When media stops being social. Pt. II

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Comparison is a sneaky thing. It’s like added sugar.
You think added sugar is no big deal until you set out to do something like a Whole30. Suddenly, when you are finally paying attention to labels, you realize sugar is added everywhere. It’s in everything. It’s even in bacon.
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I think that’s how comparison works, too. It starts small. You almost can’t spot it. Before long, it’s taking more territory. It’s taking the script of your life and stealing lines from it. It’s convincing you to play small. It’s trying to whisper in your ear, “I’ve got a better part for you. Just watch that person a little bit longer. If you just keep measuring yourself against other people then eventually you’ll find what you’re looking for.”
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I’m reading this book on Galatians by Tim Keller. In his book, Keller dissects the letter Paul wrote to the church of Galatia. Paul is usually a somewhat chipper dude but he is evidently not happy with these people in Galatia. He’s frustrated in the letter. He doesn’t understand why, after hearing the gospel, they would choose to go back to their own gods.
As he wrings his hands, he basically says, “Only crazy people believe they can step in and finish what God started.”
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But that’s what these people tried to do— they tried to take the salvation portion of the gospel and claim they would work for it. It’s something many of us have faced, this belief that God is going to love us if we add up and we do critical things on his behalf.
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Keller introduces this idea of “functional saviors.” Functional saviors are everywhere. Functional saviors are anything we believe might be able to save us, fill us, or keep us from the darkest parts of ourselves.
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A functional savior is anything we use to try and plug the gaping God-sized hole inside of us. 
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I have a list of functional saviors I’ve tapped into the ring on multiple occasions throughout my life. They are the things I readily choose over God.
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Comparison. That’s a functional savior.
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Comparison, as nasty as it is, keeps me from having to look at the real issue. I can become so fixated with comparison that I never think to acknowledge the root of it. Every little thing has a root, a starting place. So I dig for the bigger questions: What am I so afraid of seeing in my own life? What feelings am I trying not to face? 
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I think I was more afraid to find out what was at the root of my comparison issues. That was going to much messier and harder to assess than just sitting back in the lanky arms of comparison for one more day.
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I stopped watching my friends’ Instagram stories back in March. I’ve not been perfect since then but I decided to see what would happen to me if I didn’t indulge in those stories for a month. As long as I watched other people’s days unfold, mine felt stagnant.
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For the 30 days ahead, I made a better plan.
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I decided to take action. Every time my friend’s face would pop up at the top of my feed, prompting me to check their story, I would resist the urge and check in instead. I’d send a text. I’d write them a note. I’d say a prayer. I would do something other than watching them go to the Farmer’s Market or kill an ab circuit.
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It’s no surprise that the real story isn’t usually on social media. We claim to want it but we also know that we don’t show up to social media for people’s messes. We come for the curation. We come for the eloquent copy and the cute pictures. We come to be amused and receive what is the equivalent of a side-hug on the internet.
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When you stop checking in on your friends online and you start reaching out, you learn the real story. You see how awful their day has been or you get to join them in celebrating something new. You no longer participate in their story through a bird’s eye view. You are in the story. You are real to the story. You are suddenly a character, not a spectator.
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I eventually stopped watching stories altogether. I found myself not really needing to watch the stories of people I didn’t know. I followed some people because they inspired me but that inspiration wore off eventually and comparison stepped in like an understudy ready to roll.
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I think it is almost impossible to be the best version of you when you are constantly measuring yourself up to someone else. Other people cannot be my standard. Their success does not determine mine. If I am looking to people to serve as a benchmark for me then I have clearly missed the point of people. People are meant to be loved, not measured. I know this for certain. I would go out on a limb and tell any human they don’t need to try to reach a measurement to be worthy. So why can’t I tell myself that? 
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I got an email from a reader a few months ago who recently got engaged. Engagement is a fun season if you remember to have fun with it. This girl wasn’t having fun. She found herself stuck in the muds of comparison. She found herself becoming overly consumed with the weddings of other people and how hers was going to match up.
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This was never meant to happen. We were never meant to sacrifice our lives on the altars of comparison. We can’t even blame social media for this kind of comparison because it’s always been here. The second story in the whole bible is about a man who kills his own brother because of some deep-rooted comparison issues. Social media did not turn us into people who compare, it just provided a shortcut.
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So what would I tell the girl who isn’t enjoying engagement because she’s too busy comparing her life to other brides, and friends, and family?
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I’d tell her comparison is the easy road. It’s the default setting. The harder posture to reach in your heart? The posture of celebration. Secure people are able to celebrate other people getting exactly what they wanted. Secure people know there isn’t just one good wedding or one good love story, there are millions. We should all get the good things. Secure people know there is always more room at the table.
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I would tell her to guard her friendships more than she guards this brewing itch to outshine her friends. The weddings won’t always be there. You won’t always be talking about color palettes and dessert bars. There’s going to be a day when the fireworks fade and life tries to knock you over. In those moments, you’ll want real friendship. You’ll want pure, sturdy friendships.
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Invest in the celebration of your friends, I would tell her. Invest in the stuff that is going to hold you and keep you when the weddings end and the babies grow up. When the gray hair comes and the funeral songs play. 
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I would tell her to open her eyes and do her best to keep them open. If she doesn’t, she will likely miss a million moments that were meant to be all hers. They won’t be shared. They won’t be documented. We are so quick to say God isn’t here but his hands are suddenly in all the little details when we finally look up, take our eyes off the screen, and just vow to be here now.
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I would tell the girl that, sadly, it will be her loss if she wastes these precious moments watching other people and doesn’t step into her own story. I would tell her to fight like hell to keep fear away from her love story.
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When the lights cut out and the credits roll, you’ll either have watched someone’s story or you’ll have lived your own. The choice is yours. So what’s it going to be?
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TO BE CONTINUED >>>

