Field Notes: Vol. 3

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Digital to-do list. Best app I’ve seen.

Commissioned this gal for a painting & I cannot gush about her work enough. Big plus: She’s a gem-and-a-half.

For the people who wanna do something.

Fitness blogger in NYC. This girl dominates my heart.

Girl power.

On a keychain binge.

You need to read everything she’s ever written. Specifically this. She’s my new favorite person. Place. Thing. Blog. Whatever.

You asked where I got my sweet leopard kicks.

But really… the best ever.

Sharpen up, babycakes.

Are you “that” person who sends too many emails too late at night? Game changer.

Best friend found this yesterday. Easily watched it a dozen times. Just for giggles in the middle of your workday.

Here’s to many hopes your weekend will be filled with lots of waffles & late night banter & chick flicks. Fill me in on your beautiful weekend! Got any good plans? Any sweet parties I can crash?! 

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This was never a hopeless place.

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You asked if we could go for a walk because you had something to give me.

We were the last two standing in the living room. Whatever mascara left on my face was huddled in the corners of my eyelids, clutching to the last few lashes it could find. I didn’t even nod my head to tell you yes before we were walking out the door and charging down the street, as if we knew the directions we were going in.

“I hate goodbyes,” I told you.

“I hate them too,” you whispered back into the dark. “It’s like I wish I were a octupus and I could keep everyone all in one place.” I guess it doesn’t work that way. No, I guess it really doesn’t.

Originally it was going to be your life and my life, packed and tangled and sitting in two cars as we drove down the highway with our arms hanging out with the window, letting the wind pursue the gaps in our fingers. And then suddenly—swiftly— it was just my car getting packed. And just my life getting thrown into boxes. And it was just me, surrounded by all our best friends, as everyone told me goodbye. You watched from the corner with tears in your eyes and I almost wanted to point at you and announce to the whole room, “It rips us the most.” Everyone probably knew that already though; it’s just that no one said anything.

So on that last night, before life changed for good, we went walking down the street and we left our cars parked in the road. And we didn’t talk at all about the lesson life thrusted upon the both of us when we found out you would stay and I would go: there are no such things as hopeless places. People just don’t deep enough to find the hope surrounding them.

We stopped at a playground and you figured the gate would be locked. Lucky for us, it wasn’t. We toured the playground saying nothing and touched our hands to the spring rider ladybugs and slides and seesaws, looking for a place to sit and face one another. We chose a bench and you started to cry.

“Ever since we became friends, all this stuff is always coming out of my eyes,” you laughed. “It’s all your fault.”

I couldn’t argue with that. I am the hurricane and you are the rock. I cry over things that haven’t happened yet. Milk that hasn’t spilt yet. I always used to wonder what made you a rock. I still wonder that: what made you a rock? What made you so solid that you never tipped or wavered or acted like the world could hurt you until me?

“I think I’ve cried too much tonight,” I told you. “I don’t think there are anymore tears left for me.”

Just an hour earlier, I’d been heaving and huffing while people took turns to pray for me. And I wished I could reach up my hands and tell them to stop. I wish that would have been okay to say that when they placed their hands on my shoulders or my lap, like, “Please don’t touch me if you plan to let me go. Can’t you just tell me I need to stay here forever?”

If someone had told me that— that I couldn’t go anywhere, that I had to stay right here— I might have listened. I might have unpacked my car. I might have deleted the playlist that would take me 16 hours south. I might have just pretended that all of it had been crazy— the feeling I was supposed to leave, go, pick up, walk away, start over, rebuild, and all the like.

“It’s your card,” you told me. “But I am going to read it to you.”

You ripped the thing out from the envelope and suddenly I was wrong. I started crying. You cried more. It was in that moment, waiting for you to say something, that I realized suitcases were never about the lace you’d pack or the jeans you’d fold to fit inside. Suitcases were just a bad invention thought up by an inconsiderate inventor who probably never wondered how many people would try to find a way to wedge someone they loved inside of that small space with the latch on the side. I pictured closing you up in that suitcase and releasing you free when we got to where we were going, laughing at the world and saying, “Ha! Ha! Ha! You couldn’t keep us apart.”

Was it okay that I was mad at the world as you spoke? I was so freaking angry with the world, or life, or God, or whatever thing it is that lets two people meet and then pulls them apart. We were young. We didn’t get it yet. We didn’t know that life was just a series of letting go moments. And we wouldn’t learn, for at least another month, that sometimes letting someone go is the best present you can give them. The two of you don’t even know that you’re looking for a gift. The two of you don’t know that sometimes it’s the geography, the shift in the trees and the people, that will break a person out of the cocoon of their past and finally let the word “free” go out from their lungs. Sometimes maps are giant, colored permission slips to be someone you never allowed yourself to be.

You read the card out loud to me and you gave me a feather to hold in your hand. You’d found the feather just before. Long and skinny, it had once been very lucky to be tucked into the wings of such a pretty bird. And you didn’t know, because I didn’t tell you, but I’d written words in my diary earlier that made so much sense to me as I held that feather in my hands: I am ready to leave this place. I lost everything I needed to after that broken heart came sweeping through. It came right off of me like feathers fall off the wings of the birds that are finally flying southward bound for home. So yes, the feather meant something more to me, even if you only wanted to tell me that I was gonna fly.

As you read, you cried and thanked me. You thanked me for being something I never knew I was: someone who would always choose dreams over money, and freedom over fear. Someone who wanted the late night diner trips. And the lack of bedtime. And the good stories and the good people and the good church services that don’t make you feel scraped clean at the end of them, they make you feel alive and thankful that God made you with a fire that doesn’t dim so easily.

In that moment as you read to me, and I held that feather, I was suddenly the girl I always wanted to be: someone who had no interest any longer in being the girl on fire. She’d much rather set the world on fire with all the quiet and beautiful things she did.

In the last of your sentences, you told me to go. And this time, when you said it, the word looked nothing like “stay.” And I was suddenly so thankful you told me to go. Because no matter what you’ve ever told me, I have always listened and trusted you to be right.

We walked away from that night. 

I didn’t look at you from the window of my car because I didn’t want to see you crying. God, I hate goodbyes and I hate reliving goodbyes after they’re gone. And I turned on the radio and did what I’d done since I was thirteen years old, pretending whatever song came on the radio would be like a fortune cookie– predicting what would happen next. I turned the dial. Closed my eyes. And Rihanna poured into car.

