Hey Babe: When You’re Drowning.


img_1202

“Sensitive people like you and me, we have stimuli constantly being funneled into our brains. We lead different lives, but interesting ones.” -my therapist

Twofoursevenfourteennineteentwentyonetwentyfivetwentyfivetwentyseventhirtythirtyfivethirtyninethirtyninefortyonefiftyfivefiftyfive. I’m counting street signs in the back of my mind, picturing myself somewhere different, somewhere I’m seen. 

Hands tap against the wheel to the rhythm, picturing myself somewhere else, doing other things. Red light. Can I turn right? No they’re too close. Oh no I’m making the guy behind me mad because we both know I could’ve made it. Please don’t honk at me. Oh no he looks mad. Oh no oh no they’re still too close. Tap, tap, tap. Okay, I can go. Okay, I made it. Oh no oh no, speed up or you’ll make him mad. No one likes a grandma driver. Music, loud. Stop thinking, stop thinking, stop thinking–please stop thinking. 

“Where you at, babe?”

Twenty-five, gripping the steering wheel, listening to music that fit the rhythm and speeding down a highway like I can outrun the ever-turning wheel that is my own mind. As if maybe I can outrun the stories, the words, the ever-present anxiety, the constant whir of emotions that comes along with being Amanda Russell. Anxiety is part of the small print that I must have overlooked when non-existent me was like, “Yeah, God, I’ll take the Amanda Russell package for nine hundred.” Because obviously I signed up for this. I mean like…GOOD GOING NON-EXISTENT ME; YOU LITERALLY HAD ONE JOB.

“Where you at, babe?” I’m finding my own self, lost in the dark of my own mind. Some days I feel like a teacher wandering down old, empty hallways, looking for the weeping child in the corner of the hall who can’t find her way back to the room. Some days I feel like I’m having to untangle myself from my own nerves, self-soothe my own self back to the light.

“Where you at, babe?” It’s the thought I think to myself when I’m having a moment or experiencing a deep emotion that I can’t get my grip on. Getting ahold of your own emotions is kind of like cleaning out a pumpkin sometimes: it seems like there’s always more and it seems like there’s always something to get your hands around, but it’s stringy. It’s messy. And you can never grab a handful of the pulp to save your life. Guaranteed.

There are days I wish I could just turn off my mind and think about nothing. See, if I could describe the sound my mind makes it would be simply: static. Echoes of lost sound scattering everywhere and I can’t find the mute button. I’m on my hands and knees wandering around in the dark, but I can’t find that mute button. It’s constant and my mind is constantly weaving stories, weaving words, thinking, rebuilding, counting, stumbling over itself. There is never a minute I’m not thinking, creating, or worrying over something I said, did, or didn’t do. There is never a minute I’m not feeling something and sometimes I’m like a stranger in my own mind, wondering myself what’s going on. And some days my mind is so fast-paced and feelings are so high (because…LIFE) that I can barely keep up. Those are the days I need support. Those are the days I need safe spaces and safe people. Those are the days I put my hands up, take a step back.

That picture at the top of this post? This was my moment for the day, sitting in a parking lot and letting a few tears stream down my face as I texted a novel to my therapist. Today was stressful. Today I was tired and over-caffeinated. Today I had too much on my mind. Today I ripped at the seams a little bit. Today I had to practice some self-care, some kind words for my own self.

Mental health is one of the most stigmatized issues in today’s society and moments like what I had earlier would be seen as weak and deduced to simply the sum of an overly emotional mind. This attitude towards sensitive people and individuals struggling with mental health is something serious and I believe it goes hand-in-hand with the presence of social media. The attitude of  indifference is what’s in and perceived as normal while everything else is considered weak, emotional, or attention-seeking.  And God help you if you genuinely struggle with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or so on. Even cynicism is on its own platform that we call sarcasm or just being real. It’s not being real–it’s being afraid of dealing with emotions.We don’t know how to deal with emotions anymore or engage in honest community and we don’t know how to fix the problem, so we brush it under the rug. As a result, society is weeding out the dreamers, the sensitive, the kind-hearted and the honest. We’re placing more pressure on people to be perfect and that’s funneling directly into mental health issues and exacerbating the problem. We’re replacing real and honest conversations with filtered-over lives and isolated people who find fulfillment from a screen.

