6 must-read books for the ones looking for God.

I read a lot of books. And I definitely owe you a lifetime book list or something like that. But I’m asked pretty often what books I would recommend to someone who is looking to dig deeper into their faith.

Maybe that’s you. You think you know what you believe but you have some questions. You have doubts. You want to know more. You want another layer deeper.

I’m excited to introduce you to six books which were pivotal in my own faith. Books that helped me ask my questions. Books that pushed me into prayer. Books that opened my eyes.

Dig in. Enjoy. And be sure to join me in the comments section below by telling me some of your favorite spiritual titles!

Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller

“Believing in God is as much like falling in love as it is making a decision. Love is both something that happens to you and something you decide upon.” 

If I’m being honest, this was the first “Christian” book I read without feeling like I was out-of-place or didn’t belong in the faith. Before this book, I tried. I tried picking up countless numbers of books about faith, dating, Jesus, and never felt like I could identify with the author and the language they used.

And then came this book. Who knows how long it was sitting on my bookshelf at home before I cracked it open while nannying. Cracking this book open was pivotal for me. I knew once I started reading this book would change my life. There was no way it couldn’t change my life.

I honestly believe I am a Christian today because of this book. Donald Miller was the first author I came across who put his faith into plain terms. He never made me feel excluded like I was an outsider for not understanding something. I always tell people this book is the most beautiful one I own and it allowed me to sneak into the backdoor of faith. Since that point, I decided to try to do the same with my words: write books that allow people to grasp this idea of faith on a real level. 

Prayer, Tim Keller

“Prayer—though it is often draining, even an agony—is in the long-term the greatest source of power that is possible.”

I found this book during my second battle with depression and it changed everything for me. I was sitting in a community group feeling pretty hopeless when the man leading the group pulled a baby blue book off the shelf and read out loud: If you love anything in this world more than God, you will crush that object under the weight of your expectations and it will inevitably break your heart.

This line crushed me. I knew immediately this line was for me, as I had placed so many things before God and I was now left with the pieces of a broken heart. I went out the next day to get the book and begin reading.

What I love about this book is how much reading and study Mr. Keller had to have done to put it together. It is thorough and employs the voices of so many scholars. It’s clear Keller did the research on this topic but also lived the practice out.

I recommend this book to anyone looking to get closer to God through prayer or anyone who has questions about the practice of prayer. You won’t be disappointed.

The Practice of the Presence of God, brother Lawrence

“We ought not to be wary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”

It’s a short read but I make it a practice to read this book once every few months. You’ll find on my July goal list: “Reread The Practice of the Presence of God.” Brother Lawrence wasn’t rich or famous.

He was a soldier who decided to dedicate his life to God as a monk. He lived a pretty humble life but he was most proud of how he maintained a beautiful and constant relationship with God. He believed every one of us has the chance to be in the constant presence of God. How awesome is that?

I think everyone should have this book on hand. It’s a stunning manual for those who want to know God on a deeper level.

A Prayer Journal, Flannery O’Connor

“I do not know You God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.” 

I first discovered the prayer journal of Flannery O’Connor through Tim Keller’s book on Prayer. He quotes her often. Before this, I only knew Flannery as a famous American author. I had no clue she was actually very devout in her faith. She spent years begging to God that she would be made into a fine writer. She regarded herself as the tool through which God could write his best stories through.

This book taught me to pray. No joke. Before reading this, I worried my prayers needed to be eloquent and wordy. I prayed “impressive” prayers. And then, getting a peek into her prayer journal, I realized our prayers could be as honest as we want them to be. God isn’t afraid of our honesty, our mess, our failures, and our disgusts. He wants all of it, just as it is.

I also love reading this prayer journal because even though Flannery was a famous author, you would not necessarily tell her writing was “Christian.” She wrote some pretty dark fiction and God used it. Wherever you go, and whatever you do, God is with you and God can use it.

The Gospel According to Moses, Athol Dickson

“I abandoned my faith because it seemed I had no right to question the difficulties, much less expect answers. I had been taught to accept ready-made dogma rather than to personally take my doubts to God. Make no mistake; I do not blame the church for my lost time. I might well have fallen away no matter what. But it is just possible that several years of painful isolation from the Lord might have been avoided had I learned at an early age this simple truth that most Reform Jews know:
God loves an honest question.” 

This book is a beautiful chronicle for anyone interested in the Jewish faith and how it intersects with Christianity. I nerd out massively when it comes to the Old Testament because I think it is so rich and full, plus Moses and Jacob are my favorites.

If you want to bridge the gap between the Old and New Testament, read this gem. You’ll learn so much. You’ll grow. You’ll know God better.

Spurgeon’s Sorrows, Zack Eswine

“Diagnostic words like “depression” are invitations, not destinations. Once you’ve spoken them, your travel with a person has begun, not ended.” 

This book was an engagement gift given to me by my Uncle Scott who brought Lane and I through premarital counseling. I’ve long been a lover of Charles Spurgeon but I didn’t know he dealt with chronic depression and anxiety.

I place this book into the hands of anyone who struggles to understand where faith and mental health intersect. This book is a beautiful testimony to how our weakness can be made perfect through the strength of Christ.

I never want anyone to ever feel like God isn’t with them if they struggle with depression or that medication is bad or wrong. Spurgeon was one of the most regarded preachers of his time (and still is). It’s refreshing to read of his battles with mental illness and uncover where he puts his faith and hope again and again.

What book or books have shaped your faith? We would love to hear from you in the comments section!

Breadcrumbs left in Baltimore: a note on writing about hard things.

