Switch the script.

Simplicity

I am writing a message to deliver at a church this week on depression and anxiety.

I am thankful because this is a topic we need to talk more about, in and out of the church. Depression and anxiety are real illnesses– needing to be taken seriously– and so I hope I always do those topics justice in this space.

I am swimming in notes on spiritual depression. I’ve been pulling apart Psalm 42 because it’s a song of real suffering. As I read the Psalms, I realize how relatable this man actually is. He’s happy and then he’s sad. He’s all over the place sometimes. But he always returns back to God. He always finds his true north there.

David is feeling all the feels. In Psalm 42, he asked the question we’ve likely read a million times before in church pews: Why are you downcast, O my soul?

I came across a quote about that verse by Lloyd-Jones:

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says,: “Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.” (Spiritual Depression)

These words are critical for someone like me who deals with depression and anxiety.

Daily, I am tempted to listen to the little voice in my head that says I am helpless or I am worth nothing. I know it has nothing good to say to me but the voice is so familiar. I feel like it knows me so well. That same voice wants me to sleep in and not get out of bed. That voice wants me to cut corners and only give half of my efforts to this day.

It’s not the voice of God. I can’t claim to know everything about God but I believe this: God’s voice is one of encouragement and love, motivation and power. 

God does not whisper half-hearted anthems into our ears or taunts us to give up. So why do I listen to this voice? Why do I let it wake me up and speak to me before I’ve even had a chance to pour the coffee? 

 

I want to be like David in this Psalm. I want to be able to stop the noise in my brain that wants to define my worth and say, “No, what’s going on with you? Why are you so upset? What are you letting in?”

I want to be smart and switch the script, tell myself I am capable even when I don’t fully believe it.

I am never going to claim you shouldn’t speak to someone if you are grappling with anxiety or depression. It’s important. But I think every battle with mental health is lined with proactive steps worth taking.

A proactive step: I must take responsibility for how I speak to myself and what I allow to speak to me. The voices we listen to possess power.

It might be the voice of a person I thought was a friend. I am learning friends do not beat you down or tell you-you’re not good enough. Friends don’t make you feel like you are walking on eggshells. Friends cover you in truth, even when you don’t want to hear it, but they do the work beforehand to draw close to you. I don’t think we can go around and try to bodyslam people with “truth.” We must be willing to hear the whole story and walk in shoes that make us uncomfortable.

It might be the voice of a parent or a sibling. Still, I think we need to turn the volume down when they are unkind or mean to us. God said we need to learn to love people with our whole hearts but what if that also looks like better boundaries?

It might be some false voice, one I think is God. In that case, I need to make it a priority to seek the true voice of God and apply it to my life. I think every one of us reaches a point our faith where we have to stop listening to podcasts and sermons given from a stage long enough to find the voice of God. God will be personal with you.

 

Here’s to switching the script. If you feel like you’re not there yet, if you can’t find the words to encourage yourself, then borrow these. Read them over you if you like:

Hey you, 

Why do you feel so defeated? Why are you kicking yourself down, not really giving yourself a fair shot? Whatever the reason- that’s okay. I can’t blame you. I’ve been in that spot before where the noise is deafening and the lies are loud. 

But I hope you know today that you are not an accident. The furthest thing from it, really. You woke up today. You got another shot. Let’s make something beautiful happen. 

Macklemore says (yes, I am quoting Macklemore), “Don’t try to change the world, find something that you love. Do it every day, do that for the rest of your life. And eventually, the world will change.” 

Don’t get bound up to what it means to just “be good” or “be perfect.” Don’t try to be what others expect you to be. Just be. 

Show up today and try to love people with every square inch of your heart. Be kind to yourself. Say thank you. Let go. 

The pressure is off. 

 

 

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29 life rules.

I found this magazine article yesterday and it really inspired me. Life rules. It’s a pretty powerful statement to set rules for yourself to live by. I used to create rules for myself all the time but they were rigid and boring. They were rules I placed on myself because I thought maybe I needed to be contained or kept in line. Rulebooks that don’t give you any room for growth or mistakes are dumb. I like these rules much better.

Today I am turning 29. It’s a year I have honestly waited my whole life to get to and I am not sure why. I’ve just always loved the idea of being 29 and so I decided today would be the perfect day to write a new rulebook, create some new life rules. 

