The Better Guide // March Edition.

Welcome to Issue 3 of the Better Guide! 

This is my monthly guide– a most-random resource list of all things food, drink, faith, fitness, and fun. I publish this guide at the end of every month (consider it a wrap-up of the last 30 or so days) and I am making a single promise to you in creating and curating the resource list: I promise to seek the better. I promise to gather resources, apps, news, and test them out first. I’ll be the guinea pig, ready to report back my findings. I promise not to report things that are fake, way too much money, or will ultimately do nothing for your life but distract you. Life is precious and I ain’t toying with your hours nor could I ever, in good conscience, recommend a $600 gym bag to you. I promise to be fair, real, transparent, and ultimately focused on the better. Better health. Better work. Better relationships. All the better. 

Thank you for your patience (I know I am 4 days late to publishing this guide)! I’ve been under the weather and fighting off the pollen here in Atlanta but I’m happy to be back on my feet and feeling better.


Better Reads.

  • This book has been around for the last year and a half but I am just picking it up. And y’all- every chapter preaches to me. If you’ve ever felt left out or uninvited, rejected or looked over, then I would recommend this read. It will be a healing balm to your soul.
  • I am about 100 pages into this book and currently LOVING it. It’s worth the rage (everyone seems to be talking about it)! I am looking forward to a weekend in Savannah reading this book and getting to finish it off.
  • My girlfriend just sent me this link to Refinery29’s 2018 book list and there are just so many good reads listed here. I am definitely going to be referring to this list throughout the year whenever I want to read a book that is profound, impactful, and fierce!

Better Brain.

  • This January and February, I wrote my first Bible study. It’s been a longtime goal of mine. I wanted to create something free for my readership and this is the result: a 15-session study on following Jesus in a follower-obsessed culture. I hope you enjoy!
  • This is a really good read. I am someone who uses and advocates for medication for those who need it but I think we all can take something away from getting a little exercise into our day-to-day routines!

Better Listens.

  • Okay, maybe it seems as if I am on the Caroline Leaf train but the woman knows her stuff. If you’re wanting a podcast to learn more about the brain and just what social media is doing to it… check out this one and then follow up with this one. You’ll learn so much in just 20 minutes.
  • Our pastor Ben gave this message last Sunday on shame and Y’ALL… it preaches. Dig in and move forward!

Better Travel.

  • I don’t read many blogs but I am heavily invested in a few of them. One belonging to this girl. She recently paired up with Target to create a luggage line for families and I’m a few pennies away from buying two of the suitcases. Finally, luggage that is stylish but not too expensive!

Better Tech.

  • I’ve been scheduling out my social media lately. I still use social media to engage with others but I can attest to feeling like I’ve gotten a chunk of my life back by using this tool. I’m still able to lift & encourage others without feeling like I always have to be posting on the fly. I went ahead and invested in a year subscription and so far it has been the best office subscription of 2018!
  • Has anyone tried these? I would love your opinion! I’m thinking of investing in these for my workouts and would love to know what you think.

Better Eats.

  • I’m loving this easy hack article about how to make a cheese plate on a budget. This article is a game-changer for the party hosts reading!
  • All the yum! We still love to cook Whole30 style meals even when we aren’t doing some crazy food diet!
  • This is my go-to. I find myself craving it on a weekly basis.
  • If you love cooking hardboiled eggs + have an Instant Pot then this recipe will blow your mind! Easy-to-peel eggs! Finally!

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

Mapping my weeks: my current favorite productivity hack.

*image cred.

I’ll just start by being honest: I went through a series of weeks at the beginning of this year where I wasn’t getting anything done. The slump didn’t last all that long but while I was inside of it, feeling like I was just treading water but not making an impact, it felt eternal. My time felt spread too thin. I felt chaotic whenever I would go over what needed to be done in my mind. I wasn’t making progress and I was getting sucked up by distractions.

I was wasting time on social media. I wasn’t writing. I was doing a series of menial tasks and making no real advancement towards projects that actually mattered to me. But in the last few weeks, everything changed.

I’m a sucker for productivity hacks. I live for them. However, I am learning that everyone operates differently. What works for me may not work well for you. Regardless, I think we all need some systems in our lives. Systems stabilize. Systems clear out the chaos. Systems help us get stuff done. 

