10ish things I’ve learned in 4ish years


Hey babe,

Before we get started, a couple things:

  1. I’ve never openly admitted it, but I like to start these things saying, “Hey babe,” because it’s what I’d want someone to say to me when they’ve got a lot of stuff they’d like to share with me. Also, yeah so I’m becoming more self-aware these days so I also have to admit that I watched Ramona and Beezus one day and the chill aunt with the cool hair followed Ramona out the door when she was upset (the enneagram 4 DREAM) and sat on a limb with her and said, “Hey, babe!” And I thought that was the coolest thing. So picture me like Aunt Bea, here to drop some wisdom and life lessons in 16 minutes or less. (Definitely less, but I’m factoring in bathroom breaks because…you’ve gotta be realistic about these things you know?)
  2. Today is my 4 year anniversary of graduating with a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications with a *technical* minor in french but…let me tell you, I used to parade my knowledge around Chick-fil-a back when I worked lean by saying, “Do you want some lemonade?” in french and I’m pretty positive I got that wrong so… I will not be frequenting Paris any time soon. Also…actually, maybe I didn’t say that *out loud* in Chick-fil-a…I think I was more in my head like, “YEAH I HAVE A DEGREE AND AM HERE SAYING, ‘DO YOU WANT LEMONADE?’ WITH THE REST OF YOU BUT I CAN SAY IT IN FRENCH SO WHERE’S MY $30,000/YR AND BENEFITS DAN CATHY?” (…final side-note though…Chick-fil-a actually wouldn’t let me interact with customers because they thought I was too awkward. THIS WAS JUST HOW WELL MY POST-GRAD LIFE WAS GOING, FOLKS.)

Anyway.

This graduation anniversary feels monumental, almost like a full-circle moment. So in typical Amanda fashion, I’m here to write to you and tell you the core lessons I’ve pulled from these first few years (ie the lessons that have been birthed through trial and error, tears, and talking my best friends’ ears off), along with the most attractive picture of myself I could *possibly* find from when 22 -year-old me was still going for that I’m-so-chill-and-funny-look-at-me-making-faces vibe. (LORD, INTERVENE.)

In the past four years, I’ve let my hair grow out and cut it again, lost a great-grandmother who was more of a lifeline than anything, gained weight and lost it and gained it again, reached breaking points with mental health battles, learned that sleeping is actually *kind of* important and drinking too much coffee is really bad for you, started drinking water every single day, learned how to operate gym equipment, gone on vacation by myself, driven thirteen hours across the country with a man who was also a stranger, disappointed some people who really cared about me, gotten a tattoo, built and broken and rebuilt my relationship with God, run away from all my problems, come to terms with my past, come to terms with myself, come to terms with my purpose, moved out, written a book, made friends, reconnected with old friends, been fired, worked in leadership, found a job that came with benefits, learned a makeup routine, and mastered a skincare routine, amongst many other things. The past few years have grown me and stretched me in more ways than I can express. I’ve been monstrous; I’ve been naive; I’ve been proud; I’ve been humbled; I’ve been apathetic; I’ve been hurt; I’ve been scared; I’ve been lost; I’ve been grateful; I’ve been joyous.

I mean…thank you, Jesus.

Here are the lessons that have been the hardest for me to learn.

  1. Stories take time. You’d think as a writer and storyteller, this little fun fact would be like telling a chef how to boil water…but that little lesson has taken years to learn. YEARS. The best stories start with extremely flawed people and work themselves inside-out. I would even say that if your story isn’t turning you inside out and shaking up your world, you might be in someone else’s story. Go find yours.
  2. Trust your gut. If something seems wrong and you know deep-down it’s wrong, run for the hills. And let me just say this… to my past self and everyone remotely similar to me: REVEREND JOHN IN CALIFORNIA IS ABSOLUTELY NOT GIVING AWAY A DALMATIAN PUPPY FOR FREE SO HE CAN GO EVANGELIZE TO PEOPLE OVERSEAS. REVEREND JOHN IS NOT A THING, AMANDA, BUT SPAM EMAILS ABSOLUTELY ARE.
  3. Friendship is everything. Nurture those who are in this thing with you for life and don’t let moments of hurt or frustration make you run away. (Note: You’re looking at the QUEEN of running away. My friends have literally had the following conversation within the past 7 business days: Friend 1: Are we letting Mandie isolate right now? Friend 2: Yep. Friend 1: Okay, cool. Let me know when that changes. And then friend 2 pushed a candy bar under the bathroom door for me, I spilled my guts to all involved, and now we’re probably having a birthday party for my cat this weekend.)
  4. Don’t buy into what shame is selling. I had a trainer for nearly a year back in 2016 and lost 60 pounds in the process. As soon as I couldn’t afford him any longer, I fell off the wagon pretty hard and didn’t get back up because I was so ashamed of myself for letting myself go again. I remember being in the doctor’s office asking, “Why…why did it come back so fast?” From then on out the story I kept repeating to myself was, “Good job, Amanda, you ruined your *one* chance to lose weight and now nobody’s helping you so there’s no way you can POSSIBLY do that without someone telling you what to do.” I’ve lost decades buying what shame is selling. (Seriously. If shame were an MLM I would’ve hit freaking crown diamond by now. FULLY VESTED CUSTOMER HERE.) I’ve let shame paint over my identity until I didn’t even know who I was anymore, let alone that I was loved. So I turned to food for comfort, my imagination for control, and people for affirmation that I wasn’t a screw-up. Co-dependency on ANYONE ( I don’t care if it’s your mama) is unhealthy. Period. And while it might not be that person’s fault or your fault, even, co-dependency is a great cover-up for the deeper issues of shame and self-loathing. Tell shame to take a walk, babe. You’re better than all that mess.
  5. “There must be something I don’t know.” I’ve recently learned to repeat this phrase to myself because I’m the sort of person who thrives on having the answers to everything. If I’m hurt I want to know specifically why so I can change or adjust course, but you know…sometimes something just isn’t for you. You will go through hard times that aren’t necessarily your fault. People will not like you for reasons you can’t understand. You will get fired. You will get rejected. You will lose friendships. You will bubble up and overthink all of it until all of the people around you are like, “I DON’T KNOW WHY LET’S JUST GO WATCH TITANIC IN PEACE, AMANDA.”
  6. Fear is a liar. Everyone and your mother will tell you this, but it’s true. Fear is a necessary evil in some ways in that it is your brain’s way of keeping you safe and aware, but if fear is keeping you from doing the things you love it is way out of bounds. If you are going to step forward into what God has called you to do, prepare to play defense against fear on a daily basis. Fear doesn’t fight fair either; it will show up wherever it needs to show up to keep you away from purpose. You’ve got to recognize it for what it is (an emotion and a narrative, not necessarily truth) and fight back, hard.
  7. Ask for what you want and ask for what you need. Just ask. I worked at Chick-fil-a the summer after I graduated for $8.50/hr and…my shoes were too small. Like a full size too small. My feet were fully swollen at the end of every shift and I was in pain all the time. I was so scared to ask for new shoes, that I allowed myself to suffer for 8 hours a day just so I wouldn’t be an inconvenience. If I could go back to that kid, I’d slap her with a bag of romaine and say, “MA’AM YOU ARE A COLLEGE GRADUATE BACK HERE MAKING CHICKEN SALAD AND ASSEMBLING FRUIT CUPS ALL DANG DAY ASK FOR NEW SHOES PLEASE.” Along those same lines, if there is something you want, ask for it. The answer might suck, but at least you’ll know. If it’s worth it to you, that’s all that matters, kid, and you won’t know until you ask. If you’re the one with the vision, it’s up to you to share it with those who can help make that vision a reality *or* you run the risk of it never coming to fruition because you were scared or didn’t think it mattered enough. Just ask. You’re worth that dream, that need, that conversation.
  8. There’s a reason. When I first graduated, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted. (Hint: That’s actually…*pretty* typical of me. I’ve screamed and cried in God’s presence enough times to be able to admit that I really love getting my own way. My prayers tend to look a little like, “God, I know you think you’re all big and bad out there controlling the universe but this is kind of my turf. Why don’t you go part a sea or something and I’ll man the fort? No, really. I’ve GOT THIS.”) I figured I’d graduate and move to a small town 45 minutes away to be a journalist and find someone to fall in love with and have it all figured out by now, but um. Let’s just say if that’s the plan, it’s not looking great for the home team over here. Since 2015, my plans have adjusted as I’ve learned more about myself. I’ve realized that I love creating worlds more than anything else and I love telling the stories of real people who are honest and beautiful in all their own ways. I love encouraging those around me. I love building community and inviting people over for food and drinks. I love writing notes. I’ve learned these things about myself in the past four years and even though I’m not where I thought I’d be, I also wouldn’t trade where I am because this space is making me better.
  9. God loves you. Speaking of God…let me tell you, when I graduated I was still pretty lost. In fact, I’ve been pretty lost recently. And about two months ago, at 2 am, God really spoke to me through a friend who finally laid out to me that I hadn’t really ever given God a chance to work. My friendship with God is a work in progress, man. It’s hard for me to trust, plain and simple. It’s hard for me to just trust and be still. But he is with me, he never gives up on me, and he’s always there to listen to my constant broken record of whining, lamenting, and arguing. He’s not surprised by my emotions and he’s not angry at me. He loves me. He has a purpose for me. And he’s constantly clearing pathways for me, constantly freeing me. I’ve seen it in my mental health battles, my disappointments, and even my dreams: he’s got me.
  10. The jobs that don’t seem to fit may be the jobs that fit the best. Just because you’re not in a job that lines up with your field or your area of expertise doesn’t make it a waste of time. In my time at Chick-fil-a, I learned I *really* hated working in a corner all by myself. I learned how I wanted to be treated and six months later I landed a manager’s job where I got to use those lessons because I could empathize with my team. Between those roles, I worked as a videographer for a company that forced me to compromise my values and my boundaries, but I did it because I was so desperate for adventure I was willing to do anything. In that role, I learned that I’m allowed to say no. After that, I landed the role of manager and hated the work because all of the tasks seemed menial and thankless, but that manager role taught me confidence and some hard-earned lessons along the way. In my most-recent role, I’ve been on the front lines in customer service and behind the scenes. I’ve learned about teamwork, communication, technology, and rolling with the punches. I’ve learned from my supervisors what true leadership looks like and I’ve learned to lean on the people around me for support. That’s just what a team does, but I might not have known that were it not for my job right now. And most importantly, I’ve learned over the past 18 months about people. I can’t even properly put that into words, but God’s taught me a lot about people and I’m grateful for that.

