I know close to nothing. But I believe in these things.

I have to have it all figured out.

It started off as a rumor and then it became the game changer. That’s what I think at least.

Somewhere, somehow, this myth rumbled into  a rumor and this rumor tumbled onto the lips of a lot of us: I have to figure everything out.

I have to know where I am going. I have to know what will happen next. I have to know the direction. The 5-year plan. The next left-hand turn. The Big What’s Next. 

I’m 25. I know close to nothing. But I believe in these things.

-hb.

 

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Know that this stage in your life, this very moment, will be the one that other people point out one day and say, “Oh, I knew close to nothing and I survived.” So there’s that.  You don’t have to know everything. You don’t even have to know what’s in your bag for the journey yet. But know whether you want to stay here forever or if you want to be the kind of person who starts fires and laughs like nothing hurts them. People will tell you the point of this stage in your life is to make mistakes, and be young, and figure out the things that make you happy. Believe them. Add “learn how to be a good person” into that mix and get moving.

Know that life doesn’t shimmy out a red carpet for you when you reach adulthood. Half the time, you won’t even realize you’ve been entrusted the keys to the next chapter. Know how to celebrate the little victories on your own when it seems like the world hasn’t noticed a change or a shift or a new journey unfurling. Find people who celebrate little things too. They are the keepers of this lifetime, the ones with victory in their veins.

Know what mistakes are worth it enough to make again. Know what mistakes will never be worth it. Learn lessons the hard way. Take note of these things: The look on someone’s face. The tremble in their fingers. The way their cheeks turn from thawed rose to white. Memorize those kinds of looks on people’s faces. All the twists and contortions. Save them in your pocket like a somber memory as a reminder that we get to make choices. Everyday. And those choices do make impact that extend beyond just our own little lives.

Know how to be a role model. Or at least know the stuff & substance of role models. You can totally go the celebrity route and make some big stink about how you are NOT a role model and the world should never follow your example. No one is stopping you. But you’re probably starting to realize that the years go by quicker as you get older. And life gets more fragile. And people sweep out of the scenes more often. Role models make active investments in the life of others. They store up treasures. They do noble stuff. It isn’t the worst gig.

Know how to quit something. How to just puff up your chest real big and be done with something. Let go of the things that no longer make you feel alive. The things you’ve looked at for far too long and said, “Well maybe tomorrow it will be different.” Quitting fuels the art of letting go, so it would be good to learn how to let some things go– Arguments. Problems. Bad habits. Political debates on Facebook walls. People who don’t really see you beyond who you used to be. Here’s a promise: Holding on won’t always mean everything the way it does in this moment.

Know how to eat. Real food. Don’t be afraid of food. We all have problem areas. We all have been in the trenches of body misery. But starving feels like a cover-up for the real root of the issue: the fear of being more than this. We have to learn to let that go eventually. Figure out how to taste food again. How to really taste it and savor it over good conversations with people who take you as you are. Food doesn’t always have to rule you; it’s a tough lie to shatter but freedom feels like sunlight after a New England winter.

Know how to push the boundaries. Know that boundaries are to be pushed. Surround yourself with people who have fire in their eyes. I don’t know about you, but I like the thought of touching knees and elbows with people who are gonna change the world one day.

Know how to sit with yourself. I mean, really sit with yourself. No moving. No flinching. No reaching for the phone to play tag with someone who doesn’t serve you beyond making you feel less lonely. Stop scrolling. Delete some apps. Unfriend some people. Lessen the load. Once upon a time, we had none of this connectivity. And people used to have no choice but to listen to their breathing. I want to know: are you a slow breather or are your juts of breath quick, quick, quick? Learn to sit with yourself so much that you can stare strangers in the eyes with hellfire confidence and say, “I know exactly what sits at the root of me. And I’m not afraid of it no longer.”

Know what breaks your heart. If you don’t know that yet then get out there and find something that breaks your heart. And pin your hours to it. And your spirit to it. And your commitment to it.

Know how to be your own best friend. And when you figure it out, write a book on it. Write a whole stinking novel. Encyclopedias. Anthologies. Spend your whole entire life breathing into those volumes. Don’t turn back.

Know that dignity is a big deal. Maybe the biggest deal. Know that everyone– no matter who they serve, or worship, or love– deserves dignity. Don’t stomp on someone’s dignity. Don’t steamroll over it with words or judgements. It’s already hard enough to give yourself dignity at the end of the day; it’s heartless to make it an endless obstacle course for someone else.

Know how to prove other people wrong. And know how to do it for yourself and not others. Bitterness is an awful sidekick and revenge doesn’t serve our lives though we live in a culture that romanticized the concept of it. Fixing yourself only to push it in other people’s faces will sometimes make you feel even emptier. But doing something for you? Because it’s what you so deserve? That’s the winning lottery ticket, babycakes.

Learn how to how to prove others wrong because you– yourself– have always deserved to break out from the boxes the world has learned to put you inside of.

Know how to look outside of yourself and recognize how very, very, very tiny your feet are in comparison to the size of this world. You’re small stuff. So am I. Know how to ignore people who tell you’re small like it’s a bad thing… like all the greatest movements didn’t come out of something that first started out small. Know that you may never come across the impact that you make. Know that half of the world– three-fourths and more– may never know who you are. So maybe the goal shouldn’t be “to be known.” And if it still is, figure out why you want that in the first place.

Know that one pair of feet will make a movement seem impossible but one solid idea, mixed with hearts that believe in it enough to back it, will make the thing unquenchable. Fires will start over that one idea.

Know how to start fires. Whatever that looks like for you. Know how to get on the ground and get your hands dirty with the mess of it all. Know that it takes grit, and guts, and courage to make a difference. The world will always need people who care enough to make a difference so don’t miss your casting call for that.

Know that if you don’t step out, someone else will. And they’ll probably have a really awesome time doing it. Don’t miss the fun.

Know that it will never be easy. And it might never be comfortable. And you are going to wake up some mornings and have no idea what to put on your body, or what food to eat, or which heart to choose. Know that knowing isn’t everything… Knowing the outcome, knowing the direction, knowing the point… we never got promised that. It’s time to stop looking for those empty promises.

Know this: There is no map. There is no manual. There is no brochure. There is no right or wrong way to do this life thing. As cheesy as it sounds, there’s sound reason behind going with your heart– what your heart finds to be good, and true, and real. Know what you want and stop apologizing for it. It’s been placed inside of you for a reason. So stop shrouding it with pity songs. And stop placing it on pedestals that you can never reach.

All of life is a big, steeping journey with many destinations but even more dotted lines. Don’t get so stuck on the destinations that you forget about the moving and the shaking and the glory of growing pains. Suck in the air when you feel you’ve arrived somewhere. Smile. Laugh. Take a photo. Make some sort of memory and say something wise for the moment. But don’t wait too much longer to pack up your bag and keep going on your way.

The dotted lines are the silent, unspoken victories of this lifetime.

Some would say everything that has ever mattered lives within those dotted lines.

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Don’t bring anything more into the web.

With permission, I have posted the email below.

Hi,

I think your blog entered my life at the most perfect moment. You see, I am 25, and this past January, me and my boyfriend of 8 years broke up. I thought it would be the best thing for us, after being together since we were 16, and have only dated each other. Now that I am in the dating world, I am absolutely miserable. I miss my best friend, my boyfriend, my other half. But now he has moved on to a new girlfriend. It is absolutely heartbreaking. I have good days and I have bad days.

I am now afraid of being alone forever. I am afraid no one will love me the way he did, or look at me the way he did, or treat me the way he did. And yeah everyone says… You are young Gabby, you have plenty of time. But I am still scared and I cant help it. There is this guy in my life, he is the most up and down, hot and cold man I’ve ever met. I think the challenge of him makes me put up with it. But in reality, I need to realize he will NEVER make me his girlfriend, rather he will just keep me around until I smarten up and realize I’m worth so much more, and I deserve someone who wants me to be their girlfriend.

