habits that I would suggest reading.

Mind you, I am a pen-to-paper girl so switching to a digital task management system is going to be hard for me. I will not eliminate my daily planner (a lot of you asked for the link) but I also need to find a way to be more efficient with my tasks, my copywriting clients, my team, and my grocery list.

3. Make a choice (and stick with it)

It’s ironic that I asked you to give me task management suggestions in the point above when I really should have written, “Please don’t suggest anything to me because the more you suggest, the more fickle I will become.” Maybe that’s you too– the more options you are given, the more chances you have to be indecisive.

Trust me, I do not need an excuse or a reason to be indecisive and neither do you. The longer we float in limbo with our options, the less we get done. Options– too many of them– make us inefficient.

So how you do you drown out all the noise about options in 2016 when there are 57 different kinds of Honey Mustard dressing and a million different ways to dress your iPhone? Simple. You figure out what you like. You make a decision and you stick with it. You give value to that decision by continually choosing it over and over again. You don’t introduce change into the mix unless you absolutely need change.

It makes me think about that scene in You’ve Got Mail where Tom Hanks’ character talks about Starbucks. He says, “The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.”

I think this is completely, 100% me until I realize that I do not want to be the kind of person who is incapable of making decisions. I want to be decided. I want to be resolved. The first step towards that?

Pick one thing. Pick that you want plain drip coffee with a little bit of cream. Proceed to buy that coffee on the regular. Keep choosing drip coffee. Drip coffee will not let you down. It never has. It doesn’t know how to. 

4. It’s mile 3… keep going.

I was sitting at church with a friend of mine on Sunday and he was feeling pretty discouraged about a girl he has been dating. He keeps trying to make plans with her and she’s giving him excuses for every single proposal he makes.

** Pause for some friendly non-abrasive relationship advice **

Dear people everywhere,

If you are not interested in a person (either from the start or after a few dates) just tell them. Save that person time. Save yourself time. Quit the games. Honesty is the best way to lead, especially when it comes to other human hearts wrapped up in the mix. Just be honest and give up the game-playing.

Sincerely,

A retired game player

Back to my friend…

He was sincerely bummed out and wanted to give up. At this point, he has every reason to give up but I found myself telling him no.

“You are not giving up until you end it,” I tell him. “You are not going to punk out at mile 3 and write yourself an ending to this story that isn’t true. You’re going to finish.”

Mile 3 is a reference to a New Year’s run that I’ve done in Central Park for the last few years. It starts at midnight. You run the loop of the park at the strike of the New Year. There are fireworks. It’s a 4 mile race.

If you are not a seasoned runner then you start to get tired at mile 3. Mile 3 is where you begin huffing and puffing. My friends and I who have run this race before and we know that mile 3 is actually the best mile mark because it’s where the sparkling apple cider in little Dixie cups is waiting for you.

You stop. You cheers one another. You say Happy New Year to the people passing out the Dixie Cups and you keep going because you know the real truth: you are going to make it. You are going to finish. You are capable.

“You don’t punk out at mile 3,” I reinforce to my friend. “That’s where you chug the apple cider and you keep going.” No one turns down sparkling apple cider. It is simply not allowed.

Last night I showed up at a meeting with a bottle of sparkling apple cider for my friend. I got it for $3.99 at Publix. It’s really inexpensive to celebrate your friends but it’s really very necessary.

I reminded him that we don’t give up at mile 3. We keep going, even when it’s hard. Even when it is overwhelming and we are tempted to script a not-true story to feed our hungry little egos, we cheers our little Dixie cups and finish strong.

Finish strong, you. 

You are a finisher who deserves really good things in life. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Target, it’s not you… it’s me: A Contentment Challenge

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I wrote about contentment two days ago.

I’m still nervous over the fact that I even uttered the word. To me, it is sort of like the junk drawer that you don’t show people. I don’t talk about contentment because I am constantly feeling inadequate and insecure about where I am in the quest for contentment and where I want to be.

Contentment, to me, has always been a sticky concept. It is an ever-evolving process of letting go and finding what I have to be more than enough.

When it comes to contentment, my biggest snag in achieving it has always been shopping. I love shopping. I love things. I say I want to be a minimalist but even minimalism demands a trip to Target in my eyes.

I like Target. I like Target a lot. I am a chronic roam-through-the-aisles-and-buy-things-I-don’t-actually-need Target shopper. It’s pretty bad. You might as well come up with one of those joint couple names for me and Target (like Selener + Brangelina). Just call me Targah. Just call me Hanget.

I will roam through the dollar aisle and figure out that I actually need everything in it. I will suddenly need a golden french bulldog business card holder. I will need sports bras and socks and a new kind of lipstick. Allow me to be honest: Target is basically therapy with no ugly crying and an unexpected need for sweater mugs.

