They Say a Good Man is Hard to Find…

“I just can’t seem to pick my battles. It seems like I get upset about something every single week. I need to get my life together and handle things better. I’m so emotional.”

Knee deep in one of my final papers, I got that text. I closed my eyes and my heart went running 277 miles away to the girl who’s wondering if she’s the only one.

I’ve been there. It’s the life of many women.

A lot of the men in our lives, try as they might, they cannot seem to always understand where we’re coming from.

Thinking back to when they first met, it didn’t take long for me to see that they were a good match. They fit, it makes sense, their relationship is wonderful in so many ways. He’s a good man. But it isn’t perfect and it isn’t always easy.

It’s the age old story of a girl who has some wounds and scars because she’s been down this road before. Once again, she’s given most of her heart, but if you look down deep, she’s holding back just a little. Because if he turns out to be like the rest, she can at least pride herself on not having lost it all.

That’s where the emotion and the fighting of battles comes in.

It’s the protection. It’s the need to defend ourselves. It’s the need to make sure that the person next to us has the right grip on our hearts. Don’t let it fall. Please, don’t let it fall.

Every battle we pick, even the smallest ones, are the ones where we’re taking our hands and trying to force others to tighten or loosen their grip on our hearts. We’re trying to tell them how to love us; and when they don’t hold it just right, we either fight or run.

It’s the plot of almost every movie sitting on my shelf. It’s the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan specialty. 

I’ve built my expectations precisely through the years. I have drawn the perfect blueprint. With the help of Hallmark movies and Nicholas Sparks novels, I’ve figured out what this whole thing should look like. So, if you follow these directions, if you put the exact pieces where I expect, and say the right thing at the right moment, you’ll heal where the others have hurt.

But men are not God.

If there’s one thing I’d like to tattoo on the arms of girls everywhere it’s that truth. They will not heal you. They are not your redemption. 

It took God shaking me hard and staring me down for me to get this. People cannot be each other’s redemption.

Men are not God, they will disappoint you. They will say the wrong thing. They will forget the thing you told them to bring. They will make a bad joke. They will be late. They won’t send flowers every week. Men are not God, they will not read your mind or hear the cry of your heart.

Men are not God, they will not make right all the things that have gone wrong.

But we think they will. Somewhere in the heart of most women is this deep rooted belief that finding “the one” is going to make it all okay. We will deny it, we will say that we know better and that we’ve learned to be content on our own. We will flaunt our independence and tell God that we know He’s enough.

Then we crumble when someone disappoints us, or when we find “the one” and it doesn’t entirely fulfill us. Then we run to ice cream and Ryan Gosling. We cry and ask “why is it never my turn?” or “why don’t things ever work out for me?” or “why am I not happy?”

Even when we have good men in our lives, we secretly ask, “why can’t he be a little better?”

Even the best of men cannot make us content.

We pick our battles all based on the little expectations we’ve built up since we were little girls. And the little disappointments become the big ones because we were taught to believe that men worth waiting for wear always wear suits, always say the right things, show up at your door at 2 am, and write you secret love notes for 365 days.

So when the goofy, tired, messy-haired men in our lives don’t call or would rather watch football than talk about their feelings, we come unglued.

That doesn’t make you crazy. It doesn’t make you irrational.

It makes you one of the billions of people who was lied to about what love really looks like.

And so his laundry becomes a battle.
His light-hearted, but poorly considered joke becomes a battle.
Football games become a battle.
Him forgetting your Mom’s birthday becomes a battle.
His hair in the sink becomes a battle.
His night out with the guys becomes a battle.

His humanity becomes the battle. Because you’re longing for God and he can never be that for you.

I waited a few minutes before I responded to her; more or less this is what I said,

He’s going to mess up and hurt your feelings, but know when it isn’t purposeful. That’s how you pick the battles. When you love someone, and he’s a good-hearted man, you can easily forgive his actions when you’ve learned to trust his intentions.

They say a good man is hard to find, maybe so, but the fictional ones are impossible. Tom Hanks, Richard Gere and Ryan Gosling are not who they portray on a screen. They are scripted and their wives would live disappointed (and may actually live that way) if they expected them to be the leading men we throw our affections towards.