If you’re like me and a little tired of social media’s magic tricks where it turns real into fake and if you’re like me and ready to tackle some of these issues head-on, here’s what I do, how I take care of myself, and how I interact with others.

How I Deal:

Safe spaces\\ When it gets tough, I go somewhere beautiful. I want to feel fully at peace and fully surrounded by something bigger than myself. I go for a drive. I walk around the lake. And, of course, Gilmore Girls and a large cup of peppermint tea doesn’t hurt either.

Safe people\\On the days when it gets hard, I reach out. I used to go to anyone with a pulse who would listen and affirm me, but that turned out to just be more damaging because they didn’t know the heart of what I was telling them had to do with my mental health struggles. To be honest, I didn’t even know. But now that I’ve ripped the mask off of anxiety and look it straight in the eye, I know better. I know how it feels. I know the signs. I know where I’m at on the anxiety meter. I have better coping skills and I have a better understanding of what’s happening.

These days I have two contacts I know I can reach out to at any time, but even with them I do it sparingly because I’m aware of co-dependency and I acknowledge that’s not what I want for my life. I acknowledge depending on others for my own fulfillment is not part of the game plan. These two people are the only ones I trust with all the ugly, messy emotions and both of these people I trust explicitly with my feelings because a.) I know they’ll never give up on me or make me feel shame for the way I’m feeling and b.) I know they love me unconditionally and want to see me happy and healthy and c.) I connect with both of them in a way I don’t always connect with other people.

Kind words\\ I think one of the biggest issues with having someone in your life who struggles is not knowing what to say. Not knowing what to say is okay. Trying to get to a point of compassion and understanding is okay. Sarcasm, cynicism, or patronization is not okay. Invalidating someone’s emotions is not okay.

Here’s what we need from others:

  1. I love you.
  2. What do you need?
  3. You’re okay. You’re okay. You’re okay.
  4. I’m here. I’m on your side. You’re not crazy.
  5. You may be feeling kind of crummy, but that doesn’t take away your value. You are loved. You are wanted here. You know that, right?
  6. I’m hearing you say this one thing–what do you think you mean by that?

Here’s what we need from ourselves:

  1. I’m feeling _________________.
  2. I’m feeling this way because ____________________.
  3. The root of this feeling is ____________________.

Make it gold\\ LastlyI turn it into something productive. I write it into an Instagram post. I blog about it. I weave it into part of my language when interacting with those around me. I’m not saying I have it down or I’m good at saying the right thing at the right time, but anxiety (for better or for worse) has made me into a better, more-compassionate person.

So hey, babe? I don’t know where you’re at. But your feelings are valid. Your mental health is important. It’s okay if you’re caught in a spiral right now because you don’t have to stay there. Reach out. Get help if you need it. Even if you’re not struggling with mental health per se, you still need to take care of yourself. You still need to find people who will always have your backs. If  you have reached out or gotten help and you still feel like something is off, don’t be afraid to go a different route. Find people who will take care of you. Find people who don’t view your emotions as a burden or make you feel like you’re too much. You’re never too much and people who can help you become the best version of yourself do exist. Keep reaching out, keep speaking up, and keep building on community. 

Because at the end of the day, we need to take care of each other. At the end of the day, right now, the only people you have for certain are the people around you. And at the end of the day, we all matter significantly more than what we know. 

Hey Single: to the boys that broke and built me.


img_0180Hey single:
I think a lot of times we’re mistaken for indifferent when it comes to finding love. I think a lot of times we’re mistaken for not having a lot of feelings or being the ones left behind in the dust. But none of it’s true. Because the fact is we do have our own stories. We do have our own hurts, disappointments, and insecurities. We’re not always YOLOing our lives away. And for the love of all that’s good and holy, Eat, Pray, Love is not the anthem to singlehood or finding yourself. In fact, it’s a very rare anthem. Being single has a rhythm all its own and it’s different for everyone.

This is not a post I’d planned for the week, but something in me knew it was time to tell these stories. For better or worse, these are the stories of some of the guys who both broke me down and built me up and taught me a little more about life and what I wanted out of it.

