6 must-read books for the ones looking for God.

I read a lot of books. And I definitely owe you a lifetime book list or something like that. But I am asked pretty often what books I would recommend to someone who is looking to dig deeper into their faith.  Maybe that's you. You think you know what you believe but you have some questions. You have doubts. You want to know more. You want another layer deeper.

I'm excited to introduce you to six books which were pivotal in my own faith.

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Don't miss the call.

Callings.

I want to talk about them for a few minutes. We use this word a lot. When I first started going to church, that's what everyone talked about. People spoke about callings like they were waiting on a legitimate phone call from God with specific instructions. As if God were going to mouth into the phone, "Go to the closet and pull out a black shirt. Put it on. Grab your bag. Go outside. Take the A bus to downtown and wait for me there."

Do I think God is mysterious and weighty? Yes. Do I think there are some things we can't know right now? Sure. But I don't think God holds out on people. The God I know doesn't dangle a "calling" in front of your face and taunt, just try to figure this one out! I can't imagine a God who tells us to put our life on pause and just for the calling to show up.

The calling talk exhausted me. It made me feel like maybe I missed the phone call. Like this phantom "calling" everyone talked about was visiting everyone but me. 

And then I learned something pretty valuable. It maybe took me 5 years of working for myself to let it sink in but I think I am grasping it now. My calling isn't some castle in the distance that, if I work hard enough and pray even harder, I will suddenly get to. My calling could very well be a castle but it's not in the distance and it's not just going to appear. I must build it. Brick my brick, I have to build the life I want. I can't just expect it to arrive without the work.

Now some people are going to be real dumb and try to convince you that you need to walk cautiously in everything you do. They will try to fill you with this "don't step on the crack or you'll break your grandma's back" kinds of fear and tell you that IF YOU MESS UP THEN YOUR CALLING ISN'T GOING TO HAPPEN.

Pause the crazy.

Let's talk about Jonah for two seconds. Jonah is that character in the bible we all know from that one time he got swallowed by a whale after trying to run from God. The moral of that story always was: listen to God, don't make him angry, or else a massive Orca is going to come and eat you.

Admittedly, I never grasped a deeper meaning to that story until recently when I read it for the first time as an adult. I honestly didn't even know it was a book in the bible. Jonah has his own book. I mean, the dude there has to be a story bigger here than "man meets whale" if he got his own book. 

What we never talk about in the story of Jonah is how he clearly messed up because he allowed fear to take over. Turns out, it was fear and a little bit of pride. God gave Jonah a clear mission and Jonah didn't really want it to go that way. He had bigger plans. He had different plans. This is me often: God, I want it to look different. Yes, use me. But wait... I have clear guidelines. 

God does not need to subscribe to our guidelines.

God used Jonah anyway. Even though Jonah ran as far from this calling as possible, God picked up right where he left off and had Jonah do the exact thing he wanted him to do before the whale drama. God didn't give up on Jonah. He allowed Jonah to be human and he still picked him for his team.

The story doesn't end when Jonah the human messes up, misses the mark or gets spit up by a whale. This is a story about redemption and it's also a reminder: keep your eyes on God above the calling. 

I don't think we can treat this idea of "calling" as if it were the 4 pm train that only stands still for a minute before it roars off into the distance. Your calling isn't something you step into once. Your calling is something you are constantly stepping into.

You are in the middle of your calling right now. If you are in a bad job, you are in the right place. If you are in the best season of your marriage, you are in the right place. If you are suffering and shaking, you are STILL in the right place. In the bad and the good, your GPS location is not an accident and every space will be a teacher if you allow it to be.

Some stretches of time in your life are going to feel more meaningful than others. Some will herald more celebration than others. The mistake gets made when we belittle our current location in the journey because we just want to be "there" now. I think "there" is really just "here" with more wrinkles in its face. I tell myself, stop waiting to arrive and just be here now. This day counts. This hour. All of it.

How to be steadfast.

I think faith is like a muscle. We have to train it. We have to push it. We have to build it. As I train in the gym, I realize that I can only take on more weight when I've learned how to properly handle the weight in front of me. I think faith is the same way. You dig. You pray. You experience something. Your faith grows. More comes. More struggle. More hard stuff. And, as you stay in the fight, your capacity grows as well. 

