The Better Guide // February Edition.

Welcome to Issue 2 of the Better Guide! 

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 Reads.

  • I’m wrapping this book up today and I have to tell you- I’m obsessed. He gets right to the point and he doesn’t dance around it. I needed this book in more ways than I could say. A beautiful read for anyone who wants to know God better and see what he’s all about.
  • “He and I, on the other hand, were doing our arithmetic separately, in each of our messy minds. And while I will never understand how someone could hold the full weight of me in his arms and choose to let go, I understand that his final calculus was different from mine.”

Better Study.

  • This January and February, I wrote my first Bible study. It’s been a longtime goal of mine. I wanted to create something free for my readership and this is the result: a 15-session study on following Jesus in a follower-obsessed culture. I hope you enjoy!

Better Looks + Listens.

  • If you are a fan of true crime shows + podcasts, I would recommend you check out Up & Vanished. It swept the nation in 2017. Lane and I became hooked on this podcast and even attended the live finale in Atlanta. The creator of Up & Vanished recently came out with a new podcast. It’s a few weeks in but I am really loving the premise and how much I am learning about my city from it.
  • I’m known to spend my workouts listening to Levi Lusko. This recent sermon on the power of mornings + evenings has been a game changer for me.
  • Set up your Netflix for optimal viewing with this list. At first glance, I’ve seen very few of these movies so I’ve got some watching to do.

Better Home.

The Better Home options today come from one of my favorite spots to shop on the Internet- Huckberry. I basically don’t have to go anywhere to shop for Lane when the holidays hit. All of his favorite brands are in one place. It’s like a pop-up shop of creative makers on the Internet.

I’ve got some friends over at Huckberry and they kindly hooked all first-time shoppers and readers of the Better Guide up! Use the code “betterguide” during the month of March for 20% off your first buy. Holla for deals, y’all!

  • To know me is to know I love good, black coffee. I’m pretty jazzed about this manual coffeemaker. It makes all my coffee dreams come true! It combines the ability to brew a full pot of pour-over, French press, or cold brew in a sleek design. We getting fancy with our brew, huh?
  • I freaked a little bit when I found this on Huckberry because I’VE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THIS BEFORE. If you know nothing about Kintsugi then let’s get educated first. This is an age-old method for repairing broken things and I honestly want to break a few dishes just so I can use this repair kit.
  • Need a gift idea for the guy or girl in your life who loves to workout? Or just want to invest in yourself? We love Ursa Major and this Exercise Freak bundle will cover you after any sweat session.

Better Subscriptions.

  • I’ve been a faithful subscriber to the Book of the Month Club for the last year. But it wasn’t until the other day, when my friend Dawn came over to borrow some books for her beach trip, that I realized the impact this subscription has in my reading life. I only recommended BOTM choices to her. That’s how good I find their reads. If you are a reader, this subscription is for you. A newly released hardcover delivered to your door each month? Yes, please!
  • This is quickly becoming one of my favorite newsletters in my inbox. It is for all us wild ones who prefer to spend Friday night getting crazy on the couch… with a book… and a glass of wine… after a bubble bath. You’ll love their playful suggestions and it’s a really fun way to usher in the weekend!

Better Tech.

  • I’m just starting to use this app but I love the premise behind it. It’s all about knowing the quality of the brands you’re shopping– how they treat their employees, what working conditions are like, how they treat animals. It feels like a good first step for someone like me who wants to be aware of the back story behind the brands I am shopping. Check it out!
  • I’m not in college anymore but I know a bunch of you are. I definitely needed this app when I was in college.
  • “Have you ever used the browser extension called Honey? It automatically runs coupon codes through at checkout and applies the best one. It saves me a little here and there (and especially saves me the time of having to search for coupon codes!), and it’s FREE to put on your browser. Doesn’t get much better, in my opinion.” – Abbey

Better Work.

  • I love goal setting and can attest to how setting them changed my life and business. I recently came across this and I’m intrigued. I am planning to try it out for the month of March. I’ll report back!
  • I get asked all the time where I get my organizational things from. Look no further, this company is my #1.

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

Digging for gold in the valley.

I’ve been helping a man named Kevin write a book.

For the last two months, we’ve been meeting up in coffee shops across Atlanta to flesh out his stories. I’ve given him writing homework. He shows up with chapters written and stories half-constructed. We edit his words line by line. We toggle back and forth in Google documents. It’s humbling and good work for me. I like being around people when the lightbulbs go off in their heads.