  1. The leftover fear of “what if” should always be bigger than the fear of failure. Go out there and try new things even if it scares you half to death.
  2. Celebrate other people as they go after what makes them feel alive. No room for jealousy at this point, champion people and help them win.
  3. Never say no to taco dates. Tacos and friends are always most important than whatever is on your to-do list.
  4. Boundaries are important. People have told you that for years and you’ve rarely believed them. But now you see it. Spend this next year establishing better boundaries, preserving your heart, and knowing when you need to step away.
  5. Prayer. Lots of it. In every situation. Don’t ever belittle that thing and don’t ever misuse the concept by telling someone you are praying when you aren’t. Get down on the carpet and keep getting down into the posture of prayer, even when you feel like nothing is moving.
  6. Remain teachable. The older you get, the less you actually know. Allow someone to teach you instead of being a know-it-all. Stay humble in learning.
  7. Keep your spaces clean. Chaos squashes your creativity. To keep your brain calm, keep your room clean.
  8. People are flawed and they will mess up. Find more grace in the pockets of your heart. Consume grace regularly, as if it were a vitamin.
  9. Rule borrowed from Anna Quindlen: “You can embrace a life that feels like it belongs to you, not one made up of tiny fragments of the expectations of a society that, frankly, in most of its expectations, is not worthy of you.”
  10. Let it breathe. When you feel something, don’t keep it bottled up inside of you. Talk to someone you trust. Air it out. Don’t let your feelings eat you from the inside out.
  11. About that rule #10: Note the “someone.” Avoid the itch to tell anyone and everyone your struggles, problems, hang-ups. Create your people circle and lean hard into them. Less is more, babe.
  12. Wear the romper.
  13. Try your best to send birthday cards in the mail. Writing on someone’s Facebook wall is nice but if you know the person, and you have their address, then scoot your butt to the post office and mail them a card. They will be so thankful.
  14. A lesson you learned in your 28th year that will still prove to be valid as you turn 29: if you want to see results you’ve never seen, be willing to do things you’ve never done.
  15. Your expectations of people are not reality. Not always. Don’t be consumed by how a person does or does not treat you.
  16. Rule borrowed from Lane Sheats: Find joy apart from the need for others’ approval. Joy wrapped up in the validation of others isn’t really joy at all. It won’t last. It won’t stand firm when life knocks you down.
  17. Prioritize simplicity and strive for it. Experiences > Stuff.
  18. Keep your 5am hours as much as you possibly can. Cool stuff happens when you are awake and alert before the rest of the world has their morning coffee.
  19. Don’t go to Target when you’re emotional or feeling bad about your life.
  20. Keep weekly dates with the people you’re investing in. Consistency is a surprising rarity in the world today. Seize it with both hands.
  21. Weed your garden at least every month if not twice a month. When I say “weed your garden,” I really mean: take time to write out the lies that are currently holding you captive and pull them out from the root. Replace them with little seedlings of truth.
  22. Rule borrowed from Ellen Degeneres: Never follow anyone else’s path, unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path and by all means, you should follow that.
  23. Don’t worry about the things that haven’t happened. Wait for each moment to have it’s own birthday and deal with it then. No use in crying over things that aren’t even real.
  24. Give. Be a giver. When you give, there is always more.
  25. Replace gossip with prayer.
  26. Forgive the version of you who didn’t know better. Forgive that girl and love her, she was doing the best she could.
  27. Be slow, like snail-pace slow, to judge a pair of shoes you’ve never tried to walk in.
  28. Put on the damn bikini and go out to the pool, girl. Get yourself a tan.
  29. Hannah- remember, remember, remember: the fullest moments of your life will never be documented or captured for the world to clap at or approve of them. Make room for the full moments that only happen when you are shut off, tucked away, found in a quiet space by God.

Notes from an investor: people, projects, plans.

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Recently I started investing. My money. My loot. My greens. My Benjamins. My clams. My dough. My wad. My lettuce. Okay, I’m done.

It makes me feel like a serious adult to say that I’m saving money. I wiped out all my student loan debt this past December and I figured that was the next adult-ish thing to do: begin investing.

When you first start investing, the whole process seems a little intimidating. The website I use ultimately tells me how much I need to save up if I want to retire at age 67 (they picked the age, not me). There are pros and cons to looking “Big Picture” at your life like this. Pros: you see what you’re working with. Cons: you figure out what you’re working with and you realize you’re not working so well with it. 

The app I invest with gives you a list of options as to where you can invest your money: a home, a retirement fund, your children’s college funds.

There are too many options and I find myself thinking I need to invest in every single one right this very moment. 

I’m not writing a post about investing money right now.  I may have married a financial analyst but I’m not ready to come at you with my money savvy just yet. As I’ve learned the ins and outs of investing, I am starting to see that investing translates into all areas of my life.

Drop the mic & go find Sarah.

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“What were you like at 20?”

Her text came through this morning in the middle of my writing hours.

I had to pause. Walk away from the computer. Find a space on the floor where, if you sit in just the right spot, the sunlight will flood through the window and cover your knees like a soft, thin blanket.