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Digging deeper into the Scriptures.

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I don’t remember sitting down with a bible for the first time. I really don’t. I know for the first few years of growing in my faith, I kept everything inside this one journal. I would write down my feelings and prayers. Somewhere in 2011, when I started going to a church for the first time as my own choice, I started sitting with a bible.

The bible at first glance is a pretty intimidating book. I didn’t know where to begin and there are some days, five years later, where I still question where to dig.

There was this one night at Taproom where I was sitting at the bar by the window reading through a Charles Spurgeon sermon I’d printed out. I kept having this reaction to the text-- nearly every line-- like, “Oh my goodness, how did I not know this? How did I not see this?” There was this overwhelming feeling inside of me that suddenly I had so much to learn. Though you could argue I have a lifetime ahead of me to learn about God, a lifetime suddenly feels too short for all the studying I want to do.

 

...

I used to feel lost when it came to studying the bible. My time with God was stale and a bit lifeless. I would read a page of a devotional and that would take up five minutes of my time. There was no space in that study time to get to know God better, to ask Him questions, or to search out answers.

Be encouraged if you are starting small: your hunger for the word of God can absolutely grow and expand.

Today, I study everyday. I do everything humanly possible not to miss these study times. They are the first thing I do on a daily basis. I either study from my office or I pick a coffee shop (usually Taproom) to sit down and dig in.

My studying time usually averages an hour a morning though there are definitely days where I go for two hours easily. I find that the more time I spend with God in the morning, the more my day expands and I suddenly feel a lot more ease about the hours ahead and the tasks I need to accomplish.

I compiled a list of resources to help you dig deeper into the scripture:

 

SHE READS TRUTH

I think She Reads Truth is an awesome resource for those who are new to studying the bible and are looking for a devotional to accompany their journey. They have a fantastic app that is easy to navigate and the studies are either free or available for two to three dollars. Mind you, that’s two to three dollars for a 14-40 day study! The benefits of this app are worth it. You’ll gain community and the council of wise voices who are writing the content for you.

 

SEARCH THE SCRIPTURES

I just started digging into this devotional and I am absolutely loving it. I bought it for $3.99 off of Amazon. Search the Scriptures is a 3-year devotional that leads you through the entire bible. It’s not overambitious but what I love about the devotional is that it leaves the text of the bible open-ended for you. You dig. You search. You write down answers.

A lot of devotionals out there are more for the “beginner mindset.” The devotionals are packaged with answers and wrapped with a bow. For me, I like the task of searching for myself. I am more likely to retain information when I discover it on my own.

 

GIRL CRUSH

I was debating on where to put my friend Jane in this blog post. I immediately concluded that Jane must be her own category. So meet Jane. Jane is about to be your bible study girl crush. I mean it.

Jane taught me how to dig in the Word of God. She is who I thank for teaching me how to develop a hunger for the Bible. Jane taught me to cross-reference, highlight, interpret and translate. She's a beast and you should sit at her feet and learn everything she has to teach about Jesus.

I will just drop the link for her website here and you can go get lost in her stuff for an hour.

 

COMMENTARY

Lane and I are big fans of commentary. I feel comfortable enough with you guys to nerd out over the fact that I just bought three books the other week to begin our first commentary collection together. Bible commentaries “aid in the study of Scripture by providing explanation and interpretation of Biblical text.”

Most times, bible commentaries are broken down into books of the bible and are written by popular theologians who know their stuff. I recommend the following commentaries to get you started:

Matthew Henry Concise Commentary of the Whole Bible

Parallel Commentary of the NT (Spurgeon/Wesley/Henry)

 

PICK A PLACE AND PLANT DOWN

The bible is especially intimidating (and not very attractive to keep coming back to) when you always stick with the grab-and-go method. In order to get the most out of the text, you must be willing to plant down your roots and do the hard work of studying, asking questions, and finishing.

By “finishing” I mean, commit to an entire book of the bible. Commit to studying everyday until you finish it. This summer, I committed to the book of Acts. It took me nearly three months but I studied every verse within every chapter. Now I have a rich understanding of the book of Acts and where it fits in the divine story of God coming to earth.