Dear Hannah, 

After years of denying that I am a creative person, I’ve started to slowly but surely realize that I want to be a writer. Words have always played a big part of my life and have been instrumental in helping me explain my darkness and my feelings. Words are what brought me to God and its words that have helped me encourage others in their mess. I’ve spent my whole life working towards being a lawyer but the idea of the corporate life and procedural regulations is killing me. I want to sit with people, and talk to them and write words that will encourage them. And I feel a constant knocking on my heart to do this. It’s what inspires me to get out of bed and stay up at night. 

So now, I’m taking my first few baby steps to hone my craft and find my voice! But of course, there is a lot of fear in my way. Fear that I desperately want to fight through. I want to connect and make a difference by being real and authentic, but the thought of writing out my story with depression and suicide, or my struggles, makes me feel like vomiting. Once it’s out there, it’s not mine, it’s the internet’s and I’m scared of what will happen. 

So I guess my question is how do you decide how vulnerable you want to get with your readers? How did you make that first step when you first spoke about the woods? 

Love,
A

Sweet A,

There is a diner in the Baltimore airport I visit whenever I have a layover on my way from Atlanta to Hartford. It’s called the Silver Diner. You should go if you ever find yourself connecting flights in Baltimore. Since 2015, this has been my ritual. I secretly rejoice whenever my itinerary holds a stop in Baltimore.

To know my story is to know there was a time when I vowed to never go back to Baltimore. I didn’t want to remember all the trauma. I wanted to forget that point in my life. After crawling out of the depression in 2015 and piecing myself back together, I remember booking a flight home to Connecticut to see my mom. I remember my whole body tensing up when I looked down at the ticket that morning and realized I was heading back to Baltimore. Of all the places, that was where I would switch planes.

I thought to myself, “I am never going back to Baltimore. Why am I going there now? How come we can’t stop somewhere else?” I don’t know what I was so afraid of. I think there’s a fear that comes with revisiting a place that once broke your heart. It’s like you might morph back into that past version of yourself if you set foot on the soil once again.

We touched down in Baltimore for a two-hour layover. I got off the plane and I was met with the entrance of the Silver Diner. I wheeled my suitcase into the diner, found a booth in the corner, ordered a bison breakfast (that’s my go-to) and a coffee. I pulled out my computer, determined to claim back when the darkness tried to steal from me. I wrote, for the first time, about the hell hole I’d lived in that past year. It took me 8 months but I was finally ready to write about it.

 

I share this story because that moment is when a lot changed for me. I was no longer silent about my depression. I was no longer covering up this huge part of my story. I was releasing what happened to me, giving it to whoever wanted it on the internet. I remember my palms sweating as a I pressed “publish.” That was the point in my story where I became a light to others in this march towards mental health. Something shifted in my walk that day in the middle of the Silver Diner, the booth tucked in the back corner.

At some point in your own story, it will be time to be a light. The shift will happen. You will no longer be afraid of the words that come tumbling out of you because you will know the words cannot hurt you. You will reach a point where your story isn’t an open wound, it’s a healing balm ready for others. 

 

It’s sort of like the story of Hansel and Gretel. You remember that one? The two children, Hansel and Gretel, walk deep into the woods. Hansel takes a piece of bread and tears it up into small bits. They leave a trail of breadcrumbs to help them find their way back home.

Your story is a breadcrumb trail for anyone deep in the woods. Each little piece is a navigator, a chance for someone to find it and say, “they made their way out of the woods. I shall, too.” 

The dark parts of your story don’t disqualify you. We all have them. We all have timelines we can’t make sense of, things we think God cannot possibly use for good. The key is forging a redemption story where you used to see ashes.

 

I got an email the other day from a young woman named Chloe. In her email, Chloe told me how thankful she was that I had depression. It’s an odd thing to thank someone for but she said if I had not gone through the depression then she was not so sure she could walk out of it. Sometimes you go before the others, A. Sometimes you follow. Sometimes you lead. But you never need to doubt that your pain serves a purpose. It all is purposeful.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t confusing. There will be days this side of heaven where you look around and think, “Why? Why did that painful, awful thing have to happen to me?” And then someone like Chloe will come along. She will read your blogs or pick up your book. She will find herself in your voice and she will uncover some hidden strength to keep walking. She will feed off your breadcrumbs on the days you feel like your words don’t make noise. She will remind you of the pain and how that pain is somehow worth it.

 

Here’s the thing: you don’t have to share it all. This isn’t a race or a competition. You can share one small thing that has made a difference to you. You can inch your way into vulnerability.

When I teach my writing classes, I always tell people to start ankle deep with their vulnerability. It’s like making your way into a cold pool. You could jump all the way in but I definitely prefer to start ankle deep, then calf deep, then knee deep, then thigh deep. Share your words with a trusted friend. Get some good feedback.

I never share things I am not ready to talk about. I believe in keeping some things secret and sacred. There are parts of my journey through mental health that people will never know about. In a world where we share everything, it’s beautiful to keep something sacred for yourself. 

 

So what are your breadcrumbs? What parts of your story could help someone else breath again? Tell me about the landmarks. The high peaks and the low valleys. Tell me about the places where you stopped to rest. The moments where you pitched the tent. Tell me about the heavy and the light. 

Look for the breadcrumbs in your story, babe. Look for those hope-filled pieces that resemble stars in a black sky. You don’t need to paint every gruesome detail. Just tell me where your hope lies. Tell me why you decided to hold on. Tell me when you felt out of breath and how you recovered.

In a world pitted with grief and confusion, we need some more anthems. We need more strong voices. We need hope over anger and love over hate. Tell me your “how I held on” story. Give me a reason to keep crawling through the woods and back into the light.

tying you closer than most,

hb.

