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.

Slow to know your role: a note on comparison.

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We dressed up, shared an $11 appetizer that was really just a dolled-up version of pork rinds, and walked down the busy street, hand-in-hand, to the theatre together.

It was date night and I’d been waiting all month to see the show RENT. I’ve never seen the musical before but it’s on the musical bucket list I keep in my brain. Some people want to skydive or make it to the Grand Canyon before they die. I simply want to see Hamilton, the Book of Mormon, and Les Miserables.

At intermission, I touched Lane’s arm and said, “We are in the company of some serious RENT fans.” It was obvious five minutes into the show. These people were hardcore. They knew when to stand. They knew when to clap. This was an audience that had definitely seen the show once before if not 5 or 6 times. They knew when to laugh. They knew when to rally.

I listened to conversations of the people around me during intermission. They bantered about how they really preferred this actor in this role or that actor, the one they saw in the New York production, playing that character.

These people knew the play. They knew what to expect. They knew the words by heart.

 

As we watched the second act I had a strange thought. I kept thinking about how these people sitting to the right and left of me would absolutely know it if all of a sudden someone did not play their role. If someone sang a different song altogether or chose to never enter the stage on cue. People would notice something was off, someone was not playing the role they were called to play.

(Sidenote: This is what it is like to go a musical, show, or movie with me. I can barely stay present to whatever is happening on the stage in front of me because I am too stuck in my heading having an existential crisis about life that will eventually morph into an essay I publish on my blog. Yes. Here we are.)

Admittedly, I felt a little lost the whole first act. I felt like I was floundering to understand the plotline while everyone around me was already revving up for the next song. But in act 2, things began to click. I began to see the plot and feelings emerge. I even knew the words to two of the songs. I was pumped to join the chorus of voices singing low to the right and left of me. Together, we all hummed.

 

Lately, I’ve been digging into the issue of comparison when God and I get together in the mornings. I ask some questions. I dig for answers. I take notes. I am curious about what comparison does to our souls.

I’m naive to think comparing ourselves to others is a relatively new concept. I think it has always been there, the issue is just hyper-intensified because of social media.

Ten years ago, you didn’t know what everyone else in the world was doing on any given Wednesday morning. You compared yourself to people in the neighborhood or people in your classroom. Now we’ve got this chance to compare ourselves to millions of others. It’s a little terrifying to think about for too long.

I read a story about Peter the other morning. If you don’t know anything about Peter of the Bible then let me just give you the nutshell synopsis: Peter is a gutsy fisherman who Jesus places a lot of stock in. Jesus, upon meeting Peter, basically says to him, “Hey, I want to give you a different name because I don’t think the name you currently have is bold enough for you. I am going to call you ‘Cephas,’ which means ‘rock,’ because I want you to be the rock I build my future church on.”

No pressure.

But Peter is pretty confident. Annoyingly confident. His confidence gets him into trouble a lot and I think that is because Peter tends to rely on his own strength above everything else. Our own strength only gets us so far. He ends up doing the one thing he told Jesus he would never do– denying him right before he is crucified– and one would imagine Peter was heaped with shame, guilt, and grief because of that denial.

But here’s the better story: Jesus uses him anyway. Because that’s the kind of guy Jesus is. He meets up with Peter after he has died (we can dig into that one another time) and re-commissions him. He doesn’t take the mission away from Peter because of faltering. He forgives him and then basically says, “It’s time to get back to work, Peter.”

I can just hear God saying that so gently to me, “It’s time to get back to work. It’s time to get back to work.”

I was blown away the other day when I noticed what happens directly after Peter is re-commissioned. His slate is wiped clean by literal dead-but-not-really Jesus and Peter, likely not 5 minutes later, asks Jesus, “Master, what’s going to happen to him?” I see Peter pointing his envious little finger at another man Jesus was investing in.

I want to shake Peter. Really, dude?! You just got this clear go-ahead from Jesus and you are worried about someone else?! What is this?!

It’s proof to me that we all struggle with comparison sometimes, even these figures of the Bible who we wrongly think were untouchable struggled with the heart stuff. Clearly, this comparison meant something to God to be included in the text.