Lost on where to start? I cannot recommend this book by my friend Everett enough. Start with the book of James. Order this book. And begin. Read a chapter each day or read two pages a day. I met with a reader last month who said her study time expanded from ten minutes in the morning to thirty minutes because of this book.

Plain and simple, Everett goes through the book of James verse-by-verse. He leaves no stone unturned. If you’ve never dissected a book of the bible on your own then I recommend this book as a companion.

I would love to hear what works for you when it comes to digging deeper into the scriptures. Let’s dialogue in the comments below!

Men in blue jumpsuits.

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I've been trying to figure out God for the last eight years now. I've got too many journals stuffed inside of a mail crate I should have returned to the Post Office four years ago. Those journals are filled with questions like, "Are you good? Are you real? Do you like me? Do you want me?" These are the questions I've asked God. To me, God was like this charismatic guy who swept onto the scene and charmed the daylights out of everyone I knew. They talked about Him like He was Fabio. They weren't skeptics. They didn't want to do a background check. They raised their arms up and flung their hearts at God without fear that He would break them. They acted like they'd found something, something a lot of people spend a whole life looking for.

I grew up watching other people give their whole lives to God without a second thought while I stood in the back of the room asking questions.

...

There was a tipping point for this blog nearly a year and a half ago. If you were reading then you saw it happen. I went from being a young woman who folded God into cautiously written sentences to posting boldly about my relationship with Him on the regular. God went from being this distant uncle who occasionally sent postcards from off the coast of Maine to someone knit into my most inner of circles. Today, God could show up at my front door with no place to sleep for the night and  I, without hesitation, would give him a bed.

I'm not afraid of God anymore like I used to be. I'm in awe of God in a way that makes me fearful but I am no longer afraid of what He would do to me.

I was afraid to write about God because I thought people would be turned off by it. I would spend this time in the morning communing with God-- feeling like He was my best kept secret-- and then try to boost people and lift the whole world with the strength of my emotions and feelings. I crashed hard when I could not keep the whole world spinning. I crashed hard and God crawled closer.

 

...

I walked out of the ring after a five-month fight with severe depression last year. Every day of that depression was more confusing than the one before it. I sat in waiting rooms and asked myself, "How did I get here? How did my life come down to this?" I was of the belief that if you did the right things-- if you were good to people, kissed babies, and didn't try to stir up drama too often--  then you would not have to face hard stuff. Things would naturally align and you'd be spared the depression, the heartbreak, the sickness, and the mess.

You meet God in the mess though. It is often in the mess that you find a man walking towards you with a name-tag that reads "God." You shake hands because you're desperate.

I think God stands there the whole time though, even before the crash. I think God, in those moments before the crash, is like Waldo. He's always in the picture with His bright red cap and wiry glasses. He's content to wait for the moment that you actually feel called to seek Him out.

I think we-- as the eager, self-sufficient perfectionists that we are-- ignore red flags and the nudging to slow down as long as we possibly can. We drink more coffee. We worship the hustle. We grow tired of waiting on a God who sometimes seems to be slower than dial-up internet. We say hasty things like, "You aren't handling this mess fast enough so I am going to take it into my own two hands."

More mess comes.

And still, God is not afraid to assume the role of custodian.

 

...

You know what's funny? I wrote that last line and I thought to myself, "I cannot write that. There is no way that I could refer to God as a custodian." The only image in my mind of a custodian is a man in a blue jumpsuit rolling trash cans out of the lunch room. The closest thing I've ever known to a custodian is my own father-- a man who wore a blue jumpsuit, drove a garbage truck his whole career, and brought food to the table by hauling away the unwanted things of people I grew up with.

Custodian is just one of those words that makes me want to belittle the role because I grew up surrounded by people who taunted me when they found out my dad was their garbage guy. It's taken me 28 years to realize that my father never worked with junk, he worked with stuff that used to be valuable-- used to be chosen-- until someone decided they didn't want it anymore. He'd pull stuff out, he'd shine it up, and it would be new again.