Today we mapped out Kevin’s story. We spread index cards across a communal table and we put his story together, piece by piece. If you’ve ever done the index card method then you know the process is hard work. You’re forced to look at all the details of a simple story you’ve lived, dust them off, examine them from different positions, and extract the gold. This is what the reader wants, whether you make them dig for it or not: gold.

 

Kevin and I talked for a long time today about the valley. People in the church use this term a lot. You’ll find that “valley” language hidden in hymns and scattered across commentaries because we love a God who loves to use the valley. I like to refer to the valley as any “less-than-hoped-for circumstance” you find yourself in. When you’re heartbroken– that’s a valley. When you’re in a pit of depression that seems endless– that’s a valley. When you’re stuck feeling like God’s not moving and God’s not speaking– that’s a valley.

Maybe you’re nodding your head now and saying, “Oh, that’s the valley these church people talk about? I’m a regular visitor. I actually have season passes to the valley.”

In response to that, I give you a big, fat ME TOO. God basically mails me my valley season passes before the season even begins. He sends me travel brochures for what’s to come. It’s like a rainstorm I can smell in the air. I expect to mark weeks and months of the valley in my planner.

The reason for so much valley isn’t complicated: God grows me there. The more I press into my faith, the more valley I come across.

I am learning to rejoice in low-to-the-ground terrain because so much growth waits for me there. I need only lean into it.

 

“I love the valley,” Kevin tells me today. There’s a smile constantly plastered on his face and he loves to learn and grow so I know he isn’t kidding. The man loves valleys. “That’s where your heart gets tested.”

You see, Kevin believes this whole life is about the heart. The bible talks a lot about the heart and why a healthy heart will affect your whole being. If life is all about the heart then that means we have to take our issues seriously. We have to work through them. We have to find the gold in the hard and painful stuff we walk through. Otherwise, we harden. We grow bitter. We fail to learn. We withhold forgiveness from the very person who needs it most in order to thrive: ourselves.

 

He gets it. Kevin surely gets that we are valley people living in a mountaintop culture.

We are faulty, messy beings trying to navigate through a culture enamored with highlight reels.

Hate to break it to you but we are not mountaintop people. We weren’t designed to always be front-and-center, curated and in control. Life is far too hard and weird to ever extract the idea from it that we are always meant to be constantly inspired or constantly praised. There’s going to be hard, break-your-heart moments. They’re guaranteed. They’re our rites of passage in this club called humanity.

The question isn’t: Gosh, will there be hard stuff to come? The question is: how can I embrace the pain that makes me grow? How can I say “yes” to the tests that make me a better human?

 

I’m not saying you won’t get mountaintop moments from time to time. I want to believe we all get a good-sized stack of them and they shock our shoes off. I’m saying the valley isn’t something to ignore, it’s not the time to get down on our knees and beam up the “please take this away from me” prayers. Trust me, you’re going to want to go through the painful stuff because that’s where the gold comes in. That’s where your faith becomes gold. That’s where your heart becomes gold.

I’m not saying it will be pretty. I’m not telling you to pray for more valleys. In my own experience, going through is better than being teleported out of a valley though. You learn more when you walk through something as opposed to only ever grumbling, “Just take it away. Just take it away.”

Mind you, I’m a frequent pray-er of the “take it away” prayer even though I know it rarely works. When I walked through depression in 2014, I was clogging up God’s voicemail with “take it away” prayers. At some point, I wised up to what God was doing. I could almost hear him saying, “Can you please stand up for five seconds? Just five seconds. I want to release you but you have to get up and walk through it with me.” The valley does not mean you’re on lockdown, it means your growth is precious to God.

The prayer is simple though no easier to pray: “Lord, place me where I’ll grow the most. Teach me to love the dirt that transforms me. Give me eyes that see the golden threads in my pain. Let me be a lighthouse in this valley. Let it be so.”

Kicking fear off the platform.

In 2016, I spoke at all four of the Propel Women conferences. It was a pretty big honor for me, something Lane and I both agreed was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Confession: we actually postponed our wedding by a week to make room for this opportunity.

I just remember calling my mom up when it became official and I signed the contract. I remember rambling on with fear and excitement and I just remember her saying into the phone, “Imagine the things you’re going to learn. Just sitting beneath these women at all these events, imagine what you are going to learn.” That’s my mom- she pushes Fear’s scrawny butt out-of-the-way to make room for Wisdom. And, let’s be real, Wisdom always has more junk in the trunk than Fear.

