To: My Future Daughter // A Letter on Love Stories.

Love is not finite.

I imagine you’ve heard me say those words about a million times by now. I’ve prayed you would be knit together with that truth. I’ve determined, here and now, before you’re ever born to say those words to you often and with the strongest conviction. Because there was a time in my life when I did not know them to be true.

I’m sure you know the story. I am confident you know all about the woman who changed everything when she looked at me with wide eyes and said those four little words that cracked open my chest and caused everything to finally come spilling out.

Because I had been holding it all in. I was convinced that I had just one good love story in me and I had to save it all up for then. I thought I had to save up all my best words and fight for that day.

You’re going to have a lot of good love stories.

If life allows, I truly and sincerely hope that you only ever have one person that you marry and spend a big chunk of your life with. But before that story, before you find the story that tops all other stories, you’re going to have a lot of other really good stories. I say that carefully, but also knowing that you’re wise. I know you’re not just picking up crazies off the street. Still, they probably won’t ever go the way you planned, and if you’re anything like me, you will have some wild tales to tell.

Love is not a finite thing. Something about this freed me from the years I spent in silence so terrified that I was going to get “the” story wrong. That I was going to waste my best words and my best try on someone who didn’t deserve it.

Believe me when I tell you that I have wasted a lot of good words, good days, good tries on plenty of people who did not deserve it. Granted, I did not know this at the time, but there’s something about leaving it all on the floor and “going big” that reveals the heart of the person standing across from you in a way that I will never be able to fully express. Only experience can give you this gold.

When you give someone your heart, the way they handle it tells you everything you didn’t know but would have needed to know if it was ever going to fully be theirs. I’ve learned this the hard and best way, by being the person who speaks her mind and heart without hesitation. Because love is not a finite thing, and thankfully, we get more than one love story.

There was the manipulator, the serial dater, the sweet barista, the Chinese buffet guy, the I-am-not-called-to-ministry guy, the peanut guy, the narcissist, the sweater guy, the guy with the dog, and probably others I’m forgetting. Please know I did not do incredibly crazy things for all of these people. But some of them, and I regret none of them. Because when I finally showed up to say the things I needed to say, I ended up with a good story of what it means to let someone hold the truth of what my heart needed to say. And I walked away with one truth that never left me: love is not a finite thing. I’ve got more than one love story. That’s not to say that we fall in love with all these people the same way, but we love them, care for them, go big for them in some beautiful kind of way. 

I want you to go big. 

I want you to love people exactly as you do. Love them hard, selflessly, wildly. Be both rowdy and embarrassingly bold when the moment calls for it. I want you to say the things you need to say. If you need to chase someone through an airport, I’ll drive you there. If you need to jump on that plane, I’m not paying for it, but I’ll cheer you on from the drop-off lane.

The point is, I want you to learn how to give your heart away. Because you can get it back. You will get it back. Love is not a finite thing.

I wish I’d learned this sooner because I spent so long thinking that handing people my heart was some kind of weakness that would someday leave me empty. I held it back from some really good people. I never want that for you. Because the truth is, even if you hand it to people who crush it, you’re a smart girl and you will know and learn how to walk away. You will take it to the One who heals and makes broken things mended and right again.

Love is not a finite thing. Love is not a lost and never to be found again thing. It’s not a once it’s broken, it can never be fixed again thing. It’s a “go big”, get broken, get down on your knees, get up again kind of thing.

My words, my fight, my days are better now than they were before. The best I have to give hasn’t even shown up yet. I’ve got more love inside these bones than I did when that woman and that truth showed up and shook me and broke me. Love is not a finite thing and the more I’ve given it, the more I’ve found it knocking on my door.

There’s no doubt you know a lot of my stories, that you hear me in the kitchen often telling one of my crazy tales. I hope you someday come to me with some of your own. That you learn what it is to stand with shaky knees and say things people think only a character on screen would say. That you show up on a doorstep with a folded letter and don’t run away. I hope you take all the chances you want or need. That you know you won’t run out of love, even when you get it wrong, even when they’re not who you thought they’d turn out to be. 