I honestly haven’t given much thought to who I was at 20 years old. That was seven years ago. I was a junior in college.

I responded to her text with a bunch of scenarios:

When I was 20, I had my first internship with the city’s newspaper. I wore high heels and strut around the campus center like I was really important— an absolute boss.

When I was 20, I was enamored with a boy who would read me Walt Whitman poetry at 2am and then take me for walks around campus at 4am. I wrote poems about him. I haven’t written a poem since him.

When I was 20, I was a perfectionist. As much as I would like to write that I was free and happy and spontaneous, I was really wrapped tightly into rules. I was dying for the approval of others. I had to look perfect at all times. It was a front & a facade. If there was a position at stake, I had to get it. If there was a grade to be made, I had to make it.

When I was 20, I had a lot of questions— most of them revolved around God. I wasn’t in the mode of trusting God, or actually even liking him. I was a bit angry about the amount of “hurdles” people seemed to place in front of the prospect of getting to God.

But I know I prayed big prayers. I know I prayed on more than a dozen occasions, “God, if you give me a voice then I will use it. If you give me something big to take care of, I won’t let you down.”

When I was 20, life could not move fast enough for me. People could not love me hard enough. The world could not understand me well enough.

I wanted more responsibility. I wanted more purpose.

“Does that help?” I type back to her.

She digs deeper.

“What was it like for you the summer before your senior year of college?”

“The best summer I’ve ever had,” I say. “I met my best friends. Last time I felt really known up until now.”

She goes on to tell me that everyone she knows is either engaged or moving into houses with roommates. She says that when she runs into the people, they just look at her like they expected more out of her.

“I’m not engaged or married,” she says. “I’m not even in a serious relationship. I don’t even have a person. I’ll graduate and probably still be living with my parents.

It’s 2015: the year nobody wants to be in love and everyone owns a selfie stick. And I’m starting to think the two are kind of related. We are stricken by the fear of missing out.”

This girl is wise. I cannot imagine people looking at her, at the age of 20, and thinking, “What happened to you?”

Why are you not married? Why are you not swallowed up in white and flowers and bridesmaids by now?

I have to be starkly honest:

Singleness has been the single hardest thing about living in the South.

It’s not the heat and it’s not the religion— it’s the pace in which life moves down here. If I was in New York City people would give me at least a few more years to be single and figure it out. In New York, we often pick career over spouse. We pay a ridiculous amount of rent for an incredibly small space. Dating apps are actually incredibly useful, not overly stigmatized. Life is a collection of Chinese takeout and conversations at 2am on someone’s rooftop where we keep plotting to “change the world.” 

In New York City, you explore a lot of religions. You meet a lot of opposition. You learn to be accepting and open and real. You mess up and you pair up and you break up and you grow up.

This isn’t a slam on geography or culture, it’s just my verbose & romanticized way of saying: some people think its incredibly tragic that I am 27 and still single.

And honestly? I finally think it’s beautiful.

It’s taken me nearly 7 years to finally be content with a naked left hand. I can tell you this though: at age 20, I made a sacrifice. I would make the same sacrifice at the age of 22 and 24 and 26— the choice to be alone and to be single instead of taken. The choice to invest everything I had— every hour I could— into the generation rising up.

To invest in a generation, you need to be willing to make sacrifice. It’s not like God came to me and was all like, “Boo, you have to be single (Paul-style) if you want me to give you big work to do.” Never. But I realized I only wanted a boyfriend to plug up some bottomless hole inside of myself. Just in the way you are not a lifeboat, someone else is not your hole-filler. Stop taking all the good job descriptions away from God.

I’m learning that the right person won’t make you want forfeit your whole being. The right person will make you want to grow into your whole being. The right person makes you want to fill up the space you once apologized for.

By the age of 24, I was the girl in the airports that old people pitied.

They thought if I was spending so much time in airports then there was no chance I could be in love and traveling and still be giving so much of my time to my work.

“There is no way you have time to be with someone,” they would say, looking at me with disdain. They probably wondered about those lonely, double-bed hotel rooms in Baltimore and Buffalo more than I did.

But by the age of 24, God was giving me everything I prayed for when I was 20. He had built my character, and my faith, and my capacity up until that point. He was handing me plane tickets, big stages, book deals, late night diner trips with strangers, and signings. More than anything– though I didn’t see it at first– he was handing me a chance to be with his people.

People always want to talk to me about the big crowds and the glamorous parts of traveling. These days I smile and say, “All of that matters until you meet a Sarah. It is lonely but it still matters until you meet a Sarah.

After you meet a Sarah, none of that “status stuff” matters any longer.”

I met Sarah at an awkward youth conference where I was speaking.