I believe we are living in an interesting time where people talk (really loudly) about life and living life but aren’t actually doing it. I feel like we’ve become spectators. Some of us have stopped doing the work. We’ve lost hours to social media and it’s time to claim back that precious time. At the end of the day, I believe the most valuable resource I have at my fingertips is time. I plan to use it wisely. I plan to be a doer, not getting to the end of my life and having to say, “I watched too many people live. I never thought to put down the phone and own my life instead.”

You being here matters. You get a designated load that has your name on it. You get the chance to leave your fingerprints on the lives of people and projects. But no one will know if you never wake up and live. No one will bother to write an article about you or thank you for your service if all you ever do is sit back and scroll. I’m not trying to be harsh, I’m just needing to be honest.

One system I’ve been implementing every Sunday is taking an hour or so to map my week out and make a massive to-do list. This happens before I do anything else.

It looks like this:

 

And this halfway through a week:

What the colors mean:

Yellow highlights: There are a few tasks I will highlight in yellow before I go over them in orange. The yellow tells me something: this is a task you are planning to get done today. It helps me to see what takes priority on a Monday or a Thursday. It’s a bit of a roadmap in a sea of tasks.

Orange highlights: Plain and simple, orange means completed. I get so much satisfaction out of getting to check something off the list.

What gets listed:

It’s basic. There’s no huge science to it. I only include what is necessary for that week and I do not allow myself to overflow into the next set of pages. My whole week exists on two pages and it allows me to believe I can conquer what is to come.

Tasks & projects:

I write down all my work-based and personal tasks that are necessary enough to make the to-do list. I dump my brain out onto the pages of a bullet journal (yes, I am obsessed) and I get to it. Sometimes I miss things that needed to be added to the list but if the task is something that can happen the following week then I slot it away for next week’s workload.

Where to be: 

I keep a running list of places where I need to be throughout the week. Mind you, I use a monthly calendar on a daily basis. I don’t leave home without it. I am proud to say I am still functioning with a monthly paper planner in an iPhone world! This monthly planner is my roadmap for the week but the “where to be” section of my list preps me to show up for these events, meetings, and occasions.

If you introvert hard like me then it can seem like getting over a mountain just to jump on a phone meeting. The homebody inside of me wants to stay in my creative zone all day and talk to absolutely no one. Being able to highlight these meetings off my list upon completion helps me breathe knowing I showed up and made it happen when I wanted to stay in sweatpants all day.

Self-care:

I can guarantee that no self-care would happen if I didn’t add it to the bottom of my weekly lists. I list simple things like a workout, a study session with my Bible, and personal tasks that are good for my heart. Last week I challenged myself to mail two love letters to people in my life. This week I’ve been tracking all the foods I’ve been consuming to get extra protein into my diet.

I used to struggle with self-care because it seemed selfish to me. I now believe self-care is the opposite of being selfish. When you take care of yourself, you are able to take better care of others. By getting a workout in, studying my Bible in the morning, and checking a number of water bottles off my list, I can give people the best version of myself. Taking care of yourself matters. Don’t be afraid to make it a priority.

A note to the hustlers with anxiety:

I feel you. And this productivity system of mine was largely created because of all the anxiety I deal with throughout a given week. Yes, I face anxiety but I refuse to let that anxiety hold me back from all this week has to offer me. What this system does, more than anything else, is give me a map. I need a map. Otherwise, I tread water. I fill the air with self-deprecating words about myself. I fail before I even begin.

I can honestly say that since beginning this system, my productivity has doubled. I’ve yet to have an unproductive workday with this list in front of me.

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Some tips to get you feeling productive:

What you likely don’t need right now: It’s very likely that you don’t need another planner. I love planners and I love supporting planner companies. But I used to be a chronic planner purchaser. I would buy a planner whenever I felt like I wasn’t being productive enough. I would blame my old planner and think the solution was a new planner. Turns out, the planner wasn’t the key to the productivity. The key to productivity is simply putting your head down and doing the work. Easier said than done, right?

Start before the week begins: I’ve reoriented my weekends in the last few months. Sunday used to be my day of ultimate rest but I’ve recently shifted that day to Saturday. Saturday is my actual sabbath where I don’t do any work, don’t bother checking email or being “on.” I relax. I eat brunch. I sip my coffee slowly (after sleeping in). I spend time with Lane and friends.

It’s honestly my own fault that Sunday became more of a workday. A few months ago, I was failing to write the Monday Morning Email in advance and it ended up being a Sunday night task. I don’t recommend waiting until the last-minute but establishing Saturday as my Sabbath has freed me up to do a little work on Sunday. That might seem crazy but a) I love my work and I am happy to do it any day of the week and b) I really love getting a head start on a Sunday evening. It relieves the pressure that so often comes with a Monday.

