i’m not a christian


“So are you a fake christian or a fake nonbeliever?” she questioned me after I told her that, no, I wasn’t going to subscribe to her line of thinking just because she said it. “It’s God’s word,” she would have insisted had I said that, her blue eyes fiercely locked with mine. It’s the classic christian way of winning an argument, by quoting something likely out of context and then stacking the deck against you. Because, you know, the Bible’s never EVER been misinterpreted.

“I’m not a fake christian,” I said, not sure of how to defend my position. How do you explain that you’re just…doing what’s right for your situation when suddenly the God of the universe is being used to squash your opinion? It’s intimidating as hell.

Christians, y’all want to know why people are leaving? Comments like that right there. Telling people if they do something it’s indicative of their most personal, intimate relationship with God. No one-NO ONE-has the right to tell anyone else how their relationship with God functions. Not a damn person. I don’t care if they’ve got the book of Leviticus memorized and tattooed on their arm, no one has that right.

Tantalizing. That’s the word that comes to mind when I think about my upbringing. I think about the time I cheated in school and turned myself in. I remember never feeling comfortable even speaking to a man in case he thought I was trying to seduce him. I remember feeling ashamed of my body, my desires, my failures, or anything that wasn’t perfect. A messy room was a heart issue. A bad attitude was Satan. A bad grade was a result of disobedience. Anything bad that happened that was normal was chalked up to a spiritual problem because American christians STILL don’t know that you can do everything “right” and still have bad things happen. What if…now bear with me here…God permits things to happen as a natural result of free will, but his only role is that he doesn’t leave our side? What if he never comes to our rescue but he gives us hope that all the bad isn’t for nothing? What if he’s working in the mess to redeem what we can’t? Isn’t that…the gospel?

Jesus isn’t your damn MLM. You don’t get stars for bringing a quota of people “back to God.” You don’t get a badge for knowing JUST the verse to put that heathen in their place. God doesn’t operate out of a box. And people don’t have to change to be part of the kingdom. The kingdom has every sort of person imaginable in it and God loves them all the same. So if thinking like that makes me a fake christian, yeah okay. I’ll take that label. I’m not a christian. I won’t subscribe to the narrative any longer.

Quite frankly, if heaven is going to be filled with shitty, narcissistic pharisees…y’all can have that.

a letter to my christian friends in the lgbtq community


The way I approached people and life came to a crashing halt last summer when I had no choice but to look my fear of getting it wrong in the face and see the damage I’d done to the people around me with my careless judgments. It was mid-August when my shift in perspective began, when I found out something about a friend of mine that, when I’m honest, hit a fear chord deep within me. For all the Bible classes I’d taken, for all the messages I’d sat through, for all the mentoring that had been given to me, I was in unchartered territory with no idea what to do.

So, like anyone else who’s afraid, I rooted out the problem. It was such a deep, resonating fear and I was sure that God was on my side. I’d always wanted to hold my faith in one hand and my desire to love people deeply in the other…but wasn’t there a line? Wasn’t there a boundary? Wasn’t there a darkness even God wouldn’t step foot in? It was what had been taught to me all my life in the sorting of sin into meh, okay-but-not-great, bad-but-not-too- bad, bad-and-let’s-not-talk-about-it-just-ask-Jesus-for-forgiveness-and-it’ll-be- fine, and oh-my-gosh-how-do-you-live-with-yourself?

I used the standard Christian line, “I’m doing this out of love. I have nothing but love for you, but I can’t watch you go down this path,” and sent my friend on their way. With one bang of my gavel, I’d banished a friend from my life and broken a friendship because of my own fear. The following week of my life was one of misery, listening to nothing but Steven Furtick messages and feeling a restlessness in my spirit I couldn’t get away from. Had I done the right thing? You’re supposed to rebuke out of love, right?

It’s a long story how I arrived at the point I’m at, but the tipping point was when I was searching for answers and realized the problem was me and my fear, not my friend. My friend was living life on their terms and walking in spirituality the way that made sense for them and I was arrogant enough to make myself the judge and the jury over something that had nothing to do with me. Less than a week after the heinous texts I’d lashed out, I called my friend at midnight and said, “Can we talk?” We went for coffee at midnight and sat across the table from each other, my friend listening through guarded eyes while I spilled my pride and apologized with tears running down my face.

What I’ve learned over the past 10 months since that night in August 2019 is that I’d rather be uncomfortable than comfortable and hurting marginalized communities. In my perspective, being comfortable is deadly. Being comfortable is as anti-gospel as it gets. Being comfortable is to let the enemy use your neighbor as a punching bag. I will not stand by and let my friends suffer in the name of Jesus just because I’m so paralyzed by my own fear of needing to get it right. I will stand and shout who Jesus really is until my voice is cracking and raspy and they’re sick of hearing me.

That brings us to pride month 2020. I’ve been a secret ally for a couple years now, starting to listen a little more than I spoke. It’s been seven years since I quoted Romans 1 to someone who came out to me and thought I had all the answers because I was required to take two Bible classes a year in college. It’s taken me awhile to come to this conclusion, but all I know is I don’t know all the answers and I don’t need to know them to love my friends in the lgbtq+ community.

As someone who follows Jesus and believes He is who He says He is, my duty is to save a seat at the table for you. My duty is to uplift you, care for you, and listen when you need a friend. My duty is not to hold Jesus hostage from you for political gain. Jesus is not on a leash. He is accessible to us all. If I was just allowed to come to the cross as I am…why can’t you?

And even if you’re not a christian like I am, my duty is to see the humanity in you and love you even if we disagree on our faiths. That shouldn’t even be a question, but there are a lot of christians who don’t see it that way and I know that because I used to be one of them.