There’s currently a prayer written on a sticky note on my computer that says, “God, I trust you to help me let go carefully and graciously if I need to or to give me the faith to give it time.” My hope for you–whether you’re a post-grad or a college student or someone who’s been adulting a hot minute–is to keep dreaming, keep asking, and keep refining those beautiful goals of yours. Whether it takes a year or ten and no matter how much this road changes you, I hope you learn to be kind to yourself and to let go of the things that aren’t meant for you. I hope you don’t settle for less-than. I hope you don’t let the opinions of others shake you up, especially if it’s coming from a source who doesn’t really know you as a person.

Wherever you’re at, I hope you know how loved you are and how much purpose is packed into your very being. You’re so loved, so needed, so beautiful in all the ways.

Aunt Bea out.

Never stop laughing


“I know You’re able and I know You can,
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand,
But even if You don’t,
My hope is You alone.” -Mercy Me

“I don’t care if they know it’s me,” she says with a wave of her hand, “They can know!” I’d asked if she wanted to pull her hair back or take off her ring or any other identifiers, something I suggest to maintain a level of anonymity. 

“All right,” I tell her, explaining that she doesn’t have to remain anonymous. She’s like that, though: charismatic, funny, nonchalant. Her personality is as big as her large, green eyes. She’s in her yoga pants and most-recent favorite sweater, sitting criss-cross at her kitchen table with a big cup of coffee.

“Send me that picture,” she tells me after approving the one I snap quickly with my phone, laughing about using it on her own Instagram and I shake my head and promise to send it. She’s a full mess with a laugh you could recognize in any crowd. She’s known for her sense of humor, open laugh, eye for detail, and sarcastic, but honest, opinions.

 I go into the interview like I do any other interview, with professionalism and poise, but she shuts me down quickly when I begin to nod my head and throw out, “Mhm,” and “Yeah,” in that weird you-can-tell-I-majored-in-communications tone we all pick up along the way. 

“Don’t do that,” she says dryly, protesting, “It’s just me.” 

“This is my work,” I laugh, “This is just what I do.”

It’s a phrase that has seen her through tough times: never stop laughing. As a kid, she says, one of her favorite things was that no matter how hard things got, her family always knew how to crack a joke or make something funny. 

“Granted, do we do it at the best times? No,” she laughs, “One time it happened at a funeral, but you laugh it off and you move on. The point is like we always know how to have fun, we always know how to laugh. To me, laughter is the best medicine.” 

 Growing up, life wasn’t always easy for her. The youngest in her family, she was the one who took on the role of cooking for the family at a young age and played mediator between her two older siblings, always working to keep the peace. During her childhood and teenage years, things were really hard financially and her dad was constantly moving from job to job while her mom went back to work full-time to make ends meet. But things were still hard. 

 She and her older siblings were homeschooled and up until her older brother graduated high school, she went through an online school for two years of her high school career. After that, she didn’t feel like being home by herself so her parents enrolled her into a public school a few miles from their home. Going to school was a confidence boost for her and she met some of the best friends she’s ever had during that time, being the social butterfly she’s always been. 

 From there, she went to college and found a love for teaching and working with kids who may have been in the same situation she was in just over a decade ago. She met her best friend while working at a daycare for pre-schoolers, someone who’s been by her side during some tough times.

These days, she’s your average twenty something, still living in Greenville and working on getting to where she wants to go. She’s a 2 on the enneagram, so she lives to help people and have connected, happy relationships. While she loves Greenville for its homey, southern vibe, she’s not against the idea of one day moving somewhere new. It just depends on what happens in the next several years.

For now, she loves hanging with her friends and family, drinking mimosas, and is working towards a goal of one day soon owning her own space. She’s single, for the moment, and content to focus on her career, but still holds dreams of being married with kids someday. She has an associates degree in early childhood education and is holding off on getting her bachelors degree for a few years while she works on building experience into her resume, working as a teacher’s aide for a kindergarten class.

“I’m helping our kids with their letters right now,” she explains, adding, “So right now I’m supposed to be pulling kids to help them fix some of their math they’ve been working on because some of them have never been taught how to write numbers….I will eventually do ERI, which is early reading intervention, so our low kids on the spectrum of reading who aren’t getting it, I’ll take them and we’ll do a small group.” She says a big part of her job, essentially, is to take the kids who are struggling and reinforce what the teacher’s working on with the class.

Planning, she explains, is a large part of her job as well, but admittedly it’s one of her favorite parts. The night before doing an activity requires a lot of preparation—printing off sheets, gathering pieces for any games that will help the kids understand, preparing activities, cutting out shapes, etc. If you don’t plan ahead, she says, the kids will be more confused and everything will be chaotic.

The rest of her time is spent mediating childish arguments, keeping kids in line, and making sure they’re paying attention and not talking. “There are some days, it seems like the hardest part is just walking down the hallway. That sounds bad,” she says, saying that —while it’s such a seemingly simple task—when two kids start talking it seems to go downhill from there, adding, “So we have 27 kids and you get two kids who are talking and then two other kids who start talking and it’s like a chain reaction. And then next thing you know you can’t get them to shut up, or they’re going crazy, they’re kicking walls, they’re doing stuff, and it’s easier when there’s two of you there because one can be at the front of the line, making sure they’re doing the right thing, and then I can be at the back of the line, making sure they’re doing the right thing. But when you’re by yourself and you think you’ve got the first half doing well, but then the back is going crazy. And then you go to the back and the front loses it.” 

While she admits her days are crazy, she’s learning a lot. Kids, she explains, are like sponges—something she was always told, but is seeing firsthand more and more each week. It’s the middle of the fall semester when we sit down for our interview and she tells me her kids are starting to form words out of all the letters they’ve spent so much time working on. She says it’s interesting that no matter where her kids wind up, they have to start out with them—with the basics. She feels that her purpose, at least for now, is to help these kids on their way. 

Another thing that’s made an impact in her teaching career is getting to teach the power of “yet”—meaning that even if you haven’t grasped a concept it doesn’t mean you never will; it just means you haven’t yet. “It’s like no, you’ll get it; you just might need more time,” she says, explaining that she never got that as a kid and it’s something she likes getting to pass onto kids who are more insecure about learning.