We found love in a hopeless place. We found love in a hope-less place.

The song was irrelevant. I turned off the radio and started to drive.

I whispered into the night the things I didn’t say to you when I had the chance, when you were right beside me on that bench: “I believe in you. I always have and I always will. You’re capable. You’re good enough. You said so yourself, you wanted to be a bird. So memorize the separating factor between birds and all the other things: they figure out how to fly and then they stop imagining what life looks like when you touch the ground.

So be a bird. Be a bird. Some of us are fit to fly. You told me that yourself. And some of us will harbor broken hearts for an entire lifetime all because we never gave those wings a chance. Don’t be that broken bird.”

The car kept turning down familiar roads and I laughed to myself. Just the next day I’d have to use a map to get anywhere. It would change just like that. I turned the radio back on and Rihanna was still there.

I laughed again. We found all the hope. This was never a hopeless place.

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Field Notes: Vol. 2

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You asked me where I got my planner. This is the promise land.

Get ready to die & go to script heaven. Kal be the real deal. Fo sheezy.

If you wanna fall in love with an Atlanta blogger… meet Folly.

This sermon. Ummm… hello.

Pucker up. This is the right sort of crack for your lips. I’ve pinned my loyalties.

Mostly, I wanted to thank him for insisting I could be happy.

Adorable products. Andddddd… you get to send sweet little munchkins to school.

This is the best print ever created.

This TED talk is hilarious. But it’s great for the singles.

I’ve been sneaking these into all my packages lately. Especially the yellow ones.

Here’s to many hopes your weekend will be filled with lots of pillows & hammocks & Frank Sinatra ballads & old classic novels. Pretty please, if you have good suggestions to be featured through “Field Notes” then send my way ((hannah@hannahbrencher.com)).

(( photo cred. ))

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Riding in lifeboats with ghosts.

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With permission, I have posted the email below.

Afternoon Hannah,

I’m moving to Athens, GA in three weeks. I know absolutely no one. I’m taking out a loan to start graduate school after I worked so hard to pay my way through undergrad to be debt free. And I’m going into a field I’m not 100% sold out on. And when I leave this Texas town that I’ve called home for the past four years I’m leaving behind my best friend. Only, he doesn’t realize it. He ended our relationship right after graduation in May because he doesn’t have his life figured out and cannot ask me to wait around. We were friends before we ever dated and have remained friends even after. But for whatever reason, the guy who shared my common desire to talk deep things and look beyond the surface level, he isn’t that person anymore…not with me anyways.

And that’s the thing. I woke up one morning in June and realized that I’m going to be okay. I’m ready to move on and let go. And I’m so excited to venture into the unknown. But like how a ticking clock ‘s tick becomes louder when you start to listen, this nagging in the back of my mind still remains. He was my friend…and still should be. The world awaits for me and I see him settling for mediocrity. Staying where it’s comfortable. And I’m torn. What if I’m the one person who can speak into him? Should I? People are happy that I’m ready to move on. Heck I feel pretty good about myself too. But I can’t watch him sink in the clear water of conventionalism while muddy challenges are meant to be seized. What do I do with someone who always asked me to hold them accountable, talks of appreciating those who are willing to say the hard things? Am I crossing the line? I’m supposed to be “letting go”. I don’t know if this is the right thing to do and I don’t know if anyone else would do it. I don’t even know if he would receive it.

But I have two-ish more weeks. I’ll see him at church and when we go visit the old lady we’ve been seeing every Friday night for the past two years. And then August 4th will come and he won’t see me again. And he doesn’t even realize what he’s losing (at least it appears that way).

Any words?

Future Georgia Newbie


Dearest J–

I have this friend from Atlanta who thinks we all have ghosts. That is exactly how he said it to me one night as we were driving through the mountains of north Georgia: “We all have ghosts.”

“Mine has green eyes,” I told him. I didn’t even flinch. I knew exactly what he meant. I knew I was guilty of my own ghost hosting— keeping someone around to haunt my memory. Finding threads of him in love songs. Dwelling on the “what if.” Letting the “what might have been” rock me to sleep at night. 

People notice when you have a ghost. Not always but usually. Some people see it quicker because they have their own ghosts.

And while I’m not an expert or a ghost buster, I think a ghost gets born out of a constant wish that maybe you and another person might have more to say to each other. Like maybe you never reached the point of finally saying everything. And maybe, just maybe, if you can manage to keep a person in your orbit or your memory a little while longer then you’ll never have to face the real truth: you can’t fix everything. You are a human. Not a fixer. Not a maker. Not a lifeboat with enough seats to save a slew of green-eyed boys if you needed to. 

I’ll write that again: You’re aren’t a lifeboat.

There is a savior mentality stitched into most of us. We want to save. We want to fix. Because thinking we can be saviors and lifeboats is so much easier than letting go of someone we learned how to love with our whole body.

And this guy probably doesn’t need saving. I could be wrong but I think I might be right. You just want different things and that’s hard to swallow. Maybe you two are the pretty, yellow parallel lines in the middle of the roadway— you’re both going somewhere but you might not touch again. 

And I only say all of this because I used to think I was a lifeboat and I used to (wrongly) think the whole world— my family, my town, my friends— were for my saving purposes. There was a harsh little wakeup call waiting for me around the corner of that prideful purpose I’d given myself: Not everyone wants what you want. And not everyone wants to save the world. Some people want air. Some people want a family. Some people want dreams they can’t even touch. Calling is different for everyone but the mistake is made when we start thinking the way we measure our own success defines what other people’s mediocrity looks like. 

You want something different for that guy of yours. You might be willing to fight for it, struggle for it, and claw for it. But, sadly, that doesn’t mean you’ll win out for him in the end. He has to want to win himself. And we don’t get to put our own definitions of “winning” onto someone else. 

It took me a long time to stand in this space of believing all of this for myself. I wasted a lot of time telling a love story that always ended the same— that green-eyed boy never went back to who he used to be. I really should correct that for all my years I said it wrong. While it’s true he never went back to who he used to be, I really should have been saying something different all those years, “He never became who I wanted him to be. And that’s the expectation I should have never put on him, this expectation that he was supposed to please me with his becoming.”