Without them, I wouldn’t be able to take myself out on my own ice cream dates or know what I’m looking for or finally be comfortable in my own skin.

Part I— To the boy who took me on my first date:

It wasn’t a big deal. I acted like it wasn’t a big deal, but oh, to me it was. It wasn’t actually a date and I knew that. Because in reality, I’d crushed on you since the summer I was sixteen and you were my brother’s friend who probably had no idea. Because in reality I’d wanted to ask you to the dating outing flat-out, but I was so scared that you’d say no that I randomly brought it up one day while we were both in a group of friends and said I wanted to go with a friend. It was only because another friend pointed at you and asked, “What about him?” that I was even able to muster up the courage to ask, “Would you?” You shrugged and said, “Sure.”

But on that November day, you showed up when I’d been pacing around the house all day, mentally preparing myself for you not to show up. Because who’d actually go to a dating outing with their friend’s awkward sister? But you did. You showed up on time and came up to the door. You waded through the awkward moments where I was shaking so bad, I could barely mumble, “So how was work?” You made the conversation easy when my heart was pounding in my chest.

Then when it came time for the pumpkin carving contest, you just examined our very basic pumpkin and said, “No, we can do better than this.” So we made it into a Frankenstein pumpkin and won. Like the nineteen-year-old bosses we obviously were.

And so, to the boy who took me on my first date: you offered me your jacket and talked about how much you loved your sister. You taught me what respect for other human beings looks like. You taught me what kindness looks like. And most importantly, you shattered the illusion that guys have to be detached, indifferent, or cocky—that whether feelings are involved or not for his side, there are guys who will still be kind and still show up. You set the standard and I’m thankful you did.

Part II—To the boy who kind of knew:
I remember the day she told me I’d have to work with you one-on-one and I told her no. I asked if there was a way around it because I was always so awkward around guys and I didn’t want the awkward encounters. There was no way around it. My friends all laughed at me because lord above, they knew how single I was and that you were one of the popular ones. I remember the first time we started working together, how you had this look in your eyes like you were picking up on all the nonverbal cues being passed around between me and my friends. But despite myself, you became my friend too and I found myself hoping that I would be the one to change your mind about staying single for the rest of your life. But that simply wasn’t my role.

I also remember the day you walked out for Christmas break, how you never said goodbye. I remember how I felt when I realized you weren’t ever coming back. And I remember when I ran into you and the girlfriend I didn’t know you had, how I, at 21, stopped believing that anything good would ever happen to me.

So to you— the boy who taught me about sarcasm and not caring about other people’s opinions: you were my friend. You listened when I spoke and shook your head, saying, “Of course you did,” when I told you about accidentally finding out about my surprise birthday party. You taught me about not taking life too seriously. And lastly, you showed me that even when I feel a connection to someone, it doesn’t make it real. It makes it a dream.

Part III—To the guy who drove me cross-country:
Most people don’t do stuff like what I did—23 and accepting a temporary traveling job where all the videographers are packed into one hotel room, strangers or not. They wouldn’t have said yes despite all the red flags, despite the fact that the first and only travel job involved traveling 13 hours with and staying in the same hotel room as a stranger they’d only met twice. They wouldn’t go out and have their first beer with two men they barely knew just to look cool. But I was so determined to travel, so determined to be seen as cool, so determined to be detached from my good girl roots that I said yes even though everything in me said, “No, no, no.” I simply packed my pepper spray and texted the tag number to my parents and got in the car, driving into Louisiana that November night. The next morning, over orange juice, we sat in sullen silence and I watched a bible study from a few tables away, realizing at that moment that I was directly opposite to everything I’d ever been in my life. I followed you out of that cafe, holding onto my bag and feeling like a fake.

The weekend couldn’t have gone worse as far as work goes. It was my training weekend and you were the only one there to show me the ropes, but the venue was large enough that we needed a team of five but there was only you and me. On our way back from Houston, we were both stressed out and mad at each other. But you bought me Subway and listened as all the anxiety-ridden stories flowed out and I blabbed at least half-way back to South Carolina. You told me about your past and I told you about mine. You taught me how to grow up but you taught me a couple other important things:
1. Grab the keys. Empower yourself. Push yourself to learn.
2. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t be so afraid to get something wrong that you freeze up on the job.
3. People are much more complex than they typically let on.
4. Even if it turns out fine and you learn a lot, don’t ignore red flags. Don’t say yes to things you’re actually uncomfortable with.

