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

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So I created budget sheets recently.

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

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

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

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

And now they exist. 

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

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

Enter money.

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

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

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

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

1) Giving with purpose creates new drive. 

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

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

2) Sallie Mae must die. 

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

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

2.5) Why I need budget sheets. 

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

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3) Know what you need. 

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

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

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

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

My income is made up of 4 parts:

Copywriting projects.

Speaking engagements.

Book Writing.

Creative Consulting.

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

4) Don’t. Let. Money. Scare. You. 

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

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

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

5) Don’t leave home without a list. 

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

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

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Grab your budget sheets here.

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

Please + thanks. 

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A 17-word love story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Favorite,” he said.

“I know.”

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

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

When he talked about her, I thought of you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dance with me,” you whispered.

“There’s no music,” I answered.

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

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

“And I’ll be better when I’m older.”

You kept on humming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I am not the point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who told you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I want to start a movement.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re okay. 

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

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

Baby steps, baby. Baby steps.

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Field Notes: Vol 6 // Mason Jar Edition

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hey you– 

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

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

Onward.

hb. 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

BONUS POINTS FOR MASON JAR LUNCHES

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

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

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

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

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


 

A NOTE ON FOOD:

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

 

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Death of a game player.

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It was two summers ago. 2013.

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

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

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

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

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

Game over, girl. Game. Over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hi! How are you?”

 “I’m good. How have you been?”

“Great! I’ve missed you…”

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

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

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

Back to that summer. 2013.

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

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

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

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

I made a vision board on December 31, 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No grey.

No games.

No pawns.

No back-burner.

It had always been my choice.

But it always had to start with me.

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A hotel is for sale on Baltic Avenue.

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She asked if I would rewind.

If I could go back and rewind to a portion of life that was filled with boxes and suitcases, would I choose to never pack them? Would I choose to stay, instead of leave, New England? 

I was sitting on the countertop barefoot when her text rolled through. Half of a kale and grilled cheese sandwich on a plate beside me. I was waiting for someone to show up at my house and teach me how to garden. Dishes sat in the sink, content to soak a few hours before getting scrubbed good and hard. A candle burned, the smell of sandalwood filling in any parts of the kitchen that hadn’t felt like home just yet.

I stared at the screen for half a second. I wondered if this was the sort of thing we ever imagined would get sent in a text message. Like, when SMS first started, didn’t we always think it was going to be meant for quick communication? Like, brb. And see you in ten. But no, now I live in a world where text messages carry existential questions and I am forced to wonder about “what if” in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon where I really should have mopped the floor better.

If that text had showed up six months prior, I would have answered “yes.” I would have probably broken the phone by tapping those three letters– Y-E-S– so hard onto the screen. If it had been November, instead of April, I would have never even needed a moment to think and say, “Yes, I would have stayed. I would have never packed the car. I would have never chosen to be introduced to the antichrist known as IKEA furniture. I would have learned how to live in the same place I’d existed in for my whole life. The journey would have never happened.”

 

“If I had to rewind,” I answered back to her.

“I would have done everything absolutely the same.”

That text message alone– the confirmation of “delivered” on my screen– is proof that I am growing far more than I am shrinking these days. 

I would still choose boxes, I have decided. I would choose hard goodbyes. I would choose Siri speaking directions into my ear for thirteen hours straight as I navigated down Southern highways and stopped for sweet tea as a sign that hospitality was about to bear hug me tightly. I would choose the new furniture. The awkward conversations that eventually became “friendship.” I would choose to leave instead of stay.

 

I want to be clear on something.

Really clear. Because my mama is the devil’s advocate to every little word that comes out of my mouth and I love her fiercely for that. We all need the advocate for the “other way to see things.” We all need to be told every once in a while, “No, you aren’t always right.

If I had written this post a year ago, before I even packed to move, I probably would have tried to jam the idea of suitcases down your throat. I would have told you that you need to be brave. You need to leave. You need to heave yourself straight out of your comfort zone with no map and no manual.

I don’t feel that way anymore. You don’t have to go anywhere if you don’t want to. Some people want adventure. Some people want roots. Some people want an escape. Some people want a treasure hunt. We all want different things that keep us coming and going and staying and living. It’s better to just say, “You do you. You be your own manual. You be your own compass with the help of God that you want– the portion size you’ll take of Him. But I won’t preach at you with a suitcase in my hand. We all have our reasons for staying and leaving, and that’s just fine.”