I’ve debated creating an Instagram account for the “girls of Target” as I like to call them. We are a strange population of natives to the big red logo. We go to Target when we are hungry, when we are bored, and when we simply need to feel better about ourselves. We try on graphic tees we don’t need. We buy golden glinted folders we think are going to make us more organized. We purchase 6 planners. We are pleased with the aisle space and lighting Target offers us. Target is our mecca. Our promised land.

A lot of the above is a joke but I do feel the need to be completely candid on this page about my shopping habits. I don’t shop in excess. I don’t have issues with spending money I don’t have. However, I am pretty good at convincing myself on the fly that I need to purchase something. I buy too quickly. I often splurge on what I don’t need. I’m not irresponsible with my money but I also have far more clothes, items, and everyday things that are not necessary.

In 2016, I want to know what it feels like to need less. I want to ditch the emotional spending. I want to stop scrolling through Instagram for things I don’t need, following accounts that don’t add anything to my life except an extra dose of unhealthy comparison. I want to invest my time and energy into loving my people well. I want to send birthday cards. I want to give to others. I want to be generous and I want to experience abundance through simplicity.

As I have written before, God stretches us beyond our comfort zone. I don’t need to prove a point with less shopping, I simply want more of him. If I want more God then I must clear the space for him. You need to make room if you want to let God in.

The Contentment Challenge : January, February, March 2016

(many of the guidelines have been borrowed from Nancy Ray- the original creator of this challenge).

I will give up shopping for clothes, accessories, household decor, and “stuff” for 3 months, to focus my heart and mind on the root of true contentment. I will actively pursue fulfilling activities that will replace my addiction to material things.

When I read over the passage in Matthew about the need to sell all your belongings to follow Jesus the Contentment Challenge immediately popped into my head. I texted my boyfriend and basically said, “I am giving up shopping for the next three months.”

I expected him to sigh, roll his eyes, and then ask me why I was taking on another extreme challenge. Extreme challenges are a thing for me. I am an all-or-nothing kind of girl.

Instead, he texted back, “I’m in. Let’s do it. I’ve wanted to save money anyway.”

There was no hesitation. I am honored he wanted to join me so quickly in this challenge. We started planning what our Contentment Challenge would look like (we are still planning so this post will likely be edited in the coming days).

On New Years Day, he and I will make a list of goals for the next three months. We will focus on financial planning in the three months. Our ultimate goal is to draw nearer to God by removing barriers of excess that often distract us and make us less effective for God’s purposes.

The Guidelines:

• Prepare: prepare your heart, organize your closet, and make any necessary purchases that you might need during these months. (This is not a last minute shopping spree! This is one final trip to the store for items you will need, and the opportunity for you to say your goodbyes to Target.)

• Choose 1-3 inspiring books to read during this time. I will be participating in Nancy Ray’s book club. I highly recommend it!

• Gifts are okay! If someone gives you a new dress or piece of decor during that time, receive it graciously! If you need to buy someone else a gift, by all means, do so.

• Necessities are okay! If you drop and break your phone, please go get a new one! If you lose your glasses, buy a new pair. Just don’t start justifying new purchases for items that you already have. (“I really NEED this bathing suit, even though there are 8 in my closet already.”)

• You must actively pursue something – anything – that replaces your tendency to buy stuff. Begin thinking about something you love or a hobby you’ve always wanted to do, and make preparations to actually do it. For us, this will be healthy food + fitness. We are dedicating ourselves to planning hard workouts, paleo meals, and gradually learning how to take our cooking skills a step further (he’s already a much better cook than I so this is more a goal for me).

I will be continually blogging about my progress and tweaks made to my lifestyle so that you can see how the search for contentment is going!

The official hashtag is #contentmentchallenge ! So be sure to share your struggles and victories along the way on Instagram and Twitter. 

Want to join? Let me know in the comments below!

Approaching 2016.

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The most popular question I’m approached with is simple: how do you hear God speak?

I reference it a lot in my writing. God whispered. God spoke. God said. I realize I address God as if we are sitting down together for morning coffee and he is dictating my day for me. I also realize that it doesn’t really work that way.

I never want to come off like God whispers to wake me up in the morning or I hear this slow, steady, streaming voice throughout my daily interactions as if he’s the voice of Siri.

God speaks through his word.

I wish it sounded cooler than that. Just yesterday I sat with a friend over coffee and she asked, how do you know he is speaking?

I say back to her, “I spend enough time with him to know the sound of his voice.” Before I learned to sit and wait for him I would believe any voice that spoke to me.

I’ve learned that the more time you spend in the word of God, the more clearly he speaks into other areas of your life. The more time you spend understanding his voice, and what it sounds like, the more you are able to discern whether you are hearing from God or not.