Part IV—To Mike from LA:
I don’t even think I’ve told my mama about you, but you were my virtual flirtationship. (Sidenote for the readers: Yes. 22-year-old me had what would be referred to as a flirtationship. You should know I’ve pled the blood and washed my walls with holy water. Jesus, take the wheel.)

If you had to know anything, you should know that I got the app out of loneliness. You should know that I only ever wanted to talk to someone. I got the app because I was so tired of never having anything interesting happen that I downloaded it just to see what would happen. And you were the only one I ever messaged with who was actually a kind person. Sure, you might not have been who you said you were and you might have just been a troll but I didn’t mind. I never had to block you because you never asked for pictures. I never had to hide who I actually was because you just built me up and said things like, “You seem like the kind of person who has the determination to lose the weight. But I bet you’re beautiful,” and “If you lived in LA, I’d take you out.”

(Another sidenote: No, I didn’t have to hide who I was. At that point, it was PURELY recreational.)

At that moment, I really, really wanted to live in LA. Because no one likes being 22 and alone. But you were good with my standards and happy just to talk to me, even if it took me days to reply sometimes. And it was me who said goodbye to the whole friendship after scrolling through the messages and realizing how dead it was—after realizing I didn’t actually know you and it wasn’t actually real. But you respected my decision and taught me that even strangers on the internet can be a positive thing and I’ve never let go of that lesson.

And also, I would’ve gone on that date. One hundred percent.

Part V—Finally, to the guy I met on Bumble.
You didn’t know this, but I’d never been formally asked out. You didn’t know that I was a 23-year-old kid who was just trying to figure out if there was a space in the dating scene for me. You didn’t know that I was more or less just looking for a friend. You didn’t know that I didn’t actually believe I’d meet someone for me on that app. And, lastly, you didn’t know that at the time I’d lost 20 pounds and was actually pretty proud of myself.

I didn’t get what I wanted in that situation—I got someone who made me cry instead. I got someone who called me obese and said I wasn’t pretty enough to be picky. And all because I told you I didn’t want to go to your house after a ten minute conversation.

You taught me two things:
1. You made me think. Anyone who has that high of a standard for someone else, must believe they live up to that standard themselves. When they fall from that standard, they lose everything about themselves that they feel is important—they lose identity. I learned I’d much rather be comfortable in my own skin than struggling to live up to an ideal. So thank you.
2. You taught me compassion for anyone who’s struggling with appearance because I’d never been fully rejected by someone based on my own appearance. It had only been a fear of mine, to be rejected. So thank you. You showed me that I could live with a full rejection and be perfectly fine. And I hope you find some compassion for your own self too.

Psst– hey, single? Before I leave you with these, you should know that these are the stories I’ve kept locked away for a long, long time. I don’t know if any resonate with you or not—this was just what I knew I needed to say tonight, to you. I’m sitting here at 2 am and I don’t know if you can remember a time where you wanted to speak up but didn’t or if you fell hard for someone who chose someone else or if you ignored red flags and went anyway or if you had a little thing with someone only to realize it wasn’t real or right. But if you have ignored the warnings or stayed silent or gotten hurt, you’re not alone in it. Your feelings are valid and you have full permission to mourn the loss of a dream or the loss of a friend.

But you don’t have permission to stay alone because you believe that’s the only way for you. Don’t be afraid to get back up, love. Don’t be afraid to fall again. And don’t be afraid to just see if there’s anything there. Because maybe, maybe not, but you’ll always wonder if you never go for it.

And for lord’s sake, don’t be ashamed of your own story, even if it did result in getting hurt or, even worse, regret. Your story matters. It matters so much because it matters to you. 

 

What I Did Instead of Date.


15134809_10211712632636199_2309973616293864592_n-2

“I would do anything for you, sir. Anything that was right.” -Jane Eyre

 

I. Part one: where I’ve been.

Pink and white checkered shirt, short-sleeved. Sunday night. Twelve years old. I’m standing there in front of my mom’s mirror, studying my own body and pressing on my waist like maybe if I applied enough pressure the excess fat would magically go away.

