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A “life is so fragile and quick” kind of letter.

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I used to think I would live a really short life.

I mean, I used to spend so much time wondering about funerals, and eulogies, and people slipping through my fingers when I was younger that I wondered if I’d die young. I couldn’t picture the white of my own wedding day. I never envisioned the texture of my children’s hair. I guess I wondered if that mean’t I would live a shorter life.  If some tragedy would happen to me. If I’d be here one day and gone the next.

I know that’s morbid. It’s not the way to start a letter but the news told me yesterday that life was fragile. And a funeral told me last week that time is kind of like scratch-off tickets: you win sometimes but most of the time you’re just gambling.

My mind winds back to you and I, sitting in the middle of a driveway and I couldn’t quite pin down the words to describe how my hands were shaking. August was the queen that night, her humidity hissed and tangled through my hair. We set down a blanket. Laid on top of it. Laughed under stars. You’d brought a boombox to sit between us, weaving the power cord all the way from the garage so you and I could hear love songs play on the radio. Delilah-style. Just like old times. Before we knew we were capable of changing and wanting different things.

Everything around me in that moment seemed to tell me, “You are getting older but you’re still so young.”  I’m sorry, I haven’t figured how to stand in the chasm of that space yet. 

You see, I want to go and do and be. I want to fill my life with action verbs. But I’m still human and I’m still fearful. I’m still the one who whispers to herself at night, “Don’t dream too big. Don’t fly too high.”  I’m scared of rejection. Of things I can’t see. Even though every quote on Twitter tells me to seize life like a lover in the airport, I am still fearful of a life where I fail. I’m still always wondering what it would be like to stand in the middle of a crowded room and be the one not chosen, the one no one ever asks to dance.

So that’s why I am writing this. Because even if I am fearful, there is much to say. And it’s selfish to let my insecurities speak louder than my love. I don’t care if my life is big or grand or short or long, I just want to make sure I told you everything when I had you. I don’t want fear to be the pilot, flying an airplane full of unsaid words. 

First thing I’d like to say: I tried. I tried so incredibly hard to be good. I know it’s always up for debate as to whether humans are “good” or not, but I know I never wasted a day without trying to be the best I could possibly be. It didn’t always work out that way. And a lot of times I was way harder on myself than I needed to be. But I tried. I tried to love you right.

I hope you know I always tried to look up at you. I tried to look away from the screen. I tried to smell the flowers and hear the rain. I tried to feel life, and feel feelings, and cry when life pushed it out of me. I tried to place myself in situations where my palms would still get sweaty, and life would still surprise me, and people would still break me. I mean, I didn’t want for people to break me but I’m learning that’s just half of our existence: being broken by people who tried to love us right and dancing in the redemption that comes with putting the pieces back together. 

I tried to stay hopeful. I tried to say the right things and not let anger speak first. I tried to believe in angels and forgiveness. I tried to believe in people: always, and constantly, and first.

I tried to constantly be this better version of myself even though I look back and think I should have just let myself “be” sometimes. I should have left my eyebrows intact in the 8th grade. I shouldn’t have given myself those bangs in the 5th grade. I didn’t always need to be a better version— sometimes I just needed to tolerate the person I woke up as that morning.

I mean, evolving is good. Learning is good. Becoming better is better. But there could have been the nights where I ate the ice cream, and took off my shoes to feel the sand, and just decided to speak or not speak. There should have been the days where I didn’t start the argument, where I didn’t need to be right, where I wasn’t so cold just because you hurt me and I thought “getting even” was a strategy. There should have been nights where I left you and nights where I didn’t leave you. I’m sorry if I never held your hand when you needed it more than whatever words I said to try to fix the things that only God could touch. 

People say “have no regrets.” To me, that’s just silly. I have regrets. I live inside those regrets sometimes. And if it weren’t for those regrets, I wouldn’t know how to make my whole life run smoother. And kiss people harder. And squelch my pride. And say things while I have people standing right in front of me. And not say things when I know words said selfishly have the power to keep two people standing in one place forever.

That’s the other thing I’ve learned as of lately: people aren’t things. You can’t keep them. You can’t control them. You can’t get mad at life when it takes away all your precious pawns. You can’t make a museum out of who a person is today, that never gives anyone the freedom to become someone different tomorrow.

I think back on that night when we were sitting on the bed, facing the white wall. The night with the beer bread. And I wish I found the way to whisper out the truth to you, “You could be a different person overnight if you wanted to be. I’m just so afraid you’ll let Plan B fit you.”