The kids didn’t really smell good. They had bad attitudes. I felt deflated on stage because that’s what teenagers can sometimes do unintentionally: make you feel like the least interesting creature to ever be placed under bright lights and given a microphone.

I came off the stage to find her waiting for me. Sarah, that is. Before I could even catch my breath to say anything to her, she was rattling off every shortcoming she could name: “I’m not good at this… and I hate myself for this… and one time I did this… and it made me feel this way… And I self-harmed last week… And sometimes I don’t think I even want to be here.”

She looked down a lot. She fidgeted with her hands. I think she was waiting for me to look in the other direction and walk away.

Instead, I grabbed her shoulders. I drew her in as close as I could. I whispered into her ear with the loudest whisper possible, “Sarah, you’re okay. Stop looking for a reason to not be okay. You got up today. You’re right here. You’re okay.”

Sarah broke instantly. She crumbled and was suddenly in my arms sobbing. I didn’t know what else to do but hold this stranger and rock with her for as long as she needed me to hold her and rock her. 

I don’t really know how long we rocked for. I lost track of time. In that moment, nothing was an accident. Not my singleness, not my geography. You learn really quickly that nothing is an accident when you just show up. 

And then came the broken hearts in New York City. The redemption stories in Cincinnati. The broken dishes in Los Angeles. The unrequited love tales in Seattle. The questions of identity in Boston. One girl in Minnesota cried as she told me that she finally discovered self-worth on a Fall day while wearing her favorite red sweater. The mother of a child who tragically passed away held my hands in Michigan and thanked me for the love letters we sent her in her time of grieving. A boy in Southern Alabama told me it was a letter from me— mailed back in 2010 at the height of my depression— that was one of three letters that would save his life.

At the age of 27, I have spoken in rooms with only 15 to arenas of over 20,000. I’ve been on over 100 stages. I have stayed after to talk with hundreds of college students. I have enough experience to confidently say this: we are all looking for the same thing today. We all want to belong. We all someone to see us. We are all so hopeful that our lives will not be an accident. We struggle with the fight that exists between God and culture.

Culture screams, “Be big! Be bright! Be front! Be center! Be the one on fire!”

God proclaims, “Be small. Be patient. Be humble. Find your place on the back-burner. Drop the mic, this isn’t about you.”

The things I worry about the most when it comes to my generation?

That we will somehow fall too in love with the glory that comes with being “liked” and “retweeted” and “shared.” My fear is that we love and hate ourselves too much, all at the same time. My fear is that we never learn to speak or find a voice because the culture is keeping us on some treasure hunt to find the Missing Pieces. The spouse. The house. The relationship. The child. The next step. The promotion. The job. The education. I could keep going.

My fear is we’re distracted. We are all just scrolling idly through the streams, hungering and searching for the Missing Pieces. We all miss chances when we are digging ourselves into the trenches of self-pity just because we think we should have found someone by now, lived somewhere different, accomplished more.

What if you are missing no pieces and you are simply missing people?

What if you are missing Sarah? What if you are too distracted to just see Sarah today? 

This I know: God doesn’t orchestrate accidents.

He isn’t looking at your life right now and thinking, “If you just tried harder, I would have moved more. If you hadn’t fallen for him or gone for her, I would have loved you more.” That’s not God, that’s simply the lies in your head that you so graciously bestowed with a microphone.

You don’t need a plane ticket to rescue a heart.

You don’t need be someone’s “person” to be complete.

You don’t need a house with a yard to prove you’re worthy of taking up space in this world.

The person with the home often wants the love.

The person with the love often wants to do the rescuing.

The person doing the rescuing often wants the home.

We all like greener grass. We all could have part-time jobs when it comes to worshipping the greener grass but God’s gonna do what he’s gonna do, regardless of our attitudes.

You could let him lead though. Open your hands. Take your foot off the brakes, or the gas, or wherever you’ve got it placed out of fear. You could learn contentment in the way you learn the details of a boy in a coffee shop. You could stop thinking about accidents so much— where you could have gone by now, who you could have met by now.

You could go your whole life convincing people that they, themselves, are not an accident.

Or you could do the work to see that you, yourself, are not an accident.

Your questions— not an accident.

Your geography— not accident.

Your darkness— not an accident.

Your pitfalls— not an accident.

Your relationship status— not an accident.

There is nothing accidental about the fact that you’re still here.

So come matter here. Please, come matter here.

There are Sarah’s who need you– they need you to pay attention long enough to see them just so you can tell them they’re okay too. We all need to know we are okay. We all need to hear the words, “Me too. I feel that way too.”

So please come here. Please drop your mic.

Drop the mic and go find Sarah instead. 

Tell her she’s okay. Just tell her she’s okay today. 