We throw our affection at fictional men because they portray the qualities of a non-fictional God; someone that will go to impossible lengths, impossible depths, to show you the love that you were always born to know.

I think it’s time that we choose to look at people’s hearts and not at their ability to meet our lists of demands.

I think it’s time to stop loading up the shoulders of the good men in our lives, or the ones we’ve yet to meet, with expectations that only God can fulfill.

Today, I Met the One

To say that yesterday was a bad day is the understatement of a lifetime.

It started with my bank account being hacked, all of my money was taken and somehow I ended up thousands of dollars in the hole.

That was bad enough. The phone calls I had to make to try and straighten things out were worse. So much waiting, so much frustration, so much of the worst of Ashlin put on display.

Finally, I decided to act like an adult and make some decisions. I decided to go and open a different account with another bank. I was going to stay calm, and move forward. Somehow, I was going to trust that it would all work out in the end.

Which was going okay until about ten minutes later when I managed to run over something and get a massive hole in my tire.

I kept telling myself to breathe, it wasn’t the end of the world.

So I called my dad, and that was pretty much all it took. I heard his voice through the phone, remembered he lives 267 miles away and instantly started sobbing like a child.

I was frustrated. I felt helpless. I was angry. I was poor. I was ready to give up entirely.

When that tire blew, so did everything inside of me. All the worries I’d been stewing in for the past several days came exploding out of me. I was exhausted. I just wanted to eat a milkshake, drive home to North Carolina, and cry to my parents.

But I can’t eat sugar, and had a blown tire (and responsibilities), so the first two things were out of the question.

So, I went with the only option I had… cry on the phone with my dad like the world was ending.

“I can’t even buy another tire because some terrible person stole all my money and put me in horrible debt. I don’t even have a dollar to my name!”

Of course, my parents told me they would help me and tried to calm me down. They were there, despite being hundreds of miles away. I wasn’t entirely alone. I acknowledged it and thanked God, but I was still distraught.

Friends came to my rescue. They changed my tire, loaned me tools, comforted me when I looked like a train wreck.

I kept reminding myself to be thankful. I wasn’t alone. There was goodness, even in my misery.

But even so, last night, I laid down and with the last bit of strength I had, I asked God for some kind of redemption. I told him that I needed some sort of hope that I wasn’t going to feel stranded and poor for the next 7-10 business days (don’t even get me started on my reaction to that). I needed to know there was something good that could come from all of this.

Today, I went to the bank to close my previously hacked bank account.

I was fired up, ready to defend my reasons, ready to tell them that I was greatly dissatisfied with their over-the-phone customer service.

But before I had the chance to really get rolling, I was put at the desk of a well-dressed man who had the kindest smile and the most patient disposition.

I wanted to tell him of all of my troubles and how I thought their way of doing business led to nothing but heaps of injustice. But I couldn’t.

I just waited patiently and responded politely to the questions he asked me. Where did I work? What was I in school for? What did I want to do longterm? 

We joked. He told me I should be a lawyer, and I told him that he’s about the 90th person to say that. He asked about my job. I asked about his kids. And then, as He always does, God found His way into the conversation.

Before I knew it, this man, his wife and his kids had found a way into my heart. I suddenly wanted to know everything, to hear more details, I wanted to meet the rest of them. I wanted them experience a lifetime of joy.

I was floored. There I was, looking lazy with my sweatpants and insane hair (please ask me to demonstrate in person how it looked because it’s absolutely laughable). My clothes and hair conveyed apathy, my shoes cheap and falling apart. My eyes were showing my body’s exhaustion, but my heart was exploding. He was the one. He was the one I would meet because of it. The love I would get for this man and his family became the reason for it all.

The timing of it all had led me to this moment. If I had come at another day, another moment, another second, I could have been working with someone else entirely. If all of yesterday’s events had not played out the way they did, I would have probably ended up having a verbal sparring match with someone else in the bank and walking out whispering prayers of repentance.

But there I was, God hitting me straight in the gut, me being totally unprepared for it. I was instantly overwhelmed by the fact that I would do the whole thing over again.

I would go through that horrible day of weeping all over again to sit across from that man and feel the kind of love that God started drowning me with.