Building a routine that matters.

I am in a daily battle with depression.

I’m really careful with the language I use when I talk about depression. I never say “I struggle with depression” or “I suffer from depression.” Words hold power and I don’t ever want to give off the impression that I am in a fight that I cannot win. I say things like “I handle depression” or “I battle with depression.”

You must be prepared to go into a battle. You don’t show up without ammo, a strategy, and an army behind you. This is how I battle that daily depression: with strategy, purpose, and an army behind. 

The biggest weapon I have when it comes to fighting depression: a routine. 

Routines add a rhythm to the day. Routines are something stable to look forward to. Routines ensure that you are pushing towards something— a goal, an aspiration, a better version of yourself. For someone who faces depression and the possibility of being derailed by emotions throughout a day, establishing a solid, unshakeable routine has been a game changer for me.

First things first, track your current routine.

Before setting out to revamp your entire life in one day, take a few days to track what your current routine looks like. A routine is anything you’re doing on a near-daily basis. Yes, this means negative things you’re doing: sleeping too much, waking up late, watching Netflix, spending time on your phone. Even the things you wish you could change right now are a part of a routine that is happening daily for you. Good or bad habits— there likely are things you’re doing that you wish you could a) stop or b) do more often.

Map your ideal day.

What would your perfect routine look like? Would you be up early? Would you have time to read for pleasure? Map out your most ideal days and place stars next to everything that is not already a part of your daily routine. It’s important to know what you’re going after, what you’re striving for.

Vital parts of your best daily routine might look like:

Drinking water
Waking up before the sun
Unplugging at 9pm
Going for an evening walk
Making a smoothie

You wouldn’t think you’d need to schedule all these things out but it’s very hard to make a pattern or build a habit when you don’t put these sorts of things on the calendar. Routines don’t show up without hard work.

Set a goal and then make the goal attainable. 

Let’s say the goal is to build up to a workout regimen that happens 5 days a week for 45 minutes each time. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to hurl yourself into that kind of routine if you’re not used to working out so consistently. So set this big goal as your 6-month goal. Tell yourself, “I would like to be working out 5 days a week within the next 6 months.”

Take that big goal and chop it up in 6 smaller monthly goals. Potential ideas:

  • Workout 2 days this week
  • Workout 10 days this month
  • Take a walk for 20 minutes each day

If a goal is attainable you will experience the taste of victory. Once you get a taste of that victory you’re going to want more of it.

Why am I failing with every goal I set?

I went through a phase where I was failing every goal I set for myself. It led to a lot of defeat and negative self-talk. I kept thinking, “I am never going to be happy with myself. I am always going to be stuck in this place.”

I think the reason I was failing at my goals is that I was going too fast with them. I was setting really big goals without any form of habits to back them up. My recent goal was to kick grains out of my diet completely. A friend commented the other week that I’ve been killing the goal, executing it so effortlessly.

It looks like zero effort but the truth was I’d set a series of smaller goals before tackling this big goal. I learned how to cook grain free. I stocked up my pantry with the essentials. I tackled 2 Whole30s. By the time I was ready to kick grains out for good, I’d already set a bunch of smaller goals to get me to that starting line. I’d trained. I was ready.

Every day, every week, every month.

There are going to be things you do every day, every week, and every month. For instance: I dedicate one day out of the month to go through my finances, make my donations, and do my budget sheets. I mark off two hours every Sunday to plan my week out. These are things that don’t happen every day but they deserve space in the calendar. Truthfully, they won’t happen at all unless I make that space in my calendar.

Here’s an example of what I commit to doing every day:

Read my bible + pray
Workout (6 days a week)
Take medication
Drink water
Encourage someone
Say “I love you” to Lane

Apart from saying “I love you” and encouraging someone, I really have to schedule the rest of the stuff out. It has to have a place in my day or else I will put it off, forget about it, or find better to do.

And here’s the truth: there are days when I don’t “feel” like it. I want to skip the workout. I want to sleep in. I want to just scroll through my phone instead of making a meal for myself. But I am learning to do it anyway. When I don’t feel like it. When I would rather be doing something else. When I want to complain. I have yet to say the words, “Bummer, that workout was awful” or “Man, I am so mad I made a healthy meal for myself.” Is it always perfect? Nope. But I am working towards a better version of myself and so I must be willing to say “no” to the things that want to keep me stagnant.

How do you build a routine when your work schedule fluctuates? 

This is why I think mapping your week out before it begins is essential. Just because you do something at 10am one day and 1pm another day does not mean it isn’t part of the routine. On days where I am traveling, it might not be 9pm until I get into the gym but I make a daily promise to myself: I will get my workout in. I will read my bible. I will take my medicine. I rarely give myself excuses or free passes. I know these essential parts of my day make for the happiest, strongest, and kindest version of me.

If you have a schedule that fluctuates, plan your week out whenever you get that work schedule. See the week in front of you. Mapping my week out on a Sunday is an immovable commitment I make to myself and it guarantees that I never walk into a week blindsided by what is to come or how I am going to get it all done.

Do you think it’s better to go 100% in on day 1 or gradually build up to a big routine change?

I have a few thoughts on this. I am a pretty big “go 100%” advocate BUT I think you can only afford to do it well ONE AREA AT A TIME. When I went for the 5am hours, I committed wholeheartedly and daily. Yes, I still failed. But I didn’t give myself the wiggle room of 2 out of 5 days of 1 day a week. I exerted my best energy into waking up that early.

I absolutely would have failed if I tried to tackle 5am hours, 5 days in the gym, and clean eating all in one month. It would have been a recipe for failure.