Love is not a finite thing, you’ve got a lot of love stories you’re meant to live, a lot of good things you should say. How it all ends up, that part isn’t up to you, you’re only responsible for how you carry the love you have today.

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To: My Future Daughter // A Letter on Grief.

It is entirely possible to have both one of the worst and best days of your life on exactly the same day. This is because grief is one of those things that frees you from all of your pride and ego while simultaneously ripping your heart out. In the midst of my grief, I’ve done some pretty liberating things. I’ve taken many spur-of-the-moment trips, written some insane letters, screamed at the top of my lungs, sang loudly without caring who was listening, moved my entire life. None of these are the things that I regret. Regret has only been something I’ve known when I let the grief silence me. 

You will do some wild and unpredictable things in your pain. Many of them truthful, some of them sincere, a few of them haphazard. But at the end of the day, heartbreak comes to us all in countless ways. I hope that in all the ways it has come and continues to come, you dance it out, shake it out, sing it out, write it out, but do not hold it in. 

However, be prepared to say you’re sorry. Never intentionally do something to hurt someone, but know that it will probably happen in the midst of your anguish and sorrow. Grief brings with it a breaking of our facades, but it also often cracks our filters. Know that you won’t get it all right and just because some things feel better in the moment, that doesn’t mean you get off scot-free in the end. Hurt people hurt people, it’s a cliche because it’s true. 

It is entirely possible to have both the worst and best day at the same time. Because suddenly, though your heart is screaming in pain, you will finally able to release it from all the other things it’s been carrying that seem so trivial. I call it an “in the grand scheme” view of things.  Grief brings with it a certain sort of “big picture” kind of reality with it that makes you drop all the little cares and worries of the previous days. It makes you start evaluating all the dumb things you threw around in your brain yesterday. It makes you start minimizing and prioritizing. Suddenly, you start saying all the things you couldn’t before, wouldn’t before, didn’t know were choking you and breaking you before. Because “in the grand scheme” of things, what does it matter now? Grief shows you what matters now.

But it is entirely possible that it is still the worst day. While you are free of all the little insecurities that you sat in yesterday, you’re in the big and grand sorrows of today. The big things matter and grief will knock on your door to remind you of that. So you’ll take trips, write letters, sing loudly, scream loudly, stay awake a little longer, because “in the grand scheme of things”– and you’ll know that these are the only things you can control. But know, even those are things you cannot control. 

Don’t try to control the pain. I hope we both learn this young. We cannot control the pain. We can evaluate all the big things, little things, figure out what matters and try to our best in the in-between, but the truth is, this isn’t up to you and me. Today, we’re both just young, wild girls who are trying to figure out how to get free. It’s okay to not have the answers, to not understand the grand scheme of all these things. 

You will do some wild things in your pain. You will say wrong things when you are down on your knees. You will ask God unimaginable questions and you stand up only to stomp your feet. You will get in the car and drive nowhere, but end up exactly where you were meant to be. You will press send on things that you mean, and realize that losing all of your pride is probably the only way you’re ever going to get free. 

You will someday have the worst and best day simultaneously when you realize that God turns our pain into something that He can use. You will hate the feeling of your heart breaking as you also sigh at the relief you feel when you finally let love break through. You cannot carry grief without love, or love without grief. On this earth, they are linked, sometimes they are one and the same. Someday you will know what it means to have the worst and the best day simultaneously, and when you do you’ll know what it means to be a little more broken and somehow a little more free.

Someday you will have the worst and best day simultaneously when you realize the pain and joy of loving, losing, and getting back to the grand scheme of clinging, for as long as you can, to those who have taught you the best parts about all these things.

You Won’t Forget: Thoughts on Letting Go.

It happened again the other day.

One of the last times I remember it happening was when I was sitting in the hospital. I was on a different continent entirely and I kept going back and wondering if I would always feel this way.

That sinking feeling and those same thoughts always come in waves.

This story should be different. I shouldn’t have to tell it this way. I should be somewhere else. I wasn’t supposed to feel like this.