Yesterday I kept wondering why I was the one whose money was stolen. Why was I the one with the worst bank ever? Why I was the one sitting on the side of the road sobbing? Why me? 

And today I realized that it was because I was the one whom God was preparing to meet the one: the one who needed to be loved, heard and whose family might need a few extra prayers.

Sometimes, we’re privileged to have what I’m terming a great exchange. My bad day for someone else’s good one. My present frustration for someone else’s future joy. 

Sometimes, it’s just not about me. I’ve got to get that through my thick head.

Because that’s the kind of thing I’ve asked God for. I’ve asked Him over and over again to teach me how to love. Therefore, the thing He often teaches me is sacrifice. And I’m learning that I don’t want to offer God or other people something that doesn’t cost me anything.

The opportunity to love that family, to hear that man out, to be deeply challenged by the things he said, cost me some things. The price was my temporary sanity, my tire, hours of my life, my pride, my selfish desire to yell at everyone inside the bank.

I had to lay down my needs, my rights, everything I felt was owed to me. It was then that God made my heart soften so that the needs of the one in front of me became far more important to me than my own.

 

photo cred.

Mirrors, NyQuil, and Thomas Jefferson

We used to be enough.

Back when our feet were muddy, our hair was tangled and t-shirts were the uniform.

We were enough and mirrors were just decor, most days we walked right past them never thinking to ask for their opinions.

But somewhere along the way started asking questions. Now it seems that’s all we ever do.

We stand in front of reflective panes, asking them to tell us what we’re worth. We swipe cards and search to find something, anything that will make it a little easier to stare at the image before us.

Back then we weren’t ashamed to speak loudly, to point, to call things like we see them.

We weren’t filtered and fearful, worried that someone might think our opinion useless or immature. We were inexperienced, but confident.

Age and experience do not make you more confident, it’s actually innocence that produces freedom.

I want to be unaffected, apathetic about what passes before mirrors. I want my voice to know volume and strength when it needs to be heard. I want to stop worrying about putting my best foot forward or dressing for success.

I don’t want to be the sort of messy that takes an hour to perfect, where people will cheer for my relaxed vibe.

I never had a decent haircut as a child.

Mostly due to the fact that my unruly hair was too curly to cut evenly. But Mom would always tell the hairdresser one thing: as long she can pull it into a ponytail, she’s fine.

Which was true. So, even though I usually left the salon looking like some sort of manic poodle, I never worried because my hair-tie came out immediately and it all went into its typical ponytail.

Years later, that stopped being the case. I worried about having the right hair cut, the right length, the right style.

Until recently, when I barged into a Great Clips and gave a random woman the permission to do whatever she wanted to with my hair. Okay, I gave her like 2 guidelines, but I mostly just told her to do what she pleased.

While she barely obeyed my guidelines, she took me up on the offer to do whatever she wanted.

And I left with what I consider an almost-mullet. 

While I should have freaked out, cried, had a feedback talk with her about stretching the guidelines.. I didn’t. I paid her more money than I should have and got into my car.

I laughed the entire way home.

Because somewhere in the middle of getting the worst haircut of my life, I remembered those times of being little and my Mom saying that I didn’t really care what my hair looked like.

That’s a pretty great and rare quality for a little girl to be known for: not hard to please, not concerned with the outward appearance, content with what she’s given.

I’m not telling you to go and get a bad haircut. I’m telling you that it matters a lot less than we think it does.

So I have an almost-mullet and the world didn’t end. I don’t hate myself. I don’t think I’m doomed to be single.

I have an almost-mullet and I’m just as valuable as I was the day before I started resembling Thomas Jefferson.

We’re too concerned with things that change. Hair grows, weight changes, bank accounts fluctuate. They’re never going to sandwich you in, keep you safe, give you the confidence to stop questioning mirrors or use your voice for change.

If I’m being honest, I like myself more with this awful haircut. Mostly because I’m not relying on anything to do the talking for me. I’m not trying to craft an impression. I am a better person when I’m less impressed with myself, when my own flaws are on display. I don’t get the chance to fool myself, to let that piece of glass tell me that I’ve got it together.