I only say that because I’ve sat at a table across from my mother and she has said to me, “Not everyone wants what you want.” And I was forced to swallow hard and see her truth as truth– not everyone wants to get out. Some of us are wanderers. Some of us are fine where our feet are. Some of us wander in the hopes that our feet will finally whisper, “Stay right here. Here is where you need to stay.”

Staying is just as remarkable as leaving if you learn to white-knuckle-grip the perspective that lets you look at life and think, “We’re all going to find our way to gold. I believe that. I hope for that. We’re all going to make it out okay.” 

 

But me? I needed suitcases.

I needed suitcases one last time to finally unlearn how to be the girl who always wanted to leave. And not stay. And not endure the waves. And not feel the shards of a broken heart. And not sit with myself. I desperately needed a home that was hundreds of miles away from everything I knew to be true and safe if I ever wanted to get honest with myself and say: you’ve been running for a really long time, girl. Are you tired, yet? Are you over building walls, higher and higher, just yet?

I didn’t know any of that as I moved into my first Atlanta home. I didn’t know the next year of my life was going to be anything more than a honeymoon stage with a lot of cute boys in flat brim hats who hold the door open for you when you get into the car. I didn’t know that sometimes God drags you (you’d use the word “drag” when He’d probably use the word “lead”) to a place where you are forced to admit all that you are afraid to admit, “I don’t like unpacking suitcases. I don’t like staying. I don’t like letting my guard down. I don’t like being seen.”

Isn’t that just irony at its finest: when the girl who always “sees” people is too afraid to be seen for who she really is. 

 

I don’t know who I really am.

I am learning but I am not quite there yet. It feels like I have been playing some ridiculous and frustrating game like Monopoly for most of my life. I have passed “Go” half-a-hundred times without ever saying thank you for that two hundred dollars. I have been betting all my earnings on railroads and hotels on Baltic Avenue because I never had the courage to admit I wanted Park Place. Let’s be real, we’ve all wanted Park Place but it was easier to lift our heads to the ceiling at night and whisper, “I’d be fine with Baltic Avenue.”

I’m selling my hotels. The ones I built on Baltic Avenue, I am selling them for sure.

You know, I had a million ways to end this piece and every single one of them was preachy. Straight. Up. Preachy. So I said to myself, “Scrap it, girl. Scrap and tell someone what is real today.”


So what is real today? Today what’s real is that I am scared. I am scared straight over typing these words. My heart is nearly pounding out of my chest. I am scared because I am determined to make baby steps every single day that give me a life that looks a lot more like “living” instead of just “existing.” I am scared to find out that I moved nearly 12 months ago and it feels like I haven’t even put the foundation down yet. The foundation isn’t the good part, it’s the necessary part. I think I might be getting to the good part. Soon. Soon. 

I am scared because going forward, without looking back, isn’t an overnight thing. It is an everyday thing. An every hour thing. And I will not sit here and fake the process.

I cannot fake this process. This process is already breaking me. I won’t take an ounce of this year back– this journey to get right to the spot I am in right now: the moment of feeling like I get to start being really real. I get to stop looking for the suitcase handle and I get to start building a life. 

 

I want a life.

More than anything, I want a life. I don’t want boxes. I don’t want a geographic location. In the end, I did not move for a spot on the map. I moved because I wanted a life, not a place to live. It had nothing to do with people. It had nothing to do with apartments. It had nothing to do with what a location could or could not give me. It had nothing to do with cute, little coffee shops propped on the corner and neighbors appropriately named Little Bit. It had to do with myself– the one I have always been afraid of– and if I was willing to admit that nothing could change or budge or move inside of me if I did not just surrender.

And the only way to get to that point of surrender was by saying, “I relinquish control to all the things I know and find comfort in. I am choosing to let those things go if it means I am going to come alive.”

That’s what I want more than anything– not a house with a brown picket fence, not a countertop that snakes around the kitchen, not neighbors who bring me jello. I want to be alive. I want to be able to read that passage in Ezekial, the one that is overused in every worship song ever written, the one about “dry bones.” I want to read about those dry bones, the ones in Ezekial 37, and actually believe that things can go from dead to alive.