I don’t sit here and write this to you now as a theologian or as a spiritual gatekeeper or as someone who has all the answers. God knows I don’t. I don’t have a phD and I haven’t sat with scholars dissecting biblical theology. I don’t have a divine checklist in my back pocket of what’s right and what’s wrong. (Believe me, I’ve asked for one.) Yes, I’ve read the arguments on both sides. Yes, I’ve read the verses. And I don’t know, friend. I really don’t know all the answers.

But here’s what I do know: you’re deeply, madly loved just how you are. I know you’re not a mistake. I know you were created intentionally and you’re beautiful.

I haven’t always been a safe space, but I’m here now and I do know that I will be your ally, your friend, and your soundboard. I won’t try to wash away the gay because a.) I can’t b.) you can’t c.) you being gay has zero to do with your identity.

I know that I will fight for your right to exist, your right to love, your right to marry, your right to have a family, your right to be right there in the middle of church with the rest of us without judgment or harassment. I know that in the question, “Can I be gay and a christian?” the answer is a resounding yes. I will attend your wedding, show up for your baby showers, cheer you on, and answer your call at 3 am like I would for any of my other friends.

No matter what the world tells you, all that I really know is that you are welcome here. When you break the gospel down to its core, the message is simple: We are all broken, but valued and loved by God. Jesus is the only one that has ever been perfect and he conquered death. Until He returns, we are to take care of each other, worship the one, true God, and take the light to the dark places. That’s it.

Yes, you have your flaws. God knows we all do. And friend, being gay is not one of them. Lean into Jesus. Go where He leads. And don’t feel a need to owe any of us any sort of explanation as to where you land.

In solidarity and much love,

Amanda

stories from my time in the dark: you matter a lot more than you know.


2017 was supposed to be my year.

I’d walked into the year newly 24, down sixty pounds, with a solid job and solid people around me. And then in one fell-swoop, my world came crashing down around me when I lost my job. Between February and July, I’d slipped into a deep depression, gained all the weight back, and all the carefully-crafted confidence I’d placed in self-image and self-accomplishment slowly burned in front of my eyes. It was that year, that summer specifically, that life handed me a crash-course on my mental illness that had been in the shadows since childhood. 2017 forced me to look in the mirror and see that the battle was far from over, my body war-torn and exhausted.

The worst part about struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder hands-down are the intrusive thoughts, the snake-like fear that winds around and starts to squeeze the life out of you. OCD is a deep anxiety, a deep need to cleanse and purge and perfect so our brains tell us that the way out this hell is a lot of ritual, a lot of feeling the need to tame a monster that may or may not exist, a lot of believing what everyone says about you because your brain is convinced you’re bad, so anything negative said about you must certainly be true. And with this over-active, twisting mental illness, it’s hard to decipher whether a hard time is a momentary relapse or something urgent that should be taken care of immediately.

By this time, spiritual fears and ideations had been plaguing me for nearly 8 years. Those fears combined with my mental illness took me through a rigorous loop of fear and ritual and panic attacks. I didn’t know anything was wrong; I just thought I was so bad I was unredeemable and God was punishing me. I didn’t know there was a way out of the dark.

At that time, I feasted on people’s opinions of me like they were my lifeline. A negative Facebook comment would send me into a spiral. A comment from a well-meaning friend or relative that caused me to feel misunderstood would make me want to disappear and be new. I constantly and anxiously wrote mental narratives of what would happen, what people thought, and how I was being perceived. With the loss of all my hard work and accomplishment that year, I had to face the reality that even with all the external changes and newly-found approval, nothing had changed inside and I was still sick. Summer of 2017 was the closest place to hell I’ve ever been.

I was lost that summer. I was suicidal that summer. I was sick that summer. I was angry that summer.

In June of that year, my brother offered to let me escape my reality by staying at his apartment in Atlanta while he was on vacation. Convinced being alone would be my refuge, I agreed, packed a bag, and drove the 2.5 hours between Greenville and Atlanta. I arrived on Saturday with my brother and sister, but by Sunday afternoon I was completely alone with my thoughts.

For two nights I stayed up into the early hours of the morning, the sheets stretched up to my chin. I distracted myself from the fear by watching rom-coms and scrolling social media. It was anything to keep the fear at bay, late-night phone calls to my dad, opening up my Bible and just wishing the peace would flow over me but not knowing how to find it. It was prayers to God that felt like they didn’t make it past the concrete ceiling of that one-room apartment. It was panic attacks that left tears streaming down my face, replaying suicidal ideations through my mind again and again. “What if I did something? What if I snapped? What if, what if, what if?” Being in my head felt like being in a boxing match with my demons while being covered in tar, nearly impossible. My brain became a horror film, my own imagination that had seen me through childhood hardships suddenly an unpredictable place, strewn with intrusive thoughts and laced with fear. Anything could be a trigger during that time, even after finding my therapist later that summer.

My stay in Atlanta lasted a total of three nights and a part of one day, before I packed my bags and drove home to Greenville like the runaway I felt like. On one of those nights, though, I caught a glimpse of sweet relief from the fear that was raking me across the coals. Above me, in a second-story apartment late that night, I could hear someone walking around before bedtime. I heard someone puttering around their one-room apartment: putting up dishes, turning off television, brushing their teeth. I wanted to pound on the walls of my mental prison and yell, “Can you help me?” but instead I stayed quiet and just listened, my heartbeat slowing for just a moment.

Someone was up there, living.

Someone was near.

I sank down into the fold-up bed a little deeper, staring up at the dark ceiling and thought, “Please keep moving. Please don’t go. Please stay.” When they did finally go to bed, I felt somewhat calmer, just knowing I wasn’t alone, and eventually drifted to sleep.

I would go through that mental space twelve times over to get to sit here, on my porch, and write you this letter, friend. If you take nothing else from this essay, take these words: you matter more than you know. Much, much more than you know.