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When media stops being social. Pt. I

When Instagram stories first popped up on my radar, I thought to myself: I am not getting involved with this. This is just another form of media that will suck away my time and attention span. I am going to resist.
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I resisted for about two months before I was right, up in the front, consuming and producing stories for my Instagram followers. Suddenly, everything became important. Making soup became important and worthy of documenting. Going for walks with my husband became important and worthy of documenting. Little things– things that used to be simple and all my own– became packaged and delivered out into the world. My life was ready to be consumed.
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We’ve seen the good, the negative, and the somewhat weird effects because of that delivery. We’ve been in public places where people come up to us and classify us as “couple goals.” We get the “I love watching your life” comments.  I don’t fault these people. We put it out there. As much as we think our actions won’t affect people, they do. Somehow, I have thousands of people who watch me cook dinner or go out on a date night. I give them peeks into my life. It’s on me.
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But recently, I started to feel tired. I noticed that even though I was creating my own Instagram stories, I went spending just as much time (maybe more) consuming the stories of other people. Rarely, unless it was a food blogger, did I walk away feeling like I retained any of the information. More than that, I was consuming the stories happening in the lives of my friends. I was peeking in throughout the day to see what they were up to, how their work was going, or what funny things they’d discovered about life that hour.
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Instagram stories became a regular habit in my life. I watched them in the morning, sleep still stuck in my eyes. Lane and I would sit up in bed and you could hear the voices of friends and family floating over the railings of our lofted bedroom.
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I found different feelings starting to sprout up inside of me: exhaustion, sadness, and envy. Never joy though. Envy was a big one for me. There would be nights where Lane and I would both be sitting on the couch, watching stories when we should have just been talking to one another, and our moods would suddenly switch. We’d see our friends on the screen, hanging out and laughing with one another. We’d witness hang-outs we never got invited to. Suddenly our nights became the sagas of Why is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
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More feelings came up. Deeper feelings of bitterness or sadness. Insecurities. It’s crazy how social media turn us on or off in this way. One minute we are golden and the next we are in a pit of despair because of something that happened on a screen. You start to ask yourself questions: What is wrong with me? Do they not like us? You question the things you post online: Am I being inclusive? Am I only posting this to let people know I am doing it? Am I purposefully hoping this story will leave someone else feeling left out?
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It’s a nasty cycle. More and more, we are beginning to have honest conversations about social media and how it is transforming our lives. We are reciting the statistics back and forth to one another. There has been a rise in anxiety and depression in the last few years, thanks to social media.
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My friends and I were talking about this other day while we grabbed a coffee. My friend Liz said something that I believe is crucial: we are in control. No one is forcing us to consume social media. It’s on us if we are allowing the snapshots of other people’s lives to make us insecure, bitter, resentful or jealous. At the end of the day, we are responsible for how much we consume and if we keep consuming it after it makes us feel nasty inside.
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So a few months ago, I started taking my life back. Little by little. Piece by piece. It began with Instagram stories.
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And let me tell you, something in me shifted. Something changed and it was beautiful.
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TO BE CONTINUED >>>

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Dating Apps: loving or losing it?