One random Saturday night in college I met a boy at a party.

I was two years into having a ghost with green eyes. This guy was tall. He was Irish. I think for five minutes I thought about how Irish our babies would be. I was just happy he wanted to talk to me. You know that feeling, it’s just really nice to feel like the center of someone’s universe within a sea of red solo cups. I liked the way he leaned his head against the door frame and watched me talk. We left the party holding hands. I remember there was this strange fog that seemed to sit in the air that night, as if there was some sort of shelf we couldn’t see holding that fog at eye level. We got to the spot where our paths split and he kissed me at the bus station. I wasn’t really used to kissing strangers but I liked the way his eyes looked when they were on me.

And then he pulled back and stared at me.

“Someone hurt you really badly in the past,” he said. “I can see it in your eyes. I’m sorry.”

He released me from his grip. “I don’t want to be that guy to you but, if we keep this going, I will be.” 

At that exact moment, Joey Potter and Dawson jumped out from the bushes and screamed, “YOU’VE BEEN PUNK’D!!!!!!” 

No, that didn’t really happen. Not the Dawson and Joey part. But yes, he said those words. And yes, you are right, I think he was probably hiding the fact from me that he wrote the scripts to Emmy award-winning dramas when not in biology class. I mean, those are Dawson’s Creek words. 

I winced when he said that because I already knew the ghost standing in my own eyes. And I wanted so badly for the ghost to release me. 

I turned to walk away from him. I trudged up the hill to my apartment with tears in my eyes. I pulled my laptop out off of my desk when I got back to my room and I started to type a letter to him— the ghost. I wish I could remember all the words but I know somewhere in there I said what needed to be said for the last few years: I had expectations for you. And you didn’t meet them.

It had always been his fault to me until, in that moment, it wasn’t any longer. It was no one’s fault: We loved one another once. And then life brought us in different directions. And we would both be okay. He just wasn’t mine. I just wasn’t his. And maybe a ghost gets born on the day you can’t accept the hardest fact: someone else will love them, someone else will love them in a way you know you can’t. 

And then it was over, J. Like that. It was over when I finally found the final words. I still thought of him, yes. I still found him in random songs, yes. But I let go when the truth tumbled out of me: you can’t always love someone how you hoped to after they choose to become someone other than who you thought they’d always be.

Some people call that forgiveness. Other people call that closure. Sometimes it’s just letting go. Letting someone off the hook you built for them. Final words shift the atmosphere though. 

If it’s going to kill you to not say something to him then say it.

Maybe write a letter. Send it or don’t send it. But try your hardest to find final words for this because your mind is already made up on certain truths that trump your hope to keep you both standing in one place: you’re going away. You’re starting something exciting and new. It’s gonna be good. You don’t love him the way you used to. You both have different callings. The past is a square tin box that looks smaller every time we go back to it. But no, it isn’t your job to try to fit yourself inside of it.

And as for that boy not seeing what he is losing? I guess we don’t know. But you should take the inventory when you walk away for good. You should know exactly what anyone in this world loses when you walk out of the room– not in a prideful way or a boastful way, just in a “you’re kind of awesome” sort-of way.

So here’s the inventory, the thing you get to pack when you head over to Georgia come August 4th: You’re whole. You’re doing this. You’re gonna be okay. You’re ready. That’s the big one: you’re ready. And after the “ready” comes the “set.” And after “set” comes “go.” So take the ready in your fists and make the set, J. And when you make the set, be sure to go. I guess that’s all that is left to say: You’re ready to go– without all the lifeboats and without all the ghosts.

hb.

I would appreciate if we could keep the conversation going for J. Please post a comment of blessing, a lesson, a mini love letter. Whatever you please. She is reading and I know she would appreciate it too.

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Here’s to temporary.

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Sitting on the countertop, legs crossed one over the other, I thought to myself, “Maybe I am a pushover. Maybe I am too easily swayed.” The thought tumbled back and forth my head. I switched positions. Snaked my Converse between the metal handles of the cabinets below me. “Maybe I just knew what I wanted. Or what I was afraid to want but knew I needed.” 

It makes no difference really. The truth of the matter is this: I didn’t let God back into my life in a church. It wasn’t with my hands pressed against a Bible. It was in the car. A 1999 green CRV if you want to picture it in your head. I loved that car more than anything and, when it got totaled, it was devastating to see it go. Like losing a best friend who always managed to hold all your junk and changes of clothes and CD collection and stray cups of coffee in one place. But I just remember being in the car one night and hearing a song on the radio. I’d never heard it before. And every inch of that song— the words that came pushing through the speakers to get to me— drove me to tears and started me talking to the ceiling of the car, as if it were a telephone and God was on the other side. 

Maybe I want to come back. Maybe I just don’t want to be alone. I don’t really know. I don’t really want a rulebook. Maybe I just want to know how to make my life matter. Could you show me that? Are you there, God? 

It was in that song, in the first two lines, that I felt everything like I’d never felt it before. 

“He is jealous for me / loves like a hurricane, I am the tree.” 

I’ve never loved something more than those two lines. I’d heard of the God who was a dictator. I heard of the God who was a ruler and much like my high school principal. I’d heard of the fluffy God who could maybe grant you everything you wanted. That God then proceeded to make no sense when faced with the truth: people you love die. Boys you love leave you. Bad things happen to good people. Life hurts.

But this sort of God? The kind of God that could get jealous for me? I knew jealousy. I knew the power of that feeling. I guess I was just at a point in my life where I never thought anyone would get jealous for me. Thinking God might get jealous for me, that was powerful. And that was all I really needed to know. I just wanted to believe there might be the kind of God who had no problem just saying, “Hey, I want all of you. Not the scraps of you. Not whatever is leftover after you let other people play tag sale with your heart. I want everything you’ve got. Your good. Your bad. Your ugly. Don’t you change a thing. Come to me, just as you are.” 

I told the girl, the one sitting across from me on the countertop, that it only ever took that song lyric and the anticipation that God would want me that badly to be able to say, “I’m all in. I’m all in if you’re all in.” 

She asked if I knew the background of the song. I didn’t. The next thing I know, I am clutching her iPhone watching a YouTube video featuring a man named John Mark McMillan. He’s the one who wrote that song. It’s called “How He Loves.” The whole song is really perfect. It’s the type of song you kind of wish could grow arms and legs and talk to you like people do because, oh my goodness, there’d be so much to say to that song. 