Outside of work and hanging with her friends, she loves drinking coffee and reading a good book, holing up in her room, and going on adventures. Her favorite color is purple and she loves working in the kitchen, trying new recipes and feeding those around her. Sundays are for church or brunch, in her world, and she loves driving around on beautiful days, blaring rap music. She’s all about good times and Instagram-worthy memories, working to always see the good in life.

One of the hardest things about being her is caring too much, she admits, adding that a lot of times she may not show it but it doesn’t mean she doesn’t care. “In the past, I feel like I got hurt a couple too many times,” she elaborates when I ask why she doesn’t show emotion, adding, “And people took advantage of the fact that I did care.” Emotions, she explains, have gotten her in trouble a few too many times as in the past she’s either gotten in trouble for reacting to something or was told that she over-reacted to a situation. On the other hand, though, a lot of people will tell her that she comes across as emotionally available or uncaring when she doesn’t open up about how she feels. It’s a lose-lose situation sometimes, she says, but the truth is she really cares too much. 

Expectations, much like described above, are one of the biggest things she wishes she didn’t have to deal with. Expectations for her career, her love life, and her education are a few examples she gives, adding, “Some people? They do the college thing, they get their four years, they get married right afterwards, they hit all their high marks when some people deem they’re supposed to, but I’m learning that’s not always how it is.” And while she’s not in all the roles she thought she’d be in by now, she recognizes that these supposed detours are helping her gain experience and build her resume, preparing her for her own classroom more than those who graduate and immediately start teaching.

And as for relationships? Marriage and kids is something she always has and always will want, she says, but she knows there’s a reason it’s not happening right now. “It will come when it comes,” she says, “That’s what I’m learning….God has his plan.”

We begin to get to the last handful of questions, her full of opinions on girls on Instagram and people being fake and dry sarcasm to drive every point home. Finally, I ask her where she feels safe and she knows the answer immediately. The place she feels the most safe is her room, a hovel-type space she’s decorated and filled with things that bring her joy–a comfy bed, a Keurig, a coffee bar, and a large tv where she binges on shows like The Office and Bob’s Burgers

“That’s my hole,” she laughs, saying that if she could fit a mini-fridge in there she totally would. I laugh and wind down the interview, after nearly an hour of nodding and prying, and ask what she wants on her gravestone and she gives me the same phrase that’s seen her through her best and worst days. 

“Never stop laughing,” she says, adding that one day she’d like to get it tattooed somewhere, but her mom will kill her. 

Never stop laughing. It’s so her–whimsical and positive, but simplistic as well. 

Hey, #8–I hope you keep on laughing and bringing it to others, the way you do so well. 

 

She Gave It All


“Most girls are smart and strong and beautiful,
Most girls, work hard, go far, we are unstoppable,
Most girls, our fight to make every day,
No two are the same.” -Hailee Steinfeld

To tell you just how far behind I am on these anonymous posts, the person whose story I’m telling today actually met with me way back in September, just as the upstate was receiving the rain from Hurricane Florence. We both hate the rain and the cold, we agreed—for me because I’m always freezing and for her because she can’t go explore the outdoors, which is where she feels the most free.

I grabbed my pumpkin spice latte from the counter, finding that the lid wasn’t secure as soon as I sat down and spilled it all down my cup. I rushed for napkins, laughing at how klutzy I am. We talked for a minute and complained about the rain, commenting on how we both thought it was supposed to be much worse than it was. Autumn had barely grazed the upstate, South Carolina autumns never reaching a peak until early to mid October, and the atmosphere had that sense that we were all waiting on something to change, the heat to subside, things to settle down, and life to return to a simpler rhythm.

Passionate, creative, smart, positive are some of the words I’d use to describe her. The story of her life is complex—some parts joy and gratitude, some parts heartbreak and loss, all paired with determination and the perseverance to keep moving forward.

As a few of the people I’ve written about recently have expressed, we both grew up here in Greenville, South Carolina, and grew up going to church and private school. We have a lot in common, having majored in journalism, but while I had a concentration in print, her primary focus was broadcast journalism. Originally, her goal was to be an anchor but she quickly fell in love with behind-the-camera work her freshman year after signing up for a required course that first semester, which propelled her into a love for videography.

These days she works an 8-5 job working as a videographer for a company that specializes in producing video courses for families who homeschool their kids. She spends her days with teachers, working to capture their lessons in a way that will be the most effective for the kids watching them at home. While the process doesn’t allow for as much creativity as she’d like, she enjoys helping the teachers look their best and taking care of behind-the-scenes details.

In her spare time she also owns a wedding videography business and loves networking and capturing moments that the bride and groom will carry with them for a lifetime. She loves the thought that even if she forgets capturing their wedding, the work she did will continue on as part of their legacy and will be something they’ll treasure for the rest of their lives.

When she’s not behind the camera, you can find her out and about with her friends and family or at home watching a good movie or reading a book with her dog at her side. She keeps a tight-knit community around her who she knows love her for who she is and know her better than anyone else. While she hasn’t done everything she thought she’d have done by her mid-twenties, she explains, she knows how important it is to rest and be where your feet are. Even taking the time to rest is something she values because she understands that’s a time of healing.

Talking about someone’s childhood is one of the greatest topics you could ever delve into and it’s a subject she loves, telling me about her life back then. As a kid, she describes herself as a reader and a free spirit, wandering around the outdoors barefoot as much as possible. She says she loves reading because it allows you to escape from the real world and I find myself nodding along, knowing exactly what she means.  Third grade, she tells me, was the year that unlocked that love of reading for her and brought words to life, something that she’s carried with her all the way into adulthood. “There’s something about being able to imagine in your own head how it looks and how things are happening,” she adds.

Her childhood, she explains, she sees as divided into two parts. The first part consists of her and her younger sister playing at their old house, going on adventures together and just being kids. This was all before her dad’s business venture took off, which landed their family in a  better financial situation and they moved to a new house with lots of land. The new house is what she sees as the second part of her childhood because in that house was where her second sister and younger brother joined their family. Her family is a large part of her life and is always there for her. One of the biggest things they love doing is going on vacation every year. Her dad, especially, loves making memories and has passed that love on to his family and will save up all year so he can take his family on a nice vacation, she explains.

And while reading is her escape, the outdoors is where she feels most at home. Even now she loves the free feeling nature brings, often taking her dog to the park so he can run around and she can get some fresh air. The most important pieces of her purpose, she feels, are to share joy, make people feel beautiful, and be a good friend, sister, and daughter. She believes in the importance of contentment. “Contentment is just one of those things you’ve got to choose,” she says, elaborating,“I don’t think it’s as hard for me as for a lot of people and that’s one of the reasons I’m here is to show those people that hey, I realize that things are tough and hard and it’s absolutely okay to feel like it’s the end of the world but know that I’m here to tell you it’s not.”

While this is the person she is now, it hasn’t been easy to get to this space.

Around the midway point of our interview, she tells me about her more recent adulthood years and I sit in mostly silence, listening to her and jotting down notes, nodding along. Dating, for her, was something that her parents encouraged her to have fun with. She always loved being around boys, she says, and remembers having lots of crushes in elementary school. Her college years saw some relationships that sparked promise, but ended up falling apart in front of her eyes—some she had clarity on and some she didn’t. She never gave up on the belief that one day she’d find someone who was right for her, so she kept trying.

But, after a few tough years where she lost a childhood friend to cancer and her grandfather as well, her life took an unexpected, but happy, turn when she was engaged right after graduating with her BA degree in journalism. Her fiancé was fashionable and charismatic and thoughtful, at first, she says of him, telling me the way he’d kept their dates interesting and fast-paced. They were so in love and set the date for their wedding, but life took yet another unexpected turn and landed him unemployed and depressed. She worked hard to keep things going, she explains, but as he kept spiraling she finally came to terms with what she had to do and she ended the engagement exactly one month before their wedding. It was the hardest thing she ever had to do, she says, and an awful time, but she sent the gifts back and took her mom with her on what was supposed to be her honeymoon and kept putting one foot in front of the other.

During that time, she had to fight to find the silver lining but she eventually found it in the adoption of a puppy, who ended up being quite literally her “spirit animal” and one of her best friends to this day. He always knows when she’s upset and is always there to cuddle her on the days where life feels overwhelming.