Honestly, I don’t think it is always that we wonder whether God is speaking or not. There are a lot of competing voices. Half of the battle of a life of faith is knowing when you are hearing the voice of God or when it is the lies uttering half-truths to you on repeat.

I flopped open my bible two days before Christmas. I was fully aware that this year it seemed I would have no goals for the New Year. It feels like this is the first year where I don’t want anything. I don’t need anything. I am perfectly happy with my life.

I’m not trying to boast in this. I wasn’t fully candid with it last December but I lost four months of my life to the roughest battle with depression and anxiety that I’ve ever experienced. I wasn’t eating. I wasn’t sleeping. People ask why my faith is so mighty and robust these days and the answer is simple: he brought me out of the darkness. I only have forever to thank him for that.

I’m usually restless when I walk into the New Year. I want to get rid of things. I want to let go. I want to be a new person. I want that sacred, sultry do-over.

I am approaching 2016 differently than any other year prior. Instead of traipsing into the year with a list of demands for myself that seem not rational– like “lose all the weight” and “organize all the things”– I am quieter. I am less expectant of myself and more expectant of God.

I tie a little red thread around my wrist as a way to tell myself, “You want him to use you. You have always wanted him to use you. Let this tiny red thread me a reminder that you have to make sacrifices in order to best be used by him. You are a vessel, babycakes. Remember that, you are a vessel. This isn’t about resolutions– it’s about progress.” 

 

As I read I think, “Give me a word.” I want a word for the year ahead. I want it to be a good word. Something powerful. Something that will stir momentum inside of my heart. A word like “brave” or “strong” or “capable.”

I walk over to my mother’s bookshelf and I pull the Exhaustive Concordance from the corner of the shelf. I hold the book for a few minutes before I decide that I am simply going to open up the book and see what word sits before me. I don’t really recommend this method but it does work sometimes.

I open. I place my finger down. The word is “pure.”

I cringe. I hate all the connotations that come with the word “pure.” I associate the word “pure” with innocence. I think, this is a mistake and I need a new word. My word for 2016 cannot possibly be pure.

However, I am not a fool. I can tell that God wants to do something here. God is always wanting to dig into the places where we are most reluctant to go.

So I start to dig. I open up to the first reference of “pure” in the bible that catches my attention. James 4:8:

“Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

To be double-minded is to be unstable. Unstable, in this context, would mean you are a person who says one thing and then you do another. You might gossip. You might use the sharpness of your tongue. You might ask with big faith and then retract. You might believe God in one hour and then run back to the prisons of fear in your mind.

I can say with confidence that I don’t want that. I don’t want to be the type of person who goes through life with two faces. I want to be single-minded. Single-tracked. Singularly content with God.

Contentment. That’s what trips me up every time. That’s the word in the room that I don’t like trying to dissect because I know it would push me far out of the confines of my comfort zone. Friends, we must ditch the comfort zone. We must ditch the comfort zone as if our whole lives hinged upon us going free.

I write down the question: what do I need to give up? What am I still holding too tightly?

A January Writing Intensive + $10 off.

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Happy Holidays to you! I hope you are planning to get offline, rest and really soak up the season with friends and loved ones.

I’ll keep this thang short: I’m teaching my second 3-hour online Writing Intensive on Saturday, January 9th. It’s happening. You don’t even need to leave your house.

The first class in November was a huge success. The community of 100 writers are still going strong, connecting with each other daily, and really blowing me out the water with their fierce attitudes.

This class is for anyone trying find their voice who could benefit from 3-hours of solid teaching on the following:

  • The elements of compelling storytelling
  • Breaking the fear
  • Developing voice
  • Connecting with readers
  • The art of Taylor Swifting
  • Consistency & control in writing
  • Vulnerability hangovers
  • Finding direction within a crowded writing world

In honor of how cool you are, I am giving $10 off the $100 price. Just type in coupon code “JANUARYINTENSIVE” for your discount!

There’s only a few more spots left (about 25!) in this Writing Intensive. When the gates close, they close forever… or at least until I offer another. I hope to see you online on January 9! It will be a beautiful way to start a brand new year together.

tying you closer than most,

hb.

When a blog turns 5.

Honesty hour: I’ve been avoiding this blog.

I’ve been ignoring this blog more stealthily than I ignored the texts of a dude I gave my phone number to after he talked my ear off about bed bugs for nearly an hour at a party. I felt bad about the conversation so I crumbled when he asked for my digits. I don’t recommend ignoring people but I was young & dumb. We all make them rooky mistakes.

It’s been three weeks since I’ve written. I can’t even pull the “I’ve not been inspired to write” card. I have been inspired. I just spent the last few days in the deserts of California learning how to brew Batdorf & Bronson coffee over a propane tank and spending the afternoons frolicking through fields of cacti. Being “uninspired” is not applicable in this space.