In the video he is on stage. You can’t see his fingers but you know he is keeping the slow steady tune of a guitar while he talks to the crowd. He tells what I imagine is probably a couple thousand people that he once had a best friend named Stephen Coffey.  And it was Stephen Coffey who once prayed out loud in a church meeting, “I would give my life if it would shake the youth of this nation.” The next day, Stephen Coffey died in a car accident. And it was only because his best friend John didn’t know how to do much more than try to have a conversation with God that this song was written. 

I try to picture what Mark was feeling when he got down on his knees and tried to talk to God but my heart doesn’t even know how to get that place. Maybe you’ve stood in that chasm before though. I’ve only seen the smaller scales of asking God the bigger questions, “Why? Why do you let things like this happen? How can they be for the better and the good?” It makes no sense. Then again, a lot of life makes no sense. 

But it was the death of Mark’s best friend that would stir the words of that song “How He Loves” and manage to shake millions upon hearing it. I mean, millions. I’m just one of the plenty who managed to come tumbling back to God because of those words. I have John Mark McMillan and Stephen Coffey to thank. 

After the video was over I handed the iPhone back to my friend. I couldn’t help but look at things differently after watching that clip. I mean, I am probably already the more morbid one in all my friend groups but I was sitting there and I couldn’t shake the feeling inside of me that just kept saying on repeat, “All of this is so temporary. And your problems are so small. And people lose the people they love every single day. And what is there to speak for your life if you are gone tomorrow?” 

That could happen. Really, it could. I might not be here. You might not be here. We never know. It’s a strange gamble. But I want to make it count. I so badly want to make it count. It’s a story like Stephen’s— his life a sacrifice for the millions who would come to commune with God because of his best friend’s grief— that make me realize this whole life will never be about the answers we think we need to find. It’s not about the planners we fill. It is not about whether we get asked on that date of if we get chosen for that love story. It can’t be about those things— it has to be about something bigger. Don’t you think? 

It’s bigger than the ladders you learn to climb. It’s bigger than the acceptance you think you need to gain. It’s bigger than the latest product. Or the ways in which this world tries to barter with us for happiness. I mean, it’s bigger than you. And your loneliness. And all the ways you manage to kick yourself down and breathless before breakfast. That’s probably the hardest and most refreshing lesson you will ever learn: life has very little to do with you. You get to show up. You get to make moves. You get to touch lives. But no, you don’t become the starring role. And you don’t get the guarantee of having more time. And yes, that is terrifying. But urgency is beautiful, especially when you come to the spot inside of yourself that speaks the truthiest truth of all truths: life is about people. And thankfully, there is no shortage of those. So what do you want to give to the people who surround you? And how do you want to show up? 

I’ll probably never write a checklist or a numbered list regarding what I think life is all about.

There’d only ever be one number on the list and one box to mark off: Love. That’s it. That’s all. We’re all just soldiers in this one constant battle called “Love.” And “love harder.” And “love faster.” And so instead of making more lists to convince myself a good life is all about the number of times I make it to the gym or the amount of green and leafy things I manage to consume, I only ever try to do one thing. It’ll sound crazy but I try to imagine myself and my best friend, sitting on my bed just the way we always did when we were still in college. We’d sit there for hours— indian-style with mugs of Lipton tea between our hands. The white lights would sprawl around the room like ivy and we liked to pretend that time would keep standing still for us. I like to imagine she and I coming back to one another—  years after all of this growing up stuff is over— and finally getting to sit back down on the bed to talk about life. How it was to us. Where we stumbled. Where we grew. And I try to think to myself: When you get to your best friend at the end of all of this, what kind of stories do you want to tell her? That’s the secret to how I step out and try to live my best daily: I think about the kind of life I want to tell my best friend about one day when we are old and grey and I want to make her real proud. 

I don’t think she’ll want to know about the calories. She won’t care for a second about the boys I handed my phone number off to (okay, maybe a little). She’ll just want to know the answers to the good stuff: did you love? Did you serve? Were you willing to give your whole life just so it might shake the existence of someone else?

I just hope the answer to all her questions is yes. You have no idea how badly I want the answer to be yes. 

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Since some Mondays are worse than Sallie Mae, I created a little breakfast club/secret society to help kick Mondays off right. You are reading me right. Every Monday. Me. You. We roll out via email and your morning brew. I promise to meet you with only the good stuff. Highly recommended for movers, shakers, and original gangsters. No rules. You feeling me, boo?

click here to join the wait list for the Monday Morning Breakfast Club Email

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Field Notes: Volume 1

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hey you– 

Gosh, I’ve wanted to do this forever. When I say “this,” I really mean– have a little more fun with this space and come out from behind the writing every once in a while. I come across so many cool companies, heart-gonna-fall-out-my-chest missions, swoon-worthy words, and inspiration on a daily basis and I often wish there was a place to stockpile it all. Like, where do you put all your coolest finds in a week? And if that space does not exist yet, do you create it? 

So here’s to creation. Here’s to having a bit more fun on Friday. Here’s to sharing favorites and swapping inspiration like trading cards. Here’s to the beginning of what I want to call “Field Notes”– a collection of the most baller people, places, & thangs on a Friday. 

Onward.

hb. 

These art prints are currently all over my new bedroom.

And these art prints are screaming “HUSTLE” all over my office.

This book has become my go-to gift for friends in a transition spot in life.

Her words. Swoon.

I mean, if you can’t make the real leap– go temporary but stylish.

She’s funny. She’s real. You’ll laugh & cry & want her to be your best friend. Meet Roo.

Also, she designed this notebook. A lot of you have asked me where I got it from… dat’s the link.

This mug is bigger than my head. And I use it daily. It was made for the kinds of days when you just want to wrap your fingers around a big cup of coffee and dominate the day.

I can’t stop listening. Surrsly. This band. Two words: Southern Skies

The workout that is kicking my butt daily… and I am obsessed.

This company — and their mission — steal my heart.

I mean, you had me at peanut butter.

Happy weekend, friends! Sending you light & love & many hopes that you’ll find your Saturday & Sunday filled with good coffee & good conversations.