I learned from experience that night that sometimes simply being present is all someone needs from you. It doesn’t matter if you have the words, the resources, the experience, the definitive answers, or the charismatic personality.

You have no idea if something you’re doing is giving someone else encouragement to keep going. That scary, vulnerable Facebook post? Share it. That person you’re thinking about? Shoot them a text. That person you can’t talk to but you keep thinking about? Send up a prayer. Sometimes it’s something as simple as giving yourself permission to mill around your apartment on a summer night because you can’t sleep.

You never know when you being awake is helping someone else get rest.

Someone needs you today. Someone needs you in the most simplistic, yet profound of ways. Someone needs to hear your voice. Someone needs to hear your story. Someone needs to see your awkward, real moments. Someone needs to see you running late into a meeting with a coffee stain on your shirt and your hair messy. Someone needs to see you trip up. Someone needs to see you mess up. Someone needs to hear you fumble for words.

How do you help others? By showing up and bringing your humanity. By doing what you can. At the end of the day, we’re all in this together and we all are little pieces of a much-broader picture that we don’t understand yet.

i’d ask for help.


I was fourteen when the flames licked the ceiling of the one-story house my family lived in, one morning after a burner mishap. My siblings and I, homeschooled at the time, were getting our day started right after our parents left for work. We lived in a white house with a picture window and blue, concrete steps that narrowed the further up the steps you walked. I was sitting at my dad’s gray, metal desk working on schoolwork while my sister made tea and my brother took a shower.

All was going well until I heard my sister exclaim and yell, “Amanda, get in here!”

I hopped up and swung around the corner of the white-tiled kitchen and watched as a flame was quickly building off a cast-iron skillet. The burner with the tea was cold, Abby accidentally having turned on the burner with leftover grease from that morning’s sausage.

After a minute of yelling, my brother came around the corner in a towel, his blue eyes wide. “What did you guys do?” he asked, sharply, looking from me to my sister and back. We briefly explained the situation and he left the kitchen, reappearing a minute later in basketball shorts and a t-shirt. I searched the cabinets for baking soda and tried sprinkling some over the pan before snatching my hand away at the last second, out of the way of the flame. The fire was climbing higher and higher and I knew that I had to stay in the house, but I also knew it was no longer safe for my brother and sister to stay.

“Go get Mr. Heaton,” I told them. Mr. Heaton was our next-door-neighbor at the time and worked nights, so oftentimes he was around during the day. They ran for the door and were across the yard in a minute. I remember watching them leave and staring up at the flame that had stretched from the burner all the way up to the ceiling and feeling the inexplicable emotion that I had to take on the danger on my own.

Something in me felt an unshakeable responsibility to not leave the house until the last possible moment that day. I was the oldest, the responsible one, the one who had to keep my siblings safe no matter the cost to me. Dramatic, maybe, but that was my firm belief system growing up and it played out into so many areas of my life. It played out when I started sneaking food, when I started pulling hair, when I started having panic attacks, when I started numbing myself to my reality, when I started surviving in the only ways I knew how. The message was always the same: be the strong one; they’re all counting on you.

Be strong. Keep quiet. Keep muscling through. Don’t look at the flames.

The day with the fire was miraculous in that I used the hose from the sink to put out the fire, which typically wouldn’t work on a grease fire, and called my siblings back inside. I was shaking, but the message of, “Be strong; they’re all counting on you,” was solidified even more.

I lived off that message until I broke. I lived off that message until I couldn’t leave a room without checking my bag at least three times. I lived off that message until I was finding places to hole away and pull hair. I lived off that message until I was 21, staring down at the rubble of my life and wondering what was wrong with me. I lived off that message until the intrusive thoughts and depressive spells and anxiety attacks were too much for me. I lived off that message until I started fantasizing about how I’d end my life, wishing I could just not exist anymore.

While I’d gotten pretty good at helping others, I didn’t know the first thing about raising a white flag of surrender for myself. I didn’t know the first thing about asking for something so vulnerable as help.

Twelve years after that fire I started sitting in the pale blue office that belongs to my therapist, a flamingo-decorated cup of hot coffee in my hand like clockwork every session. Everything I come from shouts against therapy and points to the Bible as the cure-all, but when I walked in that door for the first time I just felt permission to be.

For the first time in my life, I was allowed to be hurt. For the first time in my life, I was allowed to walk into a room and just let it go. I talked about everything that had ever hurt me–the unfair expectations placed on me, trying to be good, For the first time in my life, I heard someone say, “You have permission to pull your hair. You have permission to make mistakes.” It was like a waterfall of grace washing over me–allowed to make mistakes. Allowed to be human. Allowed to be imperfect. No agenda and no manipulation. No shame. God, no shame. Just working through the stuff, one story at a time. I unpacked my suitcase full of hurt and laid each thing out, one by one.

After over two years of sessions, I finally thought to tell her about the fire. I hadn’t thought about it in awhile, but looking back it was more formative than I’d thought at the time.

She listened to me carefully, before asking, “If the adult version of you walked into that same situation, what would she do differently?”

I looked her in the eye and said, indefinitely, “I would ask for help.”

That’s really it, reader. Out of all the fancy things I can tell you about mental health and out of all the stories I could unpack here, the one lesson that I’ve carried with me since getting better is simply: ask for help when you need it. There is no shame, no race to get better, no list of expectations. Just ask for help when you need it. Take the steps to get help because you owe it to yourself and your body to take care of you.

Maybe one day the stigma will be a paragraph in a history book about the world we live in currently, rather than reality. Maybe one day, society will look at a mental illness diagnosis the way they look at any other diagnosis: with respect. But for right now, keep fighting and keep asking for what you need. You are too important to take the chance of not getting help.