I want to look at all the dead things and be able to whisper, “That used to be me.”

I want to look at all the living things– all the pretty living things– and finally be able to whisper, “This is me. Finally I am saying it: Me too. Me too.”

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When it started because of you.

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Jenna showed up in May.

May of last year.

She shoved out her hand in front of me and told me she wanted to help me in any way I needed her. I was new to Georgia. My furniture was barely assembled. I was learning in the daily that IKEA is just another same for Satan.

I was settling into a new office space and beginning to ask those questions. You know the kind of questions I’m writing about: What am I doing here? Why did I move? Why does this feel so strange and uncomfortable?

And then there was Jenna. Immediately, she was a light. She was only 19. She was the kind of person who’d stood on the earth for a quick & short time but her spirit was decades old. Her spirit had lived and died and breathed and broken several times before it met me in Cabbagetown of Atlanta.

I’m the type of person who does not know how to ask for help easily.

Maybe you’ve caught onto that. I’d rather be self-sufficient. I’d rather not flinch and say I need people. But when she asked if she could help I told her about my email. My inbox.

“There’s about 800 emails that stacked up over the last few months of book writing,” I confessed. “Click into a few and you’ll understand why I haven’t been able to get to each one yet.”

Truth told: emails are my favorite. People think it is letters but I really love the sort of emails where someone spills their heart and guts all over the white space and then clicks “send.”

So Jenna and I sat down one afternoon, side by side on the island countertop in my office. And we started clicking and reading. Clicking and reading. Some names I knew. Some names I’d never seen before.

We came across this one story that will never cease to be my favorite.

The story that changed the way I looked at humans and heartbreak altogether.

The story was from a girl who’d been going through all the grit and turmoil it takes to find that the person you love with your whole body just isn’t for you anymore. They’d been so in love. And now it was time to let go.

She wrote to me that she’d asked her boyfriend, that same boy, if they could please just have one more day. Just one more day where they acted like nothing was wrong, like nothing had broken.

He agreed. Somehow he agreed.

The day went well, she wrote. The day went well up until they had a picnic in the park. And in that park she lay her head into his lap and cried.

I bit back the tears as I read. I’d sat in that position before: the position you sit in when you realize something is over. Not for tomorrow. Not for the next day. But for all the days you’re ever gonna get on this sweet, green earth.

She just cried and cried.

It was in church that next morning that she saw the boy again. He looked like a mess. He was wearing the same grey button down he’d worn the day before. She could see her tear stains in the grey shirt.

It was in the moment, in the packed-out church, that she wanted to stand and scream, “Do you see those tears? Those tears in his fabric? They are mine. That boy- he’s mine.”

But then she realized what we all are forced to realize at one point or another: people are not things. People are not things and we cannot keep them.

Jenna and I sat there just staring at the screen.

We didn’t move. We didn’t know what to say. We could not keep ourselves from banging our fists on the table and yelling out, “People are just so cool. They have no idea how cool they are.”

You see, that was just one story.

Out of dozens. Hundreds. That had piled up over the months of writing. Heartbreak. Letting go. Finding God. Losing hope. Recovering that hope, resuscitating it with all a person had. A lot of times we didn’t know who they were, or what life had dealt them, but we were reading and hoping for them all the same.

We started scribbling lines down.

I started typing them out and lining the lines up on white sheets of paper on a concrete wall.

“She hadn’t forgotten him, she has just chosen to continue her life with the people that love her.”

“I think there’s a time in everyone’s life where they find themselves hysterically crying in a parking lot — my time was today.”

“We played checkers with the scars in our hearts like one of us had to win.”

I was afraid to let the words out of my sight. Afraid that if I stepped away from the poetry, the people would fade. The feelings would go. Every line was making me feel so much more human than I’d felt in a long while. I don’t know if you’ve ever had that feeling before: the one where you suddenly feel so alive and right that you’re forced to ask yourself, “how long was I dead for? How long was I burnt out and tired and unable to see the good in humanity?

The emails have kept coming.

They’ve only come stronger and harder in the days that followed. And we decided we just could not keep the words to ourselves. We needed to share them. We needed to find a common space for all these words that were making us suck in deep and whisper, “Me too.” Yes, me too.

So that is why If You Find This Email now exists. It’s a tribute to strangers and their mystery. It’s a tribute to cities & states we’ll never visit. It’s a tribute to the things that are harder to say. The things that tie us closer together.