But something has shifted in my heart as of lately. I tried to explain myself in this blog post here but nothing ever came of it. So I am going to try again— this time with more determination.

 

I was talking the other day with a guy who was born on December 31. He said he hated being born on a holiday. I told him I didn’t understand but that was okay. I could understand Christmas or Valentine’s Day but I think there’s something so beautiful about sharing your birthday with the one day of the year where most humans are optimistic about starting over. We get really resolved on December 31. We think about the things we want to leave behind and there’s almost this tangible hope that we will, that we might actually be different humans and hurt one another less and consume more vegetables at the strike of midnight.

For years I hated admitting that I was a big fan of New Years because it seemed cliché. The cooler thing to do was be a cynic and claim I made no resolutions. Now that the ice has thawed off of me, I can say without hesitation: I actually love this sacred last day of the year where me, and a couple other million people, feel like maybe our do-over is about to begin.

Why? Because I’m a big fan of the do-over. I like starting over. Here’s the thing though: you’re stuck with yourself. If you want to change then that’s on you. You have to begin the process. You have to stick with it. The whole world likes to talk about changing your whole life but I think few ever really do it.

For a while I’ve wanted a do-over for this blog. This blog is 5 years old. She is in need of a major makeover— think Laney Boggs in She’s All That.

 

People wonder if starting a blog is really worth it. To that I say, yes. Absolutely. Completely. Blogging— to me— is not a trend. It’s exercise. It’s discipline. It’s a way to develop a voice and developing said is absolutely crucial if you want to write on bigger platforms one day.

A blog will show you who you are and who you are not. Who you hope to be and who you hope to bury in the next 5 years.

Five years ago, when this blog began, I was a senior in college. I was an eternal optimist. I thought everything could be fixed by cupcakes and I was perpetually singing about life to the tune of “War is Over (if you want it).” I was a feminist but only to prove a point. I wanted to save every orphan everywhere. I was consumed by a need to be the glittering object in every person’s orbit and that was truly exhausting. I came off as cool and confident, single and aware of myself. In actuality, I was consumed with myself— how I looked, who I impressed, what I accomplished.

Perfectionism will give you a bag of things you don’t actually need: eating disorders, depression, anxiety, fear wrapped up in fear.

In the next year I would move to New York City. I would deal with depression for the first time. I would live in the Bronx, work at the United Nations, and freelance for style magazines making 50 dollars an article.

I would begin writing letters and leaving them all over New York City as a way to cope with my loneliness. That would turn into a movement and I would need to grow up and turn into a human who can lead a team, delegate, and interpret spreadsheets (I still cannot handle that last one). I would start speaking around the country. I would quit my solid job with benefits. I would write my first book. And I would learn the truth that I hope everyone learns: It is okay to love your work. It is beautiful to do good. But the second your work becomes your life and you are drowning underwater, something has to give. Something has to shift.

So, in the last year of my life, everything shifted (for the better): I stopped making excuses. I opened up (really). I made coffee dates with people I would actually have to see more than once. I planted a garden. I figured out how to date and tackle small talk. I learned (am learning) to cook. I fell in love for the first time in 9 years and my hypothesis that it wasn’t possible to feel those feelings again was shattered. I discovered community, the real kind that doesn’t exist on Instagram. I met Jesus. As if Jesus were some beautiful, bearded man in a lumberjack flannel who comes up to your table to give you refills, I met him regularly in coffee shops across Atlanta. I taught my first writing intensive. I grew a garden. I camped (twice). I moved on. I figured out how to stay.

 

For the last few months, I’ve been really afraid to merely inspire you. This culture is full of inspiration and I find that it never fills me. It only keeps me clicking on more links.

I was sitting in a bible class last month and the teacher for the evening began by saying, “If you want something deep in your life, don’t ever expect it to the come through an event— unless it initiates a process.”

Two things to take from that:

I want something deep for your life.

Life is a process.

This blog has the capability to light a fire beneath you and send you charging you out into the world but we all know you’d eventually have to come back to get more fire. I don’t want that for your life. I want you to know how to build your own fires, how to change your own life.

For that reason, I am dedicating this blog to that mission for the next year: how to change your life. How to be brave. How to adult harder than you’ve ever adulted before. How to suck it up. How to move on. How to have tough conversations. How to use a dating app. How to kill your demons. How to buy dishes and plant roots. How to tackle an interview. How to love your community well. How to say no. How to pray. How to get off the phone.

I will still be writing some of the same content. I want to still talk about searching for God, and growing deeper, and dealing with heartbreak. I want to continue writing my “Dear Abby” style pieces so please, please write to me with your questions. I just want to show you more of my personality. I want to take the pressure off myself to always feel deep and insightful whenever I want to write to you here.