Rewind.

Back to the night that my phone read 1 New Voicemail.

I’m standing outside of that restaurant, the neon sign above my head. The voice on the other end was angry. I was afraid. I knew that nothing was ever going to be the same.

It took years before I deleted that message. But when I finally did, I was hoping that somehow it would erase that night entirely. Fix it or fix me. That I would somehow come to terms with the truth about all the words that we said, the ones that little device held, words that never really told what we needed to say.

So, what about now?

I often ask that question as the blinker of my car flashes and ticks its familiar rhythm; as I weave through the lines of the highway.

What about now? Because I can’t go back. We cannot go back.

I have a secret that I’ve been trying to keep from God. One that I think if I shove it far enough inside, we’ll both forget about it and He might let time heal these things.

Letting go, it seems to be the thing people most often ask me about.

I’m no expert. I can’t say that I figured it out when I finally pressed that button. I can’t tell you that it’s that easy, that there’s a simple formula for moving on or a way to rewind and get back the time.

But what I can tell you is that you’re not going to wake up one day and have the quick fix, it doesn’t happen. You won’t suddenly open your eyes and feel changed, whole, free. Pain, like I’m talking about, doesn’t just fade. I wanted to believe it did. God knows that I hoped after I hit erase my memory could do it too, my heart could do it too.

But we are not creatures who forget. I’ve spent days and nights clawing at the insides of my mind and begging God to give me a mind that forgets. But we’ve got memories and reflexes, we are tied to old times. Thank God. Thank God that He doesn’t answer the prayer for me to let go in the ways I want to let go. I don’t get to let go by means of forgetting, of pushing it into the dark.

We let go by means of forgiveness. By remembering but choosing to lay it down. I have to lay it down—put it in a different place, stop holding it in these hands. I can’t keep gripping it, I have to unfurl these clenched hands, sometimes finger by finger, day by day. I have to know that white knuckling this thing won’t get it back. It hasn’t gotten it back.

This story will be different. I don’t have to tell it this way. I can be somewhere else. It doesn’t have to feel like this.

Stop going back to the night where my phone read 1 New Voicemail.

Stop going back, that’s what I can tell you. It doesn’t mean you’re going to forget, because you are not going to forget. We are not creatures who forget.

Lay it down. Keep laying it down. Stop holding it in your hands. Stop telling the story the way you do. You don’t have to tell it this way. You can be somewhere else. You don’t have to keep going back there.

You don’t have to learn how to live inside of that story without flinching. You just have to learn how to lay that chapter down and say, “Okay, I can’t re-write that part. I can’t keep re-reading that same chapter and hoping the characters do something else. I can’t keep flipping back and wishing that it went another way. I have to keep reading. I have to see where this thing goes and who we become. It’s going somewhere, but I can’t keep being disappointed with what happened back there. The rest is still worth reading. One sentence can make all the difference.”

It can, you know. One sentence you aren’t expecting might make all the difference.

But if you keep re-reading all the same ones you’ve read, looking for something back there to change, you’re just going to come up disappointed. The past is set in print, so let it go. The rest of what’s about to happen is absolutely worth reading.

Lay it down. Let it go. Stop telling and reading the same part of the story. You can read somewhere else. You don’t have to stay there.

We don’t have to stay there. You are not meant to live inside of one chapter, no matter how good or hard the words, promises, or sets of eyes. You don’t have to try and figure out where the plot line went wrong. You don’t have to keep pouring over those pages in regret and wondering if you could have changed that last sentence. You don’t have to dread the next chapter.

Just start with the next line on the next page.

One sentence can make all the difference and it might be just a few words away.

 

 

 

 

Let Your Heart Break and Find Out Who Stays.

This restaurant, this table, knows all our worst heartbreaks.

If the walls around it could speak, they would repeat back to me some of the hardest words I’ve ever said, attached to some of the strongest love I’ve ever felt.

One day when we’re older and have maybe learned what it means to let go and let God, I hope that our daughters find a spot like this to console them. Especially on nights woven with the kind of pain that you wish a good Taylor Swift lyric and a bite of cheesecake could cure.