To conclude, I want to say that if anyone out there needs help, especially during this time, please feel free to reach out. My inbox is always open and I’m here to root you on, friend. There are resources there to help you; you are not a lost cause. Things might be at a stand still but your mental health is not.

National suicide prevention lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

dear single: it’s okay if tomorrow hurts.


It had been exactly a week since I’d told him how I felt and the connection between us was radio silent but deep down, I knew the answer was a resounding no. It was the day after Thanksgiving 2018 and I was walking around my room in leggings and a baggy t-shirt, a pie plate full of leftovers in my hand. I slipped on the wooden floor and fell, the tears immediately flowing hot down my face. “I really wanted to be a mom,” I whispered to God, not quite knowing where the small but simple prayer was coming from. “I really wanted to be a mom.” I sat against the wall and cried.

December 2019 and I’m sitting in my car with my best friend, head bent over the steering wheel and tears streaming down my face because for all the bending and compromising I’d done, the person who meant more to me than anyone had slipped away into the night without so much as a goodbye. She rubbed my back and let me cry.

January 2020 and I’m out on a date with someone from an app, not dressed up because I was just wanting to get it over with. I walk in and see someone my dad’s height with blue eyes and think, “Jesus, if there is anything fair and decent left in this world please let me look okay.” I listen to him talk and he shares his white sauce with me, not saying anything when I spill a trail of it across the table. I leave the date and he gives me a friendly hug; I walk to my car and think to myself as I shut the door, “It wasn’t him.” It wasn’t the same guy who’d answered my anxiety-ridden calls and helped me up when I fell and helped me clean up a shelf after I’d broken it. It wasn’t the same guy who’d helped me vacuum before a party or listened to my emotional self-loathing the New Years I was drunk. It wasn’t the guy who I’d been willing to stay friends with, no matter how hurt my own pride had been.

I tried to write a new narrative, telling myself I could be with the blue-eyed guy. I told myself that I could turn my personality down to a low rumble, not have awkward moments, not be emotional, not ask questions about everything. I’m chuckling as I write this, but I told myself I could be with someone who loves jet skis and the lake. I told myself that by the time summer came around, I’d be closer to my goal weight–maybe worth dating, by that time. I told myself I could wear sundresses and be coquettish.

But the next day when I texted him, he told me we could be friends but he hadn’t felt that spark. I sat next to my sister at the dinner table, bouncing my knee anxiously, and felt all the lies come back as soon as we read his text:

“What if I’m too emotional? Ugh, what if he thought I looked skinnier in my picture? What if he thought I was boring? Maybe I didn’t flirt enough. Wait…I didn’t flirt at all. Maybe I didn’t look interested. Maybe I’m not the sort of woman men want. Maybe when I lose the full hundred pounds…someone will want me. Maybe I’m better off alone. If it were (so and so) she would’ve been able to hang onto him. Why can’t my face be friendlier? See? Men just want a woman who can flirt and I can’t even do that. Maybe what I want to do with my life is too different. Who would want to be with someone as independent as me? Who would sign up for a life like what I want to lead? Who would want someone like…me? Maybe all the guys with the same faith as me think I’m wild. Maybe I did something wrong. Maybe God’s mad at me and has me on the back-burner. Maybe I have too many tattoos; maybe my mom was right. Maybe I’m too independent. Maybe I come off as clingy. Maybe I’m too vulnerable. Who…who could be with someone with ocd and social anxiety and a past like mine? Maybe he wants someone who doesn’t want a career…Maybe, maybe, maybe.”

The truth is, most of us have someone we’d go anywhere with but the feeling isn’t reciprocated. A lot of us really and truly are okay alone, but Valentine’s Day comes around and we look around to see that same, empty chair at the opposite end of the table, the same unanswered text messages, the same empty space where we’re told something should be there. The truth is, being single is empowering and freeing and…really hard. Valentine’s Day can feel like someone pouring salt in a wound you feel stupid for having because…shouldn’t you just be grateful? There’s someone out there with way worse problems…right?

Eighteen years ago, I was so excited for Valentine’s Day. I was a 9-year-old kid writing SWAK (sealed with a kiss…don’t ask) on the envelopes of all the valentine’s I was handing out to my crushes.

Ten years ago, I was planning a singles party with my best friend and preparing to take loads of pictures that would haunt both of us the rest of our natural born lives.

Six years ago, it had snowed in Greenville and I stood out in my backyard staring up at the sky and thinking about the college boy who was likely pacing back and forth in his dorm room, texting the girlfriend I didn’t know about.

One year ago, I was crushed and hurting.

This year, I’m content with who I am. I love my life, really and truly. But there’s a piece of me that wishes there was someone on the other end of those text messages.

Tomorrow I’ll go dark for the day. I won’t be online. I won’t be answering texts or emails that aren’t work-related. I’ll spend my day quietly, my night reflectively. No, I don’t want to talk about it. No, I don’t want to hear that he’s coming; he’s on his way because my reality is that I may be single my whole life. That’s the cold, hard truth that I have to face as a 27 year old woman. And I’m strong with that knowledge most of the time, but tomorrow…I just don’t feel like being strong.

I love seeing the photos of you with your S/O. Any other day I would smile, celebrate you, cheer you and the life you two are building on. As long as everyone’s happy and healthy, I think relationships are beautiful. I’m not jealous of your relationship. I don’t hate Valentine’s Day. I don’t think love is dead. But tomorrow is the one day I take for me, to not watch everyone else’s lives and just be grateful for my life and the people who show up on a daily basis for me, without any strings attached except that they want to and that they see me even when I can’t see myself. I may look back at posts like these and laugh one day, but for right now…I’m going to let myself be young and hurting and confused and even a little bit scared.

And hey, single? Be kind to yourself tomorrow. You’re loved even with no one immediately at your side. Go do something for you and then tell me all about it. We may not have “our person,” but we do have each other. Inbox always open and virtual hugs always ready.