Pick one thing you want to go hard in the paint with and then give yourself grace in the other areas. Set smaller goals in the other areas. Willpower is a limited resource so don’t be surprised if it runs out on you.

But what if I fail?

Here’s the thing: you will fail. You won’t eat all the kale. You will go for the donut instead. You’ll get to the gym and only have the energy to sit. You will miss a workout routine. You will forget your sneakers. You will mess up the recipe. You will sleep in. You are going to fail and the world is not going to fall apart. You will mess it all up and that’s perfectly okay… building a routine isn’t about being perfect 100% of the time. It’s about building towards something better. It’s about going after what truly matters most to you. Figure that stuff out. Set the small goals. Rejoice over the small victories. Start over new each day.

Building a routine takes time and patience. Celebrate the good, often + always. You’ve got this.

hey you,

I would love to hear from you. What’s one thing you want to go 100% in on this month that will make your days, weeks, and months better for the future? Let’s chat about how to make this a reality!

Should I stay or should I go now?

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Lane is the more organized one in our marriage. If ever I forget this truth, I need only look at my calendar for the next upcoming flight on my horizon. It will be the morning of that flight, as I am furiously trying to find things I need to be packed and shove them into my suitcase, that I will be reminded of this truth.

I want to be organized. I crave order. But I am the kind of packer who throws all of her stuff into the suitcase without folding and then sits on top of the case to try and zip it. I am also the person who packs chaotically (half-crying, half-cussing) and then, on the way to the airport, is surprised to find I need something in the suitcase. I will be standing there in the drop-off area of the airport unpacking and repacking as Lane kisses me goodbye and tells me all of this would be simpler if I would just take the time to pack my bag the day before.

Deep sigh. I can’t seem to get better in this area. I picture myself folding things neatly and really thinking deliberately about what I want to bring my trip. The reality is way more chaotic: I pack way more than I need. I pack all the things I haven’t worn in 2 years. I end up wearing approximately one outfit out of the 5 I’ve packed. I forget things. I bring the wrong shoes. I bring too many shoes.

I received an email the other day from a reader currently in the middle of “Come Matter Here.” She asked a really good question, one I’ve wrestled with a great deal.

She wrote to ask, “I was wondering where you draw the line between planting your roots down to grow and “being where your feet are” and let’s just say, for instance, moving to the beach for a year. I love to travel and be spontaneous and I guess I was just wondering if it is bad to do that?”

First things first: nope.

There is nothing bad or wrong about being a spontaneous person, wanting to travel, or liking adventure. My husband Lane is continually reminding me to change the language I use when addressing circumstances in daily life. He encourages me to stop wondering if things are always “bad” or “wrong.” Without even knowing it, I can begin to spread my worry and fear into all areas of life.

When I adopted the motto “be where your feet are” before moving to Atlanta, I was at a point where nothing could satisfy me. I could have picked up and moved to the beach for a year and still, I would have likely missed the present moment. I don’t think there is anything wrong with packing your bags and traveling if you can (I actually would highly encourage you going out and seeing the world) but I think you have to be willing to ask the question: Am I running from something? Am I going somewhere because I am ready for a great adventure or am I leaving because I think it would be easier than staying?

You’re either running from something or you’re running towards something. There’s a difference.

If you are running from something then I would encourage you to dig in before you decide to go anywhere. I would ask you to dig deep. I would tell you to deal with the baggage before you go somewhere new because that baggage will surely follow you. It will show up in your beach bungalow. It will wave to you from the back of the packed car.

Admittedly, there was a ton of baggage I did not unpack before moving to Atlanta and let me tell you this: it was so much harder to deal with it when I was 1,000 miles away from everyone who really knew me.

My first few months of Atlanta were full of meeting new people and awkward first coffee dates but there was limited depth and I appreciated that. I appreciated that because I honestly didn’t want to know or face the depth of my mess. I wanted to be okay— even if it meant only on the surface— and fool people into thinking I was doing just fine. I tricked myself into thinking I didn’t have to deal with the parts of me that were disappointed with God.

People who really know you— they know your darkest parts— will ask the scarier questions: are you running from something? Have you talked to God lately? What are you really afraid of?

I have one friend who answers all my whiny statements with the same answer, “Go back to God.” Gosh, this friend frustrates me sometimes. I want to kick and scream and say, “NO! I don’t want to go back to God! I don’t want to meet him in the quiet of my room. I don’t want to hash it out. I want to stay mad and distant. I want to keep my pain. I want to fix it myself.”

But friends, she is never wrong. In all the years I have tried to avoid what is truly bothering me or tried to avoid taking that thing to God like an offering, my friend has never been wrong. I have always needed to go back to God even when I think I haven’t walked away. I’ve got a heart that is prone to wandering and Lord, oh Lord, do I feel it.

We all have a bag. We all pack differently. Some of us are traveling light. Some of us are secret hoarders who’ve never parted with a memory in our lives. I think we are all called to figure out how to carry our bag to the best of our ability, how to unpack it, and how to face the mess. I think part of growing up is learning how to sit down the floor with all your things and figuring out what to take with you and what to leave behind. It’s learning to do the hard work that comes with dealing with the messy.  It’s being wise enough to take that inventory and ask yourself: am I being held back? Am I really free? Is there something I’m still refusing to let go of?

Mind you, “dealing with the messy” isn’t an overnight quest. You likely won’t put it on your to-do list and check it off within the week. Life is always getting a little bit messier but I think we learn to fold it. We learn to deal with it. We learn to find order in the chaos and peace in the storms.