I’m a mess right now, and not in a cute or enviable way. I’m not the kind of mess you would photograph for Pinterest and call stylish. I’m a genuine train-wreck of a girl who let some stranger give her a mullet and went out to buy NyQuil wearing men’s shorts & a stained sweatshirt. 

But I’m content, more content with myself than I have been in a long time. Because the more I let go of the image I’ve clung so tightly to, the more I find permission to just be myself.

We’ve always been enough. It’s just that we’ve changed who and what defines that word.

I’m not saying that I’ve started wearing newspapers and stopped brushing my teeth. But rather that overvaluing my outward appearance created a debt in my heart.

Somewhere along the way I started asking questions to something that will never have the answers.

I stopped treating mirrors like decor and started treating them like wardens, asking for their permission to walk out the door.

I’m done being hostage to a piece of glass, an image in a book, a figure on a screen. I’m just a girl with flaws who is tired of being told that it’s a dreadful thing to truly be seen.

Lovely Letters: Stay In It

Dear Lovely One,

Yes, you. Do you know how rightly those words fit you? Like a chunky knit sweater, they were made to wrap around you and shield you from the cold.

And it gets cold, doesn’t it?

Life gets cold when loneliness comes around, after the day’s laughter has faded. We are left with our thoughts about what is, what could have been, what is likely to never be. And life gets painstakingly, teeth rattling cold.

But you, you are lovely and so worth loving and the world is better and brighter because you’re in it.

Stay in it. 

Those are the words I want to bundle you up in: stay in it.

Keep fighting. Because your bones are stronger than you give them credit for. Your heart is more durable than you’ve been made to believe. Whoever told you that you’re too weak to walk this thing out, that you don’t have any fight left in you: they lied.

Because I know that your fierce footsteps could change the world. You’ve got to keep walking.

It’s hard and we’re always bandaging scars, old ones that get re-opened and new ones that are just starting to form. It sometimes seems like we’re being put through a never-ending process of running to get bandaids and gauze: we’re looking for anything to stop the bleeding.

Let love and hope stop your bleeding.

There’s more here than what we’re seeing. There are things bigger and better than what tattered hearts and broken minds can imagine. I don’t always believe it, but in my gut, I’m certain that it’s true.

Because if things like sunsets, road trips, loud music, oceans, good friends and pints of ice cream exist, then there’s someone who made those things and He has even better up His sleeve. We haven’t seen anything yet. The best is yet to come.

But we’ve got to keep walking, keep fighting, keep grabbing for hope and love, knowing that it will all be worth it. Even on the days when we’ve hit rock bottom and are seemingly at our worst, holding onto hope and love will be worth it

You are lovely. In the simplest and truest way, you are lovely. And the world needs your light, your laughter, your dancing, for you to start dreaming again. You deserve to dream, to ask for better things for yourself.

You’re not alone. I’m here curled up on my couch with books and blankets, tear-stained face, all to tell you that we all feel the cold and that you’re not alone in that. Keep holding on. There is always light, always hope, always something beautiful to be made out of the mess. If you can’t believe that yet, then let’s make a deal: you believe for me & I’ll believe for you.

Us holding these broken hearts is not the end of the story. Maybe we’re just at the part where the sad songs are playing and it seems like everything we wanted went slipping through our hands. But stay tuned, because there’s something good coming: I can promise you that. There are good things waiting for us, this whole thing isn’t over yet.

Stay in it and watch what happens…we are not going to be disappointed.

Lovely One: that’s who you are. Wear those words and own them, they are yours on any and every cold day that comes.

These hard times are just a brief breeze that will soon pass by.

Bundle up tight in love, and don’t let the pain steal your strength. Just a little further, and you’ll see that there’s so much better ahead than anything you’ve yet to see.

7 Billion Reasons for Grace

I am pulling out mixing bowls and measuring cups again.

If you’ve been on this journey with me for a while, then you might remember my baking phase after Apartment G .

I’m back at it and I find myself inviting Grace back inside my home to do her thing. She showed up a couple of weeks ago, right after a rain storm and reminded me of late nights at diners and long Carolina car rides.