Diversify the tasks: I write it all down. Everything. Writing down only the big tasks can be overwhelming and writing down just the little ones seems trivial. When I look at my list, I am able to choose. I can choose to dive into a big task I know I want to tackle or I can start getting into the workflow by tackling something little. I don’t scale my tasks in order of importance. If it makes the list then that means it is important to try and accomplish the task that week.

People, Plans & Projects: This is what matters most to me. I wrote a blog about it last year if you want to know more about how I manage my priorities in these 3 areas!

Eat the frog: My friend Christina told me about this method and it really is a game changer. Look at your own to-do list (if you’ve got one). Locate the task that is the most important but also the one you’re most likely to procrastinate on. That’s your frog. Your frog is the thing that NEEDS to get done and may even take only 10 minutes to do but you’ve been dreading it. Don’t delay any longer. Do that thing. Make it happen. I try to “eat the frog” every week, early in the week. It helps me look forward to the tasks on my to-do list rather than dreading the things I have to do that week.

Airplane mode: This is a huge key to having a productive week. Be willing to turn off the noise to plug-in and be productive. Social media is great but does it really make you more productive? When was the last time watching other people live their “best lives” helped you go out there and tackle Monday? I use airplane mode heavily throughout my weeks. Social media can wait.

I am very productive: Ever get to the end of the week and feel like you’ve done nothing? This hack helps you defeat that feeling. I can look back on the last few weeks and see all I’ve done, all I’ve accomplished, and all I’ve managed to steward well. It’s pure proof that I am productive, moving forward, and making little dents in my corner of the world.

 

 

I am planning to let this system evolve and change in the next few weeks so let me know in the comments if this was helpful or you want me to write more about these productivity hacks and systems. I am always happy to share my process as I grow and learn! 

 

Honesty Hour: Celebrate good times… come on?

I want to be a party person. This is what I’ve recently decided.

My mother is a party person. She knows how to celebrate with the best of them. She brings the instruments. She orders the things off Amazon. She makes the person at the center of the celebration feel chosen. She rallies hard for others because people deserve to be rallied for. And I’ve decided that this is a great goal, a worthy goal for my life: to be more of a party person with each passing year.

My first roommate in Atlanta was a party person too. She would transform our backyard into this mystical celebratory land. She would blow up the balloons, buy the cake, and the celebrate the guts of this life. What I admired most about her is that she had no problem planning parties for herself. She loved to celebrate things like birthdays because it gave her this chance to thank the people who’d played their role in transforming her and remaking her.

 

I’ve always been an unnecessarily fear-filled party planner. I’ve planned the parties, I’ve partaken in the celebrations, but I am always waiting for this doom-filled reality to show up that no one is coming to my party and no one wants to celebrate me. Where does that come from? Why are we so eager to pump ourselves full of fear?

Celebration is actually spiritual discipline. It is commanded and it is a well-loved tradition of the Bible. So I am determined to get over this “not worthy of celebration” feeling in my spirit before I hit 30 in a few months.

 

So I am craving your wisdom and want to use this comment section to have a dialogue. Pick a question below to answer in a comment:

How do you celebrate the good in your life?

How do you get past the fear of celebrating yourself?

What do you think of birthdays: yay or nay? Anything special you look forward to each year?

What’s a favorite tradition you think I should adopt?

How can you and I better celebrate in 2018?

Let’s talk! 

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.”

 

The Better Guide // February Edition.

Welcome to Issue 2 of the Better Guide! 

This is my monthly guide– a most-random resource list of all things food, drink, faith, fitness, and fun. I publish this guide at the end of every month (consider it a wrap-up of the last 30 or so days) and I am making a single promise to you in creating and curating the resource list: I promise to seek the better. I promise to gather resources, apps, news, and test them out first. I’ll be the guinea pig, ready to report back my findings. I promise not to report things that are fake, way too much money, or will ultimately do nothing for your life but distract you. Life is precious and I ain’t toying with your hours nor could I ever, in good conscience, recommend a $600 gym bag to you. I promise to be fair, real, transparent, and ultimately focused on the better. Better health. Better work. Better relationships. All the better. 


Better Reads.

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

Better Study.

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

Better Looks + Listens.

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

Better Home.

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

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

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

Better Subscriptions.

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

Better Tech.

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

Better Work.

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

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

Digging for gold in the valley.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Kicking fear off the platform.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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