My mom was so right though. For years, I’ve looked up to people like Christine Caine, Priscilla Shirer, and Beth Moore as epic communicators. It was a humbling honor to share the stage with them. That year, Propel wanted some millennials to take the stage. Yes, I am a millennial but I never anticipated God would use someone like me for that job.

When I say “someone like me,” I mean the young woman who never thought she’d be a communicator. I thought I could and would gladly write all the words from behind a desk. I thought I would be a writer, not a speaker. Someone like me being up on a stage is a true testimony to God using the most unexpected souls to complete his missions. It’s comical really to use the girl known to dry-heave in the toilet before giving a speech and put her on a stage in front of 7,000 people to communicate a message.

Before the first conference, I was asked to write my talk and mail it over to the team at Propel for review. I remember how nervous I was to put that talk together, continually thinking to myself, “God, I just want to get this right. Please give me the right words.”

The feedback from the talk was limited. Actually, only one big suggestion was made: change the beginning of the talk. Introduce yourself differently.

Here’s what I originally intended to do with the beginning of my talk: I wanted to walk out there, introduce myself, and then also tell people about the anxiety I was feeling. Without a doubt, I knew Anxiety was going to be up there on stage with me. I figured if I give this thing some breath and acknowledge its existence then I will be able to move forward. I will be able to really nail the talk knowing I called out the biggest elephant in the room.

They were asking me to eliminate the part of the talk where I introduced myself by saying, “Hi, I’m anxious.” They wanted me to be bolder, to step forward, introduce myself, and really walk in confidence that I was supposed to be up on that stage. This, for me, is a pretty tall order.

I wanted that crutch. I wanted to make excuses. I wanted to give my platform away to fear.

I’ve always given Anxiety room and breath. I’ve often introduced us at the same time because it has been my way of apologizing in advance, like, “If I mess this up then you will know why.”

I’m learning it is one thing to know your weakness and another thing to project your weakness out of fear that you don’t add up. At the end of each day, I am not my anxiety. I am not my depression. I don’t need to walk out onto a stage and let everyone know I am nervous. Anxiety is something I face but it’s on me if I use it as a crutch or I choose to limit what God is already doing by giving it undue credit.

I’m trying to think differently now, say more things like, “If I am out here on this stage then that means God is with me. I am qualified to do this. I am equipped and ready to do this. So just do the dang thing and don’t make excuses where they’re not necessary.”

I think we waste so much time wondering why we are where we are. I want to look through a different lens. I want my life to be efficient yet purposeful. I want to be able to say I am qualified for this day and I refuse to let anxiety be the thing that holds me back from it. That begins with what I say and how I speak about myself. The words coming out of my mouth at any given moment play a huge role: they will determine whether I am grateful for the opportunity I’m standing in or not.

I am not just processing this when it comes to stages and arenas. I think it’s better that I become grateful in the smaller stuff: the grocery store, the weekly trip to Target (oh, how I wish it wasn’t a weekly trip), dinner dates, and parties we attend. Am I grateful to be here? Am I acting like it? Am I speaking like I am grateful?

 

You’re going to face crazy, hard things. This is a reality. And I know I am not the only one who has battled something significant like anxiety, depression, or another kind of mental illness. But, in the moment where you’re called forward to shine, are you going to give the credit to God or your weakness?

It is possible to let your weakness shine brighter than your character.

It is possible to be stepping up onto a platform and kicking yourself down from it at the same time. I don’t think God calls us to these moments so we can boast about how weak we are, I think there’s a real opportunity to exclaim how far we’ve come and how many victories we’ve experienced with him.

I want to speak the right words into the microphone. I want to give breath to the good and lovely things of this lifetime. I appreciate my anxiety because it has taught me to fight like hell to get past the hurdles but no, my weakness does not need its own microphone.

A goodbye letter to Jack Pearson.

Photo Credit: NBC Photo Gallery
Photo Cred: NBC Photo Gallery

Dear Jack,

I thought we’d have more time together. Really, I thought the network would drag your storyline out for at least 3 more seasons before it came to this.

I was sitting at my dining room table the other morning, scrolling through my newsfeed while innocently eating my scrambled eggs, when I came across a clip of you seemingly surrounded by flames. It was then that I knew- you were leaving us. This Is Us would inevitably become This Was Us. I don’t feel ready.

Admittedly, I sobbed. Into my eggs, at nine in the morning, I lost it and it’s a little bit embarrassing because nothing really even happened in the clip. You were just being you, acting like the man I’ve grown to love more and more with each passing episode.