“This ain’t us.” She told me. I was shakily holding my phone and Anger was fiercely holding me. Grace didn’t force me to do the right thing, she just stood there, holding the door and offering me a way out.

I had forgotten the rhythm that Grace and I had once gotten into, back when she showed me how to live with less. She once taught me that there’s good in everything, sometimes it just takes time to find it.

And in your pain, Grace will tell you to keep going. She will ask you to choose to do the things that feel like salt on the wound; she knows that the things that hurt deeply can often times help you heal. She’ll show you how, and she will pull you low, teaching you how to whisper thank-you’s for that pain.

She will pull you out of bed when your eyes sting and your head pounds. “Come on, there are people waiting for you to show up.” She’ll take your hand and lead you into rooms with people who are aching to hear that they’re going to be alright. She’ll give you the words to say, ones that you could have never come up with on your own.

And when others cry, whether it be tears of joy, sorrow or relief, she will pull you close and hum: “Didn’t I tell you there was more? Oh, don’t you know that you’ve always got 7 billion reasons to climb out from underneath those sheets?”

Because Grace won’t make you a schedule that has very many spaces for yourself. She’s got some breaks for you to breathe, but she’s blocked out most of the slots for people in grocery stores, strangers covered in dust and quite a few for the people who handed you back your own heart covered with bruises and deep cuts.

So, when she hoists herself up on your kitchen counter and says things like, I’m sticking around for the long haul” you’ll wonder why you ever let her go, locked her out, didn’t stay in touch. Because that’s all you’ve ever really wanted anyway, those words to be next to you when you realize you can’t do this whole living life thing on your own. We all want something and someone who stays, who doesn’t let us hide beneath those covers and forfeit the places we were born to stand.

“I never gave up on you, you know.”

When she tells you those words, they will carve themselves into the very marrow of your bones. So when the time comes that one of those 7 Billion Reasons stands there trying to give you excuses to walk away, you’ll just pull yourself up onto their counter and say, “I’m in this for the long haul.”

I didn’t know how much I missed her until she came knocking on the door of a little room hidden in the halls of a quaint church. I met her at the door, thinking that she was going to shake her head with disappointment at the time I had let pass. But instead, she tackled me with laughter, steadied my weak knees and walked with me to a place I could have never found without her.

She and I bake in my kitchen, my bare feet relearning how to dance on hardwood floors. I realized that though she pulls me to painful places, pushing Grace away was what led to the most unbearable agony of all.

I moved to Georgia a year ago, lugged my bags into this old brick house, not knowing if I’d ever see her again. But she is always knocking, sometimes it’s so gentle that I’ve got to get still and quiet to hear it.

I told her that I’m planning to keep her around this time. She’s helped me see that the world is much better off when I invite her to stay.

If Given the Same Chance…

I feel as though I’ve lived that exact moment a hundred times.

This place I’ve been standing recently is one that tastes so familiar. If I went back to old journals, I think I’ve got hundreds of pages filled with maps of walking this pathway.

“Haven’t we been through this already?” I asked God, not expecting much of an answer. He knew I felt frustrated, thinking I would never learn whatever it is that He has apparently trying to drill through my thick head about this kind of pain.

“You know, it doesn’t mean you failed to learn the lesson last time. Sometimes, you come to the same circumstance in order for me to show you that you are not the same person you used to be.”

I took a deep breath and leaned my head back, tears forming in the corners of my eyes. Because you always hope, if given the same chance, you would make better choices than you did last time.

If I had known then what I know now, I would have done things differently.” 

If you’ve lived long at all, you’ve probably uttered those words. But can we ever really be sure of that?

It’s hard to be sure when our hearts get so tangled in the edges and curves of faces that figure out ways to paint themselves into the lines of our days.

But sometimes, you get a chance to find out.

All over again, you get the moment of reaction, the choice of how to carry it, and to tug from grace what it takes to nod and graciously walk away.

Sometimes, you get to see that you’re a far better person than you used to be. And maybe it was that gruesome mountain you walked up last time that gave you the strength to more easily scale the one in your present.

I smiled at God, “We’ve been through a lot worse, am I right?”

I felt him smile and then we went on talking about how I have horrible coordination when it comes to vacuuming.