You never sprint through heartbreak—it’s a walk. And after a spring of walking through that heartbreak and letting go of the life she’d been dreaming of, she reconnected with someone who’d been an acquaintance for a few years. He was fun and exciting and spontaneous, she says. They saw each other at a summer wedding they were both working at and it was like a fairytale, at first. She was the videographer and he was the DJ and they swing danced on the floor while everyone was cleaning up from the reception. They lived a very short, very fast-paced romance and she’s not even sure how it happened, but that October they went to the coast and eloped. It seemed magical, but eventually reality caught up to speed and soon they were fighting all the time and never able to find themselves on the same page.

When her family found out about her marriage, she says, they were devastated and it was a blow to her relationship with her family. Her new husband was someone who wanted to fix things, but that was something he couldn’t fix and they entered a winter knit with tension. The bills were piling on and she was working three jobs and she found herself wanting a way out, but there didn’t seem to be any other option except trying to make it work.

She’d been with her best friends just before it happened, while he was at work, telling them how she’d been feeling. But her story was about to take yet another unexpected turn when her marriage suddenly ended. The night she knew it was over, she’d run to her parent’s house and told her dad she wanted to divorce as quickly and simply as possible and he’d nodded and said, “Okay.”

The divorce was final a year later, but it left its mark on her. She has no hard feelings towards him any more as she realizes how young they were. “Divorced is a box I’ll always have to check,” she says. And, though it was one of the hardest lessons she’s ever had to learn, she knows she’s stronger than before. These days she’s careful when it comes to love, working to remain grounded.

She wraps up her story and laughs, ”And that’s my 25 minute story.” I tell her that it’s perfect. And it is perfect—not because it’s cut and dry or because it’s an easy road, but because it’s honest.

As we wind down the interview, I ask her about her challenges, her not one to hold back from giving an honest answer. “That pressure I put on myself to make everything the absolute best it can be,” she tells me. She’s always been a visionary, knowing what she wants out of each thing she tackles, but says that there have been challenges along the way with being misunderstood by her peers. It took a long time to put a filter on her brain, she explains with a chuckle, saying that words would go from brain to mouth and out. “So many times my parents would be like, ‘You squeezed out the toothpaste; you can’t put it back in the tube.’ So you know, you’ve got to be really careful when you talk and stuff.” But she eventually did learn to filter her creative, to-the-point brain and tries to keep in mind the feelings of those around her, adding that she never wants anyone to feel bad because of her.

One of the defining principles she works to live by is that of being balanced, explaining that a lot of times the expectation that’s placed on her is to always be happy and bubbly. “If something is happening in my life—in my personal life—with relationships or whatever, I focus on that and I might not be all there at work….my goal is to give my all to everything I do, but at the same time you only have so much bandwidth.” She explains that balance is everything. When I ask her how she would define balance, she takes her time to find the words, explaining slowly but emphatically. “Balance means that at the end of the day there wasn’t one thing that I was focused on all day. If I was just focused on myself all day, that was an unbalanced day. I need to think of others—and even if it’s just explaining to others, ‘Hey, I’m not feeling well. I’m so sorry—I’ll try to do my best still.’ That’s still balancing because then they’re aware of what you’re going through.”

We arrive at the last question and I ask her what she would want on her epitaph and she says that she wants to reach the end of her life having given all that she possibly could give. I nod—it’s perfect.

After I thank her, we part ways but some of the things she said in that interview stay with me. I think we take the things we were meant to see in someone else with us–no relationship is ever wasted. Even though I can’t take every person who sits down at a coffee shop table with me, in a way I do. That’s how stories work: they stick to you through the good times and the bad times.

Hey, #7—I think you’ll give as much as you’re supposed to. I really do.

delicate flower


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you say i’m a delicate floWer…

let’s pretend i haven’t heard that one in the last hour–

i am a delicate floweR. 

i build emotional castles and watch them tOwer,

wait for my Next victim before i let it shower,

start the fire, watch you burn–anything that brings me power,

tell me the truth and i Go sour,

you say i’m a delicate flower.

give my voice back, i’ll say it All slowly, change the rhyme, watch you cower–

now.

i’ll admit it, my feelings are a Bit of a mess–

they knOck me down, pin me down, i stay in duress,

five minUtes with my brain and you’d be in high stress,

and i’ll admit, men Tend to want women who…feel…less…

but i hate their games; i don’t dress to impress,

and in my opinion, this ability to feel gives me…a kind of…finesse.

now if this is weak, i understand your distress,

you’d have to live it to know it’s strength and not weakness,

so to you, i’ll simply nod and say, “bless.”

because i am a delicate flower.

 

 

 

the train


“If you’re anything like me I’m sorry/ But, Darling, it’s going to be okay.” -Taylor Swift

“Maybe I wasn’t finished being Addie,” I tell my friend over coffee, a Monday in November after it had all happened. Somehow she knows when I need to meet and have a cup of coffee and I always gladly take her up on it. I tell her that I’d finally found the ending to my book, the one I hadn’t known I’d needed. I’d handed over my control to my story that weekend, but it had taken all of me to do it. When you hand over the key to a narrative you’ve held dear for a long time and give someone else the ability to veto it, sometimes it takes all of you. Friday night, I told my friend, was for feeling disbelief that I’d said what I’d needed to, driving until 3 am. Saturday was for for feeling mild hope, mildly empowered. And Sunday was my undoing, the friend who kindly advised my answer was probably a no.

I’d written my therapist that Sunday, the day I’d fallen apart because I knew that most likely my dream had died and it was just like before: a mixture of sadness and numbness. “It’s like there’s a train that everyone sees coming, but me,” I’d confided, not really thinking much of the metaphor. “Play the train,” she’d written back, “What is the train saying? And why does it have to be a negative thing?” I’d taken it in stride, going to bed just wishing it were morning already.

I woke up on Monday and it hit me as I ran the shower and stepped into my morning: the train is my life. It’s coming for me, not at me.

Suddenly I see it all (because let’s be real I speak in metaphors and have epiphanies in metaphors too):

I’m in a grassy area, right near the tracks. I’m waiting. I hear a sound in the distance, see the light before anything else, stand up as I hear the whistle, wait for it to reach me. I know this rhythm like the back of my hand—when I stand up it has to stop. Let me repeat: when I stand up it has to stop. It’s a jet black color, like night, and it’s carrying exactly 26 cars but I’m not interested in those. I head for the cabin, race up the three steps, and look the conductor in the eye. To my surprise, it’s just a younger, unhealthier version of myself. I know that face. I know those eyes. I know that look. She’s no villain, white-knuckled fingers grasping the controls. She looks up at me like she’s got little left to offer, expressions can be bruised can they not? She’s pale, she’s tired, she’s run the train all night through God knows how many nightmarish fears. I’m not cruel to her. I’m not asking why she did or did not do this or that. I’m kind. I decide to be who she so desperately craved and searched for all that time, crawling through the dark. I decide to be kind to this unhealthy version of myself who ran my life for so long. I slowly take her hands off any controls and sit her in a corner. I place a quilt around her shoulders and hand her a cup of tea and look her in the eye, wordless, because there’s nothing else to say. We’re done here. We both know she took on far more than she needed to while I hid, scared to let the light in. No, she’s not the villain—just scared, just unhealthy, just misinformed. How can someone be the villain when she just wanted to be loved? After all…she did direct this train all night long. How can I hate her?

I give her a final look and then rise back to my feet, looking around at the mess. I slowly push back any spider webs, toss out any trash, polish the window so I can see clearly. The sun is low, just barely erasing any signs that night was here and I glance back at the version of myself I will not recognize as being my representation from here on out, she’s staring out of lifeless eyes. She has no interest in narrative any longer, having tunneled hers far below the ground long ago, and I now have no interest in hearing any narrative of hers. I look ahead, the stars in the sky slowly fading away. They helped guide for so long and suddenly it’s just me and this one train I have, this one life. I get to direct it into the morning, get to be the one to taste the dawn.

I’ll take it from here.

Hey you. You reading this. Yeah, I’m looking at you. You have a voice, so use it. You have a purpose, so find it. You’re here for a reason, so believe it. God’s calling you to do something no one else could do like you can, so go do it. You’re allowed to be new.

she came, she fought, + she conquered


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“Smash it all, the source that locked me in the darkness and harassed me / I try to get out but there’s no way out until I find the exit / Pretending it’s for me, the voices disregard my dream / I don’t want to get hurt any more, I close my ears and walk my way.” -Stray Kids

Mid-interview, I ask her, “What is the hardest part about being you?”