Jack, my mother has watched General Hospital for the last 30 years and I never really understood how she could be so invested in fictional characters. How she could pause the world for an hour every evening to hang out with “friends.” I didn’t get it until you showed up on my TV screen, with your mustache and slicked back hair. I think it was Pilgrim Rick… that was the point where I knew I would love you forever, that I would drop anything on a Tuesday night just to spend some time with you.

In all seriousness, I think you set a standard for us that I don’t think we ever expected. In our culture, it’s pretty typical to binge watch a lot of television yet rarely walk away changed, your mind reeling for days over something someone said or did. You’ve got a team of writers behind your words, Jack, but let me tell you: they gave you heart. They gave you spirit. They made you into someone who made us all think, “Now there’s a man who isn’t perfect but he sure knows how to show up for his people.” You had flaws, like all of us, but you never became them.

Dedication, Jack. That’s the spirit of who you are and who you’ve always been to me. You make us all want to be better friends, better spouses, better employees, better parents. You gave us an example of love that is both selfless and fierce, sacrificial and relentless. In a world that feels a little dark and crazy these days, you reminded us of the most basic tenets of a good life: investment in the family you’ve got. Hard work. A tenacious spirit. Speech that is kind. Love that serves without expectations. And great hair.

Because of you, I can look at my own flaws and confidently say, “They’re here. I see them. But I am not a bad person or a waste of space because of them. I’ll keep showing up. Messy and ready for whatever curveball life will throw at me next, I’ll keep showing up.”

You took risks every episode in the name of family- something we don’t stick up for enough in 2018. Like I said earlier, we weren’t expecting someone like you to come along. Like most unexpected people who show up in life, you don’t fully see realize the space they take up in your heart until you realize you’re going to lose them one day.

This is us, Jack. This is all of us.

Maybe it’s for the best that we say goodbye now. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars trying to figure you out in therapy sessions that are supposed to be about my own issues.  It’s getting a little ridiculous that I can’t seem to process my own junk and yet the floodgates open up when my therapist says two words: Jack Pearson.

Because of you, I’ve learned I’m not as emotionally stable as I thought. I walk into a Tuesday night feeling like I might be killing it at life (or at least doing a decent job) and I walk out with no makeup left on my face, a throbbing headache from all the inhumane sobs released from my body in the span of an hour. I find myself grieving for something I didn’t know I even needed to grieve for: past family dogs, old relationships, lost shoes, failed diets. It all comes flooding back to me when you say words like, “You are my purpose, Kevin.”

I threw out my Crockpot. I’m comparing you to my husband too much. I found out it’s not as easy as I thought to walk into a hospital and take home a baby that is not mine. I’m thinking about making a dent in the homebuilding industry (in your honor, of course). I am a woman on a solo mission to find her own “Big Three.”

I honestly don’t know what we’ll do without you, Jack. But I promise to face my junk. I promise to face it and make you proud, Jack. I promise to always buy batteries. When Sunday comes, I’ll be there and I’ll be wearing my Steelers jersey just for you.

I’ll never let go, Jack. I’ll never let go.

Love,

Me & the rest of us.

The Better Guide // January Edition

the better guide (1)

I’m a researcher at heart.

A lot of people don’t know this about me but I was a sociology major in college. I love everything about qualitative and quantitative researcher. I consider myself a hunter-gatherer of the Internet. I like to read, experiment, test and discover what is out there and how it can either make life better or worse, simpler or more complex. This is a great passion of mine: to tell people about the things I find, the things that are shaking up my world in a good way. So this idea has been brewing for over a year now. I kept waiting for the right time to just do it, just press publish. No time like the present!

Introducing The Better Guide.

This is a monthly guide, a most-random resource list of all things food, drink, faith, fitness— all of it. My intern Jo and I spent hours trying to come up with a name for this monthly guide last January and ultimately landed on “The Better Guide” for one simple reason: who has time for anything less? I’m digging for the better options so you don’t have to.

I’ll be publishing 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 it 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 Reads.

  • My girl Alli Worthington just released a powerhouse anthem into the world this past week and you’re going to want to read it. I read this book at a time in my life where I felt like most of my steps were coated in a thick layer of fear. It’s faith-filled and I know will rock the lives of many, many women.
  • If you are a thriller reader like me (basically give me all the titles with the words “missing girl” in it) then the next read on your list needs to be The Wife Between Us. This thriller will confuse the heck out of you (in such a good way) and keep your suspense levels fueled. Does. Not. Disappoint.