I told Him last year that I was finished with picking up disappointment.

I’ve given her a ride too many times in the last twenty-three years. She is a demeaning back seat driver and she will eventually push herself behind the wheel. When she does, she will take you to a place that a simple GPS could never get you out of.

When I saw her the other day, thumb taunting me from the side of the highway of my heart, I locked the doors and let my foot press harder on the gas. There’s no room for you here, I thought. You’ve taken up far too much of my time and ruined way too many of what could have been beautiful miles.

So much of what we go through really has less to do with other people and more to do with us. It’s about who we decide to be and how we keep a balance of grace and principle. About learning to be steady in the places that used to rattle our bones.

Keeping disappointment out of the car takes realizing that the only control you have is over your own choices. You can’t change or anticipate what others will do, but you can commit to a better response, one that refuses to settle for going back to the person you used to be.

I’m not going to tell you that it’s easy, that you’ll enjoy looking at these same monsters in the eye.

But what I will tell you is that when you realize you can stare back at them without blinking, without shoving them back behind those closet doors, you will be grateful to be standing in places you prayed you’d never stand again.

Growth is the thing that keeps us moving and opens doors to bigger and better things.

It’s only by being confronted with all those fears and the battles that once bloodied your elbows and knees that you find out just how far it is you’ve really come.

And I hope each time we do, we find that we’ve actually come a lot further than we ever could have imagined.

I Heard Him Whisper

I’m still a little surprised I heard Him.

Over the sound of buzzing lights and a thunderstorm brewing outside, I heard Him whisper.

I slipped off my socks and shoes. My bare feet standing on a dirt covered floor, I tried to follow His lead.

It’s a little bit of an awkward thing, if I’m being honest, to be invited to dance with one who is bigger than the room you’re in. You can’t exactly wrap your arms around Him.

But I think that’s what I’ve always liked about God: I can’t take over, take control. I’m far too small to take the lead.

I keep thinking about this time that my sister and I tucked ourselves away in this barren cabin in the mountains of Tennessee. We spent hours in silence, waiting for God to show up.

He showed up when we were hiking and face to face with a black bear. And while there were others standing by in awe, I was trying to figure out the best way to get off of the mountain. I was drawing maps and making exit plans, all the while yelling at those who thought this terrifying being was something remarkable.

While I was angry, (and thought everyone had seemingly lost their minds) I envied them. I craved the ability to trustingly stand shoulder to shoulder with something that had the power to crush me.

When a thunderstorm comes, my Dad loves to go out on the porch and watch God do his work.

I always tell him to come inside, it isn’t safe to stand so close.

But barefoot and whirling around that room as thunder echoed, I told God that I didn’t want to run from Him any longer. Though my knees might always knock, I wanted the risk of loving a God that could flatten me.

To love something that’s big enough and mysterious enough to prove me and all of my ideas wrong. Someone who, just by showing up, shows me that my grandest plans are weak, at best.

I think that’s the kind of faith I’ve always wanted. To love something that just might cost me everything. I want to stand as close as possible to something I can’t control and resist my instinct to run away.

There will always be moments we never saw coming.

When our feet are taken out from under us. It’s that moment when you’ll wonder if God is going to break you. He could, you know. He could choose to break your heart. He could make a whole big lesson out of something precious to you. He could deny you all the things you keep telling him are the best thing for you.

But what we choose to do with Him will define the season.

Sometimes you go on a long walk and rain starts pouring before you make it home. You can always duck in somewhere, take cover, hope it passes, and try to make it home later.

Or you can just keep going. You will get soaked, but you will make it home.

I want to get where God’s taking me, even if it doesn’t always go exactly the way I planned. I want to keep believing it’s all because He loves me. I want to stand next to Him, to be close enough to hear Him breathe, to whisper.

I want to accept that whispered invitation, even if I’m left with dirty feet and stumbling around when He seems too big to follow.

Can I Tell You a Secret?

Some days, it feels like we’re all just lost in the woods.

Like we’ve been dropped out here and that we’re supposed to figure out how to make it home. We’re looking for that thing, that moment when we’ll reach the right door. We are waiting for a place to wipe our feet, a place that’s safe. Something entirely our own.