(( photo cred. ))

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It was all you had to give when you were asked to give it all.

“I poured my brain and heart into this, and maybe I’ll hate it in two years, because that’s the nature of being my age, but for now, it’s the most powerful thing I can give.”

Lorde.

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The ground didn’t shake.

The trees didn’t bend. No earthly element was pushed out of its place when the book was done. The whole week before, I’d been anticipating what would happen when I placed that last period down. Would I crawl up into a ball on the floor and cry? I mean, that wouldn’t be so different from the events of every other day after my writing hours were through. Would I finally feel a sense of peace? I’d been taking Doubt and Insecurity and Fear into the wrestling ring of my mind for the last few months and I wanted to be able to dole out a final punch of Victory that would wipe them all out. 

I had no real idea what would happen, outside of me or inside of me, when I finished my first book. The one I’ve been working on for seven months now. I just knew I had to keep typing, and keep going, and keep trying until I reached the point where I could whisper or scream, “It’s done. It’s over. It’s through.”

It was a Friday night when the first draft of the book was finally, finally finished. I remember it was dark outside already, since it was January. Earlier in the day I’d taken a walk. In the rain. Like a zombie, letting the little water pellets fall all over my skin and not really caring that maybe the neighbors thought I was crazy for walking in the rain in the thick of January. I remember praying to God, deeper prayers than usual— “Please, get this out of me. Please. Let me be finished.” 

That’s what no one ever talks about (or rarely talks about) when it comes to writing a book— it’s painful. So painful. In a way that I don’t actually know how to type but there are words waiting somewhere for me. And this is no disrespect to people who’ve felt other forms of pain, I am not trying to dishonor you. It is only to say that getting a book out of you– resolving a story that is still happening all around you– isn’t a fluffy feeling. It hurts like hell. And some days you don’t leave the room you’re writing inside of for ten hours. And other days you can’t do much more than cry. And then some days you are slamming the keys screaming, Yes, Yes, Yes! because you’ve reached a point of breakthrough— and everyone loves a breakthrough. 

And every so often I would scroll my mouse to click on the notifications for new emails. A mental break from my own words. And I would click the emails with ugly subject lines. And I would read the stories of people I’d never met who told me about loves lost and passions coming back. They left their heartbreak in my inbox like mints on pillows in the hotel room. I couldn’t respond to every single one so I’d just take a sticky note and I’d scribble down their name. I’d post it on my wall. I’d say a quick prayer. And I’d keep going. I’d keep writing with them in the forefront of my mind.

And I can only describe it all– all the hours in the writing room– as this: writing a book is like giving birth. There is the carrying of something inside of you. That something is a precious something. There are the slow and throbbing contractions. There is the heavy labor that leaves you ugly crying on the floor. There is the release— the solid release and assurance that the pushing is over. It is out of you. It is done. You can see it in your hands. You’ve somehow said all you needed to say. And it doesn’t matter if it is pretty, or right, or relevant, or following all the other writer rules— it is true. And it is yours. It is your truth sitting on the outside of you. And it is exactly all you had to give in the moment when you were asked to give it all you had. 

Most days in the book writing, I beat myself up the hardest not for the words but for the numbers.

The age that I was. I beat myself up for being young. For thinking I had anything worth saying at the age of 25. I mean, I’m 25. I’m 25. I’m 25. Can I write that again? I’m 25. And I understood why people would people look at me strange and say I was young to write a memoir. I agreed. And it probably could have been easier to just write a letter and pass it out instead of opening my mouth in agreement every time someone worried alongside me about my age:

Dear everyone, 

I am 25. Yes. 1988 was a great year. I loved being born into it. But I am starting to realize age— old or young— is an excuse. And I won’t be the kind of person who lets a number stand in the way of me knowing that life is fleeting and a lot of times we don’t get promised the things we thought we would be promised. And our loves go away. And our best friends die. And our skin shrivels. And we get sick. And it’s all scary and beautiful and reason enough to start something now. Right now. This second. Don’t even finish the letter, maybe. Go if you have to go. Life is waiting for you. 

Really, there is so much to prove my undeniable youth to the world— I still haven’t mastered the proper use of sunblock or a conventional oven. I still miss my friends from college. I still do some sort of wicked, daily dance with Sallie Mae. A boy in a random coffee shop is still capable of being the most important thing in my orbit. 

I can’t speak for marriage. I can’t speak for divorce. I can’t speak for having enough money to take myself around the world. I can’t speak for a courage I never had to hike a trail on the other side of a country or sell all my belongings and start a new life. I can only speak for the parts of me that ever wanted do something wonderful. I can only speak for how it sometimes feels like you are drowning in a world where everyone is superglued to their devices and their networks. I can only speak for how it feels to be so uneasy with sitting alone with yourself but how I wanted to gain enough confidence to finally be able to say, “I know exactly what sits at the root of me. And I’m not afraid of it any longer.”

I can only write this book from the perspective of a girl who wanted certain things when this story started— to find God, to fall in love, and to do something that mattered in the world. I can speak for that. 

— hb

Like I wrote earlier, the ground didn’t shake when I finished the book.

And nothing really felt different around me. I took a hot shower, ran my fingers through my hair as if the scrubbing motions could wash everything off of me now that it was over. I was finished. I dried my hair and put clothes on and I wore my favorite beanie and I went out to find a burger the size of my head and a glass of wine. It wasn’t what I thought it would be and yet it was all I really wanted. 

I guess I thought I would feel bigness all around me in a moment like that one— one where a first book gets finished and turned into an editor. A lot of times though— excluding weddings, or busy hospital rooms, or parties where we wear a new age— there’s no bigness to the moment that changes your life. There’s just you, in a quiet room, letting something go. There’s just you, in a bustle of a busy restaurant, finally feeling free. 

I didn’t even talk about the book that night. I kept it’s finality in my lips like a secret. I was tired of talking. For five minutes, I just wanted to be in love with a truth I’d been waiting to hold for so long: I did something I never thought I could do and it wasn’t the craziest thing in the world to believe in myself. I was actually right to believe in myself.

That’s who will you lead you in the book.

If you pick it up from a bookstore and hold it in your hands at the start of March, that’s who will wave at you from the very first page and ask you politely to take her hand— a girl who wanted to know that one day she might wake up and actually believe in herself to be something more than a mess in the world. She’ll write about letting go, and holding tighter, and waiting for things. She will write about grief and triumph and the things that have always been bigger than her but she wanted to understand them so badly anyway.  