I looked up the word "custodian." The definition that comes up first shocks me a little bit: one that guards and protects or maintains. I love that definition. I love the idea of God as a protector rather than God as the tyrant people talk him up to be.

 

...

I wanted to write today. I wanted to write and this is the only thing that would come out of me. It looks different than what I set out to write but that's what happens when you invite God into the writing room, you write the sort of stuff you're afraid will serve no purpose and He uses it to reach some girl in Akron, Ohio who has just gotten her heart broken. She used to feel valued and chosen until someone decided they didn't want her anymore. And then you and God fist bump later in the day because the girl from Akron, Ohio writes you an email and tells you the words meant something.

You're thankful you sat down today. You're thankful you wrote. You're thankful those three letters-- GOD-- came out on the page and refused to leave until you clicked "publish."

That's God though. He's not a best kept secret, He's meant to be shared. He's meant to be shared especially by someone who grew up fearful that He didn't want her, didn't love her, and didn't see her. He uses someone like that to say to a large group of people, "I do see you. I see the mess. I see how you got here. I'm listening. I'm here." He uses someone like that, someone who almost walked away from Him, to say, "It's okay if you don't have all your God questions answered. I don't either. Welcome to the club."

You say a prayer. You click publish. You go get ready for a date and you think about Akron while you're curling your hair. You think about men in blue jumpsuits who guard and protect.

You're thankful. You're thankful for someone who sifts through a pile of the forgotten, pulls something out from the rubble, and says, "You're not junk. You're mine."

The space to hear you.

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 11.08.04 AM I am a writer. This much I know.

I've been told since as early as I can remember that I have wisdom beyond my years. I never knew that wisdom, like most things, must be activated. I spent all this time writing about staying, leaving, and letting go. I wish I knew back then that just because you have an epiphany doesn't mean you've learned the lesson. Just because you have a great thought doesn't mean you've gone out and lived it.

I want to be the kind of person who walks out what she talks about, not the other way around. Especially today, it's incredibly easy to be unintentionally deceptive with the world.

Last summer I posted all these photos on Instagram of my garden and I. It gave off the illusion that I was watering, weeding, and planting new things all the time. In reality, the garden was suffering from the Georgia heat and dying by the day. I like the idea of glamorizing the garden rather than taking care of it.

Just because you've talked about gardening doesn't actually mean you've watered something. Just because you talk about hard work doesn't mean you're actually doing it.

...

So I wrote for a long time about hearing God speak without ever hearing Him speak. I had brief moments of God whispers. I had feelings stirring in my gut that I was making a right decision. But I wrote so much about His voice as if I was hearing it constantly, as if God and I were in a perpetual stream of dialogue. In actuality, I was talking about the voice of God in the morning but listening to lies for the rest of the day.

...

I remember this one time at the very beginning of the fight with my second depression. I'd taken a trip with my friend Nia and came home exhausted but wired. It wasn't the road trip we were planning on. She'd tried to give me sleeping pills when we got back to her place because I was in so much pain. I just remember wanting to sleep so badly but nothing would work.

When she drove me home I nearly collapsed on the floor in front of my roommate and her boyfriend.

"I need prayer," I said to them. "I am sorry to crash into this moment but I need prayer."

I didn't know what else to do. I felt like I was fighting a war inside of myself without any weapons. I was getting this serious beating from the depression and prayer was my last option.

My roommate's boyfriend sat me down on the couch between them. He put one of his hands on my forehead and started to pray.

I just remember him saying, "Come on, Hannah. You know his voice. You know his voice. You are his sheep, you know his voice."

I didn't know his voice though. I knew how to listen to lies. I didn't know how to say, "This voice that tells me I am unworthy of love and goodness is not the voice of God."

...

I stood in a sanctuary last night listening to a band that reminds me of warm rooms soaked in twinkle lights and the moment you step out into the California heat. When it hits you, the thick air wraps you in tight, holds you closer, and does not spit you out until the sun rests behind the buildings at the end of the day.

The woman with the guitar on the stage was speaking about God's voice. She mentioned how in John it says that the sheep know His Voice. They listen. They follow.

I think the biggest problem we face today is that there is no quiet. There is much time to develop a voice for ourselves. There is little time to hear the voice of someone else.