Now I know you are not a therapist or a counselor, but do you have any articles that help with either of my situations? Any articles that will help me realize my worth and that I shouldn’t settle for someone who treats me like an option? Or any articles that will help me realize I’m young and there is a big world out there and I wont be alone forever?

Thanks for listening,

G
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Dearest G,

Have you ever been on the “missed connections” section of Craigslist?

It’s a virtual message board, almost like one those bulletin boards for all the “missing persons,”  for all the people who see someone– in a coffee shop, a dive bar, the grocery store, wherever– and they wished they had more courage to say hello.

Hi. Sup. Nice to meet you.

All those simple, one syllable words that suddenly get blocked from your lungs when you see a stranger from across the way whose blue eyes look like coming home.

It’s a booming collection of people who missed out and they are grabbing for another chance. I saw a “missed connection” the other day from a boy who posted a picture of a note left on his lap while he was sleeping in one of the libraries of NYU, nearly two years ago. The note said something like “Hello sleepy boy, I wonder what you are dreaming of. –The girl who sat across from you on the couch.” For two years he could not shake the girl who left him the note while he was dozing on piles of textbooks.

He’s just one of the millions of us who stay wondering about a person we’ve never met or known or shared so much as a coffee with.   A site like “missed connections” works because a) we’re human. b) we crave connection. c) there is something dually haunting and beautiful about the idea what might have been. The “what if”s. The “maybe”s and the “perhaps,one day”s.

You can stand straight in the pits of missed connections, dear. No one will ever tell you to get gone or keep moving. Half of us don’t know how to get our feet unstuck from the muds of it either. But life is not a slew a “what might have been” moments. Life is exactly what you made happen. Life is what you did when you showed. Life is the choices you made. Life is the redemption you gained. Life, more than anything, is action steps. The times when you swallowed your fear and you said hello to the girl in the bright red cap reading Walt Whitman poetry.

It’s not thinking about leaving. It’s not wondering if you’ll ever meet someone again. It’s whether or not there are actually shoes on your feet. It’s whether or not you actually walk towards the door, twist the handle, and go.

I’m going to share a story with you.

I’ve never written it down before. I’ve shared it maybe only three or four times. But I am gonna need you to believe in crazy things– like God speaking to his little children– for you to tag along.

I dated a boy in the sliver of space between graduating from college and moving to New York City. He was wonderful. Really. I should have been happy. Even at the start though, I wanted to go free.

At the same time I was trying to get down low to the ground with my faith. I was really trying to figure out this God character. I got a book out from the library. It had a black cover. I thought it would teach me a thing or two about Faith. Grace. That stuff.

Turns out, the book was really a construction worker disguised as a book. It showed up to dig in the trenches of my heart. It was there to chisel me good. I could feel my insides stirring every time I picked the book up. I honestly never knew that God could stir you in a way where you feel it physically. But there was demolition underway. Bright, yellow caution tape up all around me.

One day while nannying, I was reading the book among a battlefield of Nerf guns and blond bowl cuts with tan torsos flying through the backyard when I looked up to see a spider spinning a web in the corner of the kitchen window. I was captivated. Enamored. I could not explain it. For reasons I may never fully understand, I would have watched that spider spin its web all day.

It was the first spider of dozens, G. Dozens that I would see in the next few days. One after the other after the other. Make no mistake, those spiders had to be a sign. They started showing up everywhere. The front yard. The kitchen table. The window sills. My dreams. Spiderman toys. Plastic spiders. Everywhere I turned.

I went home that first night, put my palms down on the kitchen table and faced my mother: “I am going insane. Legitimately insane. Spiders. Are. Everywhere.”

We spent the night Googling spiders. Coming up with their origins. Trying to figure out the root of them. Wondering what they could actually mean. Looking in the Bible. Were there spiders in the Bible?

Tell me I’m not crazy, tell me I’m not crazy, I whimpered into the night as I tried to fall asleep. I woke up the next morning to find three spiders spinning a web of fresh silk over the coffee pot on the stove.

 
The spider signs grew bigger and bigger and bigger. Every time I saw another one I could feel everything inside of me saying, “Let the boy go. Let the boy go.” I didn’t want to let him go. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to win. I wanted to somehow, someway, be worthy of being the center of someone’s universe. But still the whisper roared, Let. The. Boy. Go.

I closed the book. Hid it away. The signs stopped. The spiders ceased. The voices stopped. The stirring in my stomach fell away.

 
Weeks later, it ended. I left. It ended over something as stupid as the color “yellow.” You could call it “bound to happen all along” but I just call it “yellow,” even to this day. I said goodbye. I wiped the tears from my eyes. I got in my car. I felt freedom on my chest. I drove to the ocean. I sat in the sand by myself and I reopened the book right where I had closed it.

Two pages later, I stumbled into a story about a woman walking in the woods. A spider web appeared. And she stopped to watch that spider spin. She could have watched that spider spin its web all day. And then she heard from God,

“I am spinning. You are not. Let me go ahead of you. Stop trying to drag your own mess into my intricate picture. Don’t bring anything more into the web.”

It had been there the whole time. Just two pages away from me. But I couldn’t see it, I couldn’t see it. Not until I was ready to stop dragging around my own mess.

You have to go this alone. The voice inside me stirred again. This is not a matter of geography or what you can or cannot pack into a suitcase, this is a matter of who you’ve always wanted to be.

Don’t. bring. anything. more. into. the. web.

G, this is not a matter of geography or what you can or cannot pack into a suitcase. This is a matter of who you’ve always wanted to be. You’ve answered all your own questions right in your email. As Cheryl Strayed has written dozens of times, “You don’t need a reason to leave. Wanting to leave is enough. Be brave enough to break your own heart.” You’ve got to trust all the words you’ve already written.

I’ll close by saying this,

I hope you leave. I genuinely, genuinely hope you walk towards the door today, or tomorrow, or the next day. Not because I wish to see you alone. Not because I think you need to be alone. Just because it would break my heart seven months past September to know you are out there, never fully knowing the weight of your worth or stepping into the person you’ve always wanted to be, because someone on the other side of that relationship was too stupid to see that you’re a light. And that lights don’t belong under blankets. Lights belong on trees. Lights belong on hills. Lights belong in all the little places where people can see them and they cannot say anything more than, “There is a light. There she is, there she is.” You might never know the micro tears– the hundreds & hundreds of them– that will form on the inside of you just by staying there.

Lights belong where people can see them, G.

Don’t bring anything more into the web.

hb.

I would appreciate if we could keep the conversation going for G. 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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When 60 days could change your life.

View More: http://tiffanyfarley.pass.us/hannahbrencher

Dear you,

I don’t ever write about these things. If you’ve been a reader, you know. Someone will surely think my blog has been hijacked but I am over here, waving my hands in the air, and yelling, “No! It’s really me! It’s Hannah! I promise!”

This post is in lieu of the one I won’t be writing on December 26th when the trees get hauled out and the lights get packed up and everyone begins plotting what they are going to change for the year ahead.

I’ve never been a New Year’s fan. I get the point of it. I even have a tradition where one of my best friends and I pick a new coffee shop every New Year’s morning– one that is bustling with the sounds of plates clanking and kids laughing over pancakes sopping in butter– and we write letters to the person we hope will open them one year from that date. We set goals. We read the letters from the year before. We fold up the letters. We seal them. We hold them for one another until another 365 days passes through the fingertips and we kiss another year goodbye.

But something has always broken my heart a bit about New Year’s. How we celebrate so little because we’re just so fixated on starting over. The way we want to wake up in the morning and be someone different. And break all these old habits. And forget the person we were who messed up & failed their diet plan & made it to the gym until January 15th and then just gave up. And I don’t like the idea of waiting until a set moment– January 1, 2014– to change things. If there is something to be changed, shifted, or altered, then we should be starting right now. We should be starting right now.