I’d like to go back and say that to you— you and all the “you”s I have in this world. Plan B doesn’t fit a single person I love. I won’t care any less or more if you choose that path but I just see so much potential for people that it breaks my heart. I see their possibility. I see their goodness. And maybe my friends tell me I am too hopeful but I’d rather see what you’re capable of then be the one who gives up on you when you just needed someone to stand beside you and help you claim the bright things for your life.

So this it. My end of the world my letter. My “God forbid” letter. My “this life is so fragile and quick” letter. And it’s just a lot of hopes I’d like to place in an envelope and tuck in your mailbox: Hope that you’ll say the hard things. That you’ll make the tough choices. That, when life tries to make a leader out of you, you won’t shy away.

Your heart is credible, so listen to it speak. Life is messy: choose to laugh at that instead of cry. Keep people’s feelings at the forefront of your mind but don’t always sacrifice what you want for making other people happy— sometimes you have to make yourself happy.

Don’t search so hard for this happiness thing. People will make you feel like it’s the sort of thing you uncover with a metal detector or a shovel or a magnifying glass. Happiness is tiny glimpses of “okay”ness slipped into the ordinary days. It is cool drinks. And bare feet. And sunburn that looks gracious and kind-of beautiful on your shoulders. Happiness is barely ever big or boisterous, the thing that comes traipsing into the room to make a big scene. Happiness is microscopic on most days, it flows in and out of your daily life. And, on the days when happiness isn’t there, don’t bully yourself so hard: remember we had so many grey days that one vacation with the yellow shovels… funny how I remember the grey days best.

You might never feel ready for the world. Or for other people. Or for someone who wants to hold your hand. Maybe ready isn’t the point. Maybe we get so consumed with the “finished products” and the “ready moments” of this lifetime that we forget real life was just quiet moments we never fully enjoyed. Instagram swept all the mystery away with a filter.

Just choose life. Just choose the people around the table instead of always choosing the ones who are miles away waiting on you to double tap their photos. They’ll be there when you turn back to the screen.

Choose who you have right here, right here. It’s precious. It’s urgent. When they ask you to go get margaritas after dinner, go without reserve. You can buy groceries the next day. Choose long drives. Choose screaming Taylor Swift at the top of your lungs. Choose saying “yes” to dates, even if you don’t know if they’re “the one.”  I guess I just want to beg you to let people in. Welcome them in. Just let people hold your hands and buy you dinner. Let them compliment your smile. Let yourself feel beautiful for five minutes.

Choose dishes left in the sink for nights beneath the stars. Choose random chats in Target with the cashier. Choose using people’s names more often than you don’t. Choose slow dancing in the kitchen.

Remember to give people the decent shot they deserve— you said it yourself, you’re always so hopeful people will take a chance on you.

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The devil, the fighter, and Jimmy with his roses.

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My Uncle Jimmy died on Saturday.

I found out about it on Sunday morning while roaming through a random Target in the middle of Greensboro, North Carolina. I was trying on shoes I didn’t need when the call came through. My mother told me they were taking the ferry to Long Island the next day. One shoe was on. One shoe was off. Looking like Cinderella in a maxi dress with combat boots, I found out he was gone.

That’s the weird thing about losing someone— you expect everyone around you to stop what they’re doing. You expect them to get it. You expect them to put down the shoeboxes and stop surveying the hairspray that give the most volume. You just expect everyone to be still for a few minutes. That’d be nice.

And it would also be nice to walk up to the cashier, the one with the bright red shirt, and say to her, “You get it, right?” It would be nice for her to nod her head and then you’d get to tell her that your favorite memory with Uncle Jimmy happened when you were a sophomore in college. Twenty years old. You were so taken at the time by a boy who read you Walt Whitman poetry as the rest of the world lay sleeping.

It was America’s birthday. You wore a bedazzled dollar store crown made out of tacky red, white & blue parts. You knew it looked stupid but you didn’t really care because your aunt wore one too. And Uncle Jimmy told you that when he saw his wife for the first time, he knew he would marry her. She probably would have begged to differ— she was younger than him by a few years and hardly even knew he existed. He showed up one day with a dozen yellow roses, anxious to hand them off to her. She looked at them for a second, said thank you, threw the roses on a nearby picnic table and ran off to be with her friends. Still, he knew it was her. She would be his girl one day.