There is no peace. There is no easy way to rip yourself from the folds of culture and just be still. We are on 24/7. We wake up to our phones. We go to sleep to the glow of the screen. We say we want to hear the voice of God but we don't ever shove our own thoughts into a corner and demand them to be still so that something bigger can come in and wash the dirt away.

...

"So when you listen, God speaks?"

A friend asked me this question last week and I had to be bold enough to answer. I said yes. You don't always hear this loud voice. It's rarely the heavens parting and a booming thunder coming down upon you. It's more like little fragments. It's these brief reminders. It's these nudges to go somewhere in the bible and plant there.

I didn't know that I would need to entrench myself in the scriptures to understand the way He speaks. That is the thing though, I think God has his own language. I must be dedicated to God's language if I ever hope to translate.

I didn't know how to stop moving. I didn't know how to listen. It was the biggest gap in my own prayer life up until this past year. I always just thought prayer was rattling off a to-do list to God. I thought prayer was about me being vocal and him being, well, God.

I don't fault myself for this. I actually never was taught to do anything but talk to God. No one ever sat me down and said, "Girl, prayer is just as much about listening as it is about word vomiting. Prayer is your direct line to God. If you want to hear from God then come prepared to listen."

I told her it took a while for me to listen to the voice of God. Even now, I have to discern whether I am hearing from God or hearing my own voice. I told her the more time you spend with someone, the more you get to know them. You understand whether they are good or bad. You can start to predict their reactions.

How is it not the same way for God? How can I want a personal relationship with God but never imagine that He might be personable and good to me?

 

:: A PRAYER YOU CAN STEAL ::

God, move me out of the way and insert yourself in the places I want to take up space in. Push out the lies and infuse me with your voice and your truth. Train me to open up my ears. Train me to push out distractions. Train me to hear you and to know that you are good. 

The church of toast.

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ONE.

I took a picture of my toast this morning.

Yes, I placed it on a white plate, took it into my bedroom where the natural light floods perfectly through the windows, placed it down on my yellow blanket and snapped a photo. Of toast.

I cropped said photo of toast. Filtered said photo of toast. Added contrast and a little bit of brightness to said photo of toast. I prepared my toast to show herself to the world. This was my toast’s best day.

I transferred my said photo of toast into Instagram and prepared to write my caption. Something about the drizzled honey. Or the Himalayan sea salt sprinkled over it. Or the avocado spread evenly— in delightful chunks of green goodness— across the 27-grain (or whatever amount) Ezekiel bread.

I said, “Little toast, are you ready for your finest moment?” Little toast in that very moment could not have been readier to meet the approval of others who wished they’d eaten breakfast or resisted the drive-thru or also were enjoying avocado toast on a rainy morning as they surrounded themselves with white walls and succulents.

When it came to little toast though, and the blank caption space, there was nothing for me to say. What could I possibly say? Eating toast? Yum, toast I took a photo of? Toast. Be jealous?

I realized in that moment, sitting on a yellow blanket spread across my bed, across from the uneaten little toast that it was pointless to write anything about toast.

Much of social media is like toast— you desire it for five minutes and then it is gone. You consume it and it’s over. You forget about little toast. You forget about the party you didn’t get invited to. You forget about the fact that your ex is finally living on without you (until the moment you check their page again— 2 hours later— to see if maybe their joy has stopped).

TWO.

When it came to my little toast and it’s caption, all I could think to write about was church. Weird, right? Toast is not often synonymous with church but, for some reason, today it is.

I spent the morning reading in the book of Acts because I don’t really wander over there that often. Lane and I started a study in Romans last night and it occurred to me that while I read the letters of a man named Paul— an absolute boss in the faith— I rarely get to see where Paul is coming from. I never explore Paul and his cronies in their most pivotal book of becoming in the bible: Acts. Reading Romans before Acts is like starting to watch LOST in the middle of season 2. You know nothing about the plane crash that brought them to this strange place.

I think the reason I’ve tiptoed around reading Acts is because church has always seemed like a messy word to me.