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Yesterday morning I posted a list on Instagram. A 60 day challenge that I am setting for myself. I’ve set 6 goals. 60 is a relevant number for me because from December 1, 2014, I have 60 days until my first draft is due to my editor. I want to walk away from this process of book writing not feeling like I just survived something but that I actively made changes while in the writing process and I am walking out a different and better individual.

 

1. 60 minutes cardio + weights: Pretty self-explanatory. Hitting the weights hard. Getting back to a first love of working out and really working up a sweat.

2. 6 small meals a day: Paleo is back in the mix. I know the benefits of paleo and how it impacts my body but I am really curious to see how it unfolds in the amount of 60 days. I won’t be too strict but I definitely want to get into better habits when it comes to eating so that I am feeling energized by my food and not weighed down.

3. 60 minutes of email: This is only for a season of life but in the midst of book writing, I want to minimize my email time to 60 minutes a day. Email can be a bad habit for me. If I wanted to, I could live in my inbox. So the autoresponder is up and I will set a timer anytime that I dig in.

4. No social til 6pm: This is a big one. Social media is definitely a time-killer when it comes to trying to sit down and write. It’s an easy distraction. I am going to make it a point to touch any kind of social networking until 6pm on days where I am writing.

5. 60 minutes of quiet time: God. God. God. He probably should have the first one on this list but I know confidently that He kind of, sort of, governs this whole list. I want to be dedicated to quiet time. I want to stop focusing in on the mess in my head. I want to remember my place as a child of God. And I want to pray better prayers and believe for bigger things.

6. 6 glasses of water: Oof. I barely even consume two so this will definitely be a stretch for me. But hey, I have to start being better disciplined in this area sometime soon.

I want to be so clear with my intentions on posting this. I don’t tell people how to live. I don’t have any interest in trying to improve your life in 60 days. I just want to be very honest in saying that I, personally, am really hungry to get healthier and treat myself better. I am hungry for balance. I am hungry for a life that knows the distinction between work and friends. I want to figure out where my A-game is, not just in business or writing but in the everyday folds of this thang called life.  I want to feel like I’ve sunk my heels deep into a life I know I want. A life that fuels me inwardly & outwardly.

But… (there is always a but)… I am also super aware of the fact that when I try to go on journeys on my own, I often fail. And fumble. And give up. And I beat myself up when it was never supposed to be about that to begin with. This little journey of mine has nothing to do with measuring success. It has to do with trying to change something in 60 days, as I reach one of the most important deadlines of my young adult years, that will change my life for the rest of it. I can dig that. I can work for that. I can not be afraid to say I want that.

So you can be in or you can choose to be not in. You can set 6 goals or you can set 2. If you take on these goals, definitely consider custom catering them to you and your work/life. For me, social media won’t be on til 6pm. For others, it might be time to shut off at 6pm. You can make it look however you want. The goal is to celebrate change and progress instead of just thinking my life will magically change at the stroke of midnight in one month from now.

I am ecstatic about 2013. I am all sorts of over-the-moon for what progress was made. I want to spend this December being dang proud of what has gone down in the last year. I want change to be an exciting & momentous & powerhouse thing. I want to believe that I deserve this. I want to walk in 2014 already knowing I started the work it takes to be who you really have always wanted to be… inside & out.

I’ll be posting occasional updates on Instagram if you want to follow along. I’ll post things tagged as #60daystochangealife in case y’all want to set your own goals and post progress. I love a good team effort.

Ain’t nobody got time to wait for January 1. The gun just went off. I am going.

hb.

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Oh, not a day goes by where she does not think of you first.

Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 3.20.13 PMWhen I was a little girl, Tragedy became real to me.

Real in the sense that it felt fleshy & alive. It took up oxygen in the air. It had footsteps & nicknames & places to be.

I wrote a story about Tragedy so that he’d have roots to trace back. I wrote about Tragedy as if he were an old man, with creaky limbs and cutting blue eyes. I planted Tragedy square in the middle of a seaside diner by the Atlantic City boardwalk.  I gave Tragedy a newsboy hat. I gave Tragedy a scowl. And always, always, Tragedy was a man who never liked his job description. Never did he like how he rushed in to cause the tears and rushed out before the healing ever came. He walked up & down that boardwalk, drank half a cup of coffee at the diner, made small talk with Ruthie, the waitress, and then rushed off to a slew of funerals & war zones for the day.

Y’all already must have known what a desperately strange child I was.

I was never the child who wanted sunlight. Never the girl who was amused by water parks. Never wanted to be stuck in the presence of other sticky children who hoarded aficionados for candy & cartoons. I only wanted to be left alone to sculpt stories & breathe life into my characters: Tragedy. Happiness. Envy. And the leading lady of them all– Love.

Love was a girl all wrapped up & glowing in a red scarf, a pony tail at the nape of the neck, and long fingers curled around a spiced hot cocoa. Love, she spoke so slowly, always on the verge of melodically. People would stumble over her before breakfast but she’d always speak her syllables out one-by-one like she was leading school children across the street. 

In a world where we’ve always wanted things to be neat & orderly, precise & predictable, Love has never truly fit in. She’s the rebel of the group. The mold breaker. The new girl in the cafeteria that everyone notices for her ruby-red lips and yet they all turn to go when it comes time to shake a hand or swallow a grin from her. Love can be an awfully intimidating thing.

Love has always had to fight a lot harder to win our attention.

Where Tragedy blows us over like little piggies with super power breath, Love has been the quiet fighter. Brinking for our hearts like the ever-patient hero.

The radio blares of her. The movies personify her. The books– embossed covers & classical endings– burrow romantic little holes into our bones. But we get so distracted, so cluttered with the Must-Do’s and the Should-Do’s, that we forget how old-fashioned of a place Love has always wanted to take in our lives.

We might stand in the longest, weaviest lines that snake through the malls on Black Friday. Go home exhausted. Rush through the motions. Frantically decorate the house. Shop some more. Bake some more. Stay busy, busy, busy. And never once look up into the heart of this season to see Love standing at the door, right beneath the mistletoe with her ruby-red lips, ready to tell you how many lines she waited in just to get to you. You’re worth it like that. Don’t you know you’re worth it like that?

“Don’t try to limit me,” Love would say. “And don’t think I’m leaving tomorrow or the day after Sunday. Don’t box me in. Don’t worry about me running out. I don’t run out. I only rush in.”

“Speak slowly when I am around. Let me go where I need to go. Unleash me to dance with the ones you so adore. Let me get all wrapped up in them. Let me get tangled in their hair. Above all, don’t be afraid to say that you want me– in every area, in every morning,  in every hour. Just let me be as I was made to be: Thick. Big. Overwhelming but Understanding. Overflowing but Underrated.”

She does not want the busy. She doesn’t care for the frantic. She aches to be trusted. Aches to know that someone, somewhere, will just let her spill over them, flood them, wreck them, rule them, keep them more full than any other emotion in this world.

And here we hide– behind text messages, behind rules we’ve constructed for our selves, behind barriers & past hurts, and “you wouldn’t really love me if only you knew this…” rhetoric. But not a day goes by where she forgets us or thinks less of us or does not survey the damage of the hurt and says, “How deep is the cut?  I promise I can fix that.”

Not a day, not a day in Love’s life, has she ever cared for the petty precision we use when we are trying to define her. And bottle her up. And control her. And make less of her. And keep her from doing the very things she has always, always, always been so good at. But only when we let her in. When we let her set the table.  

 

That is where I find myself stopping.

Wanting to put the pen down. Wanting to end this blog post. Afraid to go an inch further because I don’t know what it would look like to have Love set the table; night after night after night after night. Make that table so full that there’d be no room for Fear. No table setting for Anxiety, no wine glass for the Worry. No chance of Broken Bits of Bitterness scampering around the fringes of the tablecloth to steal biscuits from the bread basket.

Love. I think she sets a mean table. She cooks a raging turkey. I think she delivers a pretty sizable spread. But she demands the things that we are so stingy to give within a life that has monopolized us with shame & guilt.