We’re all looking for home and some of us don’t even know what that means.

Would I know it if I found it? This thing, this person, this place where I can rest my head, take off my shoes, finally be myself? I’ve never known that kind of life, but they tell me it exists.

It mostly seems like a race, a competition, a challenge. Who can find home first? Who gets out of the woods first? And can they help everyone else find the way?

So we read books, blogs, articles. We watch tv, movies, youtube videos. We’re all looking for someone to tell us where it is and how they found it. How was it that you found that thing I so desperately desire?

Can I tell you a secret?

No one knows how they got out. They can give you advice, practical answers, steps they took. They might can point at a path, but they can’t really tell you what got them there in the first place. We get there. The questions of when and how are up to God and the choices we make.

What I can tell you is to work hard. Do that thing in front of you. Be the best grocery store clerk that exists. Sell bagels with more joy and love than a person can carry out the door.

Stop being the sum of words they put on your tiny shoulders. Because we all have them, those things that have followed us around like the little nursery rhymes and song lyrics we never forgot. There are the things that always sit with you and yet, make you feel so alone.

Let them go. They were never yours to carry.

Cradling coffee cups in our hands, I watched the world slow down for a minute last week.

I rested in the thought that it would be okay if I decided to be janitor and never do anything else. Because I could be the most committed, dedicated, loving janitor in the world and that could change things. I realized that it’s not about what we do, or the amount that we do, it was always about how we do it. 

It’s about who you are, never about what you do.

You are enough, right where you sit. If you never moved, you would still be worth loving.

But you will move, because you’ve got fire in your bones that pushes you to keep loving people and to make dents in the little corner of the universe you’re standing in.

So whether you do that with a mop, a headset and a bag of fries, or at a Fortune 500 company, you’ll always be worth the words i love you and you’re enough.

It’s easy for me to forget that when I’m out in the woods, looking for that next big thing, the next temporary avenue to joy.

There’s really no special secret to getting out of it, to finding your way. I don’t think that’s really the point. I think the point is learning to be the best traveler you can be, so that wherever you arrive you have something firm and steady to offer.

And if I get steady things by mopping floors, selling fries…give me a bucket and pass me an apron.

Love Is Graham Crackers and Hospital Rooms

I never really understood love until Sunday when I was sitting in the emergency room.

He was screaming, tears running down his tired, red face. Pressed close to me, it was like holding fire, he was so hot and in such pain. I’ve never felt more helpless. I’ve never felt more afraid.

It was a few hours before they finally got his fever down.  As he sat up, still leaning on my chest, he began to eat his graham crackers and drink his juice. I felt oxygen fill my lungs again, I’d been holding my breath for so long.

There we were, covered in crumbs and my shirt soaked with sweat, tears, snot, and juice—I’ve never looked worse and I could not have cared less. And it clicked, there in that uncomfortable chair in the darkness of that hospital room.  Love is graham crackers and hospital rooms–all your prayers being for someone else, forgetting yourself. It’s about not caring that you look like a train-wreck, or haven’t had more than four hours of sleep. It’s about them, what they need, the pain that’s wrapped around them.  Not for a second is it about you—for however long necessary, you’re the last thing on your mind.

I never really got that until I was holding that baby boy who needed someone to put him first and that person was me; for some crazy and unknown reason, it was me.

I’ve never been forced to be so selfless.

I’ve never had to daily run out the door without checking a mirror, to give up on changing shirts because even when you do, crushed blueberries will still end up staining the front. To skip meals, to crawl out of bed before the sun comes up to change a diaper, to listen to pirate stories on repeat, to dance to the same annoying music (over and over again).

I’ve been put in a world where my hair, my skin, my work-outs, my clothes, my sleep, my hunger, my feelings are not the most important thing. I don’t come first. There are moments when I think that I’m going to lose my mind. There are days when I nearly weep in the middle of the grocery store because they put Goldfish in the most ridiculously hidden section of the store. But even so, I’m so content and blissfully happy, relieved to be living (even for a little while) a life that can’t be about me.

Life is harder (ridiculously harder), but so much sweeter when I’m not my first priority.

Their parents will come home tomorrow night and I will rejoice. I will sigh at the reality that I can go back to a full night’s sleep, three meals a day and nights out with friends. But I hope I’ll still have some residue of this week, some juice stains that don’t wash out, some graham cracker crumbs that keep falling out of my pockets. A realization that there’s this incomparable joy when we forget ourselves in pursuit of loving someone else. That there are more important things than which show I’ll watch next on Netflix, or which coffee shop has a better latte. Those things will always matter (especially my lattes) but they’re not the priority, they’re not even close to being the purpose of why we’re really here.

There’s something so much deeper, so much greater to life when we look past ourselves.  It’s sticky and loud, it gets in the way, it is scary, messy, and exhausting, but it’s beautiful–it’s love. And it turns out that it is worth a lot more to me than myself.

The Fight You’ll Never Win

I wish someone had told me back then that love is not a competition.

I wish someone had come to me and said: “If there ever comes a time when you’re thrown into the ring and told to fight is to prove yourself, to prove your value; if you feel the need to make people think you’re something different than you are, that’s the time to throw your hands up and bow out.

Maybe then I would have known I was throwing and taking punches in a fight that never crowns a final winner.

Growing up, I was too skinny. My curly hair was out of control. My thick, but beautifully arched eyebrows were called unruly. These days, those attributes are coveted. Everyone wants to be skin and bones, every woman I know owns a curling wand. The new trend is for girls draw in thicker, more full eyebrows than what they already have.

The rules are always changing. That’s something I wish I had known.

Just when you’ve finally saved enough for the right pair of jeans, or have hit your “target weight” or have perfected your beachy waves hairstyle: all the rules change.

Decide now, just to be a rule breaker. Because your jokes are funny. Your hair is perfectly fine the way it is. The size of your jeans won’t make the world stop spinning.

Know that there will always be people who slide on their gloves and taunt you to get in the ring.

There will be people who will kick you with insults that are wrapped beneath a sticky sweet condescending smile. They will steal your jokes, your witty one liners and sign their name at the end. They will be better than you at volleyball, dancing or baking, and they’ll make sure you and everybody else knows it.

But they can’t take anything from you. No one on earth can put their feet in your shoes and go the exact distance and route you’ve gone. No one could ever be better at being you.

So, stop apologizing for the things that make you weird, or the things that nobody has ever complimented. Stop trying to be a competitor in a contest that seeks to make us all look and act the same.

I spent years trying to throw those defining words away.

Like those leftover mashed sweet potatoes that stayed in my fridge for far too long, like the junk mail you never remember subscribing to, like the tree limbs that fell in last week’s ice storm.

I. Wanted. To. Be. Done.

I wanted to be done with syllables, sentences, paragraphs, that had been tossed toward me like I was dog begging for scraps. Words that someone else used to tell me who I’m supposed to be.

And if I’m not careful, I’ll start carrying them around again. 

Back then, I learned how brace myself like I was a balloon in the hand of someone whose other hand held a needle; he made me think that he held the power to drain me of all my worth. Be the best. Speak softer. Have less opinions. Look prettier. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be the pick-of-the-day.

But I never saw how he carried his own disappointments like a wildfire, until they nearly burned me to the ground.

Breeding defeat and disappointment were his specialties and I ordered them every single time.

Believe me when I say that I paid for it, over and over again. It took months on top of months until I maxed out and finally heard PAYMENT DECLINED. That day, I fell to my knees and prayed for the next person who would someday get in over their head in his kind of debt.

Someone should tell you that love does not require repayment. It doesn’t send out itemized statements, rules, or lists of demands.

The envelopes that hold those bills are the personalized stationary of Misery and Selfishness. You need to consider an address change the first day they stamp and mail something your way.

You don’t have to compete for love. Your fight isn’t one to prove you’re enough. You don’t have to be anyone or anything other than yourself. And people who take swings at you, or try to measure your worth: know that those people are burning in their own disappointment. Chances are they’ve had their share of people use harsh words to tell them who they’re supposed to be.

Figure out your own standards. Don’t let others become your measuring stick, the thing that says whether or not you’re enough.

Know who you are and stop apologizing for it. Learn to love all the parts of you, even if each one of them breaks all the rules.