She’ll be 22. She’ll be unreliable and yet so committed to the journey. She’ll be insecure and yet so eager to find confidence the way you find old socks beneath the bed.

She’ll be a girl who rarely knows what coffee to order, nevermind who to fall in love with. A girl who once thought being “chosen” by a guy was the end goal, the reason to show up and fight. A girl who, when she was 22-years-old, looked down and realized: the world is so incredibly big and my hands are so incredibly small. The two don’t seem to match up. But she was a girl who knew that the world never stopped needing people who were hungry for more, and she needed to not miss her casting call for that. 

A girl who, as cheesy as it seems, wished she could figure out why people sometimes call this whole life a “love letter.” Yes, she wanted those answers. And so she went out into the streets of New York City, and the subways, and the libraries, and the churches, and the coffee shops to answer that one question for herself— how do people ever get to the point of falling in love with their own life? 

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Filed under On Writing.

And one day I’d like another sky.

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In the 26 years, 1 month, and 7 days that I’ve been alive, the universe has afforded me one Tinder date. Just one. And that’s probably due to the amount of mental energy it takes to give yourself the sort of pep talk before a first date that looks like this: “Okay, he has sent me a selfie. I’ve heard his voice. There is a person who exists beyond the screen. I will not be Catfished. I will not be murdered. We will meet in a public place. And we can just lie to people and say we met in Aisle 7 if this all works out. Okay… we’re doing this. We’re really doing this.”

Alas, after that one date, the Gods of Tinder never showed their faces to me again. And I’ve retired from the game. And then un-retired. And then re-retired again.

As a sidenote to those who don’t know the mystery that is Tinder, it’s a dating application. It’s like Pandora for people— you get to swipe through a collection of faces and accept the people you are attracted to and decline the ones who don’t suit your fancy. And if you and the other person are in agreement with swiping “YES,” you’re brought into an exclusive conversation. Your own little chatroom. The world is your oyster after that, baby. 

So this all sounds really shallow when I type it out. I’m seeing that now. And while I used to think it was an ankle-deep app for people who only want to hook up at 3a.m. and need a mile radius to know how feasible the chances of that happening really is, it seems to have shifted into a more legitimate avenue to meet people. A lot of my friends are going on Tinder dates. We’ve had girls’ nights where Tinder stories seem to steer the conversation. Someone in my office is actually engaged because of the glorious power of swiping right (and she’s too awesome to sum up into words already and now she has a pretty awesome love story, all thanks to Tinder). 

And this is all really a bunch of breaking-the-ice word vomit just so I can reach a point where I am comfortable enough to just say it: I’m single. Yup. That’s me. I’m solo. I eat alone. And I’ve wondered why it’s so hard to talk about that. I wonder why I’m met with glares and uneven faces when the word “Tinder” gets said in a group.  I wonder why I often feel lame, as if admitting defeat, when I tell someone I am single— as if I am genuinely sorry to announce that I haven’t met someone yet. And I’m trying to be okay with admitting that I sometimes feel like I’m floundering in a culture that seems to associate “singleness” with missing pieces. 

I want to seem like a cool single girl.

If there is even such a thing, if people even find themselves saying things like, “She’s a cool single girl,” then I want to be that. 

And that’s just because I spent a long time doing this whole “single” thing wrong. Trust me, I used to have my days of acting like the President of the Single Girl Gauntlet. I’ve whined with the bunches of them. I’ve asked the same questions: Do guys even call anymore? Is chivalry dead? What happened to running into someone in an airport? Do I really have to go online? 

The questions— they got me nowhere. The whining— it got me ten steps in the opposite direction of the person I knew I was capable of being. I was just choosing daily to stay mad at a world that made me feel like I was missing pieces when I was the one saying it the loudest, “You are missing pieces. You aren’t enough.” 

The problem wasn’t guys. The problem wasn’t the digital age. The problem wasn’t the rose ceremonies being denied to me. It was me. I was the problem. I was the one hunting down completion through another person. I wanted someone to give me a world I could go only go out there and grab on my own. 

That seems to be the wicked spell I’ve seen get cast upon the ones of us who have fallen in love before: it becomes really hard to convince yourself that another person didn’t complete you.  You get comfortable with the phone calls. You get comfortable with the silly messages that only you get to read. You get comfortable with the passenger seat being full. And your hand being held. And your darker parts being known. And your thirst being quenched, even if only for a little while. And when it is gone— you think you need it all over again. And it’s easy to get bitter when you treat your want like a need. 

But what I really needed? I needed to see all the ways I was standing in my own way before I ever welcomed someone else into that equation, thinking they could solve it for me. 

The story of how I got to that exact point is for another day but I know I packed a full suitcase for the girl I used to be and I sent her off with a one-way ticket in her hand. But I can still imagine what it would be like to sit across the table from that girl I used to be— both of us pursing lattes, cradled by fingers baring too much chipped polish— and tell her what I know now: Time gets wasted when you’re not content. And you not seeing the blessings for this moment is a disservice to all the people who don’t get a free life like yours. And if you ever hope to convince someone else they are complete and whole and good as they are— if a shred of you has ever wanted to tell someone that— then you should really stop acting like you’re the puzzle with too many pieces of the sky gone missing. You should stop thinking anyone but yourself can change that insecure part of you. A guy won’t change it. A Tinder swipe won’t cure the wound. You looking for something to plug the hole won’t do it. Humans are just humans, they aren’t lifeboats. They aren’t bandaids. They aren’t completion. 

A mentor of mine who worked at my college met someone unexpectedly during the summer of my junior year and decided not to return to our small campus come the fall. She’d always been there everyday. And then she suddenly wasn’t.

She sent an email. She gave up her job. She deserved the world, really. I emailed her back and told her that.

She wrote back to tell me this: you’ll find that the most astounding love will meet you when you are complete. When you can stand before yourself— in a mirror, in the car, or wherever you do all that internal talking— and say, “I am okay alone. I am cool on my own. I am legitimate. They should write rap anthems about me. Or at least play “Ridin’ Solo” when I walk into a room. I’m single and that doesn’t mean I’m not complete.”