HONESTY HOUR VOL. III

“Dating apps are not the best, but the humans using them sure can be.”

Lane and I met on a dating application called Hinge. I seriously wouldn’t have our story be any other way. The only thing I would do differently: go back into the system and archive our first conversations before they were deleted for good.

More and more, my friends meeting and finding love on dating applications. It’s one of the most popular emails I get from readers: Should I do it? Should I take the plunge and try a dating application?

I asked my friend Ashley to chime in here. I forced her into trying online dating and she is now engaged to a pretty phenomenal dude: “Dating apps are not the best. They can seem cold and impersonal and trivial. I had some less than lovely experiences using them in college and my first two years post grad. For a long time, I swore them off, bound and determined to “meet somebody in real life.” But I’m so glad I listened to other friends who had dating app success stories. Lucas McKenzie Whaley is the cutest, most giant, sweetest human being alive – and because of the internet, I get to be relentlessly loved by him until we are old and wrinkly and gray. Which is why I tell every single girl I know to give dating apps a chance. I extol the virtues of Bumble nearly once a week to someone. Dating apps are not the best, but the humans using them sure can be. The Internet has given me the some of my best friends, some my best surprises and greatest gifts. So it only makes sense that God would use the Internet to give me my greatest love and the best gift of them all!”

I figured this would be a perfect Honesty Hour question to extend out into the world: Dating applications: finding love or losing it? Got any good stories? I’d love to hear. The floor is open. 

Cultivate by Lara Casey- a review.

I’m in a weird season right now. I guess you could call it a season of waiting or a time where I am constantly entering into every quiet time ready to write, “What now?” all over the page. I handed in my book to my editor right before June 1. In my mind, I blocked off the entire summer for rewrites. My editor emailed me back to let me know she would be sending rewrites my way around July 24. So suddenly I have space. Suddenly my mind can breathe. This should be great news. But instead, I panic. I wonder what to do with all this time on my hands. I worry. I fizzle away the time with lies of “not doing enough” dancing in my head.

Enter Cultivate- the new book written by my dear friend Lara Casey.

Lara is a powerhouse. There is no better way to describe this woman who so easily embodies grace and grit. I look up to Lara because she loves God fiercely, puts her family first, creates things the world needs and is just a light to so many people. Lara and I met several years ago at a conference we were both speaking at. At the time, we were both in the thick of writing books: I was just finishing my first book and Lara was just about to deep-dive into hers. We formed a solid friendship rooted deep in encouragement and love. I’ve loved watching Lara release her first book and am so proud to say her new baby book releases in bookstores today!

 

The new book arrived in my mailbox two weeks ago. I didn’t wait to get started- I immediately began digging in. My heart is stirred by the content in the pages. This is a book about the waiting. This is a book about letting God change you so that the fruit can come. “Every decision we make points us in one direction or the other. The things we set our focus on can give us life or suck it out of us,” Lara writes (pg. 35). “We can waste our time, talents, energy, and resources, or we can ask God to help us cultivate. When we choose the latter, we open up space for His good fruit to grow.”

In its most basic synopsis, Cultivate is a book about embracing imperfect, grace-filled progress to grow a life of joy. It’s about silencing the inner critic, the voice in your brain that rattles on with grand gestures of procrastination, comparison, and worries so something better could grow.

What I love most about the book are the consistent garden references. If you guys remember, I tried to become a gardener in Spring of 2015. It did not go very well.

Me when my garden was alive and thriving. This experience lasted for about two days before all my hopes & dreams withered away. My lack of discipline = many dead plants.

And while I have yet to do anything but figure out how to kill plants, Lara understands the secret to real and lasting growth (both in life & gardening): the best things in life don’t happen overnight. They require commitment, tending, tilling, weeding, and the ability to let go of the need for perfect results.