It’s for everyone. Anyone who needs the reminder, “You are not alone. Really, you aren’t.”

I hope you look around today.

At your own life. At the lives around you.

I think we can get so caught up in what we are doing and why we need to be somewhere in ten minutes that we forget why we’re even here, why we even get dressed and walk outside each day.

It isn’t to fulfill a to-do list. It isn’t to a live a life that is better than someone else’s.

We’re here to make it easier for one another. We’re here to huddle close. We’re here to speak for one another when the words just can’t be found.

We need a reminder sometimes. A reminder that we are fragile. Joined. Resilient. Losing. Winning. We’re all looking for home. We’re letting go. We’re wondering where we fit in the world. We’re trying.

We’re hoping. All just hoping that tomorrow, maybe tomorrow, it will get a little easier and maybe be a little bit more beautiful.

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I need you to lean left.

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I have not written.

No, not recently.

The excuse is that I am busy. My calendar– my alibi. But that’s just a lie to mask the real reason: I am resisting. I have been resisting for a really long time. Because that is sometimes what we do when we love something so much that we are fully aware it could double back to hurt us– we resist it. Because it changes us. And we are afraid to change.

Me, especially.

I want everything to stay the same. I want the same barista. He should never think to pack his bag and move to Nashville. I want the same mug. The same seat. The same moments played on repeat so we can always do this dance of familiarity.

I am afraid of people leaving. There, I said it. I am afraid of people being taken from me. I want to always believe we will make it out of this thing together. I know that won’t always be the case and that hurts like hell. Changing hurts like hell. When people change, they get thirsty for new things. What if you stop being thirsty for me?


I read an Instagram post from 18 weeks ago tonight.

I know I am not the only girl who has ever laid in her bed, wrapped in a sunshine-yellow blanket, and scrolled through pictures that made up the fragments of yesterday. I read the caption and I started to cry because I didn’t remember praying such a bold prayer in the window of my favorite coffee shop as notebooks full of Charles Spurgeon quotes lay open on the countertop. I prayed to God with an ultimatum underneath my breath: I only want love if it has more layers for me. I don’t want emptiness. I don’t want something tha 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 is 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 prayed that prayer 18 weeks ago. And then my life broke. A week later, my life broke and I still lack the words to say anything more than just that. One day we will talk about it. Maybe one day.

My life broke and I am only starting to see now that God wasn’t being a dictator, he was answering a prayer. He was answering the prayer of a girl who pleaded to know if love was real, if she could actually trust love to be real.

And as I stretched and broke to figure out love, I stopped writing. I just put the pen down. I walked away from writing when I couldn’t walk away from God. It was my last shred of resistance towards him. That last way of saying, “You have me in a corner. You have me pinned to the ground. And I will withhold my favorite gift you’ve given me if it means I have a last sliver of a chance to stay the dark.”

Staying in the dark is easy because it’s a hell you can control.

It takes changing to get out of it.

And changing is its own private hell until you realize the truth: one day it won’t hurt like this anymore.

 


So I realize that writing is a lot like God.

Both are sacred. Both give you life. Both will wreck you once you realize they were never here to keep you fragile. Both will free you, when you are ready to be free.

Not when you “hope” to be. Not when you “want” to be. No, when you are “ready” to be free. When you stop resisting the page and you heed to the process. You break to the process. You let go and whisper beneath your breath, “I let go. I believe we’re going somewhere better than here. So I finally let go.”

The fog clears. And suddenly I see the truth in God: it’s like everyday he stands in a crowded room waiting to lock eyes with me. Like a dance floor the moment a slow song hits it, I search for other partners frantically. I don’t want to be left standing alone. I search for the partners who I know will let me down so I can cry to my best friends while knowing I expected to be let down all along.

That’s how you stay guarded and resistant– you only let near the ones who won’t stand too long at the lock before they get tired of fumbling with the keys.

And then there is God. And if he is the God of the bible then he never takes his eyes off of you. They don’t wander. They don’t stray. He watches you because he is wild about you.

He likes the drama you bring into daily life. The unruliness of your hair. He digs the freckles you’d prefer to hide. He doesn’t mind the chipped nail polish. He knows that a lot of parts of you are chipped. And that’s because he knows you are human and “human” is just another word for “lovely, messy and trying.”