She answers instantly, “My mind.” And I’m quiet because I would’ve said the same thing, most days. Hers and mine are stories that overlap in that we both know pain, we both know self-hatred, we both know the dark, we both know the late nights that will forever haunt us. But we’re both here, both healing. 

There’s something so fascinating to me about meeting someone smack-dab in the middle of their story and asking them to fill you in. It places them in control of their own narrative, which means that it’s up to them to show you who they are. Meeting someone one-on-one to talk about their life just drops a veil–all the complexity of social interactions fades into simplicity.

On a Thursday evening, back in September I met someone smack-dab in the middle of her story and, even though she might hesitate to admit it, hers is a beautifully, raw story that is continuing to be redeemed through faith, love, and family.

She’s the sort of person who tells you to be safe when you’re on your way to meet her, but she doesn’t know it. She’s the sort of person who says, “I’ll buy,” but doesn’t know it. She’s the sort of person who fights for the people around her, but she doesn’t know it. It’s just who she is and who you are is typically not something you think about. You just do, you just are, you just keep doing you.

I know all this because she did the first two things within thirty minutes of each other and then the third thing she showed me throughout the two-hour conversation we had that night at Starbucks. Her go-to is an iced caramel macchiato and mine is a pumpkin spice latte. I stood behind her in line, looking up at the menu but then she motions for me to order and slides her card through. “That’s so sweet,” I tell her, touched that someone who’s practically a stranger would show that type of empathy but again, that’s just who she is.

We head outside, mid-September breezes and a patio full of green umbrellas and tables. We take the furthest table we can find, away from loud customers and loud music, and talk for thirty minutes before remembering the original purpose of her meeting me.

She, like me, has lived in Greenville, SC her entire life. But her dream job is to be a traveling photographer, living in someplace like Colorado. For now, she’s in the stage of figuring it out and I nod along knowingly, emphatic. She works at a coffee shop and loves spending her free time either driving around and listening to music or hanging out with her family–her brothers and sisters in law, nieces and nephews, parents, and last, but certainly not least, her cat. Her family is the constant in her life, having helped her navigate some tough times.

“Caring, empathetic, loving, sometimes carefree, I enjoy the little things in life,” she tells me when describing herself. A nonjudgmental person, she wants everyone she meets to know what they did in their past doesn’t define them. It’s a lesson she knows all too well.

“That describes anything anyone would need to know about you,” I tell her. She doesn’t know to what extent, but she’s the only person I’ve ever interviewed and felt chills when hearing her story. When you talk to her, you can almost see how deep her soul goes like God placed her on earth to help him spill out love and beat back the darkness. But to shine so bright, you’ve got to know darkness. We wrap up the basics—childhood, family, cats, dreams, and goals—and I tell her we’re headed into deeper waters. She nods.

High school, she tells me, was when she thought she’d hit rock bottom. It was a time of dealing with self-harm, depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder. Her family was the surrounding force that stepped in and took her to get help, her spending six months in a rehabilitation center that helped her both identify what was going on in her brain and also begin her healing process. Since that time in her life, she explains, she’s hit rock bottom since but keeps fighting. She describes an emotionally abusive relationship that almost took all the progress she’d made away, but she mustered up enough courage to leave. She tells me about another time where the person she loved decided he wasn’t right for her and that triggered the eating disorder, but she kept fighting.

“So what I’m hearing,” I conclude at one point during the interview, looking at her across the table, “…is that you’re a survivor.”

She says it quietly, “Yeah.”

I ask her how she would describe finally coming out of a dark time, feeling that hope is alive again.  “When you see that glimpse of hope, it feels like you just surfaced on top of water that you were currently drowning in,” she explains and I can hear the rawness in her voice, unfiltered.

I nod, murmur, “Yeah,” because I know exactly what she means by that.

“What does it mean to be brave,” I ask, pausing to give her time to find the answer. It’s a question I don’t ask everyone, but I had to know what she’d call it because the word is all but stamped to her forehead.

“To me being brave, from my past experience, is to push away your fears. Push away your fears of rejection, of someone being angry at you, and to just speak your truth. Speak how you’re feeling and to be vulnerable and to show how you’re feeling to people and letting them know how they’re making you feel. And I think being brave is also walking away from things that you don’t want to, but you need to. And just, no matter how hopeless you feel, being brave is continuing to go when you don’t want to.”

I’m quiet for a second, not sure how to respond. “I think that’s a beautiful definition,” I tell her.

I ask her to tell me about the hardest part of being her and she tells me about her diagnosis. Recently, she says, she went back to a psychiatrist who took the time to listen to her and went into more specific detail for a diagnosis than what she’d previously been given. Manic depression, was what the first doctor had diagnosed, but this psychiatrist diagnosed her with bipolar disorder. The hardest part can be relationships, she explains, where it’s hard to be understood when she’s having a rough day. “I just want people to understand that I’m not what I’m diagnosed as, you know, I might go through my mood swings; I might have a really bad day and go off on you. And I want them to know that it’s not meant to be personal and I’m not trying to do that to be rude—I’m trying to control it and it gets very hard and it just…” she pauses, “I just want them to know that I’m not my mental illness. My personality, my being is not my mental illness. I’m not defined by that. That’s one thing that just I wish people would understand because a lot of people don’t.”

“What are you here to do?” I ask her, tilting my head and watching the way she tells her story. She’s here, she says, to spread peace and happiness while also spreading awareness for mental illness. Her story is one that she wants to use to help other people reach out for help when they need it. Her goal is to show others that while times may be difficult, there’s still hope.

“How do you find purpose in your day-to-day life?” The question is one I ask frequently because it’s an answer I’m still looking for myself.

“Some days I can’t, honestly,” she says quietly, “Some days I can’t.”

Her family is a large part of where she finds purpose, she says. She’s got younger nieces and nephews, she explains, and they are a large part of why she works so hard to hang on and continue to heal. She wants them to grow up and see that, while she went through hard times, those times don’t define her and she overcame them, so if her nieces and nephews ever go through a hard time they’ll know she’s there for them and loves them no matter what.

Her older brother is another reason she keeps working towards finding healing. He lives across the country, but that doesn’t keep him from being her world. He was instrumental in her reaching out for help, telling her, “I love you. You’re going to get through this,” she recalls. And now, he’s instrumental in her road to recovery, she says as she tells a story about a time he walked in to find her after she’d harmed herself. He never cries, she explains, but that night he’d cried after seeing her and that memory is one that keeps her from harming herself again. The thought of hurting him by hurting herself is too much.

I ask her to describe what she’d tell someone who’s going through a hard time and she responds with passion in her voice, “You are worth so much more than you think, “she says, “And you have so much to offer this world. You might not know what you’re good at right now, you might be in a funk where you can’t see what you’re good at, but you’re good at something and you’re going to find that out and once you find that out you’re going to be like, ‘Holy crap.’ Whether it be writing, whether it be making music, anything. They’re going to be able to share their stories through that–they’re going to be able to tell people, ‘Listen, I was there. I came out of it. I’m a better person.'”

I ask her what her epitaph would be, my favorite question of the interview because it’s more about legacy than it is anything else. It’s a way of asking, “Who do you want to be?” But for her, I’m really asking, “Who are you? Who are you fighting for?”

She thinks for a minute about what her legacy will be, then says, “She came, she fought, and she conquered.”

“You bet your ass she did,” I tell her. It’s an unsophisticated response, rough around the edges, but it’s the only thing I know to say.

Finally, I ask her if there’s anything she’d like to say. It’s the end of the interview and she tells me all the ways she wishes people would reach out when they need it because the last thing she wants to hear is that someone believed they didn’t matter. “Don’t lose hope,” she says, “Don’t. Because there’s such a bright future for you and you can’t see it, but it’s there.”

We end the interview, I close my notebook, and I can still feel God’s presence. This kid is special and I grab her hands and pray hard for her, that she would know who she is and keep fighting. I give her the biggest hug and leave that Starbucks in awe at God and the stories he’s always weaving and the paths he’s interweaving with mine and all the ways he’s bringing us all out of the dark.