I think I could have a figure,” I thought, “…if all this would go away.

(Thirteen years later. )

“What’s wrong with how you look right now?”

Wednesday nights are my therapy nights. My therapist always looks directly at me, like she’s noting the way I speak, the way I look off into the distance when the words won’t come, the way I rake fingers through my hair when I’m nervous. She’s one of two people who’s ever asked me that question specifically, asking me to dig deep inside my own thoughts and figure out why I don’t feel beautiful right here, in my own skin.

I hear my own voice speak, slow, “Well…it’s not beautiful.”

“Why?” she doesn’t negate what I say or head into motivational-speech time, just keeps eyes on me, waiting patiently.

“Uh…” I trail off, waiting for the lightbulb moment, “I…don’t know.” It just always had been that way, since the moment family members started noting the unusual weight gain at eleven and the way I’d watched my friends slip into the junior section like it was nothing at all, while I was headed into this in-between where I didn’t know what would fit me. Since the church elder told my dad that my sister and I wouldn’t marry more than Ingles bag boys if we didn’t slim down. Since the brown-eyed boy who’d offered me his jacket that night and partly because I’d been afraid it wouldn’t fit, I declined. Since the boy who looked like Peter Pan all grown up ended up with someone who was everything I wasn’t when I wanted him to be different–when I thought I needed him to see me.

“Why don’t you think about that this week?” my therapist suggests. “Why is having more fat on your body something that takes away from your beauty?”

And she leaves me with, “I wish you’d have more compassion on yourself.” It’s a shock to the system when she tells me things like that because no one ever tells us to be kind to ourselves, especially not in a world where Facebook threads are on full-alert and nothing is ever said without the political edge.  

II. Part two: what I’ve done instead of date.

Being in a relationship would have ruined me. 

This realization is one that’s come slow, like a deep breath you don’t want to take before plunging into deep waters. But once you take it, you realize it’s good and right and life-giving. For a long time, I blamed how I looked for why I was so alone. Nothing was right–not my hair, not my thighs, not my stomach, not my slouched-over appearance from trying too hard not to look like a giant in the crowd. I felt huge. I felt ugly. I felt unloveable. But you know what? I know now that I couldn’t have been further from the truth. I know now…had I gotten what I wanted, I never would’ve had what I have now.

When my dream world came crumbling down in 2014, it made all the difference in my life. At 22, I’d finally learned that no one was going to do anything for me and I started doing the things I wanted to do.

I went to the state fair. I got a henna tattoo. I rode a camel because I wanted to.

10624715_10205458343202872_691310000072892178_n

I got a pixie cut. And I looked the boy who made me so sad directly in the eye for the first time.

13403132_10210127271323157_2609033675333864255_o

I made amazing friendships and got to be there for them in ways I never would’ve been able to had I been in a relationship.

I graduated with my friends, road-tripped, took a traveling job and went to Houston with a stranger (note: I’m not saying I was the brightest bulb, but here we are anyway. BLESS.) I volunteered with a nonprofit I was passionate about, found other talents I didn’t know I had, started taking long drives just because, found my own voice, and started the book. I learned to date myself. I learned that I liked rom-coms more than any other movie genre ever. Give me McConaughey or Hanks over De Niro any day. I learned that It’s A Wonderful Life is better in July. I learned that red lipstick is my thing…or at least the thing that I want to be my thing. I learned that red hair is not. I learned that I could do things I never thought I could.  I learned that men’s pajamas are way better than women’s.  I learned how to ignore the trolls that want more than you’re willing to give. I learned how to laugh at the guys who take themselves too seriously. I learned how to be alone. I’m not the least bit afraid of being alone. And I’m not going to give someone the time of day if the only reason I’m with them is to avoid being alone.

Forget. That. 

And finally, finally–I learned I actually liked myself, even when I was having an ugly moment. I learned I liked being in the skin I’m in.

Also, yes I got that cat. And she’s adorable. A little weird, but you know…consider the source, people.

img_0544

 

Most importantly, though, I got to know my sister, my brother, my mom, and my dad better than had I just shot off into whatever relationship I thought would bring me the ultimate happiness. I’m so grateful for getting to know them better.