When you sit at the table that Love sets, you let things go. You let old battles die. You roll up your sleeves and you release the anger you’ve harbored inside. It breaks her own heart to see you so bitter. You take down your flags of white surrender.

You admit that you’ve been wrong. You let her heal the parts of you that you swore were not so relevant. You stay open. You stop trying.

You dig in. You. Just. Dig. In. To what life could look like when Love is the ally– not the toxic home wrecker. When she whispers, “Babycakes, I ain’t skinny. I’m not no skinny love. Maybe that’s a pretty song but I’m so thick that I could push you flat like a rolling pin. Come on, child. Let’s eat.”

And your eyes might water. And your tongue might get dry. And you might say that you got this love thing wrong the whole time. It was never running out, it was always rushing in.

Love, love.

Her name sings like the last line in a poem. It sounds like bells, the kind they hook to horses when their hooves patter and pull the carriages through the snow.

Love, love.

Oh, not a day goes by where she doesn’t think of you first.

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Blessings & the barren places: What I know of letting go.

With permission, I have posted the email below.

Dear Hannah, 

I just discovered your blog like a week ago, I couldn’t even tell you how it happened, but I definitely needed it. You probably get a million of these emails all the time, but I am writing you because I am just in the worst place right now. I feel like I have the world’s hugest broken heart, and I’m constantly fighting it, day after day. 

My love story, if it were still intact, was truly a fairy tale. In short, I reconnected with my best friend from middle school over the internet, we quickly became best friends again, 6 months later decided to date, had our first kiss 2 months later on a New Year’s vacation, and eventually he decided to quit his job to move and be with me in the town where I am currently finishing graduate school. He got here, he struggled to find a job, realized that he still had a lot of self-searching and passion finding to do, and he left this town, and left me.

Rationally, I understood it all. It’s been about 2 months now, and I’ve always understood his reasons. But he never said that he didn’t love me, and he still hasn’t said that, but there is NO WAY that he is coming back right now, and perhaps not ever. You said in one of your more recent posts that when you had your first heartbreak you tried so hard to fix things and bring him back, and in a lot of ways I feel like that is where I am right now. And I AM becoming more embarrassed of myself as time goes on. But it is so so incredibly hard to let go. Especially because he truly was my very best friend, long before we started dating. Anyway, you don’t need to write me my own letter or anything, but I feel like you have to have written something that explains how you let go. And if you could somehow help me, I would really appreciate it. Because I am just a horrible wreck right now.

With gratitude,

K

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Dearest K–

Words fail.

As I get deeper and deeper into the trenches of what it means to be a writer, I realize more regularly that words fail. They’re never going to be what I truly want them to be. I can’t morph them and make them into tables and chairs. I can’t turn my words into a plane ticket to fly across the states and just sit down beside you. If I had my way, my words would be a canopy. A canopy of white silk, or something very pretty like that. And we could sit for hours & hours & hours together. And I wouldn’t talk if you didn’t want me to. I don’t have all the answers anyway. But we could just sit there. And you would not have to feel so alone.

The truth is, you aren’t alone. It’s hard to swallow that. It’s hard to admit that. Because last night you fell asleep remembering someone who is like a ghost to all the parts of you. And that will make a person feel very lonely. Very lonely and very alone. But count me as one of the people, one of the people who just said a prayer for you. And I drove around my neighborhood breathing in your story and listening to music I think you would like. And then think about all people who will read this letter next. They’re with you too. We all are. When you showed in my inbox, I whispered to you, “Babycakes, you are so far from alone. Let’s tackle today together.”

I am not coming to you as a writer.

I’m not coming to you as an expert or some advice columnist. I’m simply coming to you as a girl who once heard her first “I love you” on a Christmas night and it sounded like a cross between Elvis and angels. A girl who once thought she could give someone a yellow sweater– a dumb little yellow sweater– so that she could call him up from time to time and ask if he was still taking care of that sweater. She thought that maybe there was a way to tie herself to people like him forever. That’s who is writing this letter. I’ve turned the page over to her.

People will tell you in tandem and in chorus: Let him go. Let him go. Let him go.

You don’t have to.

That’s the best wisdom I have: You don’t have to let him go. You don’t have to let him go until you are the ready one.

For the longest time it hurt me to do anything but hold on. And maybe that’s silly, and maybe some would call that weak, but I am human and I won’t pretend like I could do much of anything else at that time. He was my best friend. He was my safer spot. He was every bit of “I want to put you inside of box and keep you there forever and believe we will never need to change. That’s where I want you to stay.” When they told me to let him go, I wasn’t ready.

I did all the basics. I got rid of his Facebook. I deleted his number. I got rid of his clothing. But if someone tries to tell you those are the ways to let someone go, don’t listen. It’s not true. That’s just the introductory steps within an instruction book that doesn’t exist. The real work is how you’re gonna learn to sew a song out of all the broken music notes inside of you.

I kept the memories of him tucked in my oversized pockets. I turned on “our song” just to cry and feel something. I wrote him letters from time to time, though I never sent them. I carried thoughts of him with me. To coffee shops. To libraries. To meetings and walks home at night. Every part of me was an anthem of not being ready to let him go and there was some sort of strange freedom in realizing I didn’t have to. I could hold on. I could hold on. And eventually, eventually, my fists would grow tired from all the clenching and I would let it go.

It would happen naturally. It would happen melodically. And though I could never control all the left hand turns I wanted him to take when he went right & right & right, loving him– and learning how to unlove him in a way that made me saner– was in my control.

At the crux of that breakup that ripped through me with the strength of an Alabama Roll Tide, I trudged through the mess of me with Elizabeth Glibert by side. As she traveled through the lands of Bali & India & Italy, I traveled with her and I swallowed parts of her wisdom like Kinder Bueno. Her memoir kept me stitched like a sweater quickly gaining holes that needed constant patching. And at one point she wrote this. And it changed the game for me. Read it carefully, my friend. This is a game changer.

“But I love him.”

“So love him.”

“But I miss him.”

“So miss him. Send him some love and light every time you think about him, then drop it. You’re just afraid to let go of the last bits of David because then you’ll be really alone, and Liz Gilbert is scared to death of what will happen if she’s really alone. But here’s what you gotta understand, Groceries. If you clear out all that space in your mind that you’re using right now to obsess about this guy, you’ll have a vacuum there, an open spot – a doorway. And guess what the universe will do with the doorway? It will rush in – God will rush in – and fill you with more love than you ever dreamed. So stop using David to block that door. Let it go.”

There it is. There it is. Part one: the sending off. Part two: more love than you ever dreamed.

When I loved him, when I really loved him with my whole frame and being, I wanted the world for him. I wanted laughter. I wanted joy. I wanted success. I wanted everything he wanted since he was a little boy. A heartbreak. Two people changing. Life throwing around unfavorable circumstances– these should never be the things that make us stop wanting goodness for someone we once loved with our whole body. That’s maybe childish. That’s maybe the first step in loss but not the final landing point. Who wins in that case? No one. No one.

You need to reach the point in your steps, and your conversations, and your everyday everything’s where you are ready to wish him light and love and then let him go. Not bitterness. Not hurt. Not questions. Not a quest for closure. It probably won’t be a final thing. It will probably be an everyday, every time he comes to your mind, kind of thing. It might still hurt. It might still sting.

But when he pops in, say hello. Wish him well. Say a prayer. Ask for blessings to go straight to him. Then let it go, let it, let it go.

You could keep him there forever.

You really could. They make movies out of those kinds of stories. The “ones who got away.” But your fists clenching rocks of what-used-to-be eventually defeats the purpose of two hands that were created to throw blessings in barren places.

Stop looking at the world and look down at your own two hands. People will tell you how to drown your tears in chocolate ice cream. They will tell you how to get bitter and seek revenge. They will tell you how to get smaller and smaller and burn the belongings of another to ashes to make you feel like you have “let them go.” But no one spills out the secretest secret of them all: To let things go, really let them go, open up your hands and bless others by the fistful.