I made a decision a long time ago to never put anything on this little blog of mine that I didn’t think could help or build my readers up. I promise you, this is a book worth devouring. I am looking forward to rereading and digging deeper into the pages in the month to come.

WHAT I’M HIGHLIGHTING::

  1. Pay Attention to God’s Voice: “We try to grow things with unattainable perfection as our goal– and our guide. We let what everyone else thinks be our compass and measure of success.” (pg. 65)
  2. Prepare Your Soil: “If it matters to you, you’ll cultivate it. But here’s the rub: it has to matter to you. Real change comes from deep below the surface where action is first ignited.” (pg. 89).
  3. Tending in the Thick of It: “Transformation is often painful. The refining of our soils is hard, but it’s necessary in order to grow. God had been trying to break me. Break my need to keep it all together (pg. 142).

In Lara’s book, she lists a bunch of areas where we usually invest our time and hearts: friends, family, money, career, spiritual life, health, environment, recreation, romance. She challenges her readers to circle the areas where they feel like something needs to change, something better needs to grow!

I want to hear from you today! In the comments section, let’s talk about what area listed above needs the most changing for you? Let’s talk & encourage one another!

How to be steadfast.

A reader messaged me the other day and asked me to write about being steadfast. 

I think steadfastness is a hard topic to write about sometimes. The only major references to the term are in Christianity. We don’t walk around our daily lives saying to one another, “I’m just trying to stay steadfast.” Well, maybe you do. I personally have only ever used that word when I am trying to sound extra holy.

Steadfast, at the root of the word, means to be loyal. Committed. Devoted. Solid. Constant. These are words we know and understand a lot better than this idea of “steadfastness.”

In the bible, it says suffering produces steadfastness in us. Throughout the text, you see all these writers telling the recipients of these letters to be thankful when it gets rough. Be thankful when you are tested. Be thankful when it’s hard to get out of bed and the depression is clinging to you. Be thankful when your heart is broken.

Admittedly, this has never been something that comes naturally to me. I hate the idea of being thankful for the bad stuff but I know what the authors like James are getting at. He’s saying, “Be thankful when the bad stuff happens because that means your faith is about to get tested. And you know what? When your faith is tested then endurance shows up. And through endurance (your willingness to just do it like Nike) you will become steadfast.” Committed. Devoted. Solid. Constant.

I think faith is like a muscle. We have to train it. We have to push it. We have to build it. As I train in the gym, I realize that I can only take on more weight when I’ve learned how to properly handle the weight in front of me. I think faith is the same way. You dig. You pray. You experience something. Your faith grows. More comes. More struggle. More hard stuff. And, as you stay in the fight, your capacity grows as well.

 

Wrestle with God.

I believe it’s okay to fight it out with God. I think to myself if I am placing all my faith and all of my hope in God then why wouldn’t there be wrestling implied? If I have learned anything about faith, it’s this: flimsy faith won’t last. It will break. The thin skin of that meager faith will tear and you will be faced with a question: do I fight to make my faith stronger or do I walk away?

I wish people talked more about that moment. I know of so many people who face that fork in the road between staying and leaving the fight for faith. I think if we talked about it then maybe the outcome would be better. Maybe more of us would fight. Maybe we would fight better.

When I went through my struggle with depression, my faith was the first thing to take a beating. I didn’t know how to trust God. I didn’t know that I even wanted God. I wrote this line that I still think about often: she craved a faith that would make her stay for the fight in it.

That’s what I got. Once I peeled off all the layers of myself like heavy clothing soaked by the rain and sticking to your skin, I found God. Once I moved all the barriers out the way and just had my honesty hour, I found God. I went to him bruised and angry. I went to him tired and fearful. And there, I met him for the first time. I met this version of God that was never taught to me. I met this version of God who sighed with relief and welcomed me in, saying, “Good, the fight to be perfect is over now. That was never your fight. Come fight with me. Come wrestle for the life I have for you.”

I met this version of God that was exciting and hopeful and beautiful. I couldn’t understand God at certain points and I still don’t always understand him. You know what? That’s okay. That’s really beautiful. He’s God. He can handle it. Don’t be afraid of having your faith rocked. Sometimes that’s the best thing that can happen to you. When you get down to the bottom of yourself and figure out what you are truly working with then you can begin to build. Then the good stuff starts.