 

So, hey, babe? Here’s the deal:

  1. You’re going to have a lot of feelings about being single. You’re going to be lonely sometimes. You’re going to be tempted to shoot a message to that jerk on Tinder. Maybe you’re even going to want to backtrack to the last relationship you had and beg for a do-over. The single best piece of advice I can give you is simply: if you find yourself misplacing your value, put it back where it belongs. Your value is yours. It was given to you long before you ever took a first step. Don’t forget it’s there because of something  somebody else said.
  2.  You’re going to be given a lot of advice as a single person. Don’t necessarily listen to all the advice that’s thrown at you. Don’t listen to the people who tell you you’re running out of time or ask you personal questions about how you live as a single person. Don’t even pay much attention to the people who tell you, “Hey, he’ll come along one day. Don’t give up on your prince charming.” BLAH.
  3. He/She might not show up, love. You might not find someone. I might not find someone. But do you know what? I’m still going to get up every morning. I’m still going to write books. I’m still going to show up for friends’ birthdays with cracker candy galore and coffee mugs because THIS IS HOW I SHOW AFFECTION. I’m still going to love every aspect of journalism. I’m still going to be passionate about making a difference and the destigmatization of mental health issues.  I’m still going to send out Christmas cards in mass and dance around my kitchen to Lorde. I’m still going to be me. I’m still a package deal, including all the bits and pieces that no one else will ever know about. And you get to be who you are too. He/She might not come along, but you still get to be here. You get to live out purpose no matter what. That, my friend, is everything.

Make the move. Go for the coffee date. Date around, make friends, don’t think too much, live your life. But don’t settle until it’s right. Don’t settle until you find the one who’s good to you. Find the person who makes you laugh harder than anyone else and sees you for you, even on your crummiest days. But for now? Be yourself. That’s your one and only job: to do what’s right for you in this moment and be present in your own life, with your crazy, loud friends and the cat who definitely loves milk and lounging on the roof more than you.

III. Part three: where it all ties together.

And you know what else? It’s been about a month since I was first asked to define beauty. Nearly a week ago, my therapist asked me to finish some sentences for her.

She started, “I am…”

Immediately, a word popped into my head and I found myself frowning, tilting my head to one side. That can’t be right, I thought. 

I looked at her, “Does it have to be the first word?”

“That’s preferable, but you don’t absolutely have to.”

“It’s just…” I shook my head, “I don’t know where it came from. I don’t think it’s accurate.”

“What was it?”

Sheepish smile, I said, “Beautiful.”

She nods, once, smiling, “I like that.”

 If you asked me what I’ve done, in conclusion, instead of date, I’d tell you simply: I lived. I found my own beauty. But, hey, babe? If you don’t know where your beauty is at the moment, give it some time. You’ll find it. I promise you’ll find it. 

 

Coffee Date: When God Doesn’t Email Back.


img_1060(I started meeting you here for coffee every month the end of last year, courtesy of my brilliant friend, Erin, who is one of the beautiful minds behind Coffee Dates. As always, please feel free to write your own Coffee Date or email me here. I’m always here and the coffee’s always on at my place. So come on in, love.)

Hey babe, let’s do coffee. I hope so much that you meet me here.

Me: Hey, Mom, if we were on a coffee date, where would we go?

Mom: Not Starbucks. 

So, coffee date, if we were on a coffee date, we’d be at Atlanta Bread Company (although if I’m honest, I’m currently sipping a pumpkin spice latte. From Starbucks.) One with a fireplace. And one of us would have to get hot chocolate. Mom’s orders, but she’s probably 100% right. As always, you can meet me in the comment section or the email. I’m always, always there.

If we were on a coffee date, I’d ask if you’ve ever read If You Find This Letter. This book, guys. GAH. With as long as I’ve followed Hannah Brencher, it’s a shame I just got around to reading her inspiring memoir, but I think sometimes we put off reading the things that will move us the most. I still have a few pages left, but it’s got me wanting to leave love letters all over this city of mine. I’ve already left a few in the hands of close friends and family to let them know I see them, but I’m craving more love letter writing. My mom got me these greeting cards for my birthday and I’m planning on using every, single one of them to redeem that start to 25. Sometimes God does that, doesn’t He? He provides little things to redeem big issues.