I want to be able to laugh with you, share rap music, joke with you, foster community in the comments section, and really become a tribe of movers & shakers who know how to light their own fires. If you figure out how to light your own fire— stack the woods, light the match, fan the flame— then you can teach others. The more fires we have this world, the more light. This world needs more light.

 

So let’s start. Please comment below and share with me some of the topics you hope I will handle in the year ahead. I will be reading.

 

Fear’s last love song.

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Hannah- 

So…I was really hoping I could come back to you a month later with some huge spiritual experience and an “I’m out of the woods” story.  I don’t have one.

Instead it has been baby steps forward, only to stumble back again.  Some days I’m fine, some days all I want to do is lay down and cry because it just doesn’t make sense to me.

Darkness has been so evident lately and I’m so scared of falling into it instead of God.  I know it’s really not my battle because I’m not strong enough to fight against it…but I don’t really know how to surrender it to God, either. I’m not really sure how to trust someone I can’t see, feel or hear but I want to.

I want to hate the darkness and be free from it.  I want to be okay again and stop falling into fear, doubt, depression and darkness.  It feels like an endless cycle and I’m even scared of getting out of it because then what happens if I fall again?

I’m so tired of fighting. I just don’t want to feel like i’m constantly fighting to believe & against the darkness. It’s so scary…I don’t want to fall. 

You write about how God brought you out of the darkness…how? Was it sudden, or more of a gradual thing? 

J

 


 

 

J,

Fear wrote that last email for you. Fear legitimately pushed you off balance, kicked you out of the computer seat, and wrote that last message. It clicked send. It patted itself on the back for striking once again. It curled back up into its usual position, waiting to pounce on whatever next step you tried to take to get out of the woods. That’s the way fear operates— it preys on your action steps while writing songs about your failures. 

I know fear wrote the email because I lived for a really long time letting fear dictate my daily actions. Fear drove conversations. Fear made me retreat. Fear allowed me to say “yes” and “no” to things. Fear drew a thick chalk circle all around me and announced into the tight space, “This is your comfort zone. Good luck leaving it.”

 

There’s a few things to know about your fear.

I think that’s the fear way you start to tackle and dismantle something: you figure out what you’re actually up against.

First off, your fear is terribly unoriginal. Yes, you feel alone in it. But that’s just a tactic of the fear. Fear wants you to believe you are the only one. It’s isolating. It’s like coming across a Taylor Swift song you really like, listening to it on your own for a solid ten years because you think no one else will get it the way you do, and then figuring out that everyone else knows the words too. Your fear— the one that feels so catered to you— is actually lurking in the hearts of a million, billion other people. It’s a ballad and we know all the words to it. You’re not alone. You’re not off on some island. You’re not solo on this pilgrimage. We know all the words, J.

Secondly, your fear is a jealous lover. It wants you to sleep alone with it at night. It’s greedy. Your fear doesn’t want to share you. It doesn’t want you to go out there and talk to the others. It doesn’t want you to have hard conversations, and solid dinner parties, and community that refuses to leave your side. Fear wrote you a story a long time ago and it doesn’t want you to outgrow the plot line.

And though you know you deserve better than a lover who controls your every move, you still stay. You stay because no matter how jealous fear can be, it wants you. And we like to be wanted. You stay because, after all these years, fear has become comfortable and rhythmic in your life. It’s become reliable. You know its motions. You know how it will shut you down. You have stood in the face of fear so many times and it has tried to tell you who you are and you have believed it. 

Lastly, your fear— while I’ve just talked a lot of smack about it— is necessary. 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.

Don’t look back and think, “I wish I hadn’t let fear beat me up so badly.” You needed the bruises. You needed the battering. In that, you figured out that there had to be something more. Only when the fear is smothering and we can’t sleep at night, only when the fear has taken from us over and over again, can we even dare to imagine that something might be better than this. Fear is the birthplace of courage. Fear can be a catalyst towards God. 

 

I’ll say it again: Fear can be a catalyst towards God.

And as you push closer towards God, you will realize that he isn’t fear. A life shrouded in fear does not come from God. Quite the opposite: he is 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.

Because love? Well love is ten times a better builder than fear ever could be. The structures are strong. The foundations are solid. The shelter is reliable. When you speak out love instead of fear, people actually get brave. They get hungry for victory. They transform and it’s wild. I used to only write about fear on this blog. I liked the idea of love but I didn’t actually know it. So any attempts to write about it were noble but fleeting.

Letting God be love, instead of fear, has made every difference to the way I stand and walk today.

 

The date is November 17.

Tomorrow is the 18th. November 18. And I can’t begin to describe to you how that date on the calendar is such a benchmark for my life and the person I’ve become in the last year.

It will probably be a normal day. I’ll do some work. I’ll buy some groceries. I’ll visit a coffee shop and people are never going to know or see that November 18 is such a huge day for me. I’ll be celebrating inside though because November 18  is forever a day to remember that the darkness didn’t win.

My friends and my family know what happened on that day, how my life flipped upside in the worst way possible and how the charade I was putting on for everyone took its final bow. Whatever was left, that’s what I had to work with.

It was a lot of fear. Paralyzing and crippling fear. It was doubt. It was worry. It was a stealthy attack. It was one step forward and two steps back again as I plunged deeper and deeper into myself. I could not use my brain. I could not eat. When the darkness was the heaviest, I didn’t eat for 12 hours at a time. I would get these brief moments of perspective, a chance to breathe, at the end of each day. I would cry in my mother’s arms— yes, at the age of 26— that I didn’t want to have to go back to sleep because I was afraid to start all over again the next morning.

Still, I would take the sleeping pills and go to sleep. I would wake up to the darkness waiting at the foot of my bed. And we would start the wrestling all over again.

I chose to wrestle with the darkness morning after morning. I was determined to find its roots and expose its tricks. I was enamored with the darkness. Now, looking back, I see that I was wrestling with the wrong thing. 
Why wrestle with the darkness when you can wrestle with God? Him and I, we were the real problem. I had prayed an honest prayer to really know him and have him show up for me. He honored the prayer, my act fell apart, and I was unwilling to meet him in that. I was unwilling to come out of hiding and say, “Here is who I really him. Here is the reality. Here is what I can’t stand any longer. I don’t think you are who you say you are. I’ve made you too small and I’m the one who does not believe.”

When the darkness pushes us into ourselves, there we figure out what we truly believe about God.

The God in my brain was flimsy and lukewarm. He was jealous and wrathful. He was angry with me and disappointed constantly. I was always falling short to the God in my brain.

The bible writes a lot about idols. Did you ever think that the wrong image of God— the one you constructed— could be an idol too? We could spend our whole lives falsely worshipping the God we built in our brains just to keep us from humbly opening our bibles. Opening your bible is an act of humility. It’s laying down your lies in order to seek a truth that could go on without you.

 

Open your bible, J.

Open your bible. Keep opening it. When you feel like it and when you don’t. When you want to and when Netflix sounds a lot more appealing. The bible is rich and fatty and good for you and still the culture tells us the bible is like lettuce. It’s not flashy. It’s not proud. But it is the living, breathing word of God. If you want to hear him speak, it’s a whole book of him just talking to you.

Meet him. For ten minutes or an hour. As corny as it is to make this comparison, it’s like dating someone who is obsessed with you from date one. They’ve been waiting for you. From the start, they want you so badly. And you, J, are guarded and careful and unsure. But you’ve heard good things. And other people seem to like him. But still, you aren’t sure. So would you plunge right in? No, probably not. Would you trust him immediately? No, probably not. And yet this weird sort of longing exists inside of you to be loved carefully, to have someone come along and scale your walls. That longing has always been there. So you creep closer and what do you do? You resolve to know the person. To understand them. To hear their side of the story instead of always screaming out your own. Your own story is not going to teach you about someone else’s. To know someone else is to shut up and listen.

You would do all these things for another human, J, so what about God? What if he is one who is obsessed with you? What if he is the one who has been waiting for you? What if he is the one who wants you so badly and yet you’re still unsure? What if it is his name that keeps coming up in conversations and makes you long for something more? Resolve to know him. Understand him. Read him. Hear his side of the story instead of always screaming out your own.

Open your bible and realize that as long as we try to fight for God or analyze him or measure him, we miss the point. We gear up like diligent soldiers ready to go after the heart of God and he just pauses the whole story and says: this isn’t about you. Wait. Look closer. This is how I fought for you. And how I won for you. Take heart in that, child. You want to fight but I already won. 

 

You asked how God brought me out of the darkness— was it sudden or was it gradual?

It wasn’t sudden, J. It was seriously gradual. It was hard. It still is hard. And there are still days when I want to pick the world over God, but I know what I left behind. It was sitting with the bible when I didn’t want to. It was writing down scriptures, though they didn’t thrill me, until they seeped into my heart and did some sort of transformation I cannot take credit for. It was like taking medicine– though I didn’t want it, it promised to heal me.

I remember talking with a guy from church who I look up to and asking him what I should do, because I was tired of fighting and I just wanted to be out of the dark.

“Bread of life, babe,” he said to me, patting me on the back. “Bread of life.”

I remember I hated that answer. It was just him telling me to go back to the bible and back to the bible and back to the bible. Why did I hate it? Because still, God was whispering through that advice, “To love me fully is to lose what you thought actually mattered. And even as you let the things go, you’re still going to want them to matter more than me.” 

It’s going to be long, J. It’s going to be slow. It’s going to be bread and life though.

Following God is not a romantic comedy. It’s not funny and capable of playing out within two hours of your time. It’s a lifelong dedication. It’s, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “ a long obedience in the same direction.” It’s the start of new habits and the killing of old. God isn’t the one you meet in the drive-thru, he wants to meet you at the table and teach you how to make real meals.

I went to church when I didn’t want to. I opened up to others when I didn’t want to. I opened the bible and started with John, then Matthew, then Mark, then Luke. I looked for clues of who God was in these stories, not who I was supposed to become. Turns out, he’s bigger than my hopes to be a better person. Still, he is bigger than my fear and my ego combined.

So I guess that life long dedication begins with you deciding you will stay and let God meet you in a world that will tell you the key to getting out of the darkness is to run. Don’t run from it, J. There’s light ahead. And there’s love. And there’s real relationship. And hard conversations that break down the craziest of crazy, high walls.

You could be a new person if you’d just let someone scale your walls for once.

You could come to the table instead of hiding in the woods. You could finally, finally eat.

Dear world, meet Tory Vore.

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Today Tory Vore was the star of my Monday morning email club. But that wasn’t enough for me. You see, Tory Vore is one of my favorite humans. If the move to Atlanta looks like a big puzzle then Tory and her husband James are a necessary piece. Those two are like a corner piece to me. We met over tacos (that’s always necessary to put out there) and the girl legitimately brings Jesus with her wherever she goes. Into every interaction. Into every conversation. Tory is a writer who recently pushed her blog back into existence. I can’t tell you how thankful I am that this girl is speaking out. She is a hard hitter and I want the whole wide world to meet her, love her, know her, and learn from her. 

The following post comes from Tory. Read her blog here & connect with her on Twitter


My husband and I live in a tiny 900 square foot house on a wooded side street in Atlanta. The house was built in 1955 and is the definition of old charm. Every person that steps foot in our door can see the entire house with one glance and always says the same thing, “awe, so cozy.” While it may be cozy, the house has not come without it’s fair share of problems. At first glance, it looks nice. Old, but nice. There’s fresh paint on the walls, hardwood floors, updated bathroom and kitchen… But the longer you live in the house, the more you find its quirks. There is a constant cockroach infestation. We have mold in the windowsills, and the paint has almost all but completely come off the bathroom wall…Things like that are manageable, for a time. You can clean mold, you can spray a roach spray, and you can re-paint the walls. It was the sudden arrival of a colony of tiny, furry roommates, whose patriarchs we’ve taken to calling Chip and Dale, that threw us off our game. That’s right. We have chipmunks. In our walls. There are some that inhabit the wall above the couch, and during quiet movie scenes, we can hear them chomping away at the wall, like they are enjoying the movie with us, eating their own version of movie popcorn. There are some that reside under the bathtub that can be heard in the middle of the night during a mid-dream potty break, squeaking and scampering around. We can hear them under the back porch and in the spare bedroom walls. I’ve even heard them dancing in the ceiling.

We’ve been on a house hunt for some time now. When we tell friends to be on the lookout in their respective Atlanta neighborhood, the response is always the same –  “Oh, but your house is so cute!” And it is, from the outside. If only they knew what the structure looked like. All the cute is an illusion. It’s all cosmetic, faked. It’s all on the outside. The structure, it’s barely hanging on. You can see evidence of this when you look close enough at the ceiling, and find bubbles where the roof has leaked. It’s only when you put a ball on the ground and realize that the whole house is slanted; the foundation is sagging. It’s only when you step in the tub, and hear the ground underneath creak, that you realize that years of chipmunk camping has made the very ground under your feet unstable. If you look closely at the house, you see the cracks through the charm.

What if people looked at us? Would they see the cracks? If our people really knew us, would they realize that our foundation was unsteady?

In a world with filters and Snapchat, of profile pictures and 140 characters, have we lost the awareness of the cosmetic in our lives? Have we covered ourselves up so much that we can’t even see the cracks?

In January of 2015, I was healed of anxiety that I had been very secretly struggling with for over a year. The kind of anxiety that made me lose my ability to breath and had put me in the hospital. It was crippling. It was silent. It was a fight I was determined to fight alone. And it was a miraculous act of God that gave me my breath again. And I Instagrammed about it. It was hidden in a post about my fiancé, but I told all 1,000 followers about my secret battle without a second thought. I was at a conference and later that night I was in a hotel with some of my closest friends. One such friend read the post, showed it to me, and said, with tears in her eyes, “I had no idea….” This girl was the matron of honor in my wedding. She has loved me longer and harder than anyone. And she didn’t know.