#6, I can’t wait to see where you go, kid. I can’t wait to see all the ways you shine and bring other people into healing and light.

she lived + she loved


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 “Staring at the roots, nobody there to help me grow / I was longing for the rain, you were the flood that made me overflow / A stranger to my skin, but now I’m braver in my bones.” -Lewis Watson

“The rings are fine,” she says, folding her hands for the picture after I ask if she’d like to remove any identifiers for the photo.

They’re hands that have been put to work ever since she was fifteen, balancing serving people and studying and holding onto those who are closest to her.

Mid-September and hurricane Florence is on her way up the coast, the winds beginning to pick up even in our upstate city of Greenville, South Carolina. I meet her at a Starbucks, twenty minutes late, and I rush over, apologizing and remarking that I’d forgotten how heavy traffic could be in that area. It’s been two years since I worked five minutes from where we sat, her sipping on a latte and me unfolding my computer and digging around in my bag for a pen. We take the time to catch up, talking gossip and old times. The jazz music from the speaker outside blares near us and we move to a different table on the opposite side of the patio, only to sit next to another speaker that’s blaring jazz music. We laugh and shrug it off. I tell her my recorder has survived many motorcycles and people laughing in the background just fine.

She grew up in the area, just off central Greenville. Her favorite things are her mom, her dog, coffee, spending time with her friends, and pigs. She loves the colors army green and burgundy. Her favorite book is 13 Reasons Why because of how brutally honest it is, saying that we don’t know what other people are going through. When she thinks of childhood, she thinks of going on vacation with her family and grandparents to the Outer Banks. She feels the most connected to Cape Hatteras because the lighthouse on the island was her grandma’s favorite.

Right now, she works as an assistant manager for a fast-casual style restaurant where she’s worked since she was fifteen. She’s a sophomore in college, studying psychology with a goal of working in either clinical or criminal psychology one day. She dreams of being surrounded by a career, family, and animals.

“Pigs!” she exclaims.

“Oh, you’ve got to get a pig!” I laugh.

One of the most difficult things about being her, she explains, is that she oftentimes feels misunderstood. She explains that with the load that’s placed on her from both work and academic expectations, it can be difficult to take a step away from all the expectations when she needs to. She pauses and then heads into a story I hadn’t heard before, one that changes everything I know about her.

She has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic disorder that largely affects the nervous system. It’s difficult because it makes the smallest parts of day-to-day life more difficult, she explains. I ask her what if feels like and she describes it as her bones breaking, but her nerves also going crazy on top of that. She asks me if I know the sensation of my foot falling asleep but where you can’t stand to touch it and I nod, “Yeah.” That feeling will be all over her body, she explains–her mouth, her hands, her legs.

“Some days are better than others, but it makes doing your average things a lot harder. So literally getting out of bed is harder for me than it is for the average person and like wearing clothes is harder for me than it is the average person since it does have a lot to do with nerves, like if I have too many blankets touching me it hurts. It actually hurts–it’s the weirdest thing ever.” She goes on to say that what makes the disorder even more difficult to navigate is the lack of understanding from many of those around her, including doctors who have been known to say it’s all in her head.

She began showing symptoms at age 8, the doctors telling her mom that they were just growing pains. But her mom, one of her personal heroes, pushed back, having the disorder herself, and fought for her daughter to receive the care she needed. Finally, at age 15, she was taken down to a hospital in the Charleston area to receive further clarification on the things they’d known for years, but it ended up being another shut-door. Though they did diagnose her, the doctor’s only advice to exercise more and steer clear of wheat, gluten, and sugar. It would be later that year when she would receive the medication she needed, but two full years before she began learning to manage the pain. To help manage the pain, she tries to take care of herself by exercising and taking her medication, refusing to allow fibromyalgia to keep her from doing all the things she wants to do.

As she speaks, the resilience she owns shines through and I jot down notes, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that she’ll do great and brave things. We go a little deeper and I ask the question I ask everyone, but don’t always include in the actual post because I think that the most fascinating thing about their answers is that everyone has an answer to the question. With her, though, the answer is integral to who she is. “What do you think happens after life?” I ask.

She immediately says that she thinks souls can come back in different forms and I chuckle knowingly, saying she and a friend of mine would have a lot in common. She has a reason for it, though, and I listen as she tells me the story of how her grandma died, someone who showed love better than anyone she knew and had a deep love of butterflies. Her grandma was like her twin, from the way she interacted with people to her sense of humor.  She died around 8 years ago, with her grandfather following soon after. It was a hard time, she tells me, but something kept showing up in that time, and in all the difficult times to follow–butterflies.

“Whenever anything’s happening in my life that’s bad, I always see butterflies,” she explains, telling me that she doesn’t see them all the time. She began seeing them after her grandmother died and saw them everywhere after her grandfather died. She says without even thinking about it, she just knew it was her grandma.

She tells me more about her grandma as we wind down the interview, how she’s never known anyone who loved as well as she did. Her grandma was the sort of person who would give you the shirt off her back, she says.

“Sounds like she was an incredible person,” I murmur, a picture of a field of butterflies stamped onto my mind.

“She was awesome,” she agrees.

“Where do you feel safe?” I ask her. She laughs lightly, looking past me while she thinks. The answer is weird, she says, but she feels the safest outside. Oftentimes, she’ll go find a nice park and just sit because it makes her feel at peace.

The last question, I tell her, is one I’d given prior to the interview, the one I ask everyone and then use for the article title. “If you were in charge of what would be placed on your gravestone, what would it be?” She’d thought a lot about the question, she says, but only one answer had stuck:

She lived + she loved. 

I nod, jotting it down. It was perfect. I collect her lyrics and close my notebook, that visual of a field of butterflies not leaving me and it’s like I’m seeing her with new eyes. I don’t say it–I typically don’t say the things I mean in person, but I know that she’ll be just fine. I thank her again for coming out and we part ways, excitement all the way home at how much I learned and how much God is part of this project. The moon was full that night, traffic lights turning reds and greens and yellows in sequence the whole way home. I slip into the last rays of summer, feeling a little more like myself.

Hey, # 5–when I think of you, I’ll always think of fields of butterflies and a little girl building castles on Cape Hatteras with her grandma. I’m on the sidelines, rooting for you. All the way, kid.

loving my neighbor–fighting for what’s right + just + beautiful for the world


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“The sun it doesn’t cause us to grow / It is the rain that will strengthen your soul /
It will make you whole.” -The Oh Hello’s

First of September and she drives forty minutes to meet me, to tell her story. It’s a Wednesday and I meet her after work, once I’d taken fifty calls for the day and sat in stop and go traffic for forty minutes. It had been a day, the queue crazy busy even with new agents on the floor and all of us helping prepare for open enrollment. And so, I’d been gripping my steering wheel, worried about getting the questions I’d left back home, and wondering how it would all work out. It was one of the first days where fall was starting to settle in, the breeze just barely starting to cool off and the skies that bright blue that always reminds me of those fall Sundays we’d skip church and go for a drive instead.

I park and walk in and she’s already sitting in a chair, waiting for me. She spots me and grins, greeting me with a big wave. It had been forever since we’d seen each other. I wave back and then head up to the front to order a pumpkin spice latte. The barista is one I know and he asks what I’m up to. I tell him about my project, mentally noting to ask him the next time I see him if he’ll do an interview.

“Wow, that sounds cool,” he tells me. I nod and swipe my card, thanking him and place my card  back in my wallet.

We sit outside and chat for a few minutes before I tell her we’re going to begin recording.

She grew up in a small town in North Carolina–a place she looks back on fondly, where she grew up in a tight-knit community. She talks about how much of a gift it was to grow up in a community like what she did, something she’s just now recognizing. “Everybody just served each other and it was very warm and hospitable,” she says, speaking of the people who poured into her growing up. She explains that it was the sort of little town where you could just walk anywhere, her neighborhood being especially tight-knit. Her and the neighbor kids would run around the neighborhood from sun-up to sun-down, until someone’s mom called them inside. “We had our run of the place for sure,” she laughs.

She went to college out of state, laughing as she says that she’d thought her town was small but then went to a college that was even smaller. Majoring in counseling, she also met her husband while in college and they’ve been together ever since. They moved to South Carolina a few years ago and eventually found a church that became like family to them. She loves spending time with friends and talking, saying, “I feel like we don’t look in each other’s eyes very often anymore and so, getting to do that as much as possible is definitely one of my favorite things.”