But pain like this—it’s not a thing we can scream out, sing out, shake out of our systems with the volume turned up and the windows rolled down, not this time. Not tonight.

Tonight we will do those things, but we will know that tomorrow it will still hurt. It’s going to hurt and the two girls who used to make plans about how long we would let heartbreaks last, tonight we lay down our pens. Because we know that tomorrow it is still going to hurt.

Let it hurt.

Because the thing about pain that I have learned from all these years back and forth at this table is that it helps you find the people who stay.

Pain breaks us, pulls out all our worst pieces. It puts our worst parts on display, drags out all the mess and presents it to whoever is standing at the door.

It also makes us, teaches us how to pick up those pieces, look at our mess, and decide what part of us isn’t something we want to keep hanging around for another rainy day.

The people who stick around through that, who are still standing by the door when you’ve finished breaking and making sense of it all, those are the people you end up back at the table with again.

Let your heart break. Learn the good things. Let it hurt and find out who stays.

Someday when we’re older and we’re happy, (I know I said that happiness isn’t the point, but I still think we will be happy) I hope that there’s still a table that can hold our heartbreak. That you will still be there to remind me of all the reasons why my heartbreaks have made me worse and made me better.

That you’ll be the friend that fights to remind me that we all are human. We all falter. I might try to have all the pretty words, but I will still get it wrong. That it is okay for me to mess up too. But grace keeps coming back to the table.

We keep coming back to the table. That’s grace. True grace says, “Even if we have to keep having this same conversation a hundred times, this seat is still open for you.”

I hope that someday when we’re older, we move to a bigger table. I hope that our little two-seater doesn’t fit all the love that we’ve been storing up. I hope that all the years of grace we’ve been learning to grow finally finds its home in people who will show up with some of their own. I know it will. I know they will.

Someday when we’re older, even though we feel old today, we’ll look back on tonight and maybe we will still cry. But I hope we cry only for tonight’s girls who didn’t know just how big Grace really is. For all the plans He has and had. That there are walls around us that speak, but not in the ways we think. They are the ones He put up to save us, to stop us, to keep us from places our grace-filled hearts thought might be our destiny.

Someday when we’re older, we’ll talk about the night that changed everything, about coming back to the table, about the grace that we didn’t see coming, but God knew we would need.

 

 

 

The Miracle of Staying

I used to think miracles were only instantaneous, a supernatural phenomenon that God performed in a split second.

I believe in those kinds of miracles, but this morning as I drove home, I whispered prayers of gratitude for a different kind. I gave thanks for the miracles that come only with time, process, and things that seem perfectly ordinary.

I cried as the state lines of Virginia kissed North Carolina and the road led into my hometown. My heart aches because home now feels scattered across continents and states. The girl who grew up in a small town, who thought she’d never leave and never know another world, fell in love with a group of a people in a small house in Georgia and saw God do a miracle.

In the ordinary, everyday routine of life, He used a wild group of girls and some guys down the street to unfurl her fists and teach her how to hope and laugh again.

This weekend, my roommate who always packs the snacks, loves a spontaneous trip, taught me how to shout for joy, and is always up for splitting an ice cream cake got married.

As we all parted ways this morning, nothing in me wanted to say goodbye. I wanted to go back. I wanted my house with the swing back, our nights on the kitchen floor, our Sunday mornings in the living room.

I wanted Christmas parties and late night dancing in our pajamas. I wanted breakfast with the guys, locking each other in the pantry for laughs.

But something inside of me also knew that God made this moment for something else.

We can’t go back.

Because the miracle of what God did was strengthen our knees to help us stand in other places.

And God knows that I couldn’t stand anywhere else if not for that house of girls and the guys down the street. Through them, He gave me the miracle of learning how to stay, how to yell prayers on Saturday mornings. How to keep waking up in the same place and make strong coffee with people who also didn’t know why seasons of loneliness sometimes feel so long.