I’m not promising anyone they’ll encounter a day where life doesn’t throw a curveball and deal you a healthy serving of mess. I’m simply saying this: you can learn to sort through your mess with God. You can learn to wade into the mess and through the mess and come out as someone different on the other side. You can learn to run towards the mess rather than run from everything that scares you.

I guess I haven’t done a very good job of answering that reader’s question: is it wrong to want to pack up my life and go somewhere new?

The short answer: no. No, it isn’t.

You were created with adventure in your bones. You were created to encounter miracles. You were created to rejoice. But there is deep and satisfying work in opening the suitcase and figuring out what you’re really carrying before you go.

The Better Guide // Summer 2018 Edition.

Welcome to Issue 5 of the Better Guide! The Summer Edition!

This is my monthly guide– a most-random resource list of all things food, drink, faith, fitness, and fun. I publish this guide at the end of every month (consider it a wrap-up of the last 30 or so days) and I am making a single promise to you in creating and curating the resource list: I promise to seek the better. I promise to gather resources, apps, news, and test them out first. I’ll be the guinea pig, ready to report back my findings. I promise not to report things that are fake, way too much money, or will ultimately do nothing for your life but distract you. Life is precious and I ain’t toying with your hours nor could I ever, in good conscience, recommend a $600 gym bag to you. I promise to be fair, real, transparent, and ultimately focused on the better. Better health. Better work. Better relationships. All the better. 


Better Beach Trips.

  • I love a good beach chair but this “beach mat” is innovative! If Lane and I plan a beach trip this year then I am definitely adding this to the Amazon cart!
  • For too many years, I didn’t invest in a beach towel. I would grab a towel from the bathroom and head for the beach. Last summer, I made the plunge and ordered “his” and “hers” towels early. The towels I found myself admiring were out-of-this-world expensive but, like always, Amazon saved the day! This is my go-to towel now. It’s spacious, stylish, CIRCULAR (!!!), and super affordable!
  • If you’re like me then you burn pretty easily… this cool invention is the perfect way to get all the sun but switch into the shade whenever you feel the redness coming on.

Better Beach Reads.

Better Invites.

  • I don’t know about you but the summer, for me, means lots of showers, weddings + celebrations. My favorite! This month I am planning a bridal show for a girlfriend of mine and Paperless Post absolutely came to the rescue. I can’t recommend this digital invitation service enough! We all lead busy lives and if you are in a pinch for time to mail out invites- this is the way to go. You get to design the cards, send them via email, and then track the responses. It’s RSVPs made easy and I. Am. Hooked!

Better Suits.

Better Netflix.

Need a night to just chill and unplug from the rest of the world? Fear not, Netflix has you covered with the following newbies:

  • He Named Me Malala (June 1)
  • Grey’s Anatomy, Season 14 (June 16)
  • The Staircase (Currently watching and it’s for any of the true crime lovers out there)

Better Date Nights.

  • How freaking cute is this?! First off, just discovered this site and I am absolutely addicted to it! But I am definitely making this before the summer ends. Perfect for a summer picnic in the park.
  • Need some new date night ideas? Here’s 50 for ya!
  • A friend gifted Lane and I with this subscription last year and it’s perfect for enjoying a night in or bringing a treat to a party!

Better Sips.

Better Salads

Have a suggestion for the next Better Guide? Get at us. 

Goodbye to all that: the last letter of year 29.

I’m on a 4-hour flight to California. For some reason, I always write my most important words on airplanes. There’s something about being 10,000 feet up in the air and looking down at everything on the ground. You start to feel small. You realize you are pretty small and life is pretty short. You’ve got a short window of time to make a dent in your space in the world. Use it wisely, I tell my 20-year-old self. Use every moment wisely.

I turned 30 on Thursday. It was everything I could have wanted. We rented out my favorite coffee shop, filled it with candles and balloons, and I got to spend the evening hugging the people who made year 29 unforgettable. I’ve lived in Atlanta for four years now. I’ve made this place a home.

“Look at the transformation of this place,” my friend Blake says to me as we huddle close by the door. “This used to be your hideaway place. And now look…”

He’s right. The room is filled with people I love. There’s no hiding in this space. I’ve grown up. I’ve grown wiser. I’m ready for 30 and I feel no fear of getting older because every year teaches me something better than the one before it. I used to think it was cliché when people told me life is the ultimate teacher and now I never leave home without a notebook because there are just too many notes to take.

I’ve known for a while I wanted to write something down to commemorate another decade down. I still have so much to learn but I am beginning to believe wisdom comes at any age. Wisdom is always there waiting for you when you are ready to look up, look around, and take it all in.

So for anyone in their twenties, this letter is for you.

People will say a lot about what your twenties “should” be like but ultimately it is up to you. This is a precious time to figure it out. Ask all your questions. Say “yes” to things that scare you. Those things will be what end up making you.

Say “yes” to the first date even if you are pretty certain you won’t end up marrying him. People can always surprise you.

Say “yes” to opportunities which take you to new places. If given the chance to travel, always take it.

Admit when you’re not okay. You don’t have to hold the entire world together, that’s not your job. When you are struggling, let someone in. This matters. People cannot help you if you don’t tell them where you are.

And another thing— there’s no shame in feeling lost or depressed. Anyone who makes you feel less than because of these feelings isn’t someone you want in your corner. Admitting your need for help is a brave act and it should be commended, not condemned. On the day you whisper, “I’m not okay… please don’t leave me alone in this,” feel no shame. You’re braver than you know.