You get decide if you want to be the empty cup that needs refilling or the full pitcher that overflows into all the other cups. That’s on you, babycakes.

But I know there is something, wadded & beautiful & glittering inside of you, that would give anything to kick down doors to let other people in. And I think you should go with that. Go with that dream of yours to be a blessing. To help someone. To open up your eyes to how God would use you in the moment. I don’t know about you, but I believe in a God who lets us use our tears to harvest. He lets us use our pain to make a feast for someone else. Don’t wait for the sadness to clear to be the blessing you’ve always wanted to be. I’m afraid you’ll miss out. I’m afraid you will miss out.

When I finally learned to open up my hands, it was all there waiting for me. And I thought of that boy– the one I have filled with too much light and love for his little lungs to handle– and I pictured him smiling. Because he had a great smile. And I stopped regretting how we broke. Because look at me now. I’m standing. Look at me now. I’m more stretched, and brilliant, and whole than I ever was before. And because of him, my hands throw blessings in barren places.

Open up your hands, babycakes. They were made to do the same.

hb.

 

I would appreciate if we could keep the conversation going for K. 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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Filed under Letting Go

The world isn’t about you, and love still wins.

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The post went viral.

Months after it had been written, a short and fun post I wrote about women, and gossip, and nude pumps, and leggings went viral. And it spiraled into the hands of people I could have never imagined. It may very well be the most popular thing I will ever write.

It was a post I didn’t think much of when I was writing it. It was an assessment of the funny & brave & integral lessons I have learned in my short 25 years of digging heels into this earthy soil. I didn’t claim to be an expert. I’m not a scholar in womanhood. I didn’t even proofread it, really. I just never thought thousands would digest it, and pass it on, and criticize it, and get their tears and snots all over it.

I have real control over the things I say and the messages I put out there in the world. A post gone viral has taught me that. Once you put it out there, once you release it from your hands, the control is gone. People get to take it and make it into anything they want it to be. It can be a ballad. A love song. A reason to get up every morning. A final goodbye. It could be so much to someone else.

Make sure you know what you are saying. I want to tell myself that daily. Make sure you are intentional when it comes out of you. Try your hardest to not want to take things back when you release them.

In the deep of me, I believe a lot of those things I wrote in that post. In the deep of me, I want to erase 23 of those things and just focus on one or two. Honestly, I could say something that would reach the world, it would never touch on nude pumps or tuna and barbecue sauce or leggings as pants. That’s not my heart. That’s not what I truly care about.

If I could say anything, it would be just this:

This world isn’t about you, and love still wins.

That’s it. Maybe that’s all.

The world revolves around none of us and reminding yourself of that on a daily basis feels a lot like freedom. And love wins. Over and over again. No matter how much we try to say that something else matters more than it, love still wins. We still want it most. She’s still the prom queen. She’s still the thing that keeps this broken world spinning. Somehow, somehow, she does.

I feel like I am drowning sometimes.

Drowning in a place where everyone wants to size you up and call you worthy based on the platform you have or the “likes” you gather in. Drowning because the world only teaches me to fix myself instead of saying quietly into the softer parts of me, “You’re whole. You’re not missing a thing.”

I struggle in a world that tells me the goal is to be known. To have a platform and a following, though I am not sure why.

If I am known, I want it to be because I solved problems. If I have a platform, I only want it to be because I opened my mouth to actually say something that added substance to the conversation.

And followers? They are a complete mystery to me. Followers don’t change the fact that you fail people. Or let people down. Or regret people. Followers don’t mean you’re not still the regret of someone else. They wash away quickly. They don’t show up for you at 2am. Don’t get so crazy about them. Don’t think you are so important. Just do something that is follow-worthy. Keep the focus on others. Make people think. Think more on your own actions. Above all, be who you say you are. Convince others that they are capable of things.

That’s powerful.

I’d follow that.

We’re trained to believe it is about us though. Me & Me & Me.

The culture we live in right now is a cheap party host. She’s not feeding us right. She’s giving us plates and plates of marshmallows and chocolate chips and Twizzlers and all these goodies that feel good & right & sweet for about 5 minutes. And then we are hungry again. And we want something more. And we crave substance. But it’s just more and more garbage that never grows us stronger or makes us better or opens our eyes up to the fact that a lot of things we focus on are petty & stupid & not worth the time.

But if you look her in the eye, and if you ask her why she feeds us this, she will tell you straight, “You asked for this. This was what you asked for. This is what you choose to shovel into your mouths and I am just showing up with the platters.”

I can say the culture is a mess but I am still listening to it. I am still in the thick of it. I am still attending the party. On a daily basis, I am forgetting the people I could be calling “brother” because I want a latte in a red cup, and I want to be skinnier, and I want to meet someone, and I want my business to thrive, and I want my writing to be good. And you might have just passed me on the street and I didn’t look up. I am sorry but I didn’t look up to give you something you deserved this entire time. My attention. I’m trying to be better. It’s a daily kind of thing.

We say we want more than this. And yet we care so darn much about the latest gossip from celebrities who will never touch us, or know us, or feed us, or kiss us, or care to ask us how we are doing. And we are angry over trivial things. And we give up on one another too easily.

It’s like that old computer game. Minesweeper? Was that it? Where it was only just a matter of time before you clicked and caused an explosion. That’s the world we live in today. Setting one another off. Good ways. Bad ways. Irreparable ways. Damaging one another and walking away.  There’s something wrong with that. We should focus more on remedying that than on lip gloss, or party favors, or what we are hoping he brings through the door this holiday season.

We say we want to be better than this.

We want to be good humans. We want to master this “randoms acts of kindness” thing. Kindness should drive you insane. It should hurt you deep because it’s hard to love people constantly. It should make you want to grit your teeth. You should sign up for those kinds of feelings every, every day. Kindness shouldn’t be the thing we turn on and off like a lamp switch or check off a list when we’ve helped some elderly woman across the road. Kindness is just Love without makeup. It’s just the basics. It’s just the starting point. It’s not some cute little word that implies love letters and babies giggling. It’s absolutely everything in a world that is starving for more of it.

To think we should only sprinkle love upon the worthy & on the ones who cross our paths & when it is comfortable and convenient for us is weak thinking. Love is the kind of thing that screams in your face, “Plaster me everywhere. Smear me on everyone. Cake me thick in your conversations. Don’t stray. Let me push you to meet the neighbors I have placed absolutely everywhere for you.”

“Make me famous,” Love would say. “Make me absolutely famous.”

There is a reason you are sitting up at midnight, eyes red & puffy, watching videos of humans being good to one another. Watching proposals that show a kind of love that can be enviable and extreme. Bursting at the seams.

You want it too. No matter how many times we twist and morph that word into something that gets flung around and pushed out and falsified and changed for the sake of cheap commercialism, you want it. You want to believe it is still out there.

You want someone to show up for you. Man. Woman. Friend. Lover. We might all need to learn how to take care of that delicate thing better. So it doesn’t break so often. So we don’t devalue you with our careless human hands. You might need to change things. You might need to grow more. Know your weaknesses and resolve to be better. Get help. Tell someone. But don’t go another day thinking you can’t have it. Or that you can’t give it away.

I want that kind of love. The kind of love that is awkward and uncomfortable. And it makes something inside of you want to explode. And it isn’t always pretty but it promises to make you feel alive. I want it. In friendships. In family. In relationships. All of it.

I don’t want the followers. I don’t need a grand proposal. I don’t really want the marshmallows anymore either. I just want that feeling. The kind that makes the tiniest hairs on your forearms stand up because you never knew you could mean that much to someone else.

I just want to hear someone stand in the doorway, or the hallway, or the bookstore, or the street, and say, “You showed up. I didn’t think anyone was coming but you showed up.”

You showed up. I didn’t think anyone was coming but you showed up.