Maybe it’s the way the media twists and manipulates the image of the church. Maybe it’s my own experience. Maybe it’s the experiences of others who felt burned by the body of the church and walked away to find themselves in isolation, pursuing faith solo until they eventually just gave up. Church used to feel like social media to me: it’s important to document that you went but it rarely leaves you changed enough to speak of it the next day.

Acts 2:42-47 describes the first church. It says these people devoted themselves to teaching, fellowship with one another, and prayer. They ate a lot of carbs together (read as: toast). They were so devoted to one another that they started selling off their possessions in the hopes that they could lift one another up with their monetary returns. They attended the temple together. They were thankful when they got to eat. They were always saying thanks to God and people really liked them. It wasn’t a matter of “if” they would get invited to the next party, it was just a matter of “when.” And, as a result of all this, the Lord multiplied them. More and more people were praying, living life, and eating toast together. Seems like a pretty beautiful life to me.

THREE.

How did we get away from this simple and organic idea of church? How did church become this massive, sprawling thing that makes some of us feel ashamed and unworthy and not fit to sit in the pews?

I told Lane last night that I only used to attend church as a little girl for the bread and donuts. When the communion was over, myself and a few other kids would run down to the kitchen to eat the leftovers of Jesus’ body (look up communion if you think I’m a cannibal in this moment). But when Lane dug deeper with me, I found myself getting agitated and upset. I didn’t feel like studying anymore. I gave him massive stank face, as if to say, “how dare you make me dig deeper into a topic I don’t feel comfortable with?”

My earliest memories of church, up until after college, were of a place where I didn’t belong. I didn’t feel seen. I didn’t feel like God was actually mighty or real in this place. I felt like I was going to watch the girls around me get married young to good, holy men and I would be left behind. I felt like God had blessings for others but not for me.

I wouldn’t have told you it was a safe place where I ate carbs with friends and sold my things because I loved them so much and really, actually wanted to worship alongside them. That might have been the first church but that was not my church reality.

FOUR.

People are lonely and looking for something. I know this much, at least, to be true. People are seeking relationships that don’t look for the backdoor after the first disagreement. People are hoping— and sometimes even praying— that this life is not some lonely journey where you make a lot of mistakes, drink too much, never lose the weight, and always come up short on cash. On the adverse, the people who seemingly have it all are hoping— and sometimes even praying— that this life is not some lonely journey where you always climb a ladder, always make the grade and come up with empty applause, always feel the need to be skinny, and never have a decent thing to do with all this money.

We are living in a bit of a distorted reality and I don’t think it’s our surroundings that always need to change— it’s our perspective. It’s where we are digging for treasure. It’s where we are planting our seeds.

FIVE.

I got an email from two girls last night who are hoping they can start a group on Monday nights where they can sit, eat with people, and basically have an honesty hour once a week. They’re planning to devour breakfast food and talk about real stuff together. I think it’s really beautiful. They want to be Jesus to people— slip into the shoes of Jesus instead of just talking about Jesus. They see the story of Jesus and they are eager to make it louder than their own to the lonely, broken people they find.

To me, these girls are the first church. They are that Acts 2:42 church I mentioned above. They get it. They are craving real life off the screen. They are invested in the idea of friendship, and real conversation, carbs (read as: toast), and the building of a safe place where anyone can come in and say, “Hey, I’ve got this darkness. Could you help me clear it out for good?”

I wish I knew two girls like that in college. I wish I could join their group. I wish I could meet more people who are devoted to the reality of life, rather than the perception of perfection we give our lives to on the screen.

They realize they are one piece, one piece that needs to do its part of loving others, communing, asking tough stuff, and singing back to God with pretty, robust songs of gratitude.

To them, it’s not about crafting an experience that will leave others out. It’s about something real. Some real kind of toast you can gather and eat, not just watch and ogle at from behind a screen. To them, it’s about bringing people to the table and saying, “I know you’re hungry… eat.”

SIX.

Back to social media (and toast): our ancestors didn’t have it. They didn’t document toast. They didn’t feel this need to one-up one another with a status about an engagement, or a baby, or a piece of kale on a white dish. It wasn’t perfect for them but it was definitely less crowded and diluted by some idea of what real “living” and “church” should look like.