Much love,

Amanda

Why Her Being Beautiful Takes Nothing From You


“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.” -CS Lewis

Just saw this quote while I’m digging into all of me to wrap up this manuscript and man. This hit. (Yep. My book comes out in six weeks and I’m still rewriting because, well, I’m me and it didn’t feel done yet. #stressfordays). This quote could easily be the foundation of everything God’s done in my life, specifically through Chasing Dandelions.

I woke up from a nightmare last spring where I’d had to watch the man I felt I was half in love with find someone. I’d woken up from the dream fighting feelings of anger and jealousy. “Please God don’t make me watch him find someone else,” I’d prayed, desperately. “Please don’t let him introduce me to someone or me introduce him to someone. Please, please be fair to me, God. Not again.” That was by far my worst fear, nearly two months after having shared my feelings with him. I was anything but over it.

The lies I was telling myself?

“If you could’ve been more mature, he would’ve fallen for you.”

“If you could’ve been skinnier, he would’ve fallen for you.”

“If it had been (fill in the blank) going for him, she would’ve won him because she’s pretty and skinny and smart.”

“If you were less emotional, more sportsy, more domestic, you would’ve been able to win him over.”

I was so steeped in lies that they were all I could see of myself and it was exhausting, trying to anticipate why someone wouldn’t want me when, as my best friend would explain over and over again, there were multiple variables and no way to know what he had possibly been thinking. I would just mumble under my breath that she didn’t understand and resort back to my standard, “Well if it had been you he would’ve said yes because you’re gorgeous.”

And she would calmly say, “Mandie. That’s not true.”

Rinse and repeat, folks. I was a lot of fun at parties. Half of the battle of knowing your worth is having someone in your corner who knows your worth and repeats it to you when you can’t do that for yourself.

Over the course of the summer every time I had to interact with someone who was gorgeous and seemed down-to-earth and logical, rather than the antsy, cellulite-filled, anxiety-ridden woman I saw in the mirror every day, I’d sit and begin to spiral into, “See? She’s this and that and this and I’m no one. No one’s ever going to want me because this, this, and this.”

But one night while I was feeling like a troll and having to interact with a bunch of other women at a graduation party, I chose to try connecting instead. Instead of writing a narrative for her, I chose to ask questions to get to know her better. And instead of comparing myself to her all night, I noticed that she was a little awkward too–she was even a little bit nervous–and I started seeing what we had in common, over what I felt I was lacking.

That was good practice because in the next few months following that graduation party my worst fear from the spring came to fruition and I had to face it head-on.

We reconnected with an old friend late in summer 2019. When I saw her for the first time, my knee jerk reaction was to be jealous because she was gorgeous and she seemed so chill and logical and I wished I could be like that. My fear automatically turned to him wanting her because I saw how much they’d have in common. With that, I wanted to disconnect, to judge from afar to protect myself but I didn’t. I reached across the aisle and told myself a new story that would change my perspective forever. I told myself that her being beautiful didn’t take away from me being beautiful too. I asked her questions about her education, her goals, her ambitions, and tried to connect as best I could.

I have a friend at work who I ask for advice when I’m being completely irrational. The week after my birthday, after having seen this new friend interact with him for a short period of time, I’d written a narrative in my head about them riding off into the sunset, having a love story knit with adventure and laughter, and being married within the year. (Because hello, I’m me and my stories go 0-100 real fast.)

“Wait, so you’ve just made this whole thing up in your head?” He put a hand up, stopping me mid-sentence.

“Right.”

“Well who the hell does she think she is? She thinks she can just walk in and snatch him up? The nerve. You need to go tell her, ‘Who the hell do you think you are?'”

I laughed. “You’re right, you’re right. I’ve just like married them off in my head and I probably shouldn’t do that.”

“Yeah, don’t do that.”

A month later when I heard that there was in fact a flame sparking between her and the guy I’d wanted so badly, I let myself cry and I let myself tell my closest friends how I was feeling, but then dried my eyes and told God, “There is a bigger story you’re telling here and I trust you.” My trust faltered, I cried a bit more, and I told God through gritted teeth, “I don’t know why you’re seemingly doing the two things I asked you specifically not to do last spring…but I trust you.”

I made a point of congratulating both of them because I wanted them to know it was going to be a nonissue with me and I wanted to remind myself that my feelings of insecurity would not take more ground here, in this moment, than what they already had. With all the times I’ve been overlooked in love, that moment is the one moment I’m proudest of because it’s the only moment where I haven’t seen myself as lesser than because someone else got what I wanted. It’s the one time I chose to believe that there’s good out there for me too, despite what was happening around me.

But y’all….

If you were to ask me what it’s cost me to write this novel…I would have to say that it’s cost everything. It’s cost everything I thought I knew, trusted in, and clung to. I have been allowed to keep nothing in this process that I wanted to keep. I have been stripped of my faulty faith, my feelings of certainty, and my expectations of life. But in place of all I’ve lost is something good and real and certain and that’s my faith in God, though still very shaky, and a thin, but unwavering knowledge that He’s good, He loves me, and there’s always a bigger story being written than what I can see or understand.

While what I lost in this process felt excessive at the time my belief systems were crumbling around me, what I gained was worth far more. And what I gained was my self-worth and self-respect and an accurate picture of how God really sees me, no matter what my feelings tell me about myself. That has been everything.

Enjoy Life To The Fullest


It was a weird thought but there I was one afternoon, before I even interviewed him, sitting and thinking about what I’d do in case of an emergency. I thought about what would run through my mind if I had to run towards a disaster most would run away from. If I knew some act of heroism could end my life, what would I think about? Would the birthdays and barbecues I wouldn’t get to see flash through my mind? Would I still run towards what could take away my life, this thing that I instinctively protect, for someone else? For someone that’s likely a stranger? Would I stop in my tracks and shut down? Or would I run head-first towards danger? I thought a lot about that and to be honest, I don’t know what I would do.