And she told me it would be an even better love when the person who chooses you is complete too. And sees your completeness. And you can both sit there with your hands in the spaces of one another and recognize: there is no completing this time around. There is adding on. There is complimenting one another. But there is no completing because you’re not any missing pieces. 

When I read those words of hers, it made me think back to a childhood packed full with Puzzle Nights. That was a thing (that’s why I capitalized it). A legitimate thing. And just to further complicate the lives of anyone who sat down at our kitchen table for the traditional night of puzzles and hot cocoa, my brothers and I would pour out the contents of two puzzles– similar in theme– onto the table. We were still babies with something to prove. Instead of 500 pieces, there’d suddenly be 1,000. And if you’ve ever tried to assemble two puzzles at once, you draw a lot of conclusions quickly: there’s a lot of sky. There’s a lot of clouds. There’s a lot of random inanimate objects that seem to stretch in to the abyss of infinity. 

But I think that’s what happens when you share a life with someone— you realize it’s two puzzles. No matter how “one” you become, there are still two puzzles scattered on the table. Two skies. Two sets of clouds. Two very different landscapes. 

If you’re single, I think it’s probably better to resolve and say: Okay, I have my own pieces right now. Only mine. And one day I’d like another sky. So I will do my best to figure out the pieces I am holding while there is still just one puzzle to solve. 

The post should have ended right with that last line.

It would have been really poetic and cool. But I can suspect several emails coming my way after I click publish on this piece, asking me the question I haven’t answered for you yet: 

How did that one Tinder date go? 

Well, in the history of dates I’ve gone on, it was a pretty good one. It scores pretty high. 

We met halfway in as small, unheard-of town at the only restaurant we could find in the hour of distance between us that didn’t look like KFC and the Olive Garden had a baby together. It was a small pizza joint. The conversation was good. We both admitted to being fearful that Nev from Catfish might show up for the date in the place of one another. He wore Vans. We drove around the other small towns that encased that one small town. We blasted “White Houses” by Vanessa Carlton. I used his glove compartment as a drum set.

He was moving away, and I was restless with my own location on a map, so we only had one date. But I was complete that night. And I like to think he was complete. And we asked for nothing more of one another than summer air and a conversation that left us saying, as we went in our separate directions: keep getting out there in the world and giving it everything you have. I don’t know you all that well but I have a hunch you’ll do just fine. 

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Filed under Girl meets Boy

Tiny Copper Teaspoons.

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It was the kind of car ride you find wedged into the chorus of a Taylor Swift song. There’s no better way to say it than that. 

We left the sun behind in Nashville. Dinner plates scraped clean of vegan tacos and mashed sweet potatoes— we left those too. Our car rolled through the hills of Chattanooga. The GPS on the dashboard told us 212 miles. There were 212 miles standing between us and home.

Earlier that morning, we’d held coffee in to-go cups and disappeared into Nashville for the day. We left emails unread and messages unsent. Tennessee is like a human fist. It grabs you tight and pulls you close.

We rolled the windows down on the highway on the way home. She turned the heat up— full blast, so that the hot air would push against our faces as our arms hung out the window. Ballads trickled through the speakers. It felt like Sara Bareilles was laying across the backseat with us, sipping a latte and making us brave. We rode that way for two hours, the windows down and screaming lyrics at the topic of our lungs. The night air whipped through our hair. I felt so young.

And if I scan back to the exact moment I pinned that car ride into my diary, I want to eventually be able to recite the words I wrote by heart:

Life, while crazy, demands breaks. And the countryside. And conversations that cut you into two but somehow make you closer as one. And little care for calorie counts. And the promise of stars.  

Life, while crazy, is enough just like this.

Enough.

There’s the word. Enough. 

Even in just the three pages I filled in my diary this morning, the word “enough” was scribbled down 14 times. A word that is written down 14 times in your journal is a common theme; it’s something to pay attention to. And so the word is Enough. And the word last night was Enough. And the word, as of lately, is Enough.

I’ve struggled with that word. For years upon years, I’ve morphed “enough” into a conditional aspect of my life that is dictated by my circumstances and the people who surround me. If he thinks I am enough then I am enough. If she tells me I am enough then I am enough. If they validate me. If he calls. If she smiles when she greets me. I’ve been guilty of living a life that hinges itself on a series of “enough” moments throughout a day. I am just waiting to be emptied out enough to realize “enough” is not the sort of thing you can place into the hands of other people.

And “enough” grew fangs on the day social media raised up its arms and announced to the world, “I ain’t so social anymore. Me? Well, you’ve turned me into a ruler and a measuring cup and a benchmark for your life. You’ve morphed me into a flickering slideshow of other people’s highest moments.” And so I crop my own value. And I filter my own adequacies. And I ask myself bottomless little questions: Am I worthy like that? Am I pretty like that? Am I strong like that? Am I lovely like that?

But I don’t want to fight to be good enough. I’m sorry, I just don’t. I want to fight to make a difference. I want to fight to make it count. I want to fight to find you if you need to get found. But I don’t want to fight to be enough.

 

I spent too many years just like that. Like all the feelings I just wrote about above— all those questions— were ramped up high volume and taking steroids. I was desperate to just be told over and over again, “I like you just as you are. Don’t ever change.” I was desperate to find my value in what other people told me I was. And that’s because who I was didn’t make the cut. Who I was was constantly changing and morphing for the next guy. Who I was could change in 5 minutes. If you told me to be someone different, I would have listened to you. I would have swallowed hard and listened to you. Even if you and I never held hands or kissed cheeks or knocked knees beneath glass tables, I still would have wanted to be enough for you. 

And don’t you know that scares me? Because if I am always trying to be enough for you and other people then I am always, always coming home empty to the those that I love. That’s like a strange WebMD side effect to searching for “enough” in other people: you start running on empty. You jump the unnecessary hurdles. You exhaust energies on people who you’ll never be enough for. Because the word “enough” is a myth of a concept when every morning starts with handing the world measuring cups and rulers and saying out loud to all the people you meet: measure me. Make me feel good enough. The world has never deserved your measuring cups. Keep them locked up and only give the tiny copper teaspoons to people who stand by you when life falls apart.