An open letter to Joe.

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It’s been a year since I last saw you.

It’s been nearly two years since we met, since you came right up to my table and told me you liked me. You didn’t know why but you liked me but there was some sort of light to me.

In that conversation I found out you were 77-years old. You came to that coffee shop everyday to laugh and talk with your gang of friends.

“If I were your age, I would date you,” you said to me. “I would see exactly what I had and I would not let you go… Some boy is never going to let you go one day. He’s going to be the lucky one.” 

I didn’t know it then but I know it now: you were reassuring me. You were finding a way to tell me, “Don’t lose heart, child. You get to fall in love one day, just like the best of them.”

“What do you love?”

I remember you asking me that question first.

“What do you love?”

No one ever asks that sort of question. We ask each other “what do you do” and “what do you want” and “what is your plan” but we never stop long enough to just seek out of the love in one another.

“Words,” I blurted out instantly. “I love words. Nouns. Verbs. All of it.” I was tickled you asked.

“And what do you love?”

“Numbers,” you winked at me. Before I could stop you and tell you math wasn’t my thing you were pulling my notebook towards you from across the table and you were scribbling a math problem down into the pages. It was fractions.

“What is the answer to that?”

I started at the numbers for a long time. I remembered failing math brutally.

“I don’t know,” I finally whispered.

“That!” you said to me. “THAT is the reason why I love math. If I were to ask you ‘what is the capital of Arizona’ and you didn’t have a clue, and you couldn’t google it, then you would have to tell me “I don’t know” but I have given you everything you need to solve this problem here. So the answer is never ‘I don’t know’ the answer is simply ‘I don’t know yet.’”

From that day forward, we were a thing.

You’d come and sit at my tiny table in the middle of that cliché coffee shop enduring its rush hour. You’d sip your coffee. You’d ask me questions. You’d read my blog and stare at me for long spells of time. You’d tell me I was peculiar—  a 80-year-old trapped in the body of a 25-year-old. And you were really 25, trapped in the body of a nearly 80-year-old man.

You were my first constant coffee shop companion.

You asked me what I believed in one day. I told you I was a Christian. I believed in the bible. You told me you were an atheist, a proud one.

“I like atheists,” I smiled and said. “They have a lot of wisdom.”

“So you actually believe in this stuff?”

I shrugged my shoulders. I was timid then. “I think sometimes its just nice to choose something. To go all in with it.”

“You actually believe the stuff in the Bible?”

“I do,” I said.

“Then what about…” you went to say.

“I don’t really like to debate things,” I stopped you. “I think people with bibles spend too much time debating with people and not enough time trying to understand them.”

We both got quiet.

You spoke after a few moments.

“My son came to me a few years ago and told me that ‘he’ is actually a ‘she,’” you said to me. “Now I have a daughter, not a son.”

You waited.

“What do you think of that?”

You were waiting for me to have an opinion. You were waiting for me to turn on you. My cheeks only burned. I felt embarrassed and a little bit sad that you thought I was supposed to have a narrow view, look at you differently, all because of the light the culture has shined on my belief system.

“I bet she’s lovely,” I think I said. All I can remember is the subtle pain in your eyes– the remnants of a religion that had failed you at a lot of corners. I loved you a little more. 

“I used to have so many views on that topic,” you said. “Until someone I loved was standing in the wake of it.”

I still think about your daughter so much. She gets my micro-prayers when I am driving in the car and when I am cleaning the sinks and trying to be an adult. I know that she’s lovely. Your daughter is lovely.

I never told you that for longest time I kept notes inside of my bible that weren’t mine.

I don’t know why I held onto those notes for so long but the handwriting was foreign and I didn’t know the woman who took them for me beyond a few simple facts: she had two children, she liked Obama, and she cared a whole lot about salvation.

She insisted on taking those notes so I could focus on the Bible and the teaching. I’ve never been a girl to let other people take notes for me. Even when I missed an important biology class and desperately needed someone’s scribbles in order to catch up, I always copied them over in my own handwriting. My own handwriting feels safe to me– like the ‘y’s and ‘g’s won’t turn on me.

In that faith journey— the one that pushed me away from church— I was taught not to ask questions. That was really hard for a girl who only ever wanted to know “why.”

But I would trace over those notes at night, after we were done studying, and they just felt distant. I kept thinking to myself, “Doesn’t God want my questions? Doesn’t he want to know if I see him as more of a puzzle than a protector?”

I kept them in my bible for too long– too long after everything fell apart. I think it was maybe my way of holding onto pain, holding onto a way I felt a human had hurt me and called it “Jesus” at the end of the day. I wanted to stay mad at God for longer than I thought. That’s how I am with God and people: I am looking for the reason to not trust you anymore so I can finally leave and make a shelter out of my own self. Self feels safe. 