He’s someone who’s known the answer to that question most people try not to think about since age 23 when he graduated the police academy and swore to serve his community. And his answer is one that doesn’t waiver: a resounding yes.

He wouldn’t say words like that, though. He’d say he’s just doing his job; he’d say he’s used to it; he’d say he’s got a great support group around him; he’d say he’s just doing his duty.

He’s the sort of person who treats everyone like a friend and thinks about ways to help other people, down to asking which Starbucks location would be most convenient for me. It’s a Friday in October when I cross my office parking lot and head to the Starbucks less than a mile from my job. Arriving before him, I flip open my laptop and review my questions. He arrives promptly, just a few minutes after the time we’d agreed on. I smile up at him when he approaches, tell him hello, and he leads the way to the coffee line. Despite long hours and late nights, he’s never been much of a coffee person whereas I feel at home in any Starbucks I walk into. I get my usual and he gets an iced mocha and we head back to the table, making casual small talk before I whip out my notebook and press record on my phone.

He was born in Virginia, he says, but spent the majority of his childhood in Chicago, his dad working as a pastor and church planter. His family relocated when he was in middle school to North Carolina where his dad was helping plant a church and then relocated again to South Carolina when he was in his last year of high school, though he still made the long commute to his school in North Carolina for his senior year. Once he graduated he went to a technical college for a couple years before transferring to a university where he graduated with a degree in criminal justice. This upcoming May, he tells me, will be the 5 year mark of him starting the last leg of the road to becoming a police officer, going through the police academy right after college and entering the force right after graduating from the academy. In that time he’s moved up the ranks to Deputy II and would like to work his way up to Sergeant, but also does plenty of side jobs on his days off.

We dig a bit into his childhood first, him telling me stories of playing baseball with his buddies, how he hated being homeschooled for two years, adventuring with his family, and hunting. He’s always had a love for baseball, playing in both high school and college. These days, he picks up a game now and then when he can but always keeps up with his teams. He’s a thinker, often going up to the mountains to think about things and drive around. Driving around? We’ve got something in common, I tell him.

“This is something that’s a hard question,” I tell him next, prepping him for the next topic, “but not a deep question.”

“Okay,” he agrees.

I ask him what his five favorite things on this planet are and he says immediately, “You already know the first one—baseball.”

“Baseball,” I repeat, jotting it down.

“No, no, I’m sorry,” he laughs, “I shouldn’t set baseball higher than anything. That’s horrible. I do love baseball though.” Family is his number one favorite thing, he says, and then baseball. His family, he explains later on, is his foundation. He loves spending time with his brothers and sisters, parents, and nieces and nephews. They’re supportive of each other, always laughing and having a good time when they’re together. Another one of his favorite things is working on cars, a hobby of his.

I tell him he’s got two more things to list. “I mean…women,” he laughs, “That makes me sound horrible.” We both start laughing, him murmuring, “I thank the Lord every day.”

At the look on my face he laughs harder, but I write it down anyway. “I don’t know how I’m going to word that in the article,” I say, shaking my head.

“I’m just being honest,” he chuckles, “You asked what my favorite things are,” adding, “That does sound really, really bad though.”

“If that’s what’s on your heart…” I tell him, laughing.

We both come from a similar background, growing up in the church. Growing up, he says, ministry was a big part of his life. I ask him what it was like growing up in a pastor’s home, what that experience was for him. Most people, he explains, expect the kids of pastors—PKs as he calls them— to either go off the deep-end or be a goody two-shoes, but he’s grateful for where he comes from. Though his home life was more sheltered than what’s normal, he says, he wouldn’t trade the way he grew up because it taught him a lot and gave him a solid base to grow from in his adult life, chuckling that he’d probably be off the deep-end without his upbringing and the way his parents raised him. He thanks them all the time for what they’ve done for him, saying,“I’m most definitely where I am today and who I am today because of them—I mean, that’s the bottom line.”

As a kid, he tells me he was like a little evangelist himself, always trying to get his friends to come to church with him and telling them about Jesus. He and his family were ones who wanted their ministry to be about showing people how much Jesus loved them, but moving south was an unusual transition for them.

“It’s funny—I’ll make this comment real quick to you,” he says, “And I’m not trying to diss anybody.”

“Oh no, no,” I motion for him to continue.

He tells me about the differences between going to church in a place like Chicago and moving south, explaining, “You know, up there, if you try to go out door-knocking or if you’re just talking to somebody or they come to church or whatever it may be, if we’re talking about that kind of thing, you know they would either be like, ‘Shut up,’ shut the door, they’re going to be straight-up. Down here everybody goes to church, everybody has a Bible, ‘don’t sit in my pew or I’m going to get mad,’ and they’ll stick you in the back quicker than anything they can. So that kind of environment was just weird to us because we’re not used to it. I mean, gossip’s always been a big thing, but it seems like it was bigger down here. It’s like, ‘If you don’t do things like we do, you don’t belong here,’ which is not even right.” It’s a subject he could go on about, he says, adding that it’s a shame that so many people don’t want to mess with church because some of their experiences have been so difficult.

We continue the interview, swapping stories and talking about the bigger issues. One thing you’d notice about him is he raps his knuckles on the table, always watching anything going on in the background, like he’s used to staying busy. He likes being able to see the front door and I notice him looking towards the front every now and then. When you talk, though, he looks directly at you through steady eyes, like he’s listening to everything you say and sorting through it before giving his reply. They’re eyes that are used to seeing everything most people can’t imagine seeing in their lifetime–from the unthinkable to the most nightmarish realities playing outright in front of him.

I start asking him about some of the hardest things he deals with, the things that he wishes he didn’t have to deal with, and he opens up a little about his work. South Carolina, he explains, is one of the worst states for domestic violence. While they’ve tried instilling better laws, it’s a battle it looks like they won’t be winning any time soon. He explains that domestic violence typically is something they see women being victims of, but he’s also seen women beating up on their husbands.

The worst thing he deals with that he wishes he didn’t have to deal with, he elaborates, is dealing with situations where kids are involved. “That always hits me every time,” he says, “No matter what age.” And while he never wants to see anything bad happen to anyone, it’s harder for him to see something involving a child because they’re innocent. It sounds awful, he says, but some of the things he sees is like watching a video game or a movie play out in front of you, since many of the things are difficult to process. “And your mind’s like no, this ain’t real, this ain’t real,” he says. I struggle for words after he tells me about some of the things he sees because there’s no way I could understand.

If he didn’t love the job he wouldn’t be able to do it, he explains. Despite the heavy things he sees, he believes his purpose is to help people the best he can and make the community he serves a better place. “I love talking to people. I love trying to help them out as best as I can,” he says, adding, “I tell people all the time if you’ve got a problem—especially with suicidal people—if you’ve got a problem, call us, request me. I’ll give them my card or whatever and say I’ll come out here and talk to you. I don’t care—we’re going to find you help somehow, one way or another. And a lot of times that help may be limited for me because I can only do so much how and what I do, but actually just being there and talking to them and figuring out what I can do, getting family members involved, telling them resources they can go to. Of course it’s up to them, but just kind of directing people like hey, this is what you need to do.”

Being an officer has changed his whole perspective, he tells me. He’s learned how to listen to people and really hear what they’re saying so they can reach an agreement. He’s learned how much stuff goes on behind the scenes that no one ever knows about. We can just grab a coffee, he explains, and not think about it but someone became a victim today. Looking at him, you can tell it weighs on him— the responsibility he has to his community. When I ask him where he feels safe, personally, he tells me with his parents, with friends and family he trusts, and with his platoon because he trusts them to take care of him if something were to happen.

“So, it sounds like you feel safe with people you trust,” I note out loud and he nods, “Yeah.”

We wind down the interview, talking lightly. I ask him my last question and my favorite: What would you want for your epitaph to say? His response surprises me.

“Enjoy life to the fullest,” he says, joking that some might take that as a go-ahead to go smoke crack or something but he means that you should enjoy your family, enjoy your friends, enjoy what you have. “What else is there besides loving people and hanging out with people in this world?” adding later, “If you were the only person on this earth, how would you enjoy life?”

“You wouldn’t,” I agree. He adds that by being around the people you love and building them up not only are you encouraging them, you’re also glorifying God because other people really are the whole point of why God put us here.

With that final thought, I turn off the recording but snippets of the interview stay with me. It’s fall festival that night and my sister’s wondering where I am. I invite him out with us, but he has to work. He’s not affected, though, just tells us to be careful and to let him know if we run into trouble. I assure him we will. I thank him again and we head to the parking lot, going separate directions.

It’s nearly Christmas now. There have been sirens in the distance on and off in the writing sessions I’ve had, patching this story together. I think about the chaos of the blue lights, the constant adrenaline while having to remain perfectly calm, and wonder how someone would have room to still be human amongst the demand to remain in control. But he’s out there, patrolling the streets among holiday festivities and people looking forward to time off for Christmas. He’s out there in the cold, the rain, dealing with the messes that most people would steer clear of, suiting up every day not knowing what lies in store.

So, reader, as you sit with your families this season, remember him. Remember all of those in public service who work day in and day out to keep us safe. Remember them because despite all the pressure, despite all the long nights, despite all the heartbreaking images they can’t forget, they’re still showing up. And they’re not showing up just for kicks—they’re showing up to be there when we need them.

A Letter to the Girl Fighting Tonight: You Are Seen.


To the girl who’s up late tonight, fighting personal demons that no one sees:

I’m a storyteller, so I’ll begin with mine:

I sit in the bathroom, fingers at the back of my scalp searching for the coarse hairs. I pull one, two, three at a time, pluck the root, let the hair fall to the floor. Against the white tiles, I see a pile beginning to grow and I take my foot across it, scattering the hairs. I throw some in the trash can, flush some down the toilet, never worry about the ones that fall onto the carpet.

It’s been 15 years. They never see.

I sit up late, on my phone or in my head dreaming of a world where I feel safe, seen, and understood. I train my eyes on the wall, thinking and dreaming of worlds I’ll never see except on paper in another half-written manuscript. I cling to dreaming about a love that would save me, only to wake up to the thought that no one could ever step into a life like mine and find something good.

It’s been 20 years. They never see.

I eat lightly in the morning, semi-lightly in the afternoon, but heavy in the evening-midnight hours. It’s all the binging, none of the purging, all of the looking in the mirror at my expanding body, none of the things that will nourish my body. I sneak snacks up to my room, shove wrappers sporadically into the trash can so no one would notice five bags of cookies right at the top. I go to the vending machine at work, shove a candy bar in my pocket and cover it with my sweater, speed walk to my desk, and duck down to eat it.

It’s been 18 years. They never see.

I stay up late, ridiculously late, to the point my body is always tired, always exhausted. I average 4 caffeinated beverages a day. I sleep until the latest alarm goes off, throw my feet over the side of my bed at the very last minute, shower slowly, and drag myself into work.

It’s been a decade. They never see.

But God.

This is not a casual fight, so this is not a casual letter. I have an idea how you’re spending this night. I know how thick nights like these can get, the storm in your brain never letting up, that voice in your head that never stops, the harsh emotions that seem impossible to push through. I know that if you’re struggling with addiction, you get a lot of crap advice about just stopping what you’re doing. I know if you’re dealing with mental illness you get a lot of crap advice about getting ahold of yourself. So I’m not here to give you advice–as you can imagine I don’t have a lot of advice, good or bad.