“And coffee doesn’t hurt,” I suggest, laughing.

“No, coffee doesn’t hurt!” she laughs, adding, “Especially when it’s loaded with chocolate.”

Outside of spending time with her husband and friends, her family is really important to her as well. She loves writing, running her own blog where she strives to be real and talk about things that matter. She loves to read, only watching tv if she’s wanting to turn off and not have to think. Grey’s Anatomy is the one thing that’s the exception, her having watched every single episode multiple times.

Her days, she says, are simple. Right now she works as a nanny and her husband works in production and technology. They go to church every week and come home, do dishes, all the usual things, she says. For her, she says her work is something she loves but it also comes with challenges, explaining that it can be emotionally challenging to be with children who are learning to navigate their own emotions. She loves how her little charges are like sponges right now, noticing and learning everything they can. As far as writing goes, however, she doesn’t know if there’s a book on the horizon or not but she’s trusting God to show her the way.

I ask her why she’s here on this planet, one of my favorite questions to ask. She thinks about that a lot, she tells me, saying that one of the reasons she thinks she’s here is to see people. Being willing to see people even when it’s hard and messy and uncomfortable, she explains, is one of the most important things. On a day-to-day basis, she says that part of seeing other people is allowing yourself to be seen.

“It starts with me a lot of times,” she says, “Being willing to see myself, being willing to let other people see me.” To her, overcoming pride has a lot to do with being seen because it’s easy to not let even the closest people to you see all the messy parts. Loving and seeing, she thinks, are really similar. For her, to love someone is to see them and to go to bat for them in their needs, whatever those may be.

“Hey, I have skin in this game because we belong to each other.” In her opinion, this simple sentence is what loving your neighbor is all about–standing up for what’s right and fighting for those you love.

However, even that leads into one of the things that can be the most difficult for her to navigate. One of the hardest things about being her is how much she takes on. She explains that she’s always picking up on emotions from other people. She says she’s felt this way since she was a kid, feeling as if she were missing some type of protective layer. The official term for the way she carries emotional burdens, she explains, is empath.  I nod vigorously because I’m one too.

“I’ve never regretted showing empathy for someone, but it is very heavy to carry that,” she says, “And so I think I’m having to practice laying some of that down and saying, ‘I can love you and be there for you and help you carry that burden and still maintain my own sense of strength and personhood and not let everything suck all of the life out of me,’ if that makes sense.” The whole time she’s talking, she looks past me, like she’s gathering up all her thoughts and trying to sort them. She smiles when she’s passionate about something, the emotion clearly seen in her eyes.

“That makes perfect sense, ” I nod, explaining that I know how hard it is to be an emotional sponge.

One of the things she’s been trying to do lately is to be more present, noting that she tends to fill up her time with a lot of things instead of slowing down. They aren’t bad things, she says, but she wants her life to be more intentional.

The recording scares the life out of me as it jumps and I quickly pause it, make sure it’s still there and start a new recording. Ironically, we start talking about seasons and the way she talks about the season she’s in reminds me of crisp January skies and the feel of late winter, right before everything starts blooming. She’s on the cusp of a lot of growth, she tells me. It’s something where she feels it’s hers as long as she can reach out and grab it.

I silently hope she gets everything she’s hoping for and wind down the interview, asking her about legacy. Loving her neighbor, really, is what she believes this is all about.

She laughs when she tells me what she wants on her gravestone towards the end of our interview, saying it’s bound to be an expensive tombstone but I know it will be worth it. Every word, every mile, every season.

And I hope she does too.

just to be remembered would be enough


“The girls need a break–tonight we’re gonna take / The chance to get out on the town / We don’t need romance, we only want to dance / We’re gonna let our hair hang down.” -Shania Twain

She was my first pool-side interview. We walk to the pool from her apartment, holding bags of towels and fumbling over flip flops. An interview near a pool? Why the actual heck not? I ask about her lyrics and she couldn’t make up her mind.

“Well, what’s the last song you listened to?” I ask her.

She laughs loudly, “I Feel Like A Woman by Shania Twain.”

I laugh with her. “That’ll work.”

It’s a Thursday night, late August and I’m dragging her off to do another crazy, uncomfortable thing. She doesn’t like talking about herself or her emotions and I’m always up for a stroll down emotional lane. She walks down the steps of the pool and tells me the water is freezing cold–meanwhile, I’m sitting crisscross at the edge of the pool, keeping my phone carefully away from the ledge. I begin the interview while she bobs up and down in the shallow end, trying to warm up.

We begin the interview and what strikes me is how she’s always herself, reminding me of sunflowers and the shade of cobalt blue that’s always been her favorite. She’s the type that loves laughing and has dedicated her life to being a drama-free zone. She loves weird music and comedies and colorful leggings and going for drives–one thing her and I have in common. What I find in talking to her and listening back to the recording is that a lot of people like to put up a facade and look extra impressive, but she doesn’t. She’s just herself.

She grew up in Greenville, just like I did. She has a cat she loves dearly. In her day-to-day life she wakes up on time every morning, showers, straightens her hair, puts on her makeup, throws on some scrubs, and grabs the lunch she made the night before. As a kid she wanted to be a ballerina and then a veterinarian, before finally deciding to major in psychology in undergrad. I ask her why she gave up on those other dreams, immediately correcting myself and asking if she had found something better. But she answers my first question anyway, saying she doesn’t see it as giving up–she views it as changing and psychology was something she found interesting.  Right now she’s a nurse’s assistant at a local doctors office, responding to voicemails from patients. “We’re basically the in-between between the patients and the doctors,” she explains. While it’s not her dream job, she views it as a means to an end.

“What’s the hardest part about what you do?” I ask. She answers immediately that the hardest part is talking to angry people frequently. “A little thing about [doctor’s offices],” she says into the recording, laughing, “…people are always angry. It tears my nerves up. I’m a very anxious person and I hate confrontation. So why I’m in this job, I don’t know.” The way she says it is so her–emphatic sarcasm paired with giggling in spurts. We laugh and she swims back away from the ledge. “I digress,” she says.

“That’s quotable,” I say, chuckling.

One of my favorite (although one of the most difficult) questions I love to ask is what each person’s five favorite things on this planet are–it can be anything, from objects to things that aren’t something tangible you can hold in your hand. For her, she loves hiking in her spare time, going on vacations to Virginia, and spending time with her family. “I guess I’ll throw those suckers in there,” she laughs, sarcastic, when she’s listing off her favorite things. The last two things on the list are her cat and living on her own. She likes the way being alone feels–like the weight and stress of everyday life kind of melts away when she finally puts the key in the lock and turns the knob to an empty apartment she’s proud to call home.

She’s always been the sort to feel a bit disconnected from her own generation, preferring to be around older people even as a kid. She tells me the story of how she used to walk down to an older neighbor’s house and they’d sit on the porch and talk. Even now, she visits her own grandmother as much as she can and they go to lunch. It’s one of her favorite routines–always checking in on someone who might need her.

In her day-to-day life, she feels like she’s seen as a pretty chill person, but the biggest thing she wishes people would understand about her is that she likes order. Though she’ll never ask for it, she wishes people understood how order functions. We chat about a lot of different things, her floating around and wading to the deep end because she thinks she sees a bug. “Oh, it’s just a leaf,” she laughs, wading back towards me.

We talk about God. He’s something we’ve both struggled with, but she thinks that God is everything. She says he always does what he says he’ll do, saying that if he says he’ll be with us then he will be. I nod and make a mental note that he’s a big part of her story, but we don’t say any more on the subject.

“And um, I’ve got just a couple more questions for you,” I say, looking down at my lap, searching through questions.
“Are we almost done?”
“Yes,” I tell her, laughing.
“You know I don’t like being serious,” she groans, swimming up closer to the side of the pool. “This is taking a lot out of me—I need to be alone,” she giggles, speaking directly into the recording again. It’s her fifth round with the recording, speaking directly into the speaker.
“Where do you feel safe?” I ask.
“Honestly, when I’m home alone. That’s the safest I feel. I feel like everything kind of just goes away—I could’ve had a hard day at work or a stressful something or whatever and then as soon as I get home it’s just kind of gone.”

I ask a few more questions, digging to get to know her more. “I don’t know the answer to this,” she laughs. She goes on to tell me it’s not that she doesn’t like opening up, but that she honestly doesn’t know the answers to some of the questions because she doesn’t think about it. With her, what you see is what you get–funny, orderly, drama-free, and adventurous.

