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.”

 

Digging for gold in the valley.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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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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. 

 

 

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.