Save Better.

Y’all know me- I am ALL ABOUT the finances. Don’t ask me why because I used to have a strong aversion to money talk but I can’t get enough of it these days.

  • I never shut up about this app but that’s because I really, really believe in it. I am not even being dramatic when I tell you: it has changed my life. Qapital is an app that thrives off this idea that we spend the money in our checking account impulsively just because it’s available to us. Qapital helps you save your own money, make goals, and conquer the world. Thanks to this app, Lane and I saved all our pennies for a beautiful anniversary trip and I saved all my Christmas money in July. ***If you want bonus instructions on how to have Qapital save a dollar for you every time Donald Trump tweets then send me an email with the subject line “the man tweets… a lot” and I will help you out.
  • Somehow I killed over $50,000 worth of student loan debt in 2016 and then the small adult inside of me said, “It’s time to start saving, baby!” Now I am a loyalist to my Aspiration Summit account. The wait list is worth it. I stole this website because they say it better than I ever could: Aspiration offers socially-conscious and sustainable banking and investing so you can make money while making the world a better place. And, unlike the Big Banks, we don’t use your deposits to fund oil pipelines or turn your fees into campaign contributions to the politicians that work against you. They’re basically a modern-day Robin Hood in the form of a savings account.

Better Subscriptions.

  • For all my married people who want to improve their bond while sitting at their desk. Subscribe to the Marriage Minute by the Gottman Institute. I love reading the weekly marriage tip and sending it over to Lane. These are smart and thought-provoking suggestions that really do help your relationship.
  • If you are a writer or someone who wants to write better, then definitely sign up for Slant Letter. It’s a monthly email so it won’t clog up your inbox and it’s all about finding your voice and killing your craft. Fun fact: Stephanie (the creator of the email) is my editor. She taught me so much in the editing process just this past year so I definitely believe in her wisdom and words. Get on it. 

Better Health.

  • I feel like I am really fickle when it comes to my workouts and people ask me all the time: where do you find them? A few months ago, I came across Alexia Clark. My life hasn’t been the same since. I recently subscribed to Alexia Clark’s fitness site ($29 a month) and I do not regret the investment. She sends 5 workouts a week and a mini pep talk the night before every workout. Her workouts are hard, REALLY HARD, and will push you to new levels in your fitness journey. Plus, look at this amazing article about her in Women’s Health (she’s on the cover this month!) about why she doesn’t post bikini photos. Girl freaking power.
  • Our crockpot broke this month. It was a devastating blow to my spirit and my faith to see my sweet little basin of joy crack down the center. But friends, God is in the business of upgrading. We caved. We saved our pennies. We bought an Instant Pot. And the rage is real. It’s the most amazing cooking tool I’ve ever possessed. It’s a slow cooker on steroids. This is likely how Jesus actually fed the 5,000. I’m smitten and in love and that’s all.
  • I’m doing a Whole30 this month so here are a few of the recipes we currently cannot get enough of:

Better Work.

  • My good friend Mattie came out with a little thing called Forth Guide last month and it’s pretty amazing. I would say it’s essential for a freelancer or someone who works for themselves! I wish I had this guide when I was just starting out, floundering around on Google trying to figure out where to find a graphic designer or how to start an email list. Mattie does the digging for you and the results are genius.
  • Most of the apps I recommend are free-free-free but this app is worth the $2.99 you’ll pay to get it on your phone. It’s called Forest. It’s a productivity app designed to keep you focused and not grabbing for the phone every five seconds. What’s cooler than that, you plant a metaphorical tree everytime you set the timer on the app. When the timer rings then your “tree” is planted! Metaphorical trees add up to real trees planted in the real world. It’s cool (and environmentally friendly) to be not distracted these days. Mother Nature thanks you.

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

I will walk with you through the woods.

January is a month that hoards memories for me. I can hardly look at the word “January” scrawled thick across the banner of a new calendar and not remember all that happened in this month three years ago. It’s all still with me.

I remember the plane rides back and forth between Atlanta and Connecticut. I remember the multiple doctors, all with their differing opinions about treatment moving forward. I remember the hotel rooms, sitting on the phone for hours with friends because I didn’t want to be alone. I remember the drowsiness of sleeping pills and the feel of the carpet against my cheek as I got down on the floor once again and begged God for a shred of hope, one small poke of light through the thick fog of depression.

Depression is never an easy topic to write about but I know it’s necessary. Today, as I was reading in Isaiah, I noticed the words: I have been anointed to bring good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken, announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners of darkness. 