Don’t be afraid of having your faith rocked. Sometimes that’s the best thing that can happen to you. When you get down to the bottom of yourself and figure out what you are truly working with then you can begin to build. Then the good stuff starts.

 

Stay.

In the midst of my depression in 2014, I decided to pack a suitcase and go home to Connecticut to fight for my life with my closest friends and family. Before I boarded my flight, my friend Lindsey took me to a tattoo parlor and I got the word “STAY” inked on my ribs. While I would later learn how to stay in one geographic location, I needed the reminder to push me to stay in the fight. I needed to stay in the struggle. Stay in the wrestling and tumbling with God.

I want to be really careful with this one. For years, my anthem has been “stay.” Stay where you are. Stay rooted. Be right where your feet are. That’s all well and beautiful but I don’t want to put the message out there that we should stay in toxic situations or stay in places where our health, faith, and well-being get compromised. I like to imagine this message of “staying” is synced with this idea that we don’t just walk away and call it quits when stuff gets hard. Life is hard. Life will deal you some tough blows. The hard stuff produces character and I know I could always stand to have more character. So I stay. I want to believe we are capable of staying when the world would otherwise be tempted to pack a suitcase and leave.

 

Don’t let anyone minimize your faith.

No one should be allowed to tell you how big or little your faith is. No one gets to define the size of your faith. That is between you and God. I had someone tell me during the depression that if my faith was just stronger then I would be healed. If I could just grow more faith then my issues would no longer swallow me. I believed that person for .5 seconds and then I went back to wrestling. I forgot that lie they told me.

Your healing isn’t contingent upon how big or little your faith is. Your circumstances are not balancing on how much faith you or do not have. I won’t claim to know much but I will reject those statements. If I am looking to my faith and the size of it for assurance then I am cutting God out of the picture. And God, to me, is the whole point. He knows I struggle with faith sometimes. He knows I am the one who would be reluctant to step out of the boat and walk on the water. And he wants me still. He isn’t ashamed by me. He isn’t minimizing me. He isn’t telling me that if I just grew my faith bigger then the problems would wash away.

God will be faithful to grow my faith but God won’t dangle cheese in front of my face and tell me to get better if I ever want to claim it. 

 

Embrace the struggle.

I hope I never forget the importance of showing up for the brokenhearted. I’ve been brokenhearted before and I will surely visit that land again. I get emails all the time from people who wish God would avoid the heartbreak stuff but I think that’s just the parts of them that do not want to experience pain and discomfort. I get it. But I think to myself- man, I’ve gotten somewhere with God when my heart has been broken. I’ve gotten to have some really beautiful conversations with people when life hasn’t gone my way. Hallelujah— heartbreak makes me relatable and not so puffed with my own pride that I miss the people who need me. 

The thing is this: faith in God doesn’t equal perfection. Perfection is not your goal, consistency is. Devotion is. Discipline is. All of life is the showing up to try to be steadfast towards what we love: God, people, causes. Again, you won’t ever be perfect. Again, there is so much room for growth. Growth should stir excitement in your heart because the chance to grow is the chance to live and live better. You’re still here. You’re still breathing. Even when the heartbreak sits on your lungs, you’re alive. You woke up today. There’s still more time. Embrace the struggle cause struggles are what make us shine.

Welcome to the fight.

A PRAYER YOU CAN STEAL

God, sometimes I don’t know what commitment looks like. Sometimes I want to quit and give up. But I want to believe in you. I want to believe my life is not an accident and my struggles are seen and understood. Help to stay in the fight. Grow endurance in me. Make me stronger, braver and wiser as I go. Show me others who are in the fight too. Make me golden. Please, make me gold.

Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.

Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.

This very statement has been repeated to me twice in the last 24 hours. When this happens, my ears perk up. I pay attention.

I was a junior in college the first time someone gave me this advice. I was young, ambitious, and ready to take on the world. At that time, the area where I pushed myself most fully was in student leadership. I realized I had a passion for learning, teaching and leading.

It was the director of our college’s orientation program who said to the group of us one morning, “Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.”