When you’re 21, you’ll be a few credits away from a major in Women’s Studies. At this point in your life, you are pretty hardcore. Your edges will soften in the years ahead as you learn what it means to be a real woman. You will learn the depths of yourself and what you bring to the table. You will value equality in all aspects of life. You will come to believe it isn’t about men being higher or women being more powerful— we all bring something necessary to the table. We all get a voice and it matters that we hone it, train it, and learn to speak with kindness, above all else.

Your words are pretty powerful. They can either build a person up or tear them down. Choose to build people up. You’ll learn in year 29 that words that don’t bring life are words better left unsaid. The bible talks a lot about the tongue and that’s because it is powerful but also the easiest way to bring others to ruin. Choose prayer over gossip. Choose encouragement over competition.

I promise you this: when you begin celebrating the people around you, something will change. When you stop believing your resources are scarce and you just begin to share what you have, the world will open up. Take off those scarcity glasses, babe. Look around you, there’s plenty.

Sometimes life will take you somewhere new. Sometimes you will be the one to pack up the suitcase and drive 1,000 miles down south. Wherever you go, God is with you and for you. That’s a complimentary travel guarantee like that first free checked bag. Go in peace. Go expectant. Go knowing that it won’t always feel like a honeymoon period. And about that honeymoon period… the day it wears off isn’t a signal to run back to everything familiar. The best refinement happens through hard lessons learned. Dig in. Don’t run.

Invest in good dinner plates. When you’re 27, you’ll think it’s silly to spend your money on plates but you’ll learn your lesson when the ones you bought from the dollar store start sparking and burning in the microwave. Buy the plates. Buy a cookbook. Learn to make a dish to share with other people. You spent the first part of your twenties loathing any form of hospitality but now you’re beginning to see it’s beautiful and sacred to offer someone a meal you made with love.

Sometimes a guy will make you feel like you’re the only girl in their orbit and then, not even a few weeks later, they’ve chosen someone else. I learned in my twenties why the overused phrase “guard your heart” matters so much. Believe it or not, it’s not some cheesy Christian term meant to have you kiss dating goodbye. Like everything else in the Bible, it’s in there because it carries weight.

Guard your heart is a way of saying, “Be careful with who you let in and what you give them access to. Some people come in for the long haul and some people come in with no intention to stay. Choose wisely. What you give to someone is given for good. You’ll have a hard time getting it back. And the biggest thing you can keep for yourself is respect.

RESPECT. It matters. Gosh, it’s everything. At the age of 22, your aunt might write you a letter to commemorate your graduating from college. You will read it out loud to your best friend on the empty beach in Cape Cod before packing up your life into a broken suitcase and moving to New York City.

She will tell you respect is the most important thing in any relationship. Like a spare tire, it’s wise to always have it around.

Two people must respect each other to remain on the same page and keep fighting for this thing called love. Mutual respect means everything. Who are we if we aren’t respected by the person who claims to love us the most?

When you’re 25, you’ll sit at a small kitchen table in the New York City apartment of one of your best friends and you both will write a list. You will call it “the list” and you will seal the envelope and write on the top of it “don’t open until you find THE ONE.”

This list will be a pile of attributes you hope your future spouse will possess. The thing is, you’ll lose that list somewhere in the next 2 years and maybe that is for the better. You should have a few “non-negotiables” as I like to call them. The things you stand for in another person and cannot be swayed on. But you will learn in the next few years that there is no perfect person. There is no “one” you cannot live without. People never come along to complete you.

Look for the one who doesn’t see your dreams to be impossible. Look for the one who grounds you in truth but also teaches you to reach for more. When someone says something like “Oh, I don’t want to have kids” or “I could never live anywhere else but here,” believe them. Don’t show up to a relationship thinking you can change the other person.

This advice is coming from someone who thought she could do it. I entered into a lot of relationships thinking I could change the person sitting across the dinner table from me. People have to want to change for themselves. I no longer believe I exist to change other people or make them better versions of themselves by my own good works.

When you’re 26, a friend will coax you to try out a dating app. It’s okay if you don’t feel ready. Time spent investing in you is never wasted. Listen to your gut because it is usually right.

Eight months later, you’ll return to that dating app download screen. Two weeks later, a man with a short red beard and a white OJ Simpson Bronco will be at your door picking you up for the first date. Laugh with him. Allow him to open the car door for you. Don’t run when he wants to see you again immediately. Three months later, you’ll be saying “I love you” to him in the mountains of Georgia. Three months after that, you’ll be saying “yes” to him in a backyard covered with twinkle lights as your favorite people surround you. Five months later, you’ll wear white and he’ll look handsome in tweed. You’ll say vows and you will say to God beneath your breath, “Thank you for the wait. It was worth it.”

Love, you’ll learn, is never perfect. It’s tough and two people must show up with armor on. Love is a war for one another in a world that begs you to consider other options. Learn the art of devotion in a fleeting culture. Make love the top priority.

People will come and go in and out of your life. And that’s okay. Things end. Friendships don’t always go on forever. You’ll hopefully have your people though. And you’ll learn, as you grow up, that you don’t need the whole world sitting at your table. It really only takes one, maybe two, people who get you and want to be with you in the mess. You don’t need everyone’s approval. And you don’t have to stick around when friends make you walk on eggshells, or disrespect you, or make you feel like you’re always doing the chasing.

Find people who value you and check up on you. And then… this is a big one… return the favor. Friendship is a two-way street. No matter what. Go out of your way to show others that they matter to you. Serve your friends. Be the 2am phone call. Respect one another.

I used to think I had to hold onto every friend I ever made and then some important people walked out of my life. And the biggest freedom I gained? The day I stopped believing I was less than because I didn’t have them anymore or that it was my fault when they chose to leave.