I don’t like the thought of building something when you don’t know how long it will last.

I once loved a boy so hard that I knew every detail of him. And when it was over, I didn’t know what to do with all the pieces of him. Breaking up was like slowly writing a dictionary with someone and then realizing you could no longer use any of the words you still loved.

I think I built walls up after that. I think each year and relationship was another layer of concrete on the walls.

And here’s what I am certain about (sidenote: I’m not certain about much): We often funnel God through imperfect human interactions instead of funneling human interactions through a perfect God.   

We think if someone breaks us, wrecks us, treats us poorly then that’s how God will treat us too. We think if someone leaves– forgetting or not caring to take their cologne bathed sweatshirts with them– then God will eventually do the same too. He will find the backdoor, just like the others.

Here’s what I never told you:

I never told you that I loved you. All those months sitting across from you in the coffee shop. I never told you I thanked God for you. That you will be one of the people I talk about for a very long time because you gave me permission to ask harder questions and be okay with silence and no answers.

I’m never going to be able to go to God at the end of this and give him an inventory of my faith that consists of a cross, and a bible, and a pew. I am going to say the inventory of my faith was a lot of uncertainty, a few bad Tinder dates, a good mother, the feeling of grace, a yellow room, the play Les Miserables, a slew of coffee shops, and you.

“Ask him all your questions.”

That’s what the boy across from me in the coffee shop tells me to do. He’s the one who sits in your place now and does exactly what you used to do: gives me no answers, just asks me more questions.

He doesn’t flinch. He never really wavers. He just hands me books to read that already hold his underlines and uncertainties inside of their pages. He has asked the questions too.

I feel chaotic. He tells me Moses asked a lot of questions. It deepened the relationship Moses had with God to go to him honestly and say, “I don’t understand. Could you open my eyes a little more today?”

The answers might not come dramatically. They might not be right in front of my face. But maybe if I keep going, keep asking all the questions that get laid on my heart, something miraculous might happen: I might find a few answers or I might find peace with the not knowing.

I just hope I never stick two fingers up to your lips and whisper, “Shush.” There is grace and mercy in asking big questions. To ask big questions is to go before a God who can handle all parts of us– our junk, our nastiness, our hopes, our failures. I think God is big enough for your big questions and bigger frustrations.

I have to ask more questions.

It’s been a year since I last saw you.

I think about you a lot. I think of how I’ve grown and how I used to try to fill conversations with the most amount of words possible. I don’t like the silence but I am finding that it helps a lot more, a lot more than trying to play God to someone else through my words.

Instead of words, I am trying to choose the air. I am trying to listen and ask more questions.

Maybe I didn’t ask you enough. Maybe I should have asked more. Maybe you and I had exactly what we needed to have— you with your questions and me with no answers.

Here’s the thing I do know though: you were onto something when you shifted that math problem across the table.

You were right.

I have everything I need right here to try and solve this problem. To try and find the answers.

You were right.

The answer isn’t “I don’t know.”

The answer is simply, “I don’t know yet.”

I am not the point.

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It was Maya Angelou who wrote how you can learn a lot about a person by examining the way they handle these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.

Rainy days have always been my jam and lost luggage is just a sign to be patient with the imperfect gods of Delta and circumstances in life beyond your control. But it’s those Christmas lights that have me tripping— straight-up, worried sick.

You see, I lack patience. I try not to and I am constantly needing Big Mac portion sizes of grace in this area. I hold a secret wrath for the slow walkers of this earth and the tasks that take a person 4 hours to execute when I know I could have handled it by myself in 15 minutes. I was the intern supervisor back in the day who wanted to do all the work for the interns just so it would be finished and done well. I had to take my sticky fingers off so many situations, breathe, and just say, “Girl, let someone have a breakthrough and a moment of celebration on their own. You once celebrated over your small and slow victories too.”

In the words of Michelangelo, “Ancora Imparo” (Still, I am Learning).

So when it comes to Christmas lights and other cords I’d rather not untangle them. I tell myself life is too short to sit on the floor and untangle cords. I mean that. The evidence would be the fact that my hair straightener and curling iron have been tethered to one another for nearly seven months now. The cords are so tangled that you have to stand close to the outlet in order to use them. You have to get your head basically next to the outlet if you want to use the straightener. This is the definition of someone’s worst nightmare but I somehow let the tangled cords make my life more difficult daily instead of just stopping, unplugging the devices from the wall, and taking the twenty minutes necessary the detach the two for good.

Embarrassing to admit but I actually raised my needy palms up to the ceiling yesterday and asked God, “What does this say about me? What does this honestly say about me?”