That would be enough for me.

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Filed under Uncategorized

I want to say I didn’t miss the bells.

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“So sorry you missed Christmas– just sending a belated holiday wish! Good luck in St. Louis. You will be a smashing success!

Much love, Mom--”

I found the letter tucked in the side of my carry-on bag while waiting in the gate for a connecting flight. Little snowmen adorned the front of the envelope. The scribbles were familiar; they’ve been stretching across my memories for years.

She must have tucked the card, wedged it deep, when I wasn’t looking. When I was packing a bag or fixing my hair in the mirror. With every letter she leaves for me to find, my mama says “Carry me with you. I want to go wherever you’re going. I want to see whatever you’re seeing.”

 

“I feel like I already missed Christmas,” I said, tracing circles in the carpet just the night before. “I feel like it’s already gone.”

“You’re being super dramatic,” she answered. I’m always super dramatic.

But there is something about this time of the year. How furious it seems to bustle in and out. How it breathes & quickens & tears like wrapping paper off the sides of us. How we always say “I’ll be ready for it this year, I’ll be ready for it this year.” How we are never fully ready or maybe we’re not even sure what to be ready for. Would we even know slowness if it filled our lungs?

I want silent nights this year. I want silent nights.

 

My secret fear is that I’ll miss life.

That I’ll miss this thing we’re always dissecting so adamantly in deep conversations and blog posts. That I’ll look up suddenly and realize I missed the stitching; how I wanted so desperately to make a quilt and yet I never slowed enough to learn how to make a sturdy stitch. That I won’t be the person I have always wanted to be. That I won’t remember to call when I think I should. That I will miss the things– little & big– that make other people say out loud, in the holding spots of the November air, “This made everything worth it.” I want things like that. The things that make everything undeniably and unexplainable but worth it.

It’s been a constant clatter of travel lately. This writing space easily feels a bit neglected when there are 80,000 words of a memoir lining up to take their place. I’ve been ping-ponging around the country since August and it’s sincerely very hard to find inspiration to write in airports. I get too wrapped up in the waiting periods of other people. I imagine too many love stories about people I’ll never meet. I secretly date the beautiful boys in bright green uniforms that stand by the gate and wait to board. They don’t know it but they have bought me sunflowers and I have kissed their cheeks.

It takes extra sorts of concentration to quiet my spirit in an airport because I feel this binding pressure to be calling someone or filling them in. There’s this pressure to be racing back home because maybe, maybe I can barrel through the gate just five minutes sooner.

Bear with me. I’m still trying to write to you. Tucked in a corner. Pursing a red cup between my hands. Letting classical Christmas trickle through my headphones and whisper to me softly, “You’ll be home soon, darling. You don’t need to rush.”

I’m watching other people wait for something. All around me. People at the door. Flights in the crooks of the terminals. Restless to get somewhere, and go somewhere, and be somewhere, and leave somewhere. And it takes every ounce of human in me not to grab the shoulders of people I’ve never seen before and shake them good. Grab them with an urgency and just admit to someone, “I’m scared of missing the point. I’m scared of always rushing to get somewhere, onto the next somewhere, that I never fully arrive anywhere.”

 

When my fingers were tiny and all my world was a slow ballad of princess dresses and Lincoln Logs, I used to gush over a storybook version of the 12 Days of Christmas. I gushed over whoever sang that little song, whoever that Someone was who was just so lucky to have a “true love” that gave her so many gifts. So many rings. So many swans. So many milkmaids.

I would go page by page, taking time to count the lords-a-leaping. Memorizing the grins of the pipers piping. Soaking in all the wonder of the partridge sitting triumphantly in his pear tree, crowing (or whatever partridges do), “I’m the b-o-s-s. I’m the first gift that started this mayhem.” And there was enough time to count everything. To notice everything. To spoon your hot cocoa between your two hands and know, without really knowing it, that you weren’t missing a thing.

When did I stop counting? When did life get so busy that I stopped counting all the blessings, all the gifts that leap & dance around me?

 

I could feel God breathing when I arrived in St. Louis yesterday morning.

I could feel Him breathing as we shoveled my suitcase into the car and drove along the streets while a girl with a lace dress and chocolate-brown tights told me the history of a city she’s grown up in all her life. And I felt God saying, “This is life, my girl. This is life. You don’t need to be somewhere. You don’t need to hustle. You don’t need to hurry. I just want you to suck this moment in good. And I want you to pay attention to this girl and the people I will give you in the next few hours. And I want you to say thank you when we are done.”

That’s all God is asking of us at any given moment: To suck in what is what right before us– what He has placed there so intentionally– and then say thank you. Because it’s simple. And it’s true. And it’s a gift we forget to find the gratitude for. And it fills us so much more mightily than the fears and worries we stack inside ourselves when we think this day-to-day is about getting “stuff” done.

He gives me a thousand tiny, glittering objects within a single day. A thousand, a thousand. And I’m just stomping my feet and crossing my arms and waiting for something better. Something that doesn’t shimmer and doesn’t shine but it makes me feel legitimate and “known.” I muddy up the simple roads with wheels that turn too fast. And He? Well He just smiles and shakes his head, as if to say, “Girl, take your shoes off. Let the mud sink around your heels. Dance a little, girl. It won’t kill you stop in this moment but girl, you’ll miss it something fierce when it’s finally gone.”

And so I start to count. Because He has given me a thousand glittering objects to count.

 

“Life wasn’t what I thought it would be.”

Maybe I will say that when they’re hooking me up to oxygen, and I’m so frail and old and ready to have my Jack & Rose “meeting by the big clock” moment up in heaven.

“It was colors & fragile faces & brilliant stories that only made me feel human when I stopped sprinting so furiously to just notice it all. Oh, there were colors. Oh, there were sounds. It was flashing all around me and I didn’t always see it. No, I didn’t always see it.

It was about choosing people. It was about choosing people when choosing people was just so damn hard. Because it’d would have been so much easier to choose 1,000 objects over a single soul that cries, and doubts, and wants, and questions, and challenges. Flesh & grace was all that was ever worth it though. Flesh & grace & resilience that sang like a battle cry.”

Maybe I’ll be that eloquent when they hold my hand and tell me I am dying. I want to be able to say I heard the bells in all my favorite songs. Clink. Clink. Clink. Dripping into the backgrounds of all my favorite melodies. I want to say I didn’t miss the bells.

 

This season is a slow breather.

Slower than you’d think. You’re gonna have to stop. You’re gonna have to look around. You’re gonna have to slow a little too.

Find someone who’s been good to you– all sorts of sweet to you all this time– and grab their hand and say, “Let’s count the glittering objects tonight. And all the swans. And all the turtle-doves. One by one.

We have the time. We have all the time we thought we never had. Let’s just pretend that it can’t get better than this right here.”

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Filed under Holidays

Getting cray and loving hard: Sevenly & Save the Children for the win.

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Find something to stitch your heart to.

I think that’s the starting point for almost anything.

I got an email the other day from a reader who wanted to know how to find her voice.  I could talk for several years on this topic but I think the first day I ever  realized I had a voice is when I uncovered injustice for the first time. And it made me angry. And it made me choke up. And I wanted to do something. And I decided not to walk away, even though that would be the easier thing to do. Please don’t be so quick to turn away from injustice, you might have been made to do something about it.

Finding a voice begins with realizing that you can either lift your own life up or you can use that curious itch inside of you that wants to do something more to become a powerhouse megaphone for someone who needs an advocate today.

 

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Right this moment, my favorite charity– Save the Children– is so-so-so close to reaching their $14,000 fundraising goal over at Sevenly.org to help feed children in war-torn Syria.

I won’t lie, I have a serious company crush on Sevenly. They give generously. They love intentionally. And they produce some really ballin’ swag. Did I just write ‘ballin’ swag’? Why yes, I did. And there is all sorts of it on sale for Save the Children and the Syria crisis until Sunday.