He is not phased by you. He is not surprised by your darkness. He does not get bored or exasperated or want for something more beautiful to look at. You’re it. You’re just it. He looks at you and sees poetry, not a mistake.

He aches to be trusted. He sees a whole new life for you just standing and waiting on the other side of “trusting you won’t be hurt when you finally surrender.”


We need more chapter books on trust.

Trust & God. God & Trust. In God, we trust. All that jazz.

We need chapters on trust edited, rewritten, and tattooed on our skin. Because trust is hard. And we don’t all trust God and people. We claim to and then we let our actions tell stories about something opposite of that.

Even just yesterday, I was standing in a circle of boys with beards and grease on their jeans. I’ve been hanging out in a motorcycle shop most nights after work. Last night was one of those nights.

“Come on,” one of the guys said to me. “We are going for a ride.”

He hands me a helmet. I tell him it’s not really my thing. He ignores me and waits for me to put the helmet on and climb onto the back of his bike. I do. Eventually, I do.

Soon we are riding. I am holding on tight. I am releasing fearful words from my mouth. Every word is just so fearful that I cringe to think I don’t know how to talk any differently about life and the adventure of it all.

“We are going to turn left,” he says to me. “And when we turn left, I need you to lean left. Okay?”

I am worried he will mess it up. I am worried we will go down and get battered. I am worried that we won’t make the turn. He will let me down. I will have had all the right reasons to be so afraid.

Regardless of if I am ready, we turn left.

He leans. I lean.

We make it.

Again, we turn left.

He leans. I lean.

My grip loosens. We are in a straight away and I raise up one hand in the air to let the wind trickle through my fingers. I laugh for the first time in a really long time. We go over a speed bump and I don’t flinch. After the third or fourth bump, I stop noticing the rise we get in the air.

I realize in that moment, with the night and the engine roaring loudly, that if I ever want to enjoy this journey then I am going to need to learn how to trust. How to let go. How to admit that I am not in control. I am not the driver, I am just the one who leans left.

So I loosen up the grip and just trust we are going to make it.

I need not be afraid to lean.

We are going to make that left turn.

We are going to make it.

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50 Shades of Honesty.

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I wonder what I will tell them.

I mean, my kids. I wonder what I will tell my kids one day about the world I grew up in. I wonder how their world will look different than my own. I wonder how connected or disconnected this world will be when their hair is long and their knees are scraped and they’ve been standing here long enough to learn that life is both a symphony and a tragic, little poem.

I hope I will have the courage to reach them from beyond the screen. I hope they will see by my own life that I didn’t hide and I didn’t avoid the hard stuff. I wonder if I will have to swallow hard and tell them, “It’s really easy to pretend.”

Because that’s the truth: It really is easy to pretend. It’s easier to hide behind a good story. It’s easier to crop things and filter things and pretend you are holding the world together all on your own. It’s easier to get validation from “likes” instead of hard conversations. We live in a world where slipping out the back door, quietly and unnoticeably, is easier than it used to be. We have more stuff to hide behind than ever before. More password-protected caves to store our identities inside of.

I guess I am afraid that I could just put up a flimsy little status and you’ll always, always think that I am doing okay.

One time I got an email from a woman who told me I wasn’t as lovely of a human being as I pretended to be. She sent it anonymously. She said in the email that she had watched me and she didn’t think I was lovely.

And honestly? Her email broke my heart. I remember what coffee shop I was sitting inside of. I remember the drink I was pursing in my hands. I remember feeling like I had let a total and complete stranger down and I wondered where she’d seen me, how she’d known me. I wondered what her agenda was in sending me that email. Her words were mean and graceless and steaming off the page.

I remember how much that email stung me. How defeated it made me feel. How much I wanted to just say through the screen, “I’m sorry if I let you down but I am trying. I can promise you that I am trying.”

That’s all I can do these days: I can show up and I can try my hardest. I can try to let you in. I can try to hold on tighter. I can try to stay in the mess of myself and finally look at the root of the pain instead of projecting it on people and places outside of me.

And more than anything? I can be honest. I can tell you that my mother once said to me, “You think you are really vulnerable and you’re not. You’re really actually guarded.”