But I do have a bit of hope and I’m seasoned in this fight. With that, I hope you read the rest of this like a letter from your sister who’s been in this fight, unknowingly, close to a decade and a half.

I don’t know the steps you need to take to get help. I don’t know your specific situation. But I do know that you’re seen. I do know you’re not alone. I do know that a path out of this dark moment is being mapped out for you. I do know that your story isn’t over. I do know that you matter. I know you’re loved, desperately and intentionally and fully.

I heard a Steven Furtick message about a week ago about the man in the Bible who Jesus cast a legion of demons out of, how the man had been up late in the night crying in his torment, how Jesus might have been up late too hearing the man’s cries. I didn’t fully connect to this message until he mentioned that a lot of Christians will say they’re nothing like this man who lived amongst the tombs, but asked, “But how many of us have been out walking amongst dead things?” Ouch. That was the first time I ever was able to connect with this man in the Bible, but oh how much I found in common with him.

I will be the first to tell you I have my ups and downs with God. One week I’m listening to messages on Spotify and driving around backroads with one hand in the air, belting out a Lauren Daigle song, and the next I’m sullen, to myself, and won’t talk to God at all even when he nudges me. But he is kind and he is good and he is the only one who does see the full picture. He sees me crying out amongst the tombs. He is the only one who goes looking for me when the 99 are present and singing his praises. He is the only one who spoke life over me and the only one who continues to speak it even after I’m spinning in my own filth, weaving songs of death. He springs new life from dead places. Me. He springs new life from me. And he won’t stop. Letting me go isn’t even a thought in his mind. He loves me. And he loves you.

Before I continue, I do want to note here that all my days aren’t bad or hard to handle. I have days of pure joy, don’t get me wrong. Recently, I’ve gone for swims and rocked the bikini and gone to therapy and walked downtown eating popcorn with my brother and gazed up at velvety skies full of stars and pet some baby goats. I’m sure that you’ve got your share of good and bad days too. I’ve found that finding healing looks like adding in the good, at first. It’s like the bad moments plus some of the good. Fighting the dark is discouraging because at first all you see is dark, plus a little light, and then it’s up to you to keep digging to find more of the light. Amongst the dark, friend, you’ll find a world of good waiting to be excavated out of the dark. Sometimes it just gets worse before it gets better. And maybe tonight isn’t a bad night, but an opportunity to add something in that’s good, an opportunity to find healing, an opportunity to reach across the aisle and ask for help.

I don’t know your name and I don’t know what you look like. I don’t know if you’re up working through life stress, mending a broken heart, laying there with a knot in your stomach at the thought of work tomorrow, waiting for him to call, or up dealing with the mental illness only you know about. I don’t know if you have a support team you can lean on or if you’re out there feeling all alone. I don’t know how things will turn out, if you’ll wake up tomorrow feeling refreshed or if you’ll wake up tomorrow still feeling defeated, but I do know how long these midnight hours can linger on and how heavy the load can feel right now. I know how cruel that inner voice can be–the thought that there’s no one for you, no one understands, no one thinks anything of you, and even worse, the thought that if you were to disappear your absence wouldn’t be met with sirens and people calling your name but maybe your absence would be met with silence.

We who struggle this way, with mental illness and low self-esteem and addiction or whatever it may be that’s keeping you up on this Thursday night, know that hope is not something that we can easily manufacture into the fractured pieces of our hearts. So here are a couple last thoughts to mull over before you turn over to get some rest tonight:

  1. God is on the move. You are in his sights. He is laser-focused in on you and your situation and he is in it with you. You matter, don’t you see? Doesn’t something deep in you spark to life when you hear that? I hope so. You’re allowed to rest, babe. You’re allowed to just sleep and let tomorrow take care of itself.
  2. If you Google it, the definition of warrior is simply, “A brave or experienced soldier or fighter.” And if you go a little deeper in you’ll find the word “combatant,” which indicates someone engaged in fighting a war, the antonym of this being “non-participant.” Do you know what that means? It means that as long as you’re braving the battle, taking one step at a time, never backing down, you’re a participant in that battle. And are you still here? Are you still moving even though you’re tired and worn down? Are your eyes opening every morning? They are? Wonderful. You’re a warrior. Maybe you’re new to the fight, maybe you’re a seasoned fighter, but either way you’re really freaking brave and I’m really freaking proud. This is the fight of your life and you have everything you need. You’re going to be okay.

To conclude, if you’re here and you’re with me in this let’s do three small things right now:

  1. Think of one person that you’re going to see tomorrow who’s going to be happy to see you. Can you maybe tell them what’s going on with you? Can you maybe see if they’re willing to step into this battle with you? (If you’re thinking that such a person doesn’t exist, might I suggest…maybe you’re not looking closely enough. Look harder, press harder in–that person is there. I promise.)
  2. Think of two things you’re going to do this weekend for you. That glass of wine isn’t going to drink itself, friend. That Netflix series you’ve been binging won’t watch itself.
  3. Think of three things that were really freaking good today. Say them out loud. Tomorrow you get to discover three more things that are good.

Anyway, know that I’m right here with you. The night moves on and the enemy is nearby and the battle is tense, but you are strong and you are brave and you will make it through. And it might not be the story you dreamt of, but who’s to say it’s not going to be so much better than what you imagined? Who’s to say what will happen? But you’re going to get up tomorrow, make yourself a cup of coffee, breathe some fresh air into those lungs, and try again. That’s all you can do, babe. Whatever’s stressing you out or trying your patience or breaking your heart isn’t allowed permanent residence.

You’ll figure this thing out. How do I know?

You’re a warrior.

Much love to you,

Amanda

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.