The first church didn’t document their toast. It wasn’t a priority to them, people were. They wanted to love people so well— so deep and so wide— that eventually their own self-obsession would get swallowed up by a bigger story. I think it’s a million times harder to get to that place today because our culture legitimately measures us. It sizes up. It tells us to keep chasing this thing that isn’t real.

We have to fight harder to live real, authentic lives than any other generation before us. What’s crazier to think than that though? It’s never been easier to spot the lonely and lost than in 2016. It is 2016 and we wear our loneliness like a raincoat in Seattle. It’s 2016 and we need to capture each other— refusing to let go— more than any other picture we think is worth taking. We need real church: real, I’m-not-letting-you-go, you’re-gonna-sit-and-eat-with-me, we’re-gonna-have-an-honest-hour-and-then-thank-God-for-breath, you-cannot-make-me-run-from-you church.

It’s 2016: capture someone and make them sit at your table. Tell them it’s okay to eat. Feed them toast. Tell them you’ve got darkness too. It’s okay… That’s all you have to say to someone today: It’s okay, we are going to clear this mess out together. I won’t run.


A PRAYER YOU CAN STEAL: 

God, make me hungrier for your people than my need to convince people I’m living better than them. God, strip down the bones of church for me and make me see where I need to lessen and you need to grow. God change this heart of mine— at a slow, steady pace— to want community more than I want followers. God, give me something real to call your “church” apart from a filtered photo and a standard I’ve never been able to stand inside of.

After you make the murderer.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 12.40.16 PM The last few days of December 2015 are lost on me.

I don’t remember what I did. I don’t remember where I went. I just remember binge-watching “Making a Murderer” and Netflix-cheating on my boyfriend Lane because he just could not keep up with the hustle I am capable of bringing to a marathon.

This show has shaken up the whole nation. It’s basically a 10-hour documentary on the life of Steven Avery-- a man who was incarcerated for 18 years because of a crime he did not commit. Just a few years after being released, he is charged again for a murder that a lot of people wonder if he actually committed or not.

It was suddenly a necessity in my brain to learning everything I could about this character Steven Avery who did not exist in my world the day prior. I was obsessed with him. I was reading every article I could find. I was plotting ways to free him. I was watching every interview. I instantly became enamored with this man I would never meet. I was bringing him up in dinner conversations.

I was walking around (and still am) as if Steven was about to walk through the door of my home and bake me ziti. We are on a first-name basis. I am 5 steps from putting a ring on this thing.

The obsession will eventually fade. I’ll stop talking about him. I’ll find something new to gravitate towards. The cycle will stop and restart itself all on its own.

Let’s face it though: I gain nothing from knowing Steven Avery. Steven Avery doesn’t pay my water bill. He doesn’t help me organize my inbox. Steven Avery does not like my photos on Instagram and he doesn’t contribute any letters to More Love Letters. I gain nothing from my obsession with Steven Avery but I am still willing to give him my time, energy, and dinner conversations.

And then there is God. I’m going to be really honest because Jesus is blasé about my fluff: Steven Avery thrills me a lot more than God does. I would pick episodes of “Making a Murderer” over quiet time. I would rather get to know this convicted maybe-murderer than the person of God.

I think we have to be this forward. We don't help anyone grow deeper in their faith if we pretend we are doing fine when we really aren't. We grow closer to God when we can be honest about the crossroads where we are forcing our own distance.

There’s been no zeal to my faith until this last year. And even now-- with more zeal than a year ago-- I am still picking things more than I am picking God.

I pick Netflix. And sleep. And people. And biscuits. I choose work over God. I choose coffee shops. And, when I do pick God, I choose to access him like he’s a Shake Weight. I approach God and ask him to reduce my problem areas and give me results. I don’t approach him just to know his character, just to let his glory be enough for me.

I’ve been committed to an at least an hour in the word of God daily since the middle of 2015. That’s testimony, really. This time last year you couldn’t force feed the bible to me with a spoon. I didn’t want it. I didn’t see the benefits of it.

The other night I asked God to give me something to chew on, a first that I could pull apart. Something to meditate on. Immediately, I’m flipping to Psalm 118. Verse 4.