Someday, you might show up to grassy fields and flower covered gardens to celebrate the season’s change. And if so, you will find out that the one that was labeled “single” might have been the one when you met the people who taught you how to stand and how to stay. That it was actually the season that brought you people who would later celebrate you best, shout with you when God would bring you something new.

I think sometimes my favorite miracles are ones that look like God spitting in the dirt, over and over again, making mud to wipe on your eyes and asking “Can you see yet?”  (Mark 8, John 9).

I think some of my favorite miracles are the ones that take years, miles, pain, and ordinary things to usher in the sacred and Holy moment where I finally open my eyes and say “I see it! It took some time, but I finally see!”

These things and people taught me how to stay, how to plant, how to enjoy and savor coffee in the kitchen. It was there I learned that lingering at the breakfast table teaches you to love in a way that few other things can. They taught me how to cry, how to laugh, how to dance (how to laugh at your own bad dancing). They taught me miracles are big and small, they’re instantaneous and also process. They taught me that it’s worth giving up the sleep to show up, to cry on the porch together, to say prayers around the coffee table late again because it’s going to matter. God knows, this weekend we saw how much it mattered.

Here’s to all the coffee table prayers we prayed, and the years I didn’t know were being made into miracles. To the miles driven and flown, the phone calls we still make. To the truth that God loves the process, uses mud, is okay with trying things out a few times. To weddings and dancing, for shouting and coffee. To breakfast and ice cream on the kitchen floor.

Here’s to the miracle of a house on a little street in Georgia and a God who whispered our names and invited us in.

To the reality that miracles don’t have to always look the way we hoped, expected, begged. Sometimes you just have to keep showing up and the miracle is in that. Here’s to seeing that the miracle is in finding people who learn how to choose to stay, and in the miracle of learning the same.

 

 

 

Show Up at the Doors of Good Men

I wrote out that I was sorry in a McDonald’s parking lot.

He said he didn’t need it, but I knew I had to give it. Because at the end of the day, he taught me how to give and take apologies. He taught me how to show up quietly with grace and say, “What did I leave that might have been heavy?” Even if they didn’t demand that I do better, love learns to look for the opportunity to weigh out what someone else might need.

He is, was, and has always been one of the good ones. And I think if there’s one thing I need to show up here and say, it’s that there are some good ones left. We live a world that’s throwing a lot of men under the bus (and maybe some of them are throwing themselves under there). I want to tell you there are good men left in this world.

I recently, unintentionally, crashed into some wisdom that changed my life. Show up at the doors of good men, whose love will make you better, even if it’s not the kind of love you want it to be. 

From the girl who went around the world begging you not to be someone’s backup plan, I still believe there are good reasons to ask you that. 

There are good men left and I’ve spent enough time complaining that there aren’t or showing up at doors where I knew I was going to leave angry and confused.

I think it’s about time we start showing up at the doors of the men who live in the arena of good character and whose love isn’t the stuff of storybooks but is the stuff of the Story Writer himself.

But no matter how good the man, they don’t have to choose you. You will learn to be better and love more deeply when you let God have all the frustration that you might feel about that. There are good men left in this world, but even when you’re a good woman, sometimes you might still look or feel alone.

There is a temptation to become bitter, but the way we become better is to show up at the doors of the good ones. To allow the love they carry, in whatever form (friendship or more), to help make us better.

I told him I was sorry in a McDonald’s parking lot and because he’s a good man, he told me maybe the other words I wrote were worth saying to a few more people. So I will leave some of those words here.