There are prisoners of darkness. This is an accurate description of how depression feels. Sometimes you feel like you are in this small, stone box. You’re stuck at the bottom of it. There’s no light pouring through the cracks. You can’t find a window or a door and you’re gasping for breath, pounding on the sides of that box in the hopes that someone would just hear you and let you go free. You’re stuck. It’s scary.

I get emails all the time from people asking me to write about how, just how, to walk with someone through the woods. Through the pain of depression. Through a dark valley of an unseen illness that steals sleep and daily ambition.

I’m writing now but with great hesitancy. Mental illness is such a tender topic and it’s important to just come out and say it: there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. Each individual is different. Each experience with mental illness is unique. I don’t possess all the answers. Not even close. I am simply one person who deals with depression and it would be wise to gather the stories of others to make this narrative more complete. So here’s the little prayer I said beneath my breath as I wrote this: God, help me to be wise when writing about such a tough topic. Give me grace in the areas where I get it wrong. Highlight & amplify the places where I speak your truth the loudest. 

I’d so appreciate your grace on this topic too!

You are not a lifeboat. The signs of depression may be pretty straightforward. However, figuring out how to respond to those signs is a different beast. You love this person. You naturally want to make it better for the one who is stuck in a thick fog. The first thing to remember: your presence is appreciated and essential but you can’t heal a person of their illness. That’s not your role.

Don’t get frustrated by this. You have many other roles you can take on. You can make the tea. You can let them crumble into your arms and hold them why they cry. You can listen. You can learn.

More importantly, depression is a heavy thing. It can feel burdensome. Depression, itself, is the burden. The person who is suffering is just the host of the burden. Burdens, however, are not meant to be shouldered alone. Be mindful of your limits. Don’t try to hold this all on your shoulders. It is possible to be crushed under the weight of trying to show up for someone you love. 

Be mindful of your limits. Don’t try to hold this all on your shoulders. It is possible to be crushed under the weight of trying to show up for someone you love. 

Stay surrounded by a support system if you can. Be plugged in and be in communication with the other friends or family members who are walking alongside this person. Sometimes it takes a small village and hey, sometimes you may need to pull over on the side of the road and take a pit stop. That’s okay. I say this because it’s easy to start a journey with people but it’s harder to finish it. Take care of your health. Lean hard into your people as someone with depression leans into you. Exercise boundaries. Be aware of how you’re feeling as you offer another support.

 

Be a truth-teller. Much of depression is like hearing a soundtrack of lies blasting loudly in the background of everything you try to do yet being helpless to find the knob that turns the volume down. We need people to reach in and say, “Hey, I see you. I know the things you are believing right now but here’s some truth to sustain you.”

Remind that person of who they are. Remind them that they are not an illness or a failure. Depression is not a weakness. Remind the person you love that they are a fighter and that they, too, will come out of the woods. 

It might be tempting to say, “Snap out of it. Get yourself together and just move forward.” You have to remember that the person battling this mental illness wants to believe the same things as you. They’ve tried to snap out of it. They are likely trying as hard as they possibly can so coercion to “get over it” won’t work. Be kind and graceful.

Sometimes it won’t seem to make any sense. And that’s okay, too. Depression is a hard thing to understand and the best thing you can say sometimes is, “Hey, we both don’t fully get this but what is more important is getting through this.”

 

You’re okay. These are my two favorite words in the English language. I use them constantly to remind others of how strong and brave they are. This is a big one: help is sometimes necessary and there doesn’t need to be a glowing orb of stigma around getting it. Doctors exist for a reason. Medicine exists with a purpose. Not everyone needs medicine but it’s okay if the door gets flung open.

It’s one of the most powerful things in the world to remind a person who is fighting through the dark: you’re okay. You’re okay and if you need me to, I will go to the doctor’s office with you. I will hold your hand. I will help you pick up the medicine and take that first pill.

Again, treatment is not a one-size-fits-all thing. I reached a point in my own journey where medicine was the only option to recovery and I still remember the friend who dropped me off at the doctor’s office. I remember her bringing me back to her place, tucking me in on the couch, and going to Target to pick up that first prescription for me.

It’s tempting to want to think you are crazy for having to take pills to make your brain better but that’s the last thing you are. You are not crazy. You are not a lost cause. I had to remind myself that each small pill was a step towards recovery. It didn’t mean I would take the pills forever. It simply meant that, in this moment, there was a little extra assistance and that was perfectly okay.