That was your favorite story of Uncle Jimmy’s— how he knew it was time to fight for what he wanted. And it was the first story you ever told yourself on repeat when you needed a reminder that some things in life are worth fighting for.

I’ve wanted to write about fighting for things for a while now.

It’s been sitting restlessly on my to-do list just like that, “Write about fighting for things.” But I didn’t really know what to say. Honestly, I still don’t. Every time I go to type something there is this little whisper that hisses inside my head, saying, “Telling me people to go after what they want is selfish. What if they can’t? What if you are filling people with false hope?”

And so I’ve stayed quiet. And I’ve shut up. And I’ve realized, in the days that have drawn in all around me, that not talking about fighting for things is a lot easier than coming outright and telling someone: hey, there is something I’ve always wanted— a job, a different grace, a crazy dream. I want it so bad it keeps me up at night. Is that selfish of me? Is it okay with the world if I still want it, even if I’ve already told myself no?

That’s often the anchor that pulls me down. It isn’t always others. It isn’t always the circumstances. It’s mostly myself. And spoon-feeding myself with the idea that I am not worthy enough, I am not good enough, I am not smart enough. There is someone out there who always gonna be so much more “enough” than me. That person will be the one to get the things I want. 

Even in writing this, I’m afraid of the ways you might be sitting off somewhere thinking to yourself, “but you don’t know the way life has broken my heart.” You’re right. I don’t. And I can’t say that life won’t break your heart a million times more. It probably will. It’s heartbreaking to hear the words “you didn’t get it” and “I’m sorry” and “try again next year.” I get that. 

But then why is there still a whisper that speaks against my mess? Why do I still hear something saying, louder & deeper than my hesitations: You’re still standing here. So it isn’t over yet. What you want is worth fighting for. Please don’t miss out on one of the most worthwhile things of this lifetime: the fight. The struggle. The battle for what is most worth it to you. 

The first time I wrote about Uncle Jimmy and the yellow roses was in 2010.

Around Valentine’s Day over four years ago. It was about true love. It was terribly bad writing. I thought everything in life was simple and you could tie it all up in some pretty white bow. I sat in the parking lot of Target on Saturday morning and reread the words out loud of that post out loud. And I laughed because I was a completely different human. I probably would have never had the courage to say boldly enough back then: you’re worth fighting for. 

But I remember that Uncle Jimmy got a hold of that first piece of writing. And he kept it with him for a long time, a folded up piece of printer paper with my words on it. And he let people read it. And he let strangers and doctors and the cleaning lady know I was out there in the world trying to be a writer. His niece’s daughter— trying to be a writer.

I remember him being really proud of me. And I remember how that feeling— that feeling like someone wanted to claim you because they were just so proud of you— meant everything to me. It kept me fighting to become a writer- a real writer. And he didn’t know it, and I didn’t know it, but two years later I would quit my job for a dream. My safe, secure job. It would happen instantly after months of praying. One day I would be sitting across from a mentor in the industry and I would watch her mouth the words to me, “If you don’t go for this now, while the steam is here, I am afraid you will forget how to go for it at all.”

That would be enough. It would be enough to mobilize me to march into my supervisor’s office that next Monday and quit my job.

And, just as I was ready to announce my six weeks notice, all the power in the entire building would go out. And I would be standing there, wondering if it was a sign from the universe that I shouldn’t be quitting. Friends, I was so terrified. I mean, I was trembling and shaking and thinking all these ugly thoughts in my head: you can’t do this. You can’t possibly make this work. You want to be a writer? Cool. Funny. Awesome. Good luck.

As everyone around me proceeded to pack up their things and leave work for the day at 2pm– thrilled to know half of the tiny town in Connecticut was having an unexpected power outage– I stayed in the doorway of my boss. I told her I had to say something, even in the dark. I could not leave until I said something.

And when it was over, I got into my car and I cried big, thick, “I am so fearful” tears. I remember Florence & the Machine coming on the radio. Just this one line pumping through the speakers: And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back. So shake it off.

In the 30 seconds it took to say out loud– I am leaving this job at the start of July— I did not become a different person. I didn’t become a fearless person. I was still me. I still cared too much. I still fell for strangers. I still misjudged the amount of mexican food I could handle. I still messed up (a lot) and failed (a lot) in the years to come. That was actually the first day of what would turn into a daily battle, a daily fight to live inside of a dream job I wanted for myself. And it would be tears. And sweat. And doubt. And judgement. And Yes. And No. And fighting in the face of maybe not getting what I wanted after all. And having to be okay with that. 

But my mind was made up. And I did give up the devil that day in the car. I did decide that I was going to build a life out of words, no matter how crazy that seemed to admit out loud. I had an Uncle Jimmy moment. And I think him and I could agree on this: fighting for what you want won’t always make you a new person. And it won’t guarantee some red carpet or some dream coming true. You won’t always get the job. You won’t get the girl. You might not get picked. But maybe you will. And maybe “winning” or “getting it” or “arriving” has never been the point. Maybe we just came down here to learn how to be relentless, little fighters & good keepers of one another. I don’t know much but I know this: so much of life is worth the fight. You are never wrong to want to fight for the things that make you come alive. 

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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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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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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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Rebuilding.

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I have an announcement to make: 

Atlanta does brunch.

I mean, it really does brunch. In a no-mess-around, we-do-this-thang-dirty sort of way. I learned this yesterday. I get to report it as truth, as if I am some “brunch expert” that gets paid to eat eggs and smoked salmon (I wish) on the regular.

“I’m a New Yorker,” I said into the menu when he & I first sat down. “And this is actually terribly intimidating.”

The heavy brick lettering bulged off the page with options of grits and biscuits and french toast. You see– we, New Yorkers, are prideful of our brunches. I can just admit that. Brunch is like a second religion in New York. We’re territorial over our bottomless mimosas and honey-glazed challah bread and I often have to go Hunger Games-style on anyone who tries to tell me they “brunch” in other cities. Call it a character flaw but there was literally this edging sense of competition within me while waiting for the food come out. I was ready to compare. I was ready to slam down over waffles.

Friends– it wasn’t until the bacon drizzled in brown sugar was gone off the plate and the cups that once held honey vanilla lattes were sucked dry and lounging empty on the table that I realized you can’t really compare the two cities when it comes to brunches. It’s like trying to compare classical music to jazz. One has a funk. The other has a familiar feel. Each is beautiful unto it’s own style. Sometimes you just have to just bite your bottom lip and admit: I can take both. There is room in my life for both.



All this to say, brunch is just one of the many things that I am finding a hard time drawing a comparison between here and where a map would claim my home was located one week ago.

I’m a week into the south. I am a week in and comparison is really doing me no good. It’s all just different. Really different. It’s different to be surrounded by people you don’t know. It’s different to have to use a GPS for everything and feel helpless at the hands of Siri (she doesn’t even have hands, I don’t think). It’s different to suddenly have all these quiet, hollow moments where nothing can distract you long enough before something inside of you starts panting, “What am I doing? What am I seriously doing here? I know I wanted to be here. I said I wanted to be here. But why? What is really here? There’s no comfort here. There’s no ease here. Why do I have to start over? Why must I rebuild?”

That’s what we never plan for. We plan for growth. We plan (and hope) for acceptance. We plan for abundance. We plan for friends. We plan for adventure. But we don’t sit down and plan to rebuild. There’s that human thing inside of us that shies away from even the existence of the word “rebuilding’ because it’s just a hard thing. Seriously, everything about rebuilding feels hard. And I guess the human thing to do when the topic comes up is just put up our hands and say out loud, “Enough hard things. I don’t need another one.”

But those whispers are creeping in more and more as I get settled into a new home and I start to slowly understand that the suitcases must stay unpacked. Why do I have to rebuild? Why do I have to rebuild? Why do I have to rebuild?

 

I was standing in the middle of a beautiful church just this Sunday.

Like, really beautiful. Like, if you could mash the feelings you get when you hear Mumford & Sons together with the visuals from an Anthropologie catalog and call it “church”– it was that kind of simple-beautiful. And I wanted to take everything in but I kept looking at the stage and wishing I was back in a place where I knew the people with the pretty voices and I could call them “friend.” I kept wishing I was back in a place where you’d naturally feel someone put their arm around you in the middle of the service and it just felt safe– like you were wanted in that place. And the whispers of my heart roared, “I don’t want to start over. Why are you asking me to? I don’t want to rebuild. Why am I back to feeling so small?”

The response to my questions was like a whiplash. I wasn’t even expecting an answer in that moment but it was like something made me snap to attention when out of nowhere I was smashed with an answer in the face. When something whispered back, “It’s because you are small. You’ve always been small. You are a fleck. You are a speck. But this is a different kind of small. The first time you felt small, it was out of the insignificance you used to make yourself wear. You felt small because you told yourself daily that you were small and unworthy and unlovable. This is a different kind of small. This is you, my dear, getting enveloped in something that’s bigger than you.”

I am small. I am a fleck. I am a speck. I kept saying to myself. That’s not to be misunderstood as insignificance. I carried the words out of the church with me: I used to be small because I made myself play small. Now I am small because all the best things are made up of something smaller. And I want to play my part. I came to a new place to play my part.


Speaking of small things, IKEA furniture is of the devil. 

And if you wonder how I made the correlation between small things and demon-fashioned furniture then you’ve clearly never sat at the mercy of 6,349 screws and nails and other small parts that are supposed to all (somehow) get used to make a desk. Or a dresser. Or a table.

This first week in Georgia, I legitimately sat surrounded by a pile of pieces of wood and cried and made offerings to the ceiling and cut my hand open and screamed, “WHERE IS GOD IN ALL OF THIS?!” I was waiting for him to deliver some stupid metaphor to me that life is just about as confusing as IKEA furniture. But he didn’t. And he didn’t assemble the furniture for me (bummer, that would have been a cool miracle to share). He just sort of waited until the moment I humbled myself and I asked other people for help. It was a simple thing to do but the parts inside of me that are a constant feminist-Beyonce anthem on repeat wanted to do it all by myself. And I guess I was afraid no one would help me. But I asked for help. And, surprisingly,  people helped. They helped. They showed up to my home. The girl brought me a bag of coffee beans and held it out to me, saying, “I heard coffee was your love language. Welcome home.”

And her husband rebuilt all the things I tried to build on my own while she and I just sat on the couch, pursing cups of tea, laughing and talking about mysteries like this one. 

And just as they left my little home, and I placed the bag of coffee beans on my newly-assembled desk, the whisper came on back: “You are small. You are a fleck. You are a speck. That doesn’t mean you’re not capable. 

Some things are just bigger than you. That’s why other people exist. It doesn’t matter “why” you have to rebuild. The real point is that you aren’t alone in a bit of it. You are not rebuilding alone.

You are small but you’re surrounded. Don’t worry so much It’s gonna be good.”

The following post was originally a part of the Monday Morning Secret Society Email Club Thang I send out every Monday. You should really get on the list. It received such an overwhelming response and seemed really pertinent to what a lot of people are going through as of lately so I made the decision to publish it here. Enjoy. 

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Meet me at the Yellow Conference (my first blog giveaway… EVER!)

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I was the weird one.

Growing up, I was the weird one. The wild one. The one who wanted too much. The one who cared too much. The one who always felt strange for standing outside the lines. The one who tried, with all her earthly might, to shove herself inside of boxes that were always too small. For years and years, that was the game plan and the goal: play smaller. Don’t try to be different. Want normal things. Stop trying to change the world. Just be normal. Why can’t you just be normal? 

I thought I was too much of a dreamer. I wondered why people didn’t care about following a passion like me. I wanted to do something different but I was oh so fearful— beyond fearful— to do something that wasn’t the same as everyone else.

If you are reading this right now and nodding your head furiously then do me a big, ol’ favor: stop. Right now. Stop being sorry for it. Stop downplaying who you are. Stop thinking you need to be “normal.” The world needs your crazy heart. And guess what I learned when I submitted my own wild heart to the world? I learned that doing something that seems a little crazy can change your whole life. Stepping inside of who you truly are– and not being sorry for it– can change your whole life. Stepping outside of the boxes you built for yourself can change your whole life.

More than anything, I want to give you that same chance to change your life.

So this is my first giveaway in the history of… ever. It’s never happened before and who knows if it will ever happen again. I don’t normally deviate from creative nonfiction but when I had the opportunity to give away a ticket to one of the upcoming conferences I am speaking at in August, my heart was legitimately leaping out of my chest. The reason for that is simple: I’ve been blessed with experiences like the Yellow Conference before. And, if you are open to it, these sorts of things dare to change your entire life.

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So what’s the Yellow Conference, you ask?

The Yellow Conference is a gathering for creative women who desire to ignite passion and bring goodness to the world through everyday living. The Yellow Conference will be in El Segundo, (Los Angeles area) California on August 28 and 29, 2014. 

The winner of this giveaway will get a free ticket to attend the Yellow Conference. I’ll be waiting for you at the Yellow Conference, ready to swallow you up with open arms and get the chance to sit down and get to know you better! I’ll be ready to meet you for an in-person Brew Session during the conference. That’s mentorship + fear smashing + a coffee date all wrapped into one.

I’ll also be speaking during the two-day experience, along with several other MAJOR movers and shakers in the creative industry. We’re talking Sevenly, Darling Magazine, and other TED speakers. My talk will focus on igniting uncommon passion inside of you, learning to live a life of service towards others, and getting relentless for the dreams you’ve always wanted to after.

YOUR TICKET INCLUDES: 

+ Admittance to the 2-day conference filled with 10 world-changing speakers

+ Coffee, light breakfast and refreshments throughout both days.

+ Dinner, drinks and restaurant admittance at the Thursday night after party.

+ Goodie bags filled with awesomeness

+ A network of over 150 creative Yellow attendees.

+ Photo Booth and other fun interactive activities throughout both days

+ An inspired spirit and a wealth of knowledge on how to live our your dreams and make the world a better place!

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(( see the full list of speakers here ))

HOW TO ENTER

• Follow the Yellow Conference  on Instagram, ​Twitter or Facebook.
• Leave a comment here telling me why you would like to attend Yellow (be creative as you can be!).
• I’ll be reading throughout the week and choosing my favorite answer as the winner next Friday (May 23, 2014)!

This giveaway will expire on Friday, May 23, 2014.

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You were known. You were seen. You were here.

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“I think I’ve lost my life again,” I told her, twirling the stem of my wine glass as I talked. “That, or I don’t know how to be alone anymore. I used to actually be good at that.”

There it was, my chunk of honesty sitting square on the table between two heaping bowls of clams and pasta. I had to say it out loud. It was the kind of thing you say out loud or else you risk exploding from the inside out.

She just smiled. And said amen.

I wish we all had this kind of friend. The kind of friend where you can just word vomit everything you’ve been feeling and they don’t say much or tell you that you’re wrong to feel that way. They just show up with a mop. And they nod their head a lot. And you feel less alone, but like you’ve gotten something off your chest. You’ve finally told it to someone who holds these fragile secrets inside of you like fine china.

That might have been the only thing I needed to say all dinner. But I needed to say it out loud: I’m afraid of losing my life to things that don’t actually matter.

My best friend and I went on a short vacation this past week. We took two days to enjoy the sights of Raleigh, North Carolina, and then we attended a conference that serves as both a refresher and a restart button for small business owners.

Our trip had all the stitchings of the kind of things you know you’ll remember for years to come. A beautiful hotel right in the heart of Chapel Hill. Cookies when you check in. Long coffee dates with no email. Sitting on the hotel beds, surrounded by more pillows than what is really necessary for a single person, talking for hours about life. And dreams. And goals. And hopes. The chance to finally look around and notice things that seem too insignificant to really see when you’re slung in the muds of everyday life– the colors of mailboxes. The way the rain smells and steams off the pavement in Raleigh. The crooked grins of beautiful boys in blue polo shirts who park your car in straight lines.

The both of us wondered why it took so long. At that table with the clams, we wondered that. Why it always seems to take so long for us to just unplug and unclutter and look up to see that life wasn’t happening on a screen anyway. We get real good at convincing ourselves that life is everything that is happening in those screenshots and those retweets. But if you just look up for 5 minutes– if you catch the shade of blue in someone else’s eyes today– you’ll see that you were wrong to think that.

It’s hard to even imagine it but there used to be a time when moments were just moments. When you saw him from across a crowded room and he gave you a glance that only you could pocket and that one shot of a smile was yours, all yours. It wasn’t publlic. It wasn’t filtered. It was sacred. A connection.

I guess I don’t know what happened. I guess I don’t know how I lost my life to this– and how everything came undone and unbalanced. But I know it happened once before. Years ago, there was a time in the earlier stages of More Love Letters when I treated that company like she was everything. I was always connected. I was always scaling to-do lists. I was barely sleeping. I was living each day with a slew of wrecking ball habits and I was the one who crawled to the finish line of each midnight hour and wondered why I felt so empty. So drained. Unhappy.

And I wondered why– when it should have been so easy to just roll over and fall asleep– I’d keep the phone clutched in my hand and I would scroll and scroll and scroll through the thoughts and images of other people, absorbing their fragmented glimpses of daily life, like old hymns you read with the hope you’ll find yourself known inside of them.

I’d wake up and I wouldn’t even push the yellow, quilted blanket from around my legs before I was checking in and seeing where I’d been missed or mentioned the night before. Honestly, I don’t know how it happened but I guess that doesn’t matter if you know why it did. It isn’t that I wanted followers. It isn’t that I wanted numbers or another mention. I just didn’t want to have to be alone. I just didn’t want to have to sit by myself.

It’s like this vacant warehouse inside of me. I used to think it was a tiny hole and now I see that it is a warehouse. So much square footage. A hollow space inside of me that wants to be known. And seen. And valued. And I hate standing in the center of it alone.

So I look for things to fill that space. I look for the wrong things. Like social media. I let social media try to sooth the parts of me that whisper, “I want to be seen. I want to be known. I want to be more than just a face in the crowd. I want to be stunning. And lovely. I want to be validated for who I choose to be.” I try to let social media do that filling job for me. And then I wonder why I am surprised to find that warehouse inside of me feels more empty instead of full.

Because nothing about the life that gets lived on the screen is really real. Sure, from time to time it can be a blessing but it isn’t really quality. It’s just a lot of quantity. It’s just a lot of trying to fill the hunger on the inside with followers and emails that say, “please respond by tomorrow because we need this.” And so we do, because it’s nice to be needed. But it’s just a lot of empty measurements– a lot of empty measuring cups of false self-worth– that keep me spinning on my toes. And keep me singing out loud to the world, “This whole life revolves around me. It revolves around me. My life matters. Me, me, me.”

I think that’s what social media really does these days. More than it connects us. It claims to bring us together but I think we’re too distracted to see that it’s ripping us away from the one thing that really matters: each other. And how much we desperately need to show up for one another.

In the middle of the conference they had us all get up from our seats and find a space on the floor to lie down. Spread out our legs. Close our eyes. Don’t move. Don’t flinch. Don’t let our heads get cluttered with the “must-do”s for the evening. And they told us to imagine– to build a picture in our mind– of what we wanted life to be like in 5 years from now.

And normally I find these kinds of exercises to be cheesy. But I was exhausted. And laying on the floor of the hotel ballroom in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, I started to weep. And my chest was heaving. And they just kept telling us to dig deeper and see more details. What do you see? What do you see? Like a trigger pulled, I came undone.

Because I saw him. I saw us. Sitting side by side on a countertop, bare feet and legs swinging. There was no urgency in the moment. There was no other place to be. My head was on his shoulder. The only light in the room was the white lights of Christmas that we never bothered to take down off the windows. And my favorite song was floating all around us, it had come up randomly on a Pandora station. And I realized in that moment, he was exactly the kind of guy I always hoped I would fall in love with: the kind of guy who doesn’t say a word when your favorite song is on because he knows how much you like to try and live inside of every word.

It was just us. No phones. No notifications. No need to document that we were here because you’d only ever have to ask the other person in the room– ask them if it was real– for them to answer you with all the confidence in the world, “Yes, it was real.” You were known. You were seen. “You were definitely, definitely here.”

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A call on 20-somethings.

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My words are not a parachute.

They won’t soften the landing when that moment buckles your knees and breaks you down to the floor. My words, they’re not no cold bucket of water. They won’t extinguish the doubt that blazes heavy, heavy, like a fire catching to all the pretty things you touch. Nothing I write can prepare you for that moment.. maybe you already know the one.

It’s going to hit you at some point. It might meet you randomly. 2am. 4am. When you’re standing in the middle of a crowded campus or alone in your cubicle beside a cactus you keep forgetting to water. No matter where you are, it’ll hit you. And you’ll look up suddenly. And you’ll look around. And you’ll let these words slip out from your lips, “Why am I here?”

Why am I here? And what am I doing? And this? Well, this doesn’t look like anything I thought it would be. Why does my life matter? Why does my life matter? Why does my life matter?

The moment, it’ll feel hollow.

Like all the insides of you have been scraped out. And suddenly the followers won’t matter. And the filters won’t matter. And all the digital things we share and tweet won’t hold much value at all. Something inside of you will be hungry for more.

You might cry. There may be many a’ ugly tears on your horizon. You might clench your fists. You might bite down hard on your bottom lip. You might pour a glass of wine and vow to forget it all by morning. But no matter what you choose to do, beware. That moment is gonna tidal wave you with all sorts of unanswerable questions and there’s only one thing I can promise you when it comes to that moment: you don’t need to have all the answers. They’re never going to arrive in one bundle like the back pages of a SAT prep book. You’ll never get all the answers so you can’t let that be the thing that keeps you from pushing forward into what’s next.

Someone got it into our brains that we needed to have every little thing figured out.

That some fairytale was going to greet us at the gates of adulthood. That life would look just like a movie. It’s simply not true. And if this is what it looks like to have it “all figured out” then we are living in some sort of coloring book where only half the pictures ever got Tickle Me Pink scribbled within their lines. We’ve got loans up to our elbows. We’re messy when we fall in love. We’re still trekking for the dream job or learning how to create it from scratch. We’re doing the best we possibly can within a world that started saying, right after two planes crashed into two towers, that we needed to make the most of this life thing. It was too short. It was too quick. It was unexpected at best. We needed to make the most of it.

We still want to be something really special and that’s not because the newspapers say our generation is the type that needs trophies for everything. We still want to be something really special for the same reasons that anyone, at any age, wants to be something really special: because it’s nice to be noticed every once in a while, even if it’s just by someone who has always taken you as you are. And in a world where it’s nearly impossible to get someone to look you in the eye instead of at the screen, it’s nice to be someone’s kind of Special at the end of a long day.

And we walked into the world and we were loud when we said we wanted to do something. I’d argue that we still do. We want to help people. We want to make some sort of impact. And that goodness inside of us, it never went away. It might have been covered. It might have been dimmed a bit. But if you’re anything like me then you still wake up hoping that this will be the day you will be brave and you’ll do something that matters. That’s all I really want if I am being truthful: To be brave and to do something that truly matters.

But the scary truth in all of it is that nothing in this world– not the magazines, not the networks, not the hyperlinks– will get us there. We have to be the ones to push aside the small talk and just resolve to be present, and connected, and intentional with one another. We have to be the ones to show up to this life if we ever want to do something that matters.

I didn’t want to turn this thing into a list.

Because the answer isn’t sitting in a list on the internet that someone wrote to tell you all the things you should and should not do with this 20-something life. And I know all too well that a list of things you “should” and “should not” do is never going to help you. Not in your 20’s. Not your 30’s. Not your 50’s.

So this isn’t much of a list. Maybe just call it the evidence I’ve gathered so far: I, personally, need to breathe more. Just because I want to have things figured out doesn’t mean I always will, so I really just need to learn to let that one go. Sallie Mae is an awful home wrecker but there is a way to live peacefully with her (after all, I’m the one who decided to stack these loans upon my shoulders). People will always have a lot to say about what you “should” do. Don’t entertain them if their aim is to belittle you. “Should” is a word that should be abolished from the dictionary.

You have to get out there. You have to feel life on your own skin. On your own terms. By your own rules. And maybe that’s the very first thing you need to learn to do– burn the rulebook and screw the boxes that other people want to put you inside of. Your life has nothing to do with tiny, little boxes that help you play smaller than you truly are. The point is to grow, not to shrink. But if you’re any ounce of human then you’ll always try to shrink before you grow.

Adulthood is a real thing but it doesn’t make much noise when it arrives. Heartbreak hurts but it makes you more resilient. Commitment sounds like an old-fashioned word but it will never go out of style. And it will always be a slow thing– a slow, slow thing– no matter how fast the world moves all around us. So commit to things. And get your heart involved. Take that risk, even if it means that something could break along the way.

If you are any bit like me then it doesn’t matter how much older you get, you still want to keep every person you encounter safe in your possession. But no, it doesn’t work that way. And you have to learn how to not be bitter when it comes to letting people go. I have to learn to loosen the grip a bit.

It’s beautiful to be young and innovative in the world today. And I will always fight you if you try to tell me that I am too old for Ringpops and sitting on counter tops while Jason Mraz trickles through the kitchen and the kettle hisses from the stove.

Life slips away quickly and unexpectedly– and time is the one, rare thing we always wish we had more of– so there’s really no time to sit here and write anything further when it turns out that life is actually everything that happens off the screen- unedited, unfiltered, and shared with others. It all comes down to other people. Other people are the lottery tickets of this lifetime that win every single time.

You get choices.

Every single day. You don’t get all the answers. But you will get those choices. Some mammoth and massive. Others tiny and seemingly minute. Each one matters though. Every single choice– every task that does or does not meet the to-do list– will ultimately stack up and answer one big question: whether you standing here– with gifted oxygen in your lungs– actually meant something.

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