You want to be everything to everyone. Maybe I’m wrong but maybe I’m right about that. If you’re anything like me then you’ve traveled through the deserts of “I want to be everything to everyone.” Those deserts be barren. Those deserts be cold. But I’ve still tried to make the trip. I’ve still tried to go the stretch of distance to get to the other side of that hope. And I’m afraid to find I’ll miss the water— I’ll spend so much time in that desert that I’ll miss the water that kisses my feet when I get to the river of “I am one heck of a something to someone.” That water will feed you. That water will pour back into you. That water— the refreshment of being taken in by someone, just as you are— is a different sort of gift. I’d give my whole life to that. Because it’s lovely. And it’s worth it. And people write songs about it. And it fills you far more than the measuring cups of “enough.”

 

That moment— the one with the car and the music and the heat and the windows down on the highway— was the strongest sense of “enough” I’ve felt in a long time. There was no wrestling to be better. There were no tiny copper teaspoons. There was no need to wonder what you would have thought of me in that moment. It was just me and the road and my best friend and a break from reality.

It was just me being so content in that moment that I didn’t want to capture it and I didn’t want to filter it. I didn’t want to change a thing about myself. I just wanted to learn to live inside of it.

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Filed under Live with intention

Make me come undone.

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There was nothing so extraordinary about the diner itself.

The walls were white. The food was decent. We ordered breakfast. We caught the diner barren during one of those strange hours that sit between brunch and dinner on a Sunday. There was nothing so peculiar about the diner itself or the red-seated booths but I’m just the type of girl who likes to describe the details of the days that change her life.

We swooped from conversation to conversation as we scraped our toast around the plate. We talked about the things we wanted. The lives we hoped to lead. The wildness of letting people go, of giving them permission to walk away. And maybe I’m just in a pocket of letting go upon letting go but the only thing I’m holding tighter to these days is God. And there’s something wild and strange and okay to me about that. I never would have been comfortable telling you that before.

We talked fast. About wanting to go places. And wanting to live the types of lives that demand explanation. And for about an hour or so, we built a metaphor with our bones: the life you want to step inside of is like a road trip. And one thing must happen before any trip begins: you pack. 

 

You pack.

You plan. You clear out. You let go. You pick things to take. You leave things behind. And, like I’ve written before, I’m always the girl who packs too much. I still can’t figure out how to pack lightly. It’s like a disease. I pack books I’ll never read. I pack love letters for no apparent reason. I bring too many shoes. I convince myself I need a stuffed animal though I don’t and probably never will. And all the baggage I tuck and fold probably serves no purpose at all and yet I bring it with me because maybe it makes me think I can still be a person I let go of yesterday.

My mother would say it first— you got it from your father. You got that packing gene of yours from the man who bought a car to take on a month-long roadtrip across the states and managed to fill the whole thing up before the adventure even began. He filled the whole thing up, as if to say, “The road won’t give me more.” Oh, but the road will always give you more.

And that’s the hardest mindset— the hardest space— to live inside of: you are not full. You are whole, but you are not full. There is a difference. Wholeness is the art of missing no parts. Fullness is like running in the rain— one time won’t ever be enough. You have to let the water wash you every once in a while as a reminder to yourself of the truth: still, you are alive. Wild and alive. 

 

I thought the journey to get here would stop at 16 hours.

Maybe you knew this or maybe you didn’t— I moved to Atlanta a month ago. I kissed goodbye New England and the GPS told me the whole of the trip would take me 16 hours. Sixteen hours and I’d be done. One car-ride, a playlist created by someone who knows me well, a few stops along the way and I’d be home. And I’d fumble over that word— “home”— for a good bit but it wouldn’t take me any further from the truth: I am home. I am home and unfamiliar with the stitching of it. Because wherever my feet are, that is home. 

The journey didn’t stop at 16 hours though. And maybe that’s the pinnacle and the pricking point to any transition: we want to be the ones who get to cry out “enough” when we’ve reached our tipping point of breaking, and bending, and learning, and growing. But even when we say “enough,” life still reminds us that we don’t have that much control. Life is just a series of mapless moments. And there still is much to learn.

It’s like I am waiting for the map though. Still, I am waiting for the direction. It’s like I’m waiting on Siri’s sweet robotic voice to whisper through the speakers of my car: This is not a matter of left or right. You don’t need to reach a destination, you need to reach a breaking point inside of yourself. You need to reach the spot in which you face the things that had the luxury of being buried when you stayed in the comfort zone of other people and familiar places: You are afraid of yourself. You are afraid of what it takes to sit with yourself. You are afraid of the stories you’ve told yourself about yourself. You are afraid to find out that if you stopped fighting yourself, you’d actually win. 

 

This journey belongs to no one else.

I’m the traveler. I’m the one with the backpack on my shoulders. And even if I pack this or choose not to take that, I must always travel with myself. She— the girl inside of me— is always with me on this journey. And that’s the hardest part. Because part of being human is wanting to abandon yourself sometimes. Even if no one will give up on you, you want to be the one to give up on yourself. And that doesn’t work when you’re the lone traveler, when you’re the one who must pave the road. When you’re the one who whispers words to the trees and the stars and the points on the maps, “I will go. Wherever I am led, I will go.” 

 

“You will never leave yourself,” I whispered into the dark of a new bedroom last night.

My hands were pressed into my notebook. I was sitting indian-style on the bed. My eyes were closed, as if the whole thing were a prayer to me. The room felt holy and cloaked in the kind of light only Christmas lights in June can give you. You will never leave yourself.

Even if you want to leave yourself, you never will. 

I’ve wanted to pretend that with enough miles and enough distance and enough distractions, I’d never have to face the girl inside of me who is weaker than I’d prefer she’d be. I thought I had fully abandoned that girl in the process of book-writing. I thought I’d said goodbye and meant it. But it’s like she showed up at my door, after a few months of being gone, and she knocked until I came to let her in.

And it’s like she stood before me, in the doorway of my new home, looking like a hungry traveler and waiting for me to pay attention long enough to hear her say, “One-way tickets don’t always work. You can’t just send me away. You have to learn to live with me and you have to learn to understand me. And if you could just understand me then you could very easily undo me. And that’s the only way to let me go for good— make me come undone. Undo me and unravel me and get to the root of me. Face me fully and I’ll lose all my power. Face me fully and I’ll turn and not look back for you. ” 

 

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Filed under The Tough Stuff, Uncategorized