Even when life is good, even when we’ve gotten the clearest message from God that we are okay and we are on the right path, we still look for excuses to size ourselves up to other people and their callings.

 

I’ve learned that comparing yourself to other people just sucks the joy out of your own path. To live in constant comparison mode is to live imprisoned to a false target. It has nothing to do with those other people. Your aim was never to arrive at someone else’s destination so why bother focusing on it?

People notice when you are not playing your part. They know when the script is off.

We all miss out when you don’t show up to play the role custom-made for you. But there is magic– untouchable magic– that emerges when you step out into the world dedicated to being yourself. People can tell when you’re walking on the right road. They see it.

I want to believe the more we live out what we know we are called to steward, the more we give other people the courage to do the same. We stop living such a small existence, hyper-focused on things we have no control over.

We start to grow. We start to see each other. We start to be real characters in the story, not two-dimensional people governed by fear. We evolve and we step into what we were made to do. That sweet rhythm that might not show up until act 2.

And there, in the middle of act 2, things to start to click and people start humming anthems all around you. This strike of confidence hits you in the heart. You whisper under the breath, “Yes, I know the words to this song.”

 

All the love fear won’t give you.

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1.

You can ask any one of my dance teachers from childhood and they will tell you it is a pure miracle that I make a living as a public speaker.

Really and truly, this career should not be a thing.

The thing to know about me is that I quit competitive dancing when I was sixteen years old because of raging anxiety every time I went to step onto that stage. I had always been a nervous kid, always getting the jitters before a performance, but this was something different. This was a real fear. This was can’t-catch-my-breath, panic-attack fear. And it didn’t just happen once. It happened over and over again until I couldn’t keep track anymore.

The girls on my dance teams were saints. They would talk me off the edge. They would remind me to have fun. I was a part of a team and so I knew I had to perform but when the chance came to quit at the end of the year, I leaped at it.

I told myself: I want to be behind the scenes. I don’t want to perform anymore. I dislike the spotlight. I won’t go back. 

This was my fear talking. Apart from childhood (thinking I might be the next Shirley Temple), I’ve never been one to want to shine the brightest. I simply like doing good work. I believe in ambition. I am a perfectionist at heart, recovering daily. But here is what I had to stop allowing: I had to stop allowing fear the courtesy of writing me a story that wasn’t true.

 

2.

My first time back on a stage was a Christmas program. I heard someone do a spoken word poem and I thought, “I have that in me.” I proposed the idea to my pastor, thinking he would assign someone the role. But he asked me to do it. More specifically, he told me I would do it and didn’t give me a chance to back down.

I took to the stage with my little poem and it was like waves of peace crashing over and over me. I still had every bit of nerves leading up to it. I still wanted to cry (and likely did), but we all have one small step to take towards a better story.

 

3.

Fear isn’t one thing. Fear is a bunch of little things all stacked up to look seemingly powerful. And, as much as I hate to give fear the credit, it is powerful. It stops you from moving forward. It makes you act smaller. It keeps you from being here now. Fear is the thing that says, “Don’t go tonight. You don’t belong there.” Fear is the whisper that says, “You? People don’t like you.”

Fear is a voice I easily become immune to, not even realizing it is there and talking to me. It says right in the bible that God didn’t give me a spirit of fear and yet I take it with me on most mornings, the way you take your jacket for that October air.

I don’t lie or tell half-truths in this space. To do that would be to tell you that I never listen to the fear. That I never let the fear give me a name that isn’t my own. Fear has given me medicine and fear has given me heartache. Fear has convinced me I am someone else too many times to count.

 

4.

It’s doing the thing that makes you want to throw up. As ineloquent as that advice is, that’s where you need to start most days. Whether that’s saying “yes” when you would rather say no. Whether that’s going on the Tinder date. Maybe it’s clicking “publish” or maybe it’s finally sending that text. If you want to vomit when you think about the action, then there’s usually a mission there.