I’m the silly girl who finds life revelations in tangled product cords but that’s just because I’ve only ever known how to view every inch of life as a series of small encounters meant to improve your character. Really. Truly. I can analyze the snot out of how people maneuver holding glasses of wine and cheese plates at weddings. There is a science to how people order things off Amazon or tackle the grocery list and how both tactics might improve their state of humanity. As you can imagine, I’m instantly the life to any party.

Truth told: I’d choose not to untangle things.

If this was my show, which it used to be, then I would choose to not face things or untangle them and just let life be ruled by more difficulty. Things like “loves lost” I’m cool to untangle because I like to be poetic about the past and cry over things lost. Something like “singleness” I’d prefer not to untangle or even look at. I hate admitting that I’m single. I hate knowing there isn’t a person for me yet. And then when it comes to a thing like “fear,” I’ve been left with no choice but to try and untangle it— little by little— every single day.

I am learning the truth: if you untangle your own mess then you give other people the permission to try and maneuver through their own. We all want some kind of permission to look at our messes without fear of what we will find when we sink our hands in deep to them.

“You are not the Christmas star,” he whispered.

Clearly. He said it. “You are not the Christmas star.”

I was sitting cross-legged on my bed. Christmas had just rolled to the back of the calendar. I was stuck in a headlock of anxiety and fear for most of that December and crying out every morning for God to just speak to me. “Just tell me,” I would pray. “What are we fighting for? What do you want to take out of me? Just take it, God. Take it.”

His answer was audible that one morning: You are not the Christmas star. A chill rushed down my spine. I ran downstairs to my mother, standing by the countertop fixing drip coffee.

“He told me I am not the Christmas star,” I announced to her.

“Who told you?”

“God told me.” You see, in the relationship between my mother and I— God is a third person. He’s an everyday contributor to conversations. He’s like the third homie. The third member of the Hanson band— probably the wise one, Isaac. If my mother is Kelly and I am Michelle then God is the third member of Destiny’s Child— Yonce. If I am Lisa Left Eye Lopes, and my mama is Chili, then God is definitely T-Boz of the TLC group. Let’s be real: T-Boz was the ultimate boss.

“Are you sure God says those sorts of things? That’s a stretch.”

“He definitely said it,” I retorted. “Because I know exactly what he meant.”

He meant to say, in a gentle and nudging way, “You are the not center of the universe, sweet girl.”

I’m not. I’m not every person’s favorite person. I’m so far from perfect that it hurts. I was not made to be front and center. It’s exactly like that bible verse that I’m simultaneously finding shelter and a roundhouse kick of reality to the face inside of these days: John 1:8. “He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” That’s about John the Baptist. It could very well be about you too.

I think that’s God’s way of saying, “Maybe you are gonna shine but I never called you to be your own power plant and gobble up all the credit. You don’t need street cred, little one. You need a smaller purpose.”

“I want to start a movement.”

I cannot count the amount of times I’ve heard those exact words blurted out before me at a speaking engagement or networking event. I want to start a movement. I want to create something big. It has to be big. I want to change the world.

Trust me, that was me 5 years ago. I was 21 and obsessed with making an impact somehow and someway. I could barely see the people around me because my worth and value were tangled up in what I could offer the world. I wanted the big titles. I needed the big names. Baby steps would never serve me. I was always, always that girl.

And wanting to do something bigger than myself was always the driver until I realized that baby steps are queen and God sets the course. He sets the course.

Since the start, he set the story. My mother leaving me love letters. My ache for people I didn’t know. My fascination with New York City. My love for the internet and how it binds us all. He put all those pieces together and it wasn’t until I was stepping and stepping and stepping that I could look up and realize, “I’m not the star. I’m just the vessel. I’m just the instrument.” I’m not the star. I’m not the point.

I have to remind myself of this daily, hourly, when I want to get too handsy with gifts in my life and control every aspect of them. I get way too proud. Way too proud when I think I was born for big assignments— Christmas star missions that just allow me to stand there and shine bright.

There’s a certain and unquenchable beauty in untangling the Christmas lights. It’s humbling. There’s something desirable and lasting when you take your position as the tiny little bulb on the string of lights, instead of the centerpiece who sheds light to the whole tree. When you are a tiny bulb, you become an intricate part of the untangling process and you learn the coolest truth about humanity: when we untangle things, like the lights, we allow more of those little bulbs to stand apart and shine. When he squash our pride for small work and just help others out, we teach others to be lights. And with more little lights, we illuminate more space and territory in a darkened, hollowed place. 

I am trying to untangle the things I am afraid of.