The thing is this: life is going to place you into some uncomfortable positions. That’s how you grow. If you only ever stay at a level where you are in control, you miss the vital growth. I think the God I love is one who values capacity inside of each us. Capacity, in this sense, is the maximum amount of things you can handle. You are allowed to expand your capacity. You don’t need to be limited by what your current capacity may be. 

But we lie to ourselves. All the time. We tell ourselves what we are capable of and we restrict ourselves with phrases like, “I can’t.” I am experiencing this in my own life. I am so quick to tell myself something isn’t possible. I fill myself with doubt and fear instead of trusting that God is bigger and that I am in the process of becoming better.

My trainer Nicey repeated those classic words to me this morning as we wrapped up our cardio session together. As I swig my water and catch my breath, she tells me to get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.

At this point, I have screamed and cussed. I have thanked God no one is around in the gym to witness this epic, dramatic affair. I’ve wanted to quit a dozen times but Nicey does not give me that option. She keeps pushing me to move faster, go harder, and not give into my weaknesses.

My brain begs for an ending, a chance to give up. At one point, Nicey gets low to the ground and she says, “I need you find that thing inside of you that wants this. Dig until you find it.”

It occurs to me that if Nicey were not in the room screaming at me then I would have quit a few minutes earlier.

We give up on ourselves too quickly. At the first sign of pain or discomfort, we give up. We script a half-hearted narrative in our brains about how we will never get from point A to point B. I’m sick of it. I want to live better stories. I think God wants me to live better stories than the ones where I am perpetually a victim to my own circumstances.

So, dear hearts, if you are out there then remember this: you are not defined by your circumstances. You and your identity cannot be easily summed up into a Instagram bio of 140-characters or less. You are capable of expanding your capacity, little by little. But expanding capacity is not a passenger-seat role. You are going to have to step into it fully.

If you want to grow, you’ve got to get low to the ground. Get in the dirt and start to dig. We constantly want to be getting bigger and more expansive with our lives, and our profiles, and our followings but what if the world is sending us the wrong message? What if the key to true growth is the willingness to get down on your knees and into the dirt, the mess of life?

Dig deep. Dig deeper. Dig until you find the thing inside of you, the thing you didn’t know existed. You might call it strength. You might call it endurance. But start there. Give that thing the air to grow.

Honesty Hour Vol. 2: What do you think about weddings?

Our first Honesty Hour was a massive success! I am so excited to be striking up these conversations throughout the month!

I found myself reading this TIME article the other day on the problem with weddings. A little bit of an intense approach, the writer speaks up about why she hates weddings:

“There’s the very good argument that weddings are tradition. But did our great, great, great grandmothers register at Crate & Barrel? Did they hire make-up artists and spend thousands on cakes? Probably not. And yes, everything evolves. But I’m thinking this evolution has gone too far and, in the end, hurts us.”

Weddings in the last 10 years, since the rise of Pinterest, have gotten increasingly more extravagant. However, I’ve also seen a lot of friends forgo the traditions and stick to a small and holy ceremony. Mind you, I did a lot of the things the writer referenced in this piece. I had a registry at Crate & Barrel and Target. I had a make-up artist. We honeymooned right after the big day. We chose to forgo the cake to do a milk & cookies bar. Our guest count was 220 people. When it came to finances, some money came from my parents and some came out of my own pockets. My mom, on the other hand, was married in the backyard of my dad’s home wearing sandals and a purple dress.

There were definitely some times throughout the wedding planning process where I wondered: Why does tradition say we should do this? Can we just skip this part? 

There are some things she wrote in this article that I agreed with:

“Contrary to what romantic comedies would have you believe, a wedding is the starting point, not the finish line. And by obsessing over this one event, we’re putting ourselves behind in the marathon that is a marriage.”

At the core of our wedding, Lane and I wanted the day to be about our guests and what God had done in our story. I like to think we went extra lengths to make our people and God the priority: handwritten notes for each guest, seating charts, a worship-filled ceremony. Every wedding is different and that’s what I love: you get to make the day your own.

So, readers, let’s have Honesty Hour. Chime in and say whatever you’re feeling. No wrong answers here: 

What do you think of weddings? Did you have a big wedding or do you dream of one? Married or single, what investments truly matter to you on the wedding day? Regrets? Things you would do over in a heartbeat?