I can tell you I have been so incredibly guarded for so long. I don’t know where the walls come from. I can tell you that I am not a cuddly human being and one night at a happy hour, a few months ago, so many people hugged me in one period that I actually started to cry. Pathetically. I cried because it felt so good to be held after a long day.

I can tell you that when I was in middle school we used to vote people out of the lunch table on a daily basis— survivor-style. I had a stint of time as a mean girl and I still cannot get over the way it is so easy to reject other people with actions. That hard truth stays on my skin like permanent marker. I still cringe over the things I did just for people to see me and want me at their table.

I can tell you that I used to have a tongue as sharp as a razor and I could use it to lash out on the people who hurt me. I could tell you that my words are my greatest strength and my greatest weakness, all in one. They can build a person up effortlessly. They can be used to tear myself down completely. I can tell you that I am really good at extending grace to other people but I struggle to even let myself have a tablespoon of that same grace. I invite other people to sit at the table now but I still struggle to even let myself have a seat.

I can tell you that I’ve always known how to hide behind letters. It’s the best way for me to say what I need to say. I can tell you I have a stack of letters I’ve never gotten the courage to send. A lot of those letters are addressed to “Timmy.” Timmy is my brother. I love him though I don’t know how to tell him that and I chose to write all the sentences about him in my book in the past tense with the hope that things might look different for us in the future.

I can tell you that I’ve always dated boys with close sibling connections. I don’t know if that makes me envious or if that makes me hopeful.

I can tell you that one time a speaking engagement in Seattle got cancelled and I still boarded the plane anyway. The three kindest souls picked me up from the airport. We played “Shake it Off” too many times to count. They bought me sunflowers and I felt like Meg Ryan over and over again on that day. And when we got to a coffee shop, and finally had steaming brews between our hands, one of the girls looked me in the eye and spoke out, “Can I ask you something I’ve wanted to ask you for a really long time?”

I obliged. I told her I am an open book.

“What is your dad like? You never write about him,” she said. Almost immediately.

I remember thinking it was the best question in the world. She was right, I never do write about my father. And I proceeded to tell those three kind souls about the greatest man I have ever had the privilege of knowing. How my father is the hardest worker I know. He worked the longest hours all throughout my childhood so that I never had to know what “wanting” felt like. I told them I got the “dirt beneath my fingernails” work ethic from him and I’ve only ever wanted to make that man proud. Turns out, he doesn’t care about if I succeed he wants me to be happy. I remember him dropping me off at the airport a few months ago and just saying as he pulled my bag from the car, “Don’t take things so seriously, Hannah.”

I remember wanting to answer back, “Can we just erase all the times I never said what I needed to say to you? Can we just spend the next few years loving each other right?”

I think that’s all it boils down to loving each other right.

It all boils down to love and honesty and humility. It doesn’t always have to come in that order. Love to fill in the spaces. Honesty to sew up the gaps. Humility to keep us coming back to one another, more human than yesterday and more flawed than tomorrow will allow.

I can tell you that I am terribly, terribly afraid of making a mistake and loving people wrong and losing people. But I am so damn tired of being so afraid.These days I am willing to be a loser if it means I at least tried to love other people right. 

I can tell you that I am trying to be a lovely human being. I am really, really trying. And it has nothing to do with screens or a character count or a good website or a brand. It just begins with admitting I’ve been wrong before.

I’ve been wrong so many times before and there’s something really lovely about that.

There’s something really lovely about finally being flawed, and seen, and hopeful.

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Mapless.

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We had everything.

Oxygen in our lungs. Wind in our hair. All that cliché stuff.

We had plans for the next morning. Brunch in our bellies. Boys who’d gotten into the habit of missing us back home. We had things we wanted– reasons to be hungry.

We didn’t know it then but we had everything. If we could have been given a moment to step back and survey the spots we were standing in then maybe one of us would have breathed in deep and whispered, “It’s all right here. We have everything.” 

 

That’s the thing though, we never learn that we have it all.

We don’t learn how much we really have– the things to be grateful and sappy over– until something feels like it’s been wrenched away. Maybe that thing is freedom. Maybe that thing is love. Whatever the thing, the thing that goes absent from the room, it makes us feel like we once used to know invincibility until life put on boxing gloves and hit us hard.