“I think all we can ever ask for in a bittersweet pain is that we become better. I can honestly say I am becoming better, and yes, more whole. It’s funny how something I never intended to happen could become something that God could so easily crack open and use to break my heart and teach me more than I ever anticipated. If anything, it has given me an incredible amount of relief to know the access He has to my heart, to use it and move it at His will. The beauty of life and loving people is choice and what an incredible thing it is to find ourselves grateful at His feet when He teaches us how to choose Him, over and over. Even when people can’t choose us, or we can’t choose people, or all our other choices don’t turn out the way we expected. No matter how many times I’ve learned it, no matter how many ways this heart has broken, I find that I see Him there letting me choose Him and choosing me still. I truly do become more whole in a deeper way and somehow I end up thanking Him for the heartbreak. It’s the greatest miracle—every single time: to thank God for heartbreak, for pain. It turns all the bitter into sweet. It makes me realize how thankful I am to keep running into human beings who give me the opportunity to learn God’s heart in a new way, even if it wasn’t what I ever “intended” to happen. I’m grateful. It is worth it to know Him more fully and to see just a little greater glimpse of how He chooses me. So while the sting of the temporary might have been less than fun, it led to the glorious truth of the eternal. You don’t have to be sorry for any of your choices, but thank you for offering the comfort.”

There are good men left and they know the One truly good man who came into this world. The love they carry, in whatever form, if we let it can make us better.

Thank God for the heartbreak that has made me better. Thank God for the good men, with genuine love, who have made me better.

Plan B Girl: Five Years of Strange Fame

I once wrote a blog post that was read around the world and I secretly spent my early twenties hating that it will likely be the most popular thing I’ll ever write.

I wanted the most impactful article sitting next to my name to be something meaningful like my thoughts on God, war, history, poverty, politics. Not why you should refuse to spend your life waiting around for some guy who doesn’t want you.

But alas, here we are, that’s what I’m known for: the girl who told everyone that they’re not “Plan B”, not second best.

And to this day I still get e-mails from girls saying that those words sat with them and taught them to walk away.

I often find myself transported back to that young girl fiercely typing those words in ignorant bliss that anyone would ever find them, soak them in, bookmark them, print them, tape them to their wall.

I continuously ask myself why, of all the things I’ve ever written, those were the words. They were certainly not my most eloquent or well crafted. They were not planned or edited well, definitely not crafted to perfection. But at the time, they were heartfelt, sincere, relatable. They were words to a handful of friends who were standing in those shoes; and words to myself, words that I wanted to say but that my mouth had been afraid to speak out loud.

They were words I wanted someone to say to me because they were ones that I needed to be true. They were a permission slip that I needed to fight back, to claw at the hands gripping my neck.

The world is full of people who are afraid that they’re going to end up alone. The world is full of people whose greatest fear is that loneliness.

It’s scary what kind of life you’ll let yourself get trapped inside of when loneliness stares you down on the other side of walking away.

And that’s why I wrote the words: “Better to be alone than taken for granted. Better to be alone than to be a placeholder.”

And those words followed me for years and tested me. Did I believe them? Was I willing to see that through?

That kind of loneliness is not the scariest thing you’ll ever face.

Hands gripped around your neck, in a life that you can’t escape, in a facade masquerading as love, that’s a fate far worse than loneliness ever could be.

I was once ashamed that I wrote a piece on not being second best. That I’m the one who told every girl she’s not a backup plan kind-of-girl. But now I’ve come to see that’s not exactly all it was.

I am someone who sat down and wrote herself a permission slip to stop fearing loneliness and a bunch of other women came to the table over the years and said, “I think that’s me, I think I need that too.”

So, here’s to five years and the thousands of you who also needed that permission slip.

You do not have to fear loneliness. The truth is you are never alone. You are worthy of more than an illusion of love that’s built on excuses. Knowing your worth, that’s just as important as war, history, and politics. You are worthy of good love. You are not a backup plan. And someday I hope that we can all write more permission slips and be unashamed to hold them up in the air and wave them with joy and say, “Look at that, I’m learning how to fight fear and I’m inviting everyone along!”

These days, I’m trying to write more of them for myself. Today, my new one starts something like this:

“I hope you know that your bones were built for bravery and that your heart is crafted with courage. You don’t ever have to be ashamed of the weight with which you carry people and the intensity of how you love them. What a shame it would be to have been given a heart and only use it partially. Not you, that’s not the kind of love you’ve prayed to know. Use it. Use it and wring it out because there’s always going to be more where that came from. ‘Love is not a finite thing’ always remember what it has taken for you to learn that truth…”