People will choose to leave you. It will happen. And the hard but beautiful truth in that is just how resilient you’ll turn out to be. You’ll never know how resilient you actually are until people leave you or life breaks your heart or the cards don’t fall as you plan. Rejoice in these unseen tragedies because these pieces are a part of your becoming.

When you are 26 and sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office about to be prescribed for medication, release the shame. There is no shame in that small pill you’ll begin taking. There is no tie between that small pill and the God you are searching for. God is not looking at you with a look of dismay and thinking to himself, “Ugh, that one just can’t hold it together.”

In the years to come, that small pill will thicken your faith in God. It will allow you to breathe and finally find worth in yourself. That small pill will be a miracle to you so don’t discount it as anything but that. Don’t allow others to make you feel small in your faith because you need medication to thrive throughout a given day. Your God is bigger than that and you have nothing to prove to other people.

Another note on God: you’ll adopt a “Moses” kind of faith in your late twenties. Moses is the one in the bible who had intimacy with God. He felt the freedom to ask God all his questions and God never turned him away or liked him any less. You will learn God isn’t coming at you with a measuring stick or a disdained face. You will learn there is such freedom and beauty in inching closer to God and deciding not to run anymore.

Your prayers matter. They’re not dumb. They’re not trivial. Pray about nearly everything. Submit other people to prayer. Prayer is the way you and God dialogue back and forth. He’s not holding out on you or waiting for you to clean up your act before you chat. This isn’t his nature or his character. He isn’t out to get you.

Work hard. You’re not owed anything. Above all else, invest in your craft. Make a vow to that craft: I will do my very best to know you and master you.

Believe in that 10,000 hours rule. Put your blinders on and stay focused. Like I said— the world owes you nothing so don’t stand there with your hands outstretched waiting.

Write the dang book. Stop talking about it. Stop berating yourself for not starting the thing and just sit down and begin. Struggling with where to start? Open a word document and type these words: chapter one. There… that’s where it all begins.

The outcome will be sloppy and beautiful. Tell yourself now, “I will not be enslaved to perfection.” Write from that pit in your belly where all the visceral feelings live. Slam your fingers against those keys until you feel something mad and wild release from you.

Don’t sign up for the role of writer for that bestseller title. Sign up because you are desperate for the craft. Sign up because neglecting the art of writing would be the greatest tragedy of your short life. Sign up because you don’t recognize yourself when you’re not writing.

Be kind to yourself. Don’t force yourself into diets or restrictions as an act of hatred. Feed your body real food as much as you can. Say “thank you” to your body at least every six months for the things it gives you without you even asking. Without this skin, you wouldn’t be here. So again (because it is worth repeating): be kind to your body because you only get one.

When you are 24, you will think the idea of “self-care” is really selfish. It’s not. Taking care of others begins with taking care of yourself. It’s a domino effect.

Moisturizing is essential. Wear sunscreen.

Look beyond the screen. It’s easy to judge a person by their Instagram feed but you’d be better off knowing this: every person you’ve seen living a “perfect” life on Instagram has some struggle. What people choose to curate isn’t the full story and there is absolute freedom in not needing to know all the details of another person’s life. Be in the lives of your people. Consider that enough.

Our phones are a silly little device meant to connect us. They were originally made so we could hear the sound of each other’s voices from miles away and relay messages quickly. It’s on us to make sure we stay connected when the phones shut off.

Pick up the phone and call just to hear someone’s voice on the other side of the line. Buy flowers for your friends just to see their reaction. Go above and beyond whenever you can because that’s the stuff that will actually, actually fill you.

This is just the beginning to a list of life lessons that could go on for days. My last piece of advice: write it all down. Sit down at the end of each day and ask God, “What was there for me to learn today?” There’s always something. Life is always teaching you something worth paying attention to.

Above everything else: you’re capable. It matters that you’re here. On the days where you struggle with purpose and desire, you’re not alone. These questions you’re asking make for ground. Ask them all. Find what makes you come alive. You might not even be able to imagine at age 21 what you will be doing at age 26. That’s okay.

Take in the grace. Take the next step forward. Say yes and thank you. Take too many pictures. Cease the moment and live in it for as long as you can. Stay honest. Stay real. Stay golden.

tying you closer than most,

hb.

Put on your strength: a step towards mental health.

Hi Hannah! 

I’ve been following you for awhile now on social media and appreciate your honesty and wisdom especially when it comes to anxiety and depression. I’ve dealt with anxiety probably most of my life but the past few years I believe it has gotten worse. I’m 29 about to be 30, in a stressful job where I am unhappy, wish I was married, and in need of a strong community of believers around me but is seriously lacking these days. I think all of these are contributing factors in why my anxiety/depression has been so much worse.  

I want to go to a doctor and explore the idea of medication but even the idea of finding a doctor, going, and explaining everything is overwhelming enough. I recently opened up a little to my mom about it but her advice is to pray more which she is probably right but it’s hard to pray more when I can’t think rationally due to overwhelming anxiety. 

I’m not even sure why I’m writing to you I NEVER do things like this but I appreciate your words on the subject and would gladly accept any advice you might have for me! 

Thanks for taking the time 🙂

S


Dear S,

There’s a passage in the book of Isaiah, chapter 52, that starts like this: Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion. I’ve been sitting with those words since Monday night and I think maybe they were meant to be passed onto you.

In the Message Translation of the Bible, they name Chapter 52 as “God is leading you out of here.”

It’s a call to the people who have been stuck in exile for quite some time. It’s a call to the people who have felt hopeless and tired, wondering to themselves, “Will this darkness never cease?”

I could say a million things to you right now but I think you need to hear this first: God is leading you out of here. Put on your strength. Like a well-loved denim jacket, put on any ounce of strength you’ve got left in your tired body. You won’t be left in this struggle alone. You’re coming out of the woods.

I feel compelled to say these things because the conversation about faith + mental illness gets really messy sometimes. The church has a long way to go when it comes to talking about mental illness but I’ve honestly seen more talking than ever before. That gives me hope.

In the midst of my severe depression, I couldn’t shield myself from the people who thought I just needed more faith. Or I just needed more prayer. Or I just needed to dig into my own well of strength and rewire the pathways in my brain manually. They made it seem easy.

And, girl, there is so much temptation to get mad at those people and the comments they make. But anger won’t do anything. They can’t help what they don’t yet know. Take the words from someone who knows depression like a sister by now: your depression isn’t a matter of “get stronger” or “have more faith.” God isn’t looking at you and saying to himself, “Man, I just wish you could hold it together a little more… could you get on my level?”

Do I think faith and prayer matter in the battle for mental health? Absolutely. But medicine is a modern-day miracle.

“Taking medicine is a wise act of faith, not unfaith,” Zack Eswine writes. “It would not be wise to live by a supposed faith, and cast off the physician and his medicines, any more than to discharge the butcher, and the tailor, and expect to be fed and clothed by faith,” Charles Spurgeon said.

If I could speak one piece of advice over my 7-year battle with mental health, I would just say this: “Don’t let fear be the thing that stops you from getting the help you need. If anyone else were drowning, you’d tell them to reach out and grab the life jacket. Don’t ignore the symptoms of drowning.”

Several years ago I tried to get “in shape” for my wedding. I already had the dress and I didn’t have to lose much weight but I wanted what most women want when they look back on wedding photos- to be able to say I looked my best on that day.

No matter what I tried to do, I could not lose weight. It was impossible. I felt hopeless. A friend of mine thought my inability to lose weight was tied up in the medication I was taking for depression. That was all it took for me, S, one person’s opinion was all I needed to stop taking my medication.

I felt triumphant. I started talking about going “au naturel” and people loved the thought of me not having to be on medication for my entire life. I thought I’ve got this. I’m treating this naturally. I don’t want something in my body that messes with my ability to drop a few pounds.

Things went downhill quickly. Within the span of a few weeks, I was feeling anxious again. I was struggling to stay focused. A thick fog of sadness settled over me. There was one day in particular where I started having a panic attack in my gym, thinking to myself, “I’m going back into the dark. Dear God, help me. I don’t want to go back into the dark place.”

I share this for a few reasons:

  1. Our friends and family mean well but they might not always be right. You’ve got to test everything. People talk out of what they know and understand to be true. Turns out, my medication didn’t stand in the way of me losing weight (I learned this a year later while completing a Whole30). Your mother, if she has never dealt with depression, may think the remedy is prayer. More prayer. Do I think prayer is a part of the journey? Yes, of course. Do I think “more prayer” is enough to get you out of a depression when there is a real chemical imbalance in your brain or a situation you can’t leave right now? In my own experience, no.
  2. I quickly became intoxicated by this idea of what it would look like to battle my depression “naturally.” I felt like Gwenyth-freaking-Paltrow for about five minutes. But I’m not Gwenyth and it turns out my body was all sorts of shell-shocked by my decision to go cold-turkey off the medicine. I had to spend so much mental energy just trying to tread water while off the medication. I was going to impress people, I thought. I became enamored by a reality that wasn’t my own, by a story of “girl goes off medication and deals with it naturally” that wasn’t my story to hold. Maybe one day I will be able to be off of my medication but you know what, S? That’s not my goal. My goal is to be as healthy and happy as I can be and I am thankful medication helps me do that.
  3. Never go off your medication, cold-turkey, in the middle of planning a wedding. Just don’t.

Would I go back and do this string of events differently? Maybe. For a few seconds, I think maybe I would. But then I remember what came out of that mistake of mine:

My therapist, who’d formed a relationship with me, phoned a doctor friend. The doctor, who normally had a wait list 6-months out, was able to get me in for a visit 6 weeks later. In the meantime, I went back on my medication. It was an act of faith for me. It was a step towards getting better. And in those 6 weeks of waiting, God did something in my heart which made me ready to talk about medication and the possibility that I might be on it forever. We don’t know, S. We just can’t know.

All in all, it came down to a step in the right direction. One step and then another step. That’s the only advice I feel compelled to give you today: just take the first, scary step.

You hit a wall. You wrote it out to me. You’re sad. You’re unhappy. You might be disappointed in God. You hit the point where sadness has become your default and you need to see what could be waiting on the other side.

It takes a Google search or asking around within your community. After that, it takes scheduling the appointment.

On the day of that appointment, you show up. You breathe in and out. You ask questions. You answer questions. You begin a journey towards mental health and there’s no shame in that.

You going to see a doctor isn’t a scratch on you. That’s not a defect or a disqualification. Depression doesn’t discount you. When condemnation comes rapping on your door, speak firmly to it, “You can’t come here anymore.”

Health is beautiful but health looks different for all of us. My journey won’t mirror yours. Yours won’t be the same as your people’s journies. But we all have a journey and it matters that we take it seriously.

It’s that one small step, S. It’s that picking up of the strength you’ve got left and cloaking it over you. Wake up, babe. Wake up. Put on your strength.

tying you closer than most,

hb.


No doubt that S will be reading the comments below. This is a hard yet necessary conversation to have. I would love for you to post an encouraging message below or a piece of your own story. Every little word counts in this space. Remind the others: you’re not alone.