Isn’t that just how it happens though? It’s not even a massive crash sometimes. It’s a slow winding down of our bodies and our hearts until it’s harder to get out of bed. The tears come. They come hot. And you stop wanting what you wanted yesterday. Life feels harder. Breathing feels harder. You spend hours scrolling through Instagram photos from 26 weeks ago when you swore you were happier, smarter, braver.

“If I knew I had it that good, I would have never complained,” I whisper to her. I am 13 weeks back. She is 45 weeks back. Maybe our weeks will somehow meet in the middle and we’ll both land on a space in our own internet worlds where Happiness was like a third sister. When we were a trio.

I am wearing no makeup. She is wearing gym clothes and doesn’t care that her socks don’t match. We don’t care about the things we used to care about. We’re wondering who is going to show up in the next few hours, or the next few days, and offer us a map. I don’t know if it will happen but I think we are both so hopeful that someone is coming with a map, a map that will tell us where to go.

 

Honesty for this moment: I just want a map.

I want a freaking map. I want Siri to show up and tell me that I should not veer in this direction. I want anything, anything to say straight to me, “Go right. Skip that. Move past that. Up ahead, just watch for what is up ahead.”

But you want to know the scary thing? The cool thing? The thing I have not accepted up until this very moment? No map is coming. No coordinates are being planted. I am mapless. 

I am mapless and thank God for that. 

I am the one who knows that if you gave me a map, I’d somehow use the flimsy piece of paper to keep myself hiding. I’d take that map and spread it wide across my face and use it as another wall to keep people from getting to me. That’s what my actions really say half the time, “I am trying to build walls and place things around me that will keep you from coming in. If I know where I am going then I will not need you. I won’t need anyone at all as long as I know the way.” 

I am mapless and still I am digging my heels into the ground and looking for direction. I am asking for it. I am letting my knees hit the hardwood floor at night. I am cloaked in a bright golden blanket. I am wondering about going north or staying south. I am just trying, with all my decent strength, to build a life I actually want to live inside.

 

We are never going back there again.

It’s sad but it’s true– never again will we be able to hide in the skins of yesterday. Yesterday is like that old dress, the one you loved so much. That dress was so good to you. It made you feel unstoppable. And then it stopped fitting you. And you had to take it off and fold it up and figure out what to do with it. I know, it’s so hard to figure out what to with yesterday. Do you just forget it? Do you pass it along like a testimony? Like a song? Or do you try to do the easiest thing: wear yesterday one more time. 

I know that’s me. I am the girl who has tried to fit into the sleeves of yesterday. I want yesterday to still be good and sweet to me. I want to pretend like I could be the kind of human who does not need to grow or move or change or become someone different. That would be the sweetest thing right now, to be the kind of person who was fine enough to just stay this way forever.

 

We had everything.

That is what I thought at least.

There was no trembling. She didn’t cry at night. I didn’t wonder why the mornings were the hardest. And yet there was so much in those moments– in the moments where our biggest worry was what kind of inky symbols we’d want to place on our skin forever– that we didn’t know. There was so much we didn’t know about life. There’s still so much I don’t know.

We didn’t know what kinds of fighters we could be. We didn’t know that there was so much strength sitting on the inside of us. We didn’t know that I would be a light and she would be a lantern. We didn’t know that sometimes you have to battle, and wage war, and face demons. You have to do all these things if you want the kind of story that makes other people face themselves. We never even figured we’d be hungry for that kind of story– the kind that makes people want to clear out the darkness with a shovel and a snowplow.

We didn’t know that people actually need you to get down to the bottom of yourself sometimes. God needs that of you, too. It’s only there– at the bottom– where you ever have to tap into the courage it takes to sit up. And with sitting up comes standing. And with standing comes figuring out how to walk again. 

We didn’t know that walking would be just fine. After a time of no standing at all, walking at a slower place would be more than fine. It would teach us to be quieter. It would teach us to look around. It would grow into our bones this idea that there is no need to be fast and quick. We could slow down. We could take our time. The world would allow us to take our time and just suck in the moments deep.

And with each small step, the truth comes back with a vengeance that is clear as 20/20 vision: it’s all right here. We think we are pieces but the pieces are all right here. Nothing is missing. Nothing got lost. We don’t need a map to hide behind, we just need to breathe.

It’ll be okay, it’ll be okay. 

We still have everything.

Everything is still somehow here.

Everything just looks different than it used to but it’s all still here. 

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