PS, coffee date? Do you need a love letter? Shoot me an email. I’ll respond. Tell me what you need, coffee date. I’m italicizing and bolding because I want to know how I can write to you. Any day, any time, coffee date. 

If we were on a coffee date, there would be zero pause before I told you about my emails to God. In fact, even when I’m praising that book I’m itching to talk about the emails. Because as I was reading Hannah Brencher’s beautiful words, I found where she started an email address to God–one that only she and God could ever see–and just started shooting off emails as a tangible way to reach out when she felt alone. It took me approximately four seconds to decide I wanted that too. I needed a space to just go crazy, wild and say all the things I’ve never said or almost said. I needed an action with my words and pressing that send button was everything. I think I’ve sent five. I ask God about the things that were spoken over my life, I ask God about last spring, I ask God why the person I thought would be here by now isn’t here yet.

If we were on a coffee date, we’d get real personal for a minute, coffee date. Because I think I need to. And maybe you do too. In these emails, sometimes I get really angry at God. When I even think to send them, it’s not pretty. I’m whiny. I’m angry. I’m messy. I’m not devout or full of grace or love or compassion. I’m nitty-gritty, why-do-You-let-this-happen–zero black and white, just questions full of colors. But I never invite God to a coffee date. I forget He’s more than a checklist. I forget God doesn’t exist to make everything better. I forget that there’s no secret message in Hebrews that I can decode to read, “Amanda. On this day you will fall in love and on this day you will finish the book and on this day you’ll get published and on this day your words will spring forth into the world and everything will be fine. Go get yourself some coffee, girl, and work on your autograph.” And you know what, coffee date? Sometimes it hurts when–not only does He not send answers to my immediate situation, a lot of times He gets really, really quiet. The sort of quiet where He’s looking right at you, but not saying anything. It hurts because I know He could–but you know what? He always reveals why He doesn’t turn things around. It’s quiet, on time, and a carefully constructed response. He doesn’t lower Himself to meet my emotions, yes, but neither am I left hanging. I still don’t know about the dreams I’ve experienced or the things that have been spoken over my life or the feelings about specific people I just can’t shake, but I do know about God. And He’s got me. Somehow, some way He’s got me.

If we were on a coffee date, I’d ask the Erin sort of questions. I have this friend who fills my life with lots of laughter, tacos, and adventures every time she’s around and is hands-down one of my favorite people. A few weeks ago she sent me a text and said, “How are you doing? In all honesty.” She wanted the brave, the bold, the messy, the honest truth. And so, coffee date, in all honesty–how are you, babe? How’s life? Is it all falling apart? Because that’s okay. Falling apart is okay. Falling down is okay. But staying down? That’s not part of the deal. You have permission to fail, permission to be breakable, but zero permission to throw in the towel and stay out of the game. 

If we were on a coffee date, I’d tell you I’m learning to be brave. I’m learning to be really, really brave because it counts. Being brave doesn’t equate perfection; it simply means you don’t sit at home when you know you have work to do. You don’t let fear get a say in whether you go in to work or not or whether you go live on Facebook or not.  If you don’t leave the battle, don’t go home when you want to, it will get better.

So, babe, real talk. What are you afraid of? I mean, really. What’s stopping you from doing the thing you know you should do?

If we were on a coffee date, I’d tell you to do the damn thing. You know what it is: the gym, the to-do list, the budget cuts, the meal prep, the emptying of the cat litter, that one, stupid conversation you’ve been putting off, the studying, the book you’re elbow-deep into writing or reading or editing. Just do it. Make it smaller, then take out the task.

Side note: unless it’s giving your cat a flea bath. I give you full permission to procrastinate on that.

If we were on a coffee date, I’d tell you to find someone that writes into your story. I’ve always been in love with the idea of being written to because sometimes–if I’m honest–as a writer it feels like I spend all my time writing to other people. But when I sit back and think about it, I am being written to in unique and beautiful ways. Little cards from distant friends, little ‘this made me think of you’s’, friends asking if I want to head out to coffee, random texts, and the list goes on. Find your people, babe. Find people who will eat Taco Bell with you in random parking lots and go for coffee every Sunday night and But don’t expect the way they write into your life to look like what you’ve imagined in your own head. Let people be. Let them love you the best way they know how.