A few things you might not know about me:

1) It’s really, really important to me to be a person who lives for missions that are bigger than my own body. That’s it. That’s the icing all over my cake. That’s what gives me joy and keeps me going. My life is blessed and I am willing to bet yours is too. I choose to use my blessings to be a blessing to other people. It seems to be the only formula that works.

2) Save the Children is a big stinking deal to me. Meet me face-to-face over a cup of brew and you’re gonna hear how it changed my life in so many ways. Before leaping out on my own to write and freelance, I worked on the Communications Team for Save the Children for over a year. The mission is legit. The work is hard & gritty & totally tangible for anyone who has ever gone out to the field to see these folks in action. I can attest that the people who work everyday in the US office are just as bright & bold as the cause they are serving. Them’s good people, through & through. We need more of them in this world.

PAUSE FOR A MOMENT WHEN I WANTED TO PROVE TO YOU HOW TOUGH I REALLY CAN BE.

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3) I’m not an expert on the good life. I start a lot of fires (literally… I forget candles are burning and stuff). I’m not always graceful. I still think Tupac is alive. I’m only 25. I’ll probably go through much more heartbreak, and loneliness, and milestone moments than I could ever anticipate in this very day. But in my young adult life, I’ve learned this: it takes guts to believe in something. I mean, to really believe in something so much that you get your skin in the game.

It takes guts to be an advocate. It takes strength to stand up for the things and the people you believe in. It takes even more stamina than I thought to go up against the norm and stand apart. But it’s probably been calling your names for a really long time. And babycakes, it makes you into a much gutsier servant of a person when you decide you’re gonna raise your voice for something. We weren’t made to get comfortable here. We were made to get a little cray and love on people hard. And that especially includes all the little lovelies that are waiting to grow big & strong so that they can make their own voice count one day.

Please, use your voice for a mission that extends far beyond your own fingers or toes.

This stuff matters. I hope you’ll support.

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Filed under Poverty, Shaker Session

When Taylor Swifting Ain’t Worth It.

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I recently received this email from a reader. I’ve decided it was a really good question. And so I wanted to answer it here. I would so appreciate the experience of other writers in the comment section. I think there is much, much, much to be learned from this topic.

Hannah-
I know you must get a quarter million emails a day. Mine’s short. It’s so short but it is so heavy. How do you do it? How do you write SO honestly about all this hurt and not allow yourself to be silenced by fear? Fear of HIM knowing it’s about him. Fear of your family knowing that you were/are so hurt. Fear of hurting those who hurt you.
I don’t want any of those things.
How do you do it?

Diana—

I’ll start off by telling you two stories.

The first one happened nearly two months ago when I wrote the following lines:

“My brother has struggled with the grips of drug addiction for the last ten years but he is still the most beautiful fighter I know. It is the only reason I embarked on a faith journey in college. I watched my mother tumble in and out of rhythms with her little boy and I envied the foundation she stood upon.”

Those weren’t the original words.

There was no original line about my brother being a beautiful fighter. I had originally written the sentence, “I am the writer of the family and even I don’t have any more pretty words for my brother.” I had carelessly sliced into someone I loved and published it quickly for the world to read.

My mother stood in the middle of the door frame to my office a day later.

“That hurt.” I knew what she was talking about. I knew those words, no matter how pretty I could make them or how delicate they could seem while standing against a crowd of others, were always going to hurt my mother.

“I know they did,” I said. “I can’t help it though. They’re true.”

“I know they are.” We both stared off into separate corners of the room, waiting on the breath of one another. She finally spoke. “I think that’s why it hurts so much.”

I tidied up the line when the Huffington Post approached me and asked to republish the blog on their site. I gave my brother a sort of redemption with my words. I didn’t want my mother to have to hurt on national platforms. And I know my brother is a fighter, a beautiful one at that.

The second story happened three years ago. The short of the long of it was that there was a guy. Maybe he still reads this page. He always said that he would but I’ve known what it’s like to just want someone to disappear so I wouldn’t blame him if he has let this blog slip from his memory.

“I don’t want to become one of your life lessons,” he said to me. “I don’t want you to turn me into that.”

Still, to this day, those are the hardest words I’ve ever had to hear someone tell me. It was hard because underneath those lines, I knew he was really saying, “I’m fearful.” Fearful that we’ll stop playing in the lines of one another’s stories. Fearful that the only way to move on from this will be to wrap the whole thing up with some big red bow and a moral and offer it up to the world as a lesson learned.

I couldn’t promise him that I wouldn’t search the ground for syllables as a way to explain how I felt when it was over, and I was alone. I am a writer. Writers write about the things of this lifetime they’ve learned to love. Win or lose, we write.

I marveled at Taylor Swift for a long time. How she so effortlessly flings the names of past flings into songs that become eternalized on the lips of teenage girls. Taylor Swift was a realization, to me, that words eternalize people. They’re constant. They’re forever. Placed with a rhythm or printed on a page, we all hold a power inside of us to break someone’s heart with our own writing. By placing their name of the page or even just their likeness, we hold that power. It’s scary stuff.

You have to be really careful with that.

I want to be a good writer one day. I am so hungry to be better.

I think the best kinds of writers, whether they see it or not, are the ones who give grace that expands on the page. The ones who understand that writing about the life of someone else—no matter how boldly they touched you or how much they hurt you—isn’t just the maniac workings of a Taylor Swift burn song. If you aren’t careful, the words you write on a page will leave very little room for redemption. And us, as human beings, were made for some kind of redemption.

We’re going to mess up. We’re going to miss phone calls. We’re going to do some pretty awful stuff to one another. And we won’t always be in control. At some point we’ll learn, if we have not already, that we actually don’t get to fix people or make them better. We actually don’t get to shield them from the world. We actually don’t get to live perfect love stories all the time.

But I think being a writer is far more than just writing about other people and then being fearful of how they’ll respond. A good writer will put their own feelings on the page– ugly or not– but never pretend to act like they can even sum up or begin to discover what another feels in that moment. Being a writer is no different than being purely human: We are entitled to feelings but it truly, truly matters how we refine them when we step to put them out into the world.

But you should own your feelings. You should own every little of shred of emotion you feel. Maybe it’s jealousy. Maybe it’s joy. Maybe you want to jump the bones of someone every time you see them wearing that sweater with the patches at the elbows. Ugly emotions or not, own the emotions and don’t shove them into a box that makes you sorry for having them.

Find the root of them. Touch that with your hands. Dissect them on a page. Understand why you are so imperfect and why that is actually the most awesome thing you’ve got going for you.

Explore them. Talk to someone about them. But please, don’t just throw them on a page when you’re angry or upset or you want to make a moral out of someone else. That’s a life. That’s a character in your story. That’s someone who can change at any moment. Just because they are a character, an integral someone to the someone that you are, does not mean you get to write their life story or that you get to eternalize who they are for the world to read. You only get to write about who they’ve been to you. I think smart writers slip grace beneath every door their characters stand beside. Because we all need so much grace.

The hardest part about being a writer, especially a nonfiction one, is that the whole, wide world becomes your syllables. You notice people. You memorize their dialogue. You carry them with you. You staple their hearts inside the lining of your sleeves. And you don’t know how to let people go sometimes, or wrestle with all the impact they made, other than putting it down on the page and walking away. Writers will always deal with the repercussions, with the realization that thick skin must be an attribute to ones who live their lives finding words for the stories they’re swept up into. People won’t always like it. People will not always appreciate the viewpoint. People will get hurt because we’re all sensitive, and scared of so much, at the very root of us. But how silent can you stay? How long can you edge around the words that you’ve needed to say for so long?

I’m writing about him. In my book, I’m writing about him. But first I needed to know my reason “why.” If ever my reasoning for putting him on a page was bitterness & resentment & jealousy, then it wasn’t time. I had to mature to a point where he became a staple in my journey. Where I knew he had changed me. Where I knew, without question, that the character who walks up to meet you on the first page and the same character who waves goodbye as she watches you drive away on the last would be different because of him. To burn him, to be bitter with him, to spit fire at him– all would be a selfish agenda that the world has never needed. The world is full of dagger-throwing, angry people; I’d rather my words be light. Not fire.

Here’s my final advice (and it might not be any good): Don’t write about people just to write about them. Don’t write about people because they’re juicy. Or because you think you need a love story floating on the page. Or because you want some kind of revenge. Write only, and only, if someone changes you. If you see the world differently because of them.

Write about the things that change you. Harvest the emotions. Don’t just spit words out like fire. Fire burns up the ground and destroys the pretty things that used to be. Rebuilding is so hard. So very, very hard. Figure out a way to grow from the people who have hurt you. No matter your age, choose to grow up. And don’t be so quick to place down a period and walk away. A good writer will write with a grace that sprinkles commas and semicolons around the story and says to the reader, “I’m not perfect. They’re not perfect. No one here wins or gets the final breath.”

Growing up means letting go. Giving grace. Owning emotions. Leaving room for redemption. Harvesting something for someone else. And then walking away from the page.

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I’m not gonna tell you that you’re beautiful.

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I used to wait for my roommates to go to sleep so I could creep down the hallway into the kitchen and fill a bowl with food.

It was odds and ends of the things I could find in the fridge and I would eat until I reached the bottom of the bowl. I never told anyone how I was a vacuum cleaner at night, that I was trying to fill some kind of emptiness inside of me. It was a secret sworn between me & cutlery & the 1am hour.

I’d cry & I’d cry & I’d cry. And no one knew the desperation that visited me when I no longer knew how to control myself. How I just wanted to shrink smaller, smaller, smaller until I could disappear. Who taught me to be less? Who taught me to be so fragile?

My mama is like a gust of wind. She is stronger than I know how to be. She is all the sorts of love you wish you could grow up and become.  She never taught me to be small so I never learned it from her. My mama had promised me the stars and I just settled for the crumbs.

My mama would probably say, “Beautiful is loud footsteps. Knowing the weight of your own footsteps, not your torso. Beautiful is knowing that you came here to make a ruckus. Beautiful is being so big & bright that it makes it impossible for people to take their eyes off you. Always they will wonder, what will that one do next?”

When I said I was struggling, people would tell me I was beautiful. “Don’t worry, you’re beautiful. You’re strong.” Like just telling me “You’re beautiful” was enough. I couldn’t help but laugh. I was uncontrollable. I was sad. I was a sometimes, some days, most-days animal.

Beautiful was a word that I’d heard so many times– flung from girl to girl in some shallow exchange of words that was rarely ever meant– that it lost all meaning to me. Beautiful is a bound-up, broken word in a culture that matches it against thigh sizes and blemish-free skin.

The world had drained out all the metrics of measuring beautiful and replaced it with scales and calorie counts.

I’m not gonna stand here and tell you that you’re beautiful, like that’s gonna fix all your problems. Sorry, I just won’t. I’m not going to tell you of the worth you have. I’m not gonna wait for you to come to grips with whoever meets you on the other side of the mirror. I’m not gonna tell you that loving your curves makes everything better. Because what if it doesn’t? And what if you’re still sorry over that cookie you had two hours ago?

I’m just going to tell you that you’re kind of strange. You’re kind of quirky in the sense that no one ever fully understands the person that you are so you carry it like a secret between your smirked lips. Yes, you’ve been waiting for a moment to prove people wrong. I cannot wait to see that day.

You’re weird. You’re a little odd. You’ve never fully fit in but you are finally coming to grips with the fact that you don’t really want to be a follower. And baby, if you don’t want to be something then just don’t be it. People will tell you it is not as simple as that. But what if they’re wrong? And what if it is? Maybe we are all just 30 seconds away from stopping something for good and being different people today.

 

I’m not gonna tell you who to keep in your life. I’m no expert in always keeping the best company. But I am gonna say that someone out there believes in you. Someone out there needs you alive & breathing today. I am gonna say that someone else out there, they don’t see what you are. They never have. They never will. I’m not gonna tell you to cut the cord or break the tie but I am gonna wonder why you’re clipping your own wings though… I cannot do anything but wonder why you’re letting someone snuff the light out from your eyes. You could be so bright, you could be so bright.

 

I’m not gonna tell you that you’re beautiful. You have not needed to know you’re beauty so much as you’ve needed to see that you’re capable.

I’m not going to tell you to just get over it. If it were that easy, maybe we’d all do it. We’d have no issues. We’d have no internal struggles. We wouldn’t walk this line of good and evil every day. But I am gonna tell you that no bone inside of you has ever been a mistake. And no struggle inside of you has ever gotten rooted without a reason. Babe, if you’ve got struggles then let’s start raging. Your tiny fingers were prepped and created for battle.

Struggles are going to make you a fighter. Where I come from, we kiss the dirty ground for struggles. They are going to make your story that much resilient. You’re not going to survive them, you are going to absolutely obliterate them.

 

I’m not gonna tell you you’re dainty, and fragile, and a flower in the field. I’m not gonna turn you into a delicate line of poetry when you were born with so much feist & zeal & madness inside of you. How dare the world not tell you, right from the start, that you are some kind of warrior.

I’m not gonna tell you that you’ll always like yourself or that you’ll always believe in yourself. If you’re the least bit human then you’ve given up on yourself too many times to count this month already. I’m not gonna promise you won’t do something to hurt yourself or others around you. I’m not gonna act surprised if you admit it happened last night. But I am gonna tell you that deciding to believe in victory, that it was made for me,  has made all the difference to me.

If you want to stand here and wallow for too long about how you need to fix every itty bitty thing inside of you before you can ever get out there and do something that matters in this world, you can. I can’t stop you. But I can tell you that it’s this stupid, fragmented idea inside our heads that if we can just fix everything about ourselves then we’ll somehow be adequate enough to love on the world.

Darling, you’re adequate. While dancing. While speaking. While ugly crying. While spitting game. While struggling. While fighting. While laughing like a lunatic. While singing Taylor Swift at the top of your lungs. While slamming the door and walking away.  In every little crook of you stands some sort of adequacy that the world would do anything to keep you unconvinced of.

 

And maybe I’ve got no street cred, no authority, no weight in saying this, but I’m not gonna let you be the world’s largest living & breathing apology. I’m not gonna let you say “sorry” any longer– as if “sorry” were your second language– for things no human should ever have to apologize for. Say sorry when you’ve hurt someone. Say sorry when you’ve really misplaced your words and actions. But stop saying sorry for standing there and showing up to life everyday. You’re not an apology letter, you’re a thank-you note just waiting to happen.

And the best thing you might be able to do today is get outside, thank the skies for this day, and be the best darn broken piece of lovely you can be. Broken loveliness is the world’s most common language. We all speak it so we might as well get fluent.

The best thing you might be able to do today is forget yourself. And forget all the people you’ve tried to be. And forget all the people who told you to be someone different. And just look around long enough to notice that we all need some sort of pick-me-up on a Monday. We all want some kind of worth. We all struggle to see what is really right in front of us. We all deprive ourselves and get it wrong. We all wonder about the bigger picture and who made it all. We all wonder when we’ll wake up and finally, finally, feel like we were made to take on this day. We all wonder when, if ever, we’ll get better at this whole human being thang. Maybe “beautiful” is an overly diluted word but there is no denying that you are surrounded, surrounded by people who’ve wanted to be warriors too. With loud footsteps. And the power to make a ruckus. And the kind of heart that makes people wonder, what will this one do next?

 

I’m not gonna tell you that you’re beautiful. Sorry, I won’t. I am just going to stay here. And I’m not gonna give up on you today. Because I’ve found we stay standing when people don’t give up on us.  So I’m not giving up on you today. Or tomorrow.

You cannot mark the day on the calendar when I’ll walk away from you.

That, my dear, is just not happening.

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