“Let those who fear the Lord say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Normally I would be the type to dissect the last part of this verse, the thing about “steadfast love.” But that night I stared a little doe-eyed at the first part: Let those who fear the Lord say.

What does it look like to fear the Lord? Am I afraid of the Lord? Do I really, actually fear him?

When I dig deeper I realize that the kind of fear referenced in this passage is a healthy reverence-- it’s an understanding that all things are made by God, all things come through God, so we should fear him because he is good and holy and righteous.

I don’t feel that fear enough. Oftentimes, I think I am bigger than God. I mean, I know I am puny in his sight but there is something about the way I run my days-- the strict control I enforce-- that keeps God in an assigned role as a back-pocket companion. There’s no time to fear him when I pick how and when he can enter my schedule, my relationships, my everyday thoughts.

One commentary writes: you must get to the point of deciding that knowing God is the most important thing.

Above your ambitions. Above your timeline. Above your hopes and dreams and fears and roadblocks. You must get to the point where simply knowing him-- not even the hope of getting something from him-- is more than enough for you.

Hello, challenge of a lifetime. Hello.

I wish God was more like Paris Hilton sometimes. Then he would have no trouble just being brutally honest about me and my faith life. He would report how I claim I can’t find him yet I am the one running. He would claim that I say I want him more than anything but I don’t clear the space. He would say that he beckons for me to come to him twice a day but I would rather text or tweet or do something that will never make me closer to him.

But you know what? That doesn’t make me “less than” in the eyes of God. I am just as human as you. I think we need to stop being so hard on ourselves, deeming ourselves unworthy, and just do more work. I think we need to have our little honesty hour-- get real with where we are at-- and move on.

You either want to change or you don’t. You either want to get to the point of wanting more God or you don’t. The rest is all the baby steps to get closer to that. 

I see the work that needs to be done. I see the work I cannot possibly do. My prayers must continue to get more honest:

God, I don’t know you in a way that makes me crazy. There is no obsession like I crave. I know if I pray for cravings, I will have to make the room. You will move and I will have to make the room for you.

I will need to make the room for you to come in and break down walls dare not put back together the things you don’t want fixed or mended.

Give me the capacity to be crazy about you.

God, I act like I like a criminal in Wisconsin more than you. I need you to step in and change that.

Fear's last love song.

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 1.10.10 PM Hannah- 

So…I was really hoping I could come back to you a month later with some huge spiritual experience and an “I’m out of the woods” story.  I don’t have one.

Instead it has been baby steps forward, only to stumble back again.  Some days I’m fine, some days all I want to do is lay down and cry because it just doesn’t make sense to me.

Darkness has been so evident lately and I’m so scared of falling into it instead of God.  I know it’s really not my battle because I'm not strong enough to fight against it…but I don’t really know how to surrender it to God, either. I'm not really sure how to trust someone I can’t see, feel or hear but I want to.

I want to hate the darkness and be free from it.  I want to be okay again and stop falling into fear, doubt, depression and darkness.  It feels like an endless cycle and I’m even scared of getting out of it because then what happens if I fall again?

I’m so tired of fighting. I just don’t want to feel like i’m constantly fighting to believe & against the darkness. It’s so scary…I don’t want to fall. 

You write about how God brought you out of the darkness…how? Was it sudden, or more of a gradual thing? 

J

 


 

 

J,

Fear wrote that last email for you. Fear legitimately pushed you off balance, kicked you out of the computer seat, and wrote that last message. It clicked send. It patted itself on the back for striking once again. It curled back up into its usual position, waiting to pounce on whatever next step you tried to take to get out of the woods. That’s the way fear operates— it preys on your action steps while writing songs about your failures. 

I know fear wrote the email because I lived for a really long time letting fear dictate my daily actions. Fear drove conversations. Fear made me retreat. Fear allowed me to say “yes” and “no” to things. Fear drew a thick chalk circle all around me and announced into the tight space, “This is your comfort zone. Good luck leaving it.”

 

There’s a few things to know about your fear.

I think that’s the fear way you start to tackle and dismantle something: you figure out what you’re actually up against.

First off, your fear is terribly unoriginal. Yes, you feel alone in it. But that’s just a tactic of the fear. Fear wants you to believe you are the only