Another thing you might have to say: you’re okay. And it’s okay if you need to go somewhere like a hospital. It’s okay if you need more help.

It was two weeks into my medicine that my community and I made the decision to go to the emergency room. I wouldn’t have gone if people hadn’t surrounded me and said, “It’s perfectly okay to go where there is help. Don’t be afraid. Don’t believe the lie that you are broken beyond repair.”

“It’s perfectly okay to go where there is help. Don’t be afraid. Don’t believe the lie that you are broken beyond repair.”

Thoughts of suicide are a reality for some of those battling mental illness. It is imperative that we ask the hard questions and we follow-up with help options: Are you thinking about hurting yourself? Are you thinking about hurting other people? These are not silly questions and they need to be asked sometimes even if it feels uncomfortable.

 

Little victories. I owe so much of my recovery to a small band of women who surrounded me and refused to let me be alone. There were days where I just wanted to be left alone. They would invite me over. They would call and ask me to join them for errands. This is huge. Really huge. It would be easy enough to sit with a person experiencing depression and let them talk all day about their worries and fears. This won’t always be helpful though. Instead, plan something active. Propose going for a walk or doing a yoga class together. Ask them to join you on a trip to Target. These activities help a person get out of their own head and enter into the world. The depression will likely scream, “No! Just stay home. Just stay alone!” but it’s okay to be a little insistent. Even if you don’t feel it, your presence is a breath of fresh air to someone who is worn down by the prison in their brain.

There were days where all I wanted to do was run myself in circles around lies I couldn’t piece together. I wanted answers but that’s the thing about depression: it wants you to obsess over things you cannot change and it wants you to be helpless to move forward.

I wanted answers but that’s the thing about depression: it wants you to obsess over things you cannot change and it wants you to be helpless to move forward.

One of my girlfriends, Chrisy, stopped me in the middle of obsessing one morning. She said, “Okay, we are not going to wallow in this anymore. I want you to get up and I want you to do something.” She instructed me to go to Target and buy a pack of thank-you notes. She told me to write a thank-you note to any person who’d been with me in this dark pit. She asked me to write down every tiny thing I did from now until the end of the day, in monotonous fashion: Went to Target. Wrote thank-you notes. Took a shower. Met with Heather. 

Little victories are one of the best things you can point a person towards when they are in a pit. Little victories, stacking upon one another, help a person climb out of themselves and see the world once again. Depression is an illness that wants you to focus inward but action steps propel you forward. This is also a great chance to encourage self-care. It’s easy to neglect things like bathing, working out, or eating right when you are depressed. Just the thought of a shower can seem so overwhelming but breaking the self-care into baby steps, little victories to be met, helps a person feel empowered and capable of trying again the next day.

Help the person in your life count the little victories, no matter how small. Write them down or track them in a phone. Rejoice with them. Celebrate the smallness. Grab their hand and assure them, “Little victory upon little victory, I will walk with you through the woods.”

 

I would love to read your words and thoughts on this topic in the comment section below. The comments section is often a bright light for others, all on its own. I invite you to contribute- your words are appreciated in this space. 

Be wild, ridiculous, and at peace, sweet girl.

hey you, 

How do I start this letter?

I always feel a little awkward when writing letters to younger versions of myself but today it makes sense. Today I know this letter is necessary. Today you are six months into being 21. You are a senior in college. You are applying for programs across the country because you have a dream of helping others your first year out of college.

It is one of the last nights before you go home for holiday break. You’re so close to being done with finals. Chances are, you just piled into the back of a car with your closest girlfriends and came out of Starbucks with peppermint mochas in hand. You are heading back to the campus center to study together. Years from now, you will look back and you will be thankful you took the study break. You’ll be thankful for this group of girls because they helped you become who the world needed you to be. Sit in the moment and don’t wish it away. Don’t bully yourself with thoughts of how you could be doing more, or how you should have your life figured out by now, and just go with it. Say yes to the midnight breakfast. Blast the holiday music. Stay up way too late. Be young. Be wild, and ridiculous, and at peace, sweet girl. Stay that way as long as you can.

There’s a reason “future me” is writing to 21-year-old you. The year is 2009. You are sitting at your small Acer computer, the one you bought at the start of this year to invest in your “writing career.” You just created a blog on WordPress. You are calling it “As Simple As That.” You don’t really know what you will do with the blog– what you will say– but you know you want to help people. Keep that conviction.

Words have always meant everything to you. They’ve been balm to you. Healing for you. Words have convinced you that you mustn’t live ordinarily. You must be wild enough to go after your dreams and then, maybe then, you will become those dreams.

So go for it, girl. Publish that first blog post. Don’t be fearful and don’t hold back. You’ve got a voice inside of you but you will learn, in the next 8 years, that a voice must be honed and trained. it must be poured into and refined. Create as much as you can when no one is watching. Read as much as you can.

A voice doesn’t show up one day, it develops through tiny, miraculous experiences and mistakes. Make all your mistakes, girl. Don’t be afraid when life knocks the wind out of you. The first time you learn how to breathe again– after the first big heartbreak comes–  is when you’ll realize you are alive and it’s a gift to be here. Write it all down, girl.

 

You’ll see pretty soon, in the next few years, that you were quick to name your blog “As Simple As That.” The thing about life is that some days it feels simple and other days it is anything but. Don’t grow up and hate the girl who believed in world peace. Don’t divorce yourself from her in your mind or wish she wasn’t so naive to think things like love letters could change the world. Who you are, right now, is beautiful. It’s necessary. Like I said earlier: stay young as long as you can. Believe that people are generally good. Develop hope over cynicism. Develop a voice of love over one of fear. Make the world better by and because of your love.

 

So many good things will come to you, girl, because of this one blog. So dig in. Do the work. Invest. Put in the long hours. Meet other bloggers. Maybe even fall in love with one or two of them. Get your heart-broken. Get back up. Forgive your ghosts. Say “yes” to things that will make you work harder than yesterday. Put your skin in the game. Lead with honesty. Possess a spirit of integrity. You are going to walk into so many experiences in the next few years where you will meet people who lead with anything but integrity. Don’t let them get you down. Remember how your mama raised you. Be a light in a dark world.

Never believe you deserve what is coming to you. It’s a gift. It’s borrowed things from God. Always stay humble and faithful to what He gives you. If you take care of the little, more will come. This is the truest recipe for success. Don’t play a numbers game. Don’t care about the metrics. Instead, find the broken hearts. Sew into those. Answer as many emails as you can from people who need to know someone is reading them. It will never be about who, or how many, like your content. Stay true to creating content for the sake of creation.

 

Be a lighthouse but never a lifeboat. The two are very different. A lighthouse stands there tall and shining. A lifeboat is hellbent on saving people. There is a savior mentality stitched into most of us. We want to save. We want to fix. 

You will learn in the next few years that you were made to love and protect, dig and dream. You were made to stare at the sky and ask questions about God. But you, my girl, were never created to save anyone. Be careful not to drown in the effort of trying.

 

What you are creating will require sacrifice in the years to come. Not everyone will understand it. Some people will give you crazy eyes, tell you not to care so much. You caring too much isn’t your weakness, it’s actually your greatest strength. Lean into it. Vow to learn as much as you can about the world you live in and the life you want to create.

Be good to people. Keep the ghosting to a minimal (if you can). Don’t Taylor Swift people on the Internet. In the words of the wise prophet Beyonce: don’t diss people on the internet because your mama taught you better than that. Leave space and room in every sentence you write for grace and redemption. The most beautiful thing about characters is their ability to change. Don’t ever steal that from someone by writing a story they can’t grow out of one day.

 

I’m writing to you from eight years away. Oh, so many stupid things you’ll do. You’ll kiss people when you shouldn’t. You’ll walk away even when you’re not sure. It’s all field work, babe. In the next years, you will fall in love and fall out. You will say stupid things for the ones you love. This is growing up.

You will get a diagnosis of depression and it will rock you, steal from you, and then give it all back to you in a newer, more durable package. You will find your dream job but then you will learn that the dream job isn’t that something you walk into, it’s something you create.

You will move to new cities. You will tweet the dumbest stuff. You will say “yes” when you mean “no.” You will try yoga. You will shake hands with celebrities and you will sign books for strangers. It’s going to be wild, beyond what you think you ever could have. And here’s the wildest part: it begins here. It starts right here, on this last night of finals, as you publish that first blog post.

Stay faithful. Say yes. Move the damn mountains for whoever you love. Find your truth. Pray for wisdom. Run towards the storm and see what it makes you into. In Macklemore-fashion, put your skin and bones into everything you produce. Be a participant. Choose to create over complaining. Fall on your face and let grace lift you back up. And then come back here, come right back here, and write it all down.

I’m cheering loudly for whoever you’ll become.

tying you closer than most,

hb.

 

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