If we were on a coffee date, I’d ask about your end of the year. Is it going okay? How are you adjusting to these darker nights? We’ve got three months left of 2017, babe. Get out there and enjoy it while it’s here.

Last but not least, if we were on a coffee date I’d ask what your fall bucket list is. Don’t have one? Just give me three things you have to do for it to be fall. Give me the traditions, the baking recipes, and the scarf/legging combos. Go, go, go.

Hey Babe: Don’t Run Away.


img_1013Hey babe.

Sometimes it feels like the world should just stop turning.

I left work today, wondering how we all do it. How do we get up and go back to work, answer phone calls and drink old coffee and sit through five o’clock traffic, when it seems the world is crashing down all around us? How do we murmur prayers ceiling-ward when it feels like so much more is wrong than what could ever be right again? How does the world continue turning when there’s so much hurt, so much horror happening in this world? How do we gulp back the tears when we know the 8-year-olds today are being sent to school with warnings that we’d never imagined when we were their age?  How do we not press the ‘pause’ button, mourn in the streets and lay it all down for a day? Some days it feels like I’m numb to it all until I make myself click on that article–make myself look at the pictures. Even the pictures with warning labels, I make myself look at because I don’t want to be numb to it. I never want to be numb to this. I read their stories. I don’t give evil its platform–evil has had its time on the platform. I want to see their faces–the beautiful, honest faces of people who were just trying to live their best life in and out, every day.

The news is rattled with disaster after disaster, telling us story after story of how America is more divided than ever, natural disasters, politicized groups of people stacked against each other, each screaming louder to be heard. But the worst of it always hits us where we least expect it–in churches and school rooms and night clubs and concerts. Places where groups of people meet to worship, learn, and enjoy their lives. And the worst of it is I know there are people out there asking why? Why? What did I do to deserve this? There are still people from previous tragedies asking the same questions, searching for the same answers. I just want to cup faces and hold tight and whisper over and over until they believe me, “It wasn’t about you; it was never about you. I don’t know why. I just don’t know why.”

But, hey, babe? I’m young. I don’t know it all and I don’t have the answers. I wish I did. Something in me (and I think in all of us) wants desperately to shout the truth so effectively it silences all the fear, all the evil. For good. I want to step onto a platform in front of the entire world and just say, “Hey! Remember when we believed it could be good? We can believe that again. We can fight for it to be good again.”

But I think this is the part where we dig in when we want to run and hide away. I think this is the part where we find our strength in clasping hands, loving louder, and unraveling the ties that seem to bind us. This is the part where we say no to the darkness–that no matter how bad it gets, it doesn’t get to write the ending because we will fight it to its very core. This is the part where we find common ground and fight for it, choose kindness, bravery, and compassion over anything fear and anger have to offer. We will hold the late-night intercessions and have the uncomfortable conversations. We’ll keep watching the news and doing the research and fighting to effect change.

This is not about any differences that we might have.

This–right here and right now–is not about anything overly politicized by mass and social medias. This is not a Facebook thread or a Thanksgiving dinner conversation gone wrong. This is about people. It has to be about people from here on out or we’ll lose every single time. We need to reframe how we see people and we need to reframe the way we handle tragedies–this is not the time to run, turn numb, point fingers, or skim over rootless reasoning. This is the time to stay, to dig in, to have the conversations.

And maybe we’re just little lights in the dark. Maybe the only thing we’ll ever accomplish is chipping away at our own darkness in our corner of the world. But you know what? There’s always more room for stars to light the sky and if we choose to be lights–even if we are just little lights in the dark and even if we feel like we’re standing by ourselves sometimes–those little lights in the dark are infinitely more important than anything the darkness can hurl because we’re always there: living, breathing, pulsating hope on fire. Nothing can stamp out hope.

In honor of all the work that still is yet to be done, I’ve found a few ways we can all help victims of some of the most-recent tragedies along with a few nonprofits that are working alongside some serious issues and could always use more support. I’ve also included some local charities that I’ve been a part of over the past few years: