Thank you for staying. (Probably Part 1)

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I have stood on countless amounts of stages and delivered a talk called “Stay.”

The talk is broken up into three sections. Stay Hungry. Stay Small. Stay Here.

I never had an issue with being hungry. I have been hungry for my whole entire existence. I was always the girl who wanted to be used. The girl who wanted to be chosen. I wanted to serve God if it meant he would give me things to do. I remember wanting that before I even had a relationship with God. I remember high school parties. The room spinning. The drunkenness. Me in the corner, just thinking, “God, am I an accident for wanting to do so much and make such a difference when no one else seems to care?”

I never had an issue with being small. I have never puffed myself up to be big. I’ve honestly never believed in myself enough to do that. I’ve spent the latter half of my years not even believing in the worthiness of my own story. I probably need to learn to get a bit bigger. We’ll see.

It’s the staying part– the “staying here” part– that has always been my struggle.

I don’t want to be too hard on myself, I just want to say that staying is really, really, really hard. And I know this because I sat at my favorite coffee shop in Atlanta– the one where the baristas write you little love letters when they serve you drinks– with one of my good friends and we talked about love. And how loving someone and giving your heart to someone is really, really, really hard.

I don’t remember all the words we said but I do remember saying that loving someone is hard because staying is hard. The two correlate. They function within one another. And if you stay, you eventually have to let someone in. If you let someone in, you eventually have to drop the facade. You have to drop the act. You have to unpack your suitcases.

This probably goes deeper. I could probably write a whole book and just call it “Thank You for Staying.”

Thank you for staying.

That’s what I texted to one of my friends during one of the hardest seasons of my life. Thank you for staying. It was simple. It carried weight for me to say it.

And honestly? I used to look at that friend in church before I really knew her and I would  think, “She has it all together. And her life is full. And she would not want to be my friend. And there must be no room for me.”

And while I don’t know which ones of those things are lies, I’ve learned that I have to be really careful with that last one: there must be no room for me.

That’s a damaging lie to staple to yourself: there must be no room for me.

What I am learning lately is that it’s not about the dishes.

It’s never really about the dishes.

I used to live in a community house in the Bronx, New York. I lived with 4 other girls. And “community” is a tough and gritty word that I still don’t really like because it feels too hard and it makes you face yourself pretty honestly (spoiler alert: you won’t always like what you see).

I remember them telling us during the orientation for the program that, at one point, someone would forget to do the dishes (or in my case: I would leave food on the dishes just because I am an inadequate cleaner who is too busy writing love stories in her head). And then someone would neglect to confront the dishes. And then another thing would happen. And then another thing would happen. And eventually, there would be an explosion. And all the little things would come crashing down on top of one another. And you will realize that it all started because of the dishes. Suddenly, it wasn’t about the dishes anymore.

You let it build and build and build, instead of just facing it when it was small.

I think that has a lot to do with the lies we tell ourselves. The fear we tolerate. The things we do or don’t do.

It starts small. And it grows and it grows and it overtakes us when we don’t confront it. It gets hungrier. And hungrier. Until there is a breaking point. Until you’ve convinced yourself that you’re the sum of your fears & the sum of your worries & the sum of your lies– as if each one was written upon your skin in Sharpie marker and people could see everything when they went to shake your hand.

I don’t know how to hash all the lies out just yet.

I am trying. I like to think I am getting better than ever before. But I know that it doesn’t come from moving away from it.

The easy solution in my head is always to move. To go somewhere else. To escape. To get away. And that’s never going to give you a full life– it is going to give you a life of running with a suitcase you can’t seem to put down.

That person I didn’t think would have enough room for me, she stayed.

She prayed. She became a warrior. She reminded me to laugh. She has a full, full life and yet she keeps the doors and windows opens for newcomers who show up tired & empty.

And me? I know I would give everything and the rest of the world to be just like her. To know how to open my windows and open my doors and ask people to come in, saying, “Hey, I know you’re tired. I know you’re stressed. And I want you to stay. I want you to stay and undo the latches on that suitcase and take out everything and put it away. Put the things away for good.

I am going to make some tea. We are going to talk. And you are finally, finally going to stay.

And you are going to fight. There is enough room for you.”

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War is over (if you want it)

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The battle has been bloody and we’ve lost limbs.

Okay, no. That’s a bit of an exaggeration. The battle has been bloody though— the battle that has somehow consumed my life for the last few months. It’s ongoing still so maybe I hesitate to write this but I am a girl who wears a tattoo on her wrist to remind her of victory so I wanted to come to this space and this page and not be afraid to type out the word: Victory. Victory for this day.

The battle has been bloody in the sense that I am having to shed the weight of things carried for days that became months and months that morphed into years. Insecurity. Pain. Worry. Fear. Fear— that’s the big one. Fear is the costar for most of our days.

We write a lot about punching fear in the face but we never seem to be honest enough with the times when fear throws us into the wrestling ring and batters us good with jabs and right hooks. We say those sorts of fears are the ones that don’t get said out loud.

Fears like:

I am afraid to be unwanted.

I am afraid to not be seen.

I am afraid that I am just a face in the crowd.

I am afraid to sit with my morning coffee, touch my hand against the windowsill, and realize I don’t matter. No one will miss me when I am gone.

That was the haunting part about New York that I haven’t yet found in any other city: the feeling— the knowing— that people are here and gone so quickly. In the shuffles of commuters. In the seas of people who come and go and live and die and love and fight and cry and surrender a thousand times a day on any given subway track.

I never felt so nameless, so faceless, than in that big city.

I know you’re out there.

I know you’re there because you thrust your heartbreak into my inbox.

My mama used to collect sea glass with my daddy when they were first dating. They filled vases and lamps with all the tumbled shards of blue and green glass. And I think to myself, “That’s what I do with the pain I come across. I fill vases and lamps with it. I try hard not to forget it. It is a constant reminder to me: we aren’t alone.” Your pain is like sea glass to me. I’d collect it all if I could. 

I know you’re out there laying awake at night. Whispering mistakes into the night. I know that when the phone screen doesn’t light up in the way you hoped it would, you’re a bit devastated. You wanted so badly to hear from him tonight.

I know you scroll and scroll and scroll aimlessly through Instagram, looking at the pieces of other people’s lives for peace and solace and community. I know it doesn’t fill you. I know you wished you filled your bedroom with prayers at night as you fell asleep, not the faces of people you don’t speak to beyond a wave in the hallway or an occasional text message.

I know you wonder how to even pray sometimes. Because God is so big. His to-do list must be massive. And you? You think you’re just a fleck who let him down. You think you’re the one who wrecked the party- the one who should be benched in the middle of the game. I don’t even know that God could ever be let down but we sure like to put big words in his mouth.

I know you wonder if anyone sees you. In a room full of people, you still shift from foot to foot and wonder if you’re enough for the crowd you are standing inside of. You cry but no one sees it. You fumble and wonder if joy is real. You’ve hurt yourself— in ways you won’t admit. You think of giving up sometimes. You swear you never will but the thought still exists like a spin cycle in your mind on days when no one seems to pick you.

I know you’re out there. I see you.

This comes from a girl who used to talk endlessly and endlessly about her love for strangers. She loved the idea of being a stranger. The kind of girl who walks around like mystery and makes people whisper and say, “She’s the sort of girl who boys with guitars write songs about.”

I used to love that idea until I didn’t love it anymore. Because that girl in the songs— the mysterious one in the coffee shops— never has a name. She is always nameless. She is always, somehow forgotten when the lights shut off, the machines are unplugged from the walls, and the doors close at night.

I want to have a name. There, I said it:  I want to have a name.

Not a big name. Not a proud name. Just a name that gets tucked in the prayers of a few and the phone calls of fewer. I just want a name that becomes a treasure to one. A couple. A few.

The battle has been bloody, I say out loud this morning.

My palms are fixed upward to the ceiling. My eyes are on the “WAR IS OVER” poster clinging to our living room wall. And I close my eyes. I breathe deeper. I ask Him, “What have we been fighting for?”

Because that’s all I want to know: What have we been fighting for?

I wait. I breathe. I hush out voices that are my own.

“We have not been fighting,” I hear the whisper huddle close to me. “I’ve been fighting for you. For a long, long time, I’ve been fighting for you. You haven’t seen it. With fists clenched and eyes set on hopelessness, you haven’t seen me fighting for you all this time.

You fight to hold on to old things. I beg you to open your eyes and see the new things. The good things. That you aren’t sitting inside of a nameless story.

You have a name. You have a name.

This is the fight to show you I love you. I love you, though you don’t love yourself so much. I choose you, though you don’t choose yourself always. I pick you, even when you can’t wrap your mind around being picked by anything or anyone.

I will fight and claw and knock and show up until you see it: You are not just a face in the crowd.

You’ve never been just a face in the crowd.”

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Give her back those silent nights.

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I want to tell you that 2010 was the year that leveled me and flattened me good.

That would be a lie though.

If I properly retrace my memory down to the bones of it then 2010 was the year I acquired baggage. Lots and lots of baggage. Except I didn’t really know how to call it that at the time.

Looking back, I see what I didn’t see when I was graduating from college and moving to New York City: I heaved around suitcases of heartbreak as if I were the inventor of suitcases, myself, and I handed out sleeping bags to every “not good enough” comment rattling in my head. I gave all the baggage room to sleep. And the longer you let baggage sleep in your mind, the harder it is to clear that baggage out and call it all lies.

I know this all happened in 2010 because at the cusp of 2011, in the middle of a party with hats and cheesy bread, I felt like I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I was just a girl with lots of baggage. I could trace the faces of my friends and I wondered if they looked at me and thought to themselves, “Where’d ya go?”

And I didn’t know how to let go. I mean, how do you even start to let go and just give yourself permission to be free?

It was 2011 that leveled and flattened me out.

I know it now for sure. I don’t know if there are any real defining moments you’d pick out from the crowd but I remember the pieces that made me feel like dust: I was a full-time volunteer. For an entire year, I’d made a commitment to make no money and serve in the Bronx, New York. New York City had been sucked dry of all her romance as I struggled with the unworthiness of trying to be something “chic” with a $25 a week stipend.

I was riddled with an eating disorder. My eating disorder was a quiet whisperer throughout the day. She controlled every step and action, every crumb that did or did not reach my mouth. She watched me until I went to sleep. She sang me stingy lullabies as she sat stiff in an armchair I never did learn how to like.

It was the parts of me that were hungry that would come out of hiding after.

After she took her eyes off of me.

After my roommates went to sleep.

After the lights flickered down the hallways.

After I could crawl from my sheets and tiptoe down the long hallway and sit atop our kitchen table with a bowl full of food and finally admit to the the ceiling and mice hiding in the walls, “I am hungry. I am so hungry. To love. To be enough. To stop being so fearful. I am so hungry to not hate myself so furiously.”

The nights were never silent back then. No, they were never were so silent.

That year was full heartbreak for me.

I look back and think I was young, and maybe naive, but I knew how to decode heartbreak and the breakdown was still pretty titanical to a girl who was 22 and trying to put her life together. And it was hard to write a whole book on that year because I struggled daily with wanting to call my editor up and just say into the phone, “I don’t know how to focus on anything but heartbreak. How do I change the story? How do I find the good in what I long-convinced myself would always be bad?”

That’s the hardest hurdle you’ll ever get over, writer or no writer at all: Deciding that you’re going to love the mud that once transformed you. Deciding you are going to finally pass a buck of grace to yourself for not holding the world together all the time.

I just remember this one time, at the start of 2011, where we went on a weekend retreat to Atlantic City for the volunteer program. It was before the boardwalk got obliterated by Sandy (that little tyrant). I remember how cold it was outside and how I tried to breathe hot air onto my fingers as I forced myself to run that boardwalk. Up and down. Up and down. Because sometimes running makes you believe in new beginnings again. And the sweet Lord knows, I needed to believe in something good and optimistic in 2011.

But more than anything, I remember getting to the cottage. And my roommates and I found our separate rooms. And I nearly cried because there was a full length mirror hanging on the wall. As if God was giving me a present, there was a full length mirror waiting for me.

I took that mirror off the wall immediately.  And I cradled it in my hands before propping it up on the floor in the closet. I got down on my knees and crawled into the closet. It was such a compact space, whoever once lived there never needed much room for clothes.

I sat Indian-style, facing the mirror. I closed the door to shut me in. And I wondered how long I could just sit there. How long it would take to reconcile the pieces of this broken girl.

Call it dramatic. You know what, I will call it dramatic before you do but that’s all I really knew how to do during that time in my life when I wasn’t crying: sit in the mirror and look at myself and wonder what I was doing. I did it often. On several occasions. In bathrooms. And fitting rooms. And the quietest places I could find in New York City.

I wanted to know why I was my own wrecking ball. I still want to know that: why we decide to become our own wrecking balls when life is just a miracle we’re asked to hold.

I guess I am afraid to find out that I am holding paper chains. Maybe that is my biggest fear, just like the one Marianne Williamson put out there: “”Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

I want to raise up my hands. I want to tell her and tell everyone that I don’t know how to be something apart from inadequate. So no, that quote doesn’t fit me so well because I don’t want to be anything other than the girl who messes up the bigger story. That’s silly to even admit— God is far too big and far too wide for you to ever worry about messing up his bigger story.

But inadequate is a sweater I’ve always worn, even if I don’t like the feel of the material or the itchiness of the collar. And who am I without it? I mean, who am I when I choose to say “enough” and just walk away from the smaller anthems that tell me I will never reach the point of Enoughness. As if it were a destination, I need to reach the land of Enoughness.

Enoughness is not a word but maybe it should be. Maybe it should be a program of studies at NYU. The Studies of Enoughness. Because we worship that word long and hard enough to make a science out of it.

We carry it like a suitcase— like baggage— into relationships. Into careers. Into family matters. Into all the places where we should have never been riddled with those sorts of questions: Who do you think you are? And why do you think that you matter? And will you, oh, will you ever add up?

Like I said earlier, I am afraid to find out that I am holding paper chains. I am gripping them so tightly. And it would just be a matter of ripping them— one by one— to be able to say to the paper and the staples that held the loops intact: you are finished. You are done. No more. No more.

I wish I could go back sometimes.

With all the strength and might that sits inside of me, I wish I could go back and wedge myself into the closet to sit beside the girl— the 2011 girl— who is trying to find her worth in a mirror. I wish I could wedge my way in and find a way to tell her the truth.

“Hey you,” I’d probably whisper. It sounds like a friendly enough introduction. “ Hey you, I am sorry all of this is happening. I am sorry that you are still in the muds of it. But you’ll be thankful one day. I just need you know that: one day the darkness will clear and you’ll crawl out of this tiny space and you’ll be thankful.”

Because only in the darkness do we know light. Only, and only, if ever there was a word called “darkness” would there be a reason to create another word to counter that word called “light.” And maybe that’s just life: patches of darkness and patches of light. Sometimes we see it all so clearly. Sometimes we don’t know the way. Sometimes we grab the hands of others too tightly and they’re just thankful— just so thankful— that you’re finally grabbing on and needing to be held.

It’s dark. And we weren’t called to walk the road alone. And you could always look up. Don’t you know that? You could always just look up if you need something to catch you. 

And maybe that’s why the stars are so pure and so golden. Maybe that’s why it is important to stop and breathe and bundle up and climb out on the roof to look at the stars at night.

The stars are beautiful. And reliable. And they ask no questions. They sort-of just let you be. They let you sit there and feel so small and ready in the still of silent nights and hopeful that the morning is going to come.

I don’t know about you but I believe someone made those stars. Every big, batch of heat and light was crafted and ready to serve a purpose. And it wasn’t an accident. Just like me, those stars were not an accident. They were not a mistake. They were just big balls of light that would one day make a girl like me so hopeful when I watched them stand there in the night sky. Not moving. Not budging. Not going anywhere.

That’s all I want to believe on any given Friday or Monday or Thursday: that if the stars that guide me home are enough to be adored, then I could be too.

I could be too.

No questions asked.

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Please proceed to step out of the woods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The fight to bury you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yea, they do,” he said.

“What would I want to keep?”

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

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

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

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

“I guess so?”

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

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

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

 

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

An old lover’s sweatshirt.

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

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

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

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

The common thread is this: You get choices.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Welcome to the valley.

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“You’re in the valley,”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t have the answer.

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

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

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

You are in the valley. Welcome to it.” 

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You can’t be all the things.

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I want to be all the things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want to be all the things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t be all the things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t know. I really didn’t know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

so there’s a book coming out in March…

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How to be “less busy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

These are the things I miss when I am busy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

This piece is about everything and nothing at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

photo cred.

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This is just the night talking.

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I just want to be truthful with you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hb.

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Love is not a piece of cake.

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Love is not a piece of cake.

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

Love is not a piece of cake.

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

Love, to me, was this script on repeat:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know, 

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

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

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

To be completely honest and unscripted, I stood in that church and wrestled with God, saying: I only want love if it has more layers for me. I don’t want emptiness. I don’t want something that keeps me full for five minutes. But I don’t want to front it. I don’t want to fake it, either. If you’re real, then be real. Wash over me. Wreck me. Make me feel weak and woozy. I only want this thing if it’s real. I only want love if its the kind of love I can go ahead and stop trying to understand. Make this dance too exhausting for me that all I can do, in my own strength, is step on your toes and let you lead.  

I got an email just the other day from a girl who finally got the guy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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