“That’s okay,” I tell her, “We’ll just end with what’s your favorite color?” She confirms that it’s blue, stating that it’s subject to change at all times but for right now it’s blue.

“Okay, and that’s it,” I say, shutting off my iPhone. I turn off the recording, forgetting my final question. “Wait,” I say, looking down at my notes. I ask her what her epitaph would be, if she were able to choose it.

She doesn’t know, though, what she’d want to leave behind as a legacy. “Honestly,” she says, “Just to be remembered would be enough.”

I nod and wonder if she knows how well she’ll be remembered for the kind, giving, fun-loving person she is. She’s already explained more than enough of herself and I know I have my story : the story of a girl who doesn’t know quite how important she is and isn’t sure where this ride is headed, but she’s here for it. The sky is a velvet blue, dotted with bright stars.  I do the only thing there’s left to do–I hop in the pool. We spend the next two hours floating around and chatting.

 

a loving + caring person


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“Who are we to wonder where we’re going? Who am I to tell me who I am? Let’s take it back and take in every moment. Who am I to tell me who I am?” -AJR

I met with her on a Tuesday evening, the day that Starbucks finally released its pumpkin spice latte for the fall season. And I was completely there for it. But her? Not so much. Hers is a story of the life and times of a person who has been able to successfully trek through life without a co-dependence on coffee–something I’ve failed miserably at. I arrived first, grabbed a table outside, and pulled out my computer. I looked through questions while I waited, finally noticing her drive by, a goofy grin on her face. I waved, smiling back. She parked and walked over to me, a casual lilt to her step and a smile on her face. The traffic was heavy near where we sat, the sound of motors roaring constantly.

She’s always been the girl with a casual smile and an easy presence–someone well-loved by the people in her life and well-known for her personality, bringing life into every room she steps into. Her story begins, much like mine, in Greenville, South Carolina. She’s lived in this city nearly thirty years, only having moved briefly outside city limits to attend college where she earned a degree in early childhood education. Her favorite part about living in Greenville are all the different activities available and the growth of the city. And here in Greenville, is where she found some of her deep loves–mountains, music, connecting with friends, and even her young son who arrived in 2016.

Someone largely involved in activities during high school and college– to this day– two of her favorite things are learning new things and playing sports. Some of her best memories take place in Canada where she and her family would vacation every summer–swimming, fishing, canoeing, and playing card games at night. She loved the simplicity of those vacations, not having access to phones and being able to spend quality time with her family.

Currently she works as a teacher, spending her days herding sticky-fingered children and teaching them the fundamentals of the world they’re in. In the evenings, she takes care of her family, spends time with her son, and focuses on coursework for the masters degree in literacy she hopes to finish at the end of summer 2019. Her purpose in life, from her perspective, is split into a couple different parts–on the one hand, she believes part of her purpose is to be a mom and on the other, she works to be an advocate for children. Reading with your child, she says of parents, is one of the best ways to help them learn. And so she’s not just out to make that connective difference in her own child’s life, but in the lives of every child she can.

Advocating for children, she feels, is part of her job. In a broken education system where teachers are run-down and testing is placed on a pedestal, she’s looking to make a difference in the life of each child that walks in her classroom. One of the biggest things she believes needs to change is how content is tested, saying that the education system is doing a disservice to children by basing the system on testing. For her, she wants to see the education system work to bring in better ways of testing content–through projects and hands-on experiences.

As a teacher, with everything she does in an average day, she says that the hardest part of her job is having to battle between everything she knows from her own research and classwork, against what an administration does. Her principal from last year called her a devil’s advocate because of how much she argued the system, she says with a chuckle. The administration, though, doesn’t faze her as she’s looking to make a difference and build the confidence of her students, while making sure they learn everything they need from her.

We finish talking education and start talking life, me digging into some deeper questions. I ask her what one thing is that people typically misunderstand about her. She’s got a kind of far-away look in her eyes when she speaks, like she’s trying to reconcile who she’s always been with who she needs to be. “The misconception is that I’ve got it all together because I’m doing so many things and I’m one of those people to where I break privately and so nobody sees the break and so it becomes this thing to where a lot of people think that they can expect more from me because like, ‘Oh look, she’s got everything under control. Here!’” She widens her eyes when she says this, holding out her hands in a half-joking manner.

“That’s very, very true,” I agree. “Because nobody wants to look like they can’t handle things.”

“Exactly,” she nods, “I want to look like I can handle everything you throw at me and do it perfectly well.”

“Exactly,” I look at my page, writing out some notes, and we move onto the next question. “What is the hardest part about being you?” I ask, watching as she laughs loudly.

“Do these questions get harder as we go?”

“Um…” I look down at my notes, “No.”

She takes a minute to think before saying slowly. “I have made a choice in life to not be open. I have made that choice—it has been a conscience choice and it has caused me to be almost isolated in a lot of ways and to where I never felt like I could share my struggles and therefore my struggles would become more and more overwhelming. And it also made it hard to make those truly deep connection with friends and the older that I got and the more life changes and life stages that I’ve gone through, the more distant I’ve gotten because the less I felt like I could share. The problems got more serious and the bad thing about it is, the problems got more serious and it made me feel like I could tell people less, even though I was struggling more. And it’s like I chose this and it’s a path that I, you know, went on, but as things keep going down these paths it becomes harder I guess.” She goes on to talk about growing up with brothers, how they’d told her they’d trained her to be the perfect woman–with no emotions. They hadn’t meant anything mean by it, she explains, but she wonders about the affect it had on her life. She’d always been friends with guys and had chosen to be the crazy, silly friend, she explains, “But the crazy, silly friend doesn’t tell you about all her problems–the crazy, silly friend doesn’t break down.”

We go on to talk about our moms, how the need to be less emotional tends to trickle down from them. She agrees, saying that she thinks her own mom always wanted to be strong for her family. “And that’s what a lot of us women are—we always put our family above our own needs and so we don’t want to show that we’re struggling, we don’t want to show that to our family because we feel like we’re the rock and we need to stay the rock. And I don’t necessarily feel like that’s a bad thing, but we’re also doing a disservice to our kids if we’re showing them that you deal with struggles by bottling them up and never opening up to anybody about them. I don’t think that’s a healthy way to handle things. I’m never going to be somebody who goes and tells my problems to the world, but I do feel like you need to find at least one person —one or two people— that you fully open up to.”

Nodding my agreement, we wind down the interview and I ask for the lyrics she picked out. I always ask the person I’m interviewing to bring lyrics because I think lyrics tend to say more about a person than sometimes even the person can say. In her case, that’s not the case but I ask for the lyrics anyway.

She says the song’s a little bit silly, but the true purpose of the song is what draws her to it. “We have these moments that define us, but we’re sitting here trying to define ourselves and create our idealized version of ourselves and pushing that out on people like, ‘This is who I am, look at this idealized version of myself,’ and what it does is it stops us from reflecting on the whole. And I feel like I’ve done that a lot—I choose to forget all the bad that’s happened. I choose to forget all the flaws and everything and what it does is it limits my perspective of myself and I lose an understanding of myself, of why I think the way I do, why I make the choices that I do, why I react the way I do. And while I do believe, obviously we do have choices, in who we are because our actions do define us, we also need to have the understanding of who are we in our innermost being too. And I don’t think we’ll ever understand that, but we’re sitting here trying to define ourselves by only our best qualities, it’s not the true version. Who am I to tell me who I am? I am because of everything that’s happened to me—I don’t get to choose what’s happened to me in my life.”

Well, dang–that’s good. I nod and jot down final notes, turning off the recording.

“Oh, wait,” I say a minute later, turning the recording back on after realizing I’d left off a question. “How do you add purpose into the mundane?”

“By being present–in the moment,” she says immediately, talking about how easy it is to get caught up in big-picture thinking. I ask what that looks like for her and she tells me it’s about being focused on who you’re with rather than zoning out, going on to say it brings a better appreciation for who she’s with and what the moment brings.

We left the table that night and she went off to prepare for a day full of teaching and raising the upcoming generation and I walked off to my car, feeling like I’d met a new person that night. I’d met someone compassionate and thoughtful and driven–someone with both eyes on the future while still holding onto the hands of those around her.

And in my humble opinion, if all teachers and mamas are like her…I’m a little less worried about the next generation.