I wish you and I could dismantle fear in some other way. I wish it was a matter of reading a book about fear and watching all our awful fears trickle away. Fear dissolves through action though.

You get two pairs of eyeglasses in this lifetime. Call them hipster eyeglasses with no real prescription to back them up, but you can put one of two different lenses on. You’ve got the lens of love and the lens of fear. The two will make you look entirely different.

Love is attractive. It draws people to you. People will want to know what you’re drinking and how they can do the same. Love is a party host. It invites everyone in. It says, “There is more room. Everyone scoot down, we’ve got the room for one more.”

Fear is a shell. It dries up the atmosphere. It keeps us all on eggshells. I don’t want to say people won’t want to be around you if you lead out of fear. That’s not a claim I can make after living that way for a long time. But I can tell you this: people notice when you live out of fear as opposed to love. It’s easy to catch. The ones who operate out of love want something so different for their fear-driven friends.

 

5.

I remember my friend Dimitri gaining the courage to tell me, a year into our friendship, that when he met me he could see right through me.

He thought to himself, this girl looks cool but I feel like she is hiding behind so much. I wonder what kind of walls she has up around her.

He thought to himself, this girl looks cool but I feel like she is hiding behind so much. I wonder what kind of walls she has up around her.

I was walking into every encounter wearing fear glasses, hoping people would mistake me for love instead. But these are the people you want in your life: people who see through your act and call you up to something better. People who say, “I know who you are under that thick, thick layer of fear. I see you. I know you’re coming back to yourself.”

 

6.

Maybe I’m your chance encounter for the day. If I am the only one that tells you this today then let it be so, “Fear doesn’t fit you.

Of all the good things God gave you, you have to stop double-fisting the thing he never asked you to hold. Fear. It’ll take things from you. It’ll write stories for you which aren’t true.

Love is a bigger story.

I know who you are under that thick, thick layer of fear. I see you. I know you’re coming back to yourself.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re okay.

 

I’ve googled “discipline fatigue” twice in the last 24 hours.

It’s not a thing. I keep checking, hoping I can make it a thing, but it’s an unknown, illegitimate ailment I’ve made up.

I whine to Lane and tell him this is what I have right now: discipline fatigue. It is hitting me like a tidal wave as he pushes me to go to the gym and I tell him I don’t want to. I have no desire. Maybe you can push me to do a workout but I won’t want to go back to it tomorrow. I’m wearing workout clothes right now but I am sitting here writing instead.

I’ve had discipline fatigue in this area of working out for the last three weeks now. I keep wondering if it is like a cold. If I can kick the symptoms with some apple cider vinegar and just keep marching on.

 

I’m a pretty disciplined person. I’ve fallen in love with discipline in the last two years because I’ve found that so much freedom comes from routines and rhythms. It’s so nice to not feel chaotic, or feel like I am constantly chasing after this person I want to become with no real map. Instead, I am inching my way towards her and I am learning how to love and take care of the person who occupies the “in the meantime.”

But I still can so easily fall into this trap of a lie that life will begin, life will mean something, when I check x,y, and z off the list. I know I’m not alone in feeling this. I make goals for the month but there are just some times where the goals– all sitting together in one place– make me feel like I am always climbing towards something and never fully in the present moment of progress.

I want to learn how to occupy my progress. I want to enjoy the imperfection of today.

 

And so, a small reminder for myself: it’s okay to feel burnt out. It’s okay to be tired, weak, weary or all of the above. It’s okay to not know which small step to take. It’s okay if it takes you a little while to take any step at all. 

Every single day is a chance to be better. That’s not a marching order, that’s a gift. All of this-this life unfolding- is slow progress. I like to think we are progressing towards being kinder and happier people. I like to imagine we will get to end of our lives and say we progressed towards joy, more love, and less fear. We must dance in the progress if we ever want to see it as a gift.

There’s a part of me that wants to scream, “Get in the gym! Keep going! Run!” We all go into Nike “just do it” mode when we’re in a mood we need to snap out of. And then there’s this quieter voice that is speaking up and saying, “Hey… chill out. Give yourself a break. You’re doing a lot. You’re carrying a lot.”

You don’t always have to be on your A game. You don’t have to be the one who wedges smoothies, kale, yoga, meditation and skinny jeans into your daily routine. You are not a superhero. There are days for sweatpants pretending to be real pants. There are days for cheese.

Perfection is a conspiracy theory we’re all believing in. Perfection is a paper town. We still chase after it because it looks like other people, people with more followers and more kale on their plates, have somehow attained it. Let the myth die: not a single one of us knows what perfection feels like. 

What perfection wants to steal is our ability to just be here now. We become seekers, lookers, finders, searchers. We become nomads hunting after divine purpose, and a skinnier waist, and a bigger bank account. It all adds up to a bigger problem: We miss one another when we chase after “missing pieces.”

You aren’t missing a thing. It’s all right here, so reach out and grab it. Is there room for growth? Always. Is there time in a single day to be everything to everyone? Never. Stop chasing it.

Don’t trade “being here” for the lie that “getting there” is worth chasing down the rabbit hole.

 

I remember sitting at a dinner table with some of my friends a few years back and I told them how I thought the two most beautiful words in the world, the most universal ones we all needed to hear, were simple: you’re okay.

We sat there for nearly a half hour talking about those two words, marveling at the way they put us all at ease.

You’re Okay. I say those words constantly to my friends in a trial. I repeat them to myself. I hush the babies with that belief, “You’re okay. You’re okay. You’re okay.”

I think all of us need this reminder every once in a while. We don’t always need a pep talk. We don’t need to lie and say we are on top of the mountain when we know we’re really not. The words are blunt and simple, “you’re okay.” Don’t cue the fireworks or call on the heavens to rumble. Some days we are just okay and that’s what the world gets of us. And you know what? That’s okay too.

And it’s true. It’s true whether you ran five miles today or you didn’t get up out of bed: you’re okay.

Whether you have slain the dragons you’re most afraid of or if you ran out of fear: you’re okay.

If you are tired and you don’t have a map: you’re okay.

If you are on the edge of transition and you feel like nothing in your life is the same anymore: you’re okay.

You got up today. You made it this far. You’re still here.

You’re okay. 

 

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My Whole30: why I’m now a believer.

I am 12 days removed from my first completed Whole30 and I have to tell you… I have never been more thankful for a 30-day reset than right now. I feel energized. I feel happy. I feel strong. I’ve been excited to write this post for you all month long and it’s finally, finally here!

I hope these notes + comments encourage and empower you! Thanks for allowing me to be vulnerable and messy in this space!

xoxo,

hb.

A little backstory

I attempted my second Whole30 in January of this year. I made it two solid weeks before I was laid out flat by a sinus infection in the third week and was forced to throw in the towel. Antibiotics and lots of Greek yogurt is what the doctor prescribed.

Lane and I are the types to set goals. Really, I’m the goal-setter of our little family but he comes along for the ride. When we set our 2017 goals, I had this on the list: complete a Whole30.

I want to do it. Like, really do it. No cutting corners. No “cheats.” In the past, I was half-hearted about the process. I thought, “I will do everything except kick cream out of my coffee” or “I can totally have beans. I NEED BEANS.” I wanted to do the thing at 100% this time around.

Whole30 is talked about on nearly every food and health blog. Some would say it’s a massive trend, a franchise, that will eventually die out.

Last summer, I decided I wanted to shed some pounds for my wedding. Sweating for the wedding is what I called it. I feel no shame in that. We all want to look and feel our best on the day we wear white. But my results were pretty flimsy. I saw no change in my body. I adore my wedding dress and pictures but I remember being confused as to why I couldn’t lose any weight. My friends said it was likely because of the antidepressant I was taking. It’s common for antidepressants to keep you from losing weight.

In January of this year, I started again. I set the goals to lose some pounds and get that “summer body.” Again. No progress. The scale never budged. The extra pounds never came off.

I went to a doctor in May to have my blood drawn and to make sure there wasn’t anything wrong with me. Thyroid issues are common in my family and I wondered, “Maybe this is why I can’t lose weight. Maybe this is why I get fatigued so easily.”

My bloodwork came back normal. My doctor shrugged and said, “maybe try a Whole30.”

I really hated her resolve. I huffed and puffed to myself leaving that doctor’s office. I didn’t believe that a diet like the Whole30 could actually change anything. I was working out 5 days a week for 45 minutes. I was eating fairly clean. Why was it that I couldn’t just get to the place where I felt happy and content?

I realize this place of contentment does rest in numbers on a scale. However, I told myself I would be honest with this post and dishonesty would like claiming I never feel insecure about my body, I am consistently happy with the skin I am in, and weight is a not an issue for me. You might look at me and think I shouldn’t struggle with these issues but I think we all do. Maybe we could talk about it with a little less shame? Maybe less shame, and more conversation would drive us all into healthier spaces.

The reasoning

Surprisingly, when I walked into my Whole30 this past September it wasn’t about losing weight. I’d be lying if I told you 2017 has been a cakewalk. There’s been cake but no cakewalk. I’ve been challenged physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It was just one of those long desert seasons where it feels like nothing is moving and you just don’t know who you are anymore. I call these times “cocooning” because it feels very quiet, very closed off, and very internal. Marriage has been this sliver of joy in the mess but I otherwise found myself feeling drained and looking at God like, “Really? Can’t I control at least one thing?”

So I remembered how two years ago, in the midst of heartbreak right before I met Lane, I did a Whole30 as an effort to take something into my own hands. God is gracious and he met me there. I remember that month being one of the complete. Something healing happened when I let go of the control food had on me through the 30-day challenge. Truth told I made it 26 days that time.

I decided to repeat my efforts this September. I walked in cautiously optimistic, knowing I have yet to prove myself by actually putting the Whole or the 30 in the Whole30. I think I believed what a lot of people might believe: it’s just 30 days. It cannot change that much. There’s nothing magical about this thing. 

The 30 days

No cutting corners this time. I did the challenge by the book. I recommend the book because it’s a really good resource and it feels like a companion throughout the 30 days. It gave me some solid recipes, a strong timeline of how I should be feeling, and motivation to keep getting over the hurdles.

Admittedly, I bombed the challenge that first day. I didn’t fail or cheat but I definitely cooked WAY too much bacon & paid the price of a big stomachache and a long nap. But after that one hiccup, we did okay!

My cravings curbed after 10 days. I no longer wanted cheese or bread. I found the feelings of energy building up to be way more addicting than empty carbs. I would say the biggest victory of my Whole30 was realizing just how many emotions we tie to the consumption of food.

Lane and I took a trip to the Blue Ridge mountains during Weekend #2 of my Whole30. We enjoyed a nice dinner out with no wine, no bread (for me), no sugar and no dessert. It might sound like a nightmare to you but I was forced to be present and in the moment. I had to squash the desire to cheat. I realized throughout that time that on trips we take I am normally consumed by the idea of food and end up feeling sluggish the whole time. This time, I was awake, alert and really happy to just be with Lane. Major win.

Another huge win: realizing how much I am prone to eat or drink something because I feel like I “deserve” it. That’s a messed up idea that I didn’t fully process until I was in the middle of the challenge and post-challenge. I don’t want to consume things just because I “deserve” them. I want to feel freedom with my choices and I want those choices to not be so self-centered and self-gratifying.

Overall, the Whole30 wasn’t too hard for me this time. I think there are a few reasons for this:

  • I’ve begun meal-prepping in the last few years. This makes all the difference. Make several servings of a meal when you are cooking so you can easily grab something out of the fridge or freezer to fuel you.
  • I know how to measure things now. It seems silly but I used to hate measuring ingredients and I wondered why all my food tasted so crappy. This time around, I was up for the challenge of trying new recipes and going to the grocery store to invest in some new ingredients.
  • I realized not every meal had to be premium or deluxe. There was one morning where I sat and ate hardboiled eggs and pineapple with no remorse. You want food that is going to fool you but you don’t need to be Martha Stewart to complete this challenge.

Notes & tips

  • I did very little working out during my Whole30. This was actually really freeing and restful for me. It also showed me that as much as I love fitness, losing weight has everything to do with food. There is a reason so many gyms obnoxiously post fliers around that say, “Abs are made in the kitchen.” I had rewrites for my book the first half of the Whole30 so my mind was very much: Wake up. Eat what you have to eat. Write. Nap. Exist. I didn’t feel the pressure to fit much else in.
  • It helps to have buddies to push you along. I joined a support group on Facebook with a bunch of strangers! I posted my meals on social media as a form of accountability. I had a girlfriend join me 11 days in and another one started her challenge on my day 25. It was fun to have people to share recipes with. Things like this are so much easier when there’s someone beside you to say, “me too.”
  • It is truly amazing but never once did I get sick of eggs. I could legitimately eat eggs for every meal of the day and not grow tired. Eggs, ghee, fat balls, and kombucha were my saving graces. I didn’t even feel strange pouring some buch into a wine glass to clink with my friends. I felt happy and complete.

The Results

Guys… I am a believer now. Hardcore. No denying it. I can’t say the Whole30 works for every single person but it definitely changed me in so many ways.

I shelved the idea that Whole30 was going to change the number on the scale and actually had Lane hide the scale battery so I couldn’t focus on that.

In terms of non-scale victories, there were plenty:

  • Tons of new energy and no more “afternoon slump” after day 7.
  • Reduced amount of hair shedding.
  • Clearer skin and all issues with psoriasis gone by day 14.
  • Happier, more social, and feeling more comfortable in my own skin.
  • Easier time waking up in the morning.
  • Less anxiety.
  • Clearer thoughts- that “brain fog” they talk about from grain is real, guys.
  • More food-savoring instead of just eating whatever is available to me for no reason at all.
  • Improvement in overall body image.

This is just the start of a list of benefits from the Whole30. Lane didn’t do the complete challenge with me but he definitely cooked a bunch and kept me alive at certain points when I wanted to give up. I loved how it brought us closer together as we shared recipes, bought food together, and tried new dishes. Our “going out to eat” expenses plummeted in the month of September. I only went out to eat about 3 times in the whole 30 days.

Weight loss did happen. I went from being unable to lose a single pound for an entire year to dropping 8 pounds in 30 days. It’s a definite victory to have your clothes fit better and loser but I think I love being able to shelf the dumb lie that my antidepressant was standing in my way. There are some people who find it difficult to lose weight because of medication but it seems this is no longer an issue for me.

Favorite Recipes

As I made this list I realized I want to go back and make everything all over again. There is no lack of savory goodness on the Whole30 if you take your time and really challenge yourself to try newer, greener things.

BLT Chicken Bake = I could eat you for the rest of my life.

Fantastic soup recipe– especially if you have to share a meal with people.

These nuggs are life.

Made these twice and they are a great party appetizer.

This slow cooker applesauce got me through the 30 days.

Lane and I had a Big Brother Finale Party and made these poppers.

My favorite meal on the Whole30.

We honestly thought we were eating “grits.” That good.

I messed up the recipe a little but these were still yum.

My last Whole30 meal. And dang was it good.

No, wait… maybe this was my favorite meal.

Simple & classic.

I highly recommend these red potatoes as a side dish.

Favorite slow cooker recipe on the Whole30.

I wanted to tackle some Q&A in this post but it’s already getting long so I’ll save that for my next post! If you have any questions you want me to answer (I’ll try my best), then leave them in the comment section below. I would love to hear about your experiences with the Whole30 and how it changed things in your life! I’ll be reading!

Daily vitamins made simple & personal.

(pssttt… there’s a treat for my readers at the end of this post. Don’t miss out!)

Sometimes I like to write about the things I care about— faith, relationships, love, necessity. Other times, I like to write about the things and products in my life that are changing my life. This is one of those other times. .

I deal with depression and anxiety. I see a therapist every three weeks and a psychiatrist every 6 months. The therapist and psychiatrist talk to one another. They collaborate to figure out how to walk me into the best life possible. With depression, it is sometimes hard to believe in that “best life possible.”
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They talk to me separately about the importance of whole foods, exercise, routines. I’m like a parrot- rattling off all the right answers until we get to the part about vitamins.
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“Do you take vitamins?”
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I answer, “Yes, of course, I take vitamins.”
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They ask, “Which ones?”
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I get nervous and I say a bunch of things.
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“Well, I dabble in fish oil. I occasionally take a multivitamin but it truly makes me nauseous. Sometimes I take sketchy pills I see on Doctor Oz but that’s always pretty short-lived.”
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Let’s be honest: The whole process of vitamins overwhelms me. I know I need to be taking them but which ones? And what brands? Can I just have the gummies? Why does health feel so hard sometimes?
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My friend Lindsey posted about this company Care/of two months ago. It was an image of a packet of vitamins with her name on it. I was instantly intrigued. I checked out the company and the love affair really began.
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Instead of spending an hour staring at the rows of vitamins in Target, I took a quiz. The quiz asked me about my lifestyle, my goals, my values, and all the things. Sleep patterns. Activity. Skin issues. Illnesses. The quiz took about 5 minutes. I personally loved it because it made me feel seen and known as an individual. If I have learned one thing through my health journey it’s this: there is no one size fits all solution. Each person is different. My needs are different than your needs. I am thankful for companies who call out our differences instead of trying to remedy us all with sameness.
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My quiz tells me I need the following:

  • Rhodiola- The Cosmonaut: Supports stress and mood. I’m down for anything that chills out my brain.
  • Multivitamin- The One: I added this one to my packet after the quiz because my doctors are constantly saying, “MULTIVITAMIN! MULTIVITAMIN! MULTIVITAMIN!”
  • Probiotic Blend- The Harmonious Gut: My mama talks endlessly about probiotics and that I need them. Hey mom- I am doing okay now!
  • Astaxanthin- The Coral King : This is a biggie for me because this little pill helps me with my psoriasis. Skin problems, see you later!

A few days after I ordered the vitamins, a little box showed up with 30 individual packs for each day of the month. I must have shown Lane the packaging at least thirty times because I was just so tickled with the presentation. As crazy as it might seem, I love having my name on all the little packets. It feels personalized and custom-made for me. It’s the little things, guys.
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I’m one month into the experience and I can proudly scream about how much I love the following:

1) It helps with creating healthy habits.
I keep the little box at my desk in a place where I can see it every day. There are no excuses, really. I grab a pack from the box and take it with a meal. No fuss, no excuses. I’ve only missed a few days and that’s because I am still getting used to the process.
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2) It’s trustworthy.
I like honest companies. I don’t know how to figure out who is honest in the industry of vitamins. I am always wondering if I need a different brand of multi vitamins or if I should be trying a different probiotic. In this case, the vitamins are all coming from one place. The tough decisions (the ones I was never good at making anyway) have left the building. I am free to trust the experts and go with my gut (dumb probiotic joke).
3) It’s perfect for traveling. I give it an A+!
I can’t tell you the number of pill boxes I’ve bought in the last few years. I think each one is going to be the solution. I imagine myself refilling it and taking my little pill box on all my travels with me. It has yet to happen. When I went to New York City and Tampa the other week, I simply grabbed 5 packets from the bag and threw them into my carry-on. Again— no fuss, no excuses.
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4) It simply inspires me.
I love innovative companies. I love people who see an everyday occurrence like taking vitamins and try to make it simpler. This sort of stuff fires me up. Overall, subscribing to Care/of feels like an experience more than anything else. I love the branding and the simplicity of the packaging. It’s taken the stress out of vitamins for me. For that, I am pretty stinkin’ grateful.

 


.This isn’t a sponsored post. I am passionate about sharing the things that matter to me with all of you.  I reached out to Care/of and I asked if there was something I could offer to you guys. They were kind (and really speedy), giving me a coupon code for 50% off your first subscription of vitamins. Just use “BRENCHER50” as your promo code at checkout and enjoy half off your first month of vitamins! 
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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.