It’s the only thing worth giving my life to anymore these days. I could continue with a prideful saunter and talk loudly about the things I already know but that story is tired, it’s rehearsed, it’s heard. So, instead, I listen to the whisper that tells the truth I am afraid to face, “Little one, you’ve built so much of your life out fear. It’s time to build with love instead.” It’s time to build with love instead. And the first step of love is exactly what you’re shaken over: untangling the mess and realizing you’re okay.

You’re okay. 

Build with love. Untangle your fear. Be a small light.

Build with love. Untangle your doubt. Be a bright light.

Baby steps, baby. Baby steps.

Thank you for staying. (Probably Part 1)

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I have stood on countless amounts of stages and delivered a talk called “Stay.”

The talk is broken up into three sections. Stay Hungry. Stay Small. Stay Here.

I never had an issue with being hungry. I have been hungry for my whole entire existence. I was always the girl who wanted to be used. The girl who wanted to be chosen. I wanted to serve God if it meant he would give me things to do. I remember wanting that before I even had a relationship with God. I remember high school parties. The room spinning. The drunkenness. Me in the corner, just thinking, “God, am I an accident for wanting to do so much and make such a difference when no one else seems to care?”

I never had an issue with being small. I have never puffed myself up to be big. I’ve honestly never believed in myself enough to do that. I’ve spent the latter half of my years not even believing in the worthiness of my own story. I probably need to learn to get a bit bigger. We’ll see.

It’s the staying part– the “staying here” part– that has always been my struggle.

I don’t want to be too hard on myself, I just want to say that staying is really, really, really hard. And I know this because I sat at my favorite coffee shop in Atlanta– the one where the baristas write you little love letters when they serve you drinks– with one of my good friends and we talked about love. And how loving someone and giving your heart to someone is really, really, really hard.

I don’t remember all the words we said but I do remember saying that loving someone is hard because staying is hard. The two correlate. They function within one another. And if you stay, you eventually have to let someone in. If you let someone in, you eventually have to drop the facade. You have to drop the act. You have to unpack your suitcases.

This probably goes deeper. I could probably write a whole book and just call it “Thank You for Staying.”

Thank you for staying.

That’s what I texted to one of my friends during one of the hardest seasons of my life. Thank you for staying. It was simple. It carried weight for me to say it.

And honestly? I used to look at that friend in church before I really knew her and I would  think, “She has it all together. And her life is full. And she would not want to be my friend. And there must be no room for me.”

And while I don’t know which ones of those things are lies, I’ve learned that I have to be really careful with that last one: there must be no room for me.

That’s a damaging lie to staple to yourself: there must be no room for me.

What I am learning lately is that it’s not about the dishes.

It’s never really about the dishes.

I used to live in a community house in the Bronx, New York. I lived with 4 other girls. And “community” is a tough and gritty word that I still don’t really like because it feels too hard and it makes you face yourself pretty honestly (spoiler alert: you won’t always like what you see).

I remember them telling us during the orientation for the program that, at one point, someone would forget to do the dishes (or in my case: I would leave food on the dishes just because I am an inadequate cleaner who is too busy writing love stories in her head). And then someone would neglect to confront the dishes. And then another thing would happen. And then another thing would happen. And eventually, there would be an explosion. And all the little things would come crashing down on top of one another. And you will realize that it all started because of the dishes. Suddenly, it wasn’t about the dishes anymore.

You let it build and build and build, instead of just facing it when it was small.

I think that has a lot to do with the lies we tell ourselves. The fear we tolerate. The things we do or don’t do.

It starts small. And it grows and it grows and it overtakes us when we don’t confront it. It gets hungrier. And hungrier. Until there is a breaking point. Until you’ve convinced yourself that you’re the sum of your fears & the sum of your worries & the sum of your lies– as if each one was written upon your skin in Sharpie marker and people could see everything when they went to shake your hand.

I don’t know how to hash all the lies out just yet.

I am trying. I like to think I am getting better than ever before. But I know that it doesn’t come from moving away from it.

The easy solution in my head is always to move. To go somewhere else. To escape. To get away. And that’s never going to give you a full life– it is going to give you a life of running with a suitcase you can’t seem to put down.

That person I didn’t think would have enough room for me, she stayed.

She prayed. She became a warrior. She reminded me to laugh. She has a full, full life and yet she keeps the doors and windows opens for newcomers who show up tired & empty.

And me? I know I would give everything and the rest of the world to be just like her. To know how to open my windows and open my doors and ask people to come in, saying, “Hey, I know you’re tired. I know you’re stressed. And I want you to stay. I want you to stay and undo the latches on that suitcase and take out everything and put it away. Put the things away for good.

I am going to make some tea. We are going to talk. And you are finally, finally going to stay.

And you are going to fight. There is enough room for you.”