I had put new coats of paint on myself, I had covered up the things that I didn’t want people to see. I was living the life that everyone else saw on Instagram. I was keeping people at an arm’s length, making sure that no one got close enough to see the cracks in my walls. I was telling a 140 character story. I was letting people in, but manipulating the image so that it fit this twisted lie that I was believing – “No one actually cares about what you’re going through.”

I had graduated college, got turned down from 2 jobs before I found one that suited me and paid the bills, got engaged, and moved from the comfort of my college apartment to the city, and everything was happening a lot faster than I could keep up with. My life was defined by change and uncertainty. But all I saw was the cosmetic stuff in everyone else’s life. I was accepting the instagram lie, that everyone else around me had it all together, and I didn’t.

When my friend turned the phone around and showed me myself, I was devastated at what I saw. I saw peeling paint, and an unsteady foundation, covered up with posts about my happy existence and perfect heart. I saw through my own cracks and was hit like a bulldozer with one thought, “No one actually knows me.” And the broken structure that had been holding me up under cosmetic fixes finally collapsed onto its self. The unsteady foundation gave in and the holes in the walls couldn’t be covered up anymore. I had been figured out. And it was the best thing that ever happened to me

Fast-forward 10 months later – I have found authentic community that allows me to be real. That sees the chips in my paint, and is helping me to rebuild the structure of my life through two things: awareness and vulnerability.

You see, I had critters living in my walls too – but they weren’t named Chip and Dale. They were named Insecurity, Comparison, Doubt, Fear and Unworthiness. I had let them in and I listened to the whispers that they told me in the dead of night, through cracks in the foundations in the homes and tent cities I had freely given them in my once sturdy walls. It wasn’t until their whispers turned to shouts that I found them. I wasn’t aware. I was so distracted by doing and being and becoming this person that I thought people wanted me to be, that the gnawing I felt in my foundations didn’t bother me. I had let these beasts make their home in my heart, and I had unwittingly opened the door and didn’t make them wipe their feet. I was distracted by everyone else’s life, and it was only when I became aware of the critters’ presence was I able to expel the lies that had put down roots in my heart.

You know that feeling in your gut, the one that falls and pulls you down with it? The one that takes control of you and casts a spell over your heart and thoughts and convinces you that you’re not (fill in the blank)? Don’t know what I’m talking about? Then start there. Find the critters, let them know that you don’t want them, and get them out. Insecurity, Comparison, Doubt, Fear and Unworthiness will stay as long as you let them. Awareness and Truth are the exterminators, and the only way to get rid of them. I encourage you to be aware – to find the root of the lies that whisper to you in the night and tell them who is boss. Call them by their name and purge them from your life. Kick them out. Pay attention. Be alert. Don’t let them in the holes in your foundation. Fill those holes with Truth. With love and honesty, with peace and hope. With confidence and community. The critters hate that stuff like that. Look up from looking down and see that your paint is chipping, and your foundation is sagging. Look up from the comparison suck and name yourself “Aware.” Find the places the lies are creeping in and talk to someone about them. Talk to your community, the people that see past the old world charm of you.

Find community- authentic community. I found mine. I found my people. The ones you call when you find yourself with no plans on a Saturday night. The ones that aren’t afraid to look you in the eye and tell you that your paint is chipping. The kind of people that cheer you on and push you to love you. Finding my people didn’t happen overnight. It happened over coffee dates and small talk about jobs and new shoes and celebrity gossip. Coffee turned to wine nights and couches and blankets and over-priced cheese.

And it took vulnerability. It took one person taking the risk to be honest. It took one person laying her heart on the table – pulling all the critters out from her walls – and being raw, real and vulnerable, no matter the risk. It took being the first person to call, the one to make plans. It took effort and discomfort. But one person’s honesty opened the door for everyone else’s honesty. It was scary and raw and uncertain. But it ended up being the best decision I made. To lay it all on the coffee table, cozied up in blankets. It took transitioning from recipes to realness. To saying, “This is hard for me, but I trust you.” It meant wiping off the makeup, tearing down the curtain and letting people see the chipped paint and crooked foundation. And it was worth it.

It’s worth it to let people see you. It’s worth it to switch from many, wide relationships to a few, deep ones. It’s worth it to find your people, even if it’s only 3. It’s worth it to let people in. It’s worth the time and effort it takes to turn off the camera, shut down the app, and let people see the real you for more than a few seconds. Because rebuilding a structure cannot be done alone. It takes many hands to build a home, and it takes many hands held together, in prayer, in tears, in celebration, to rebuild and patch the holes that have led to our pains.

Fill the gaps in your heart with community and vulnerability, and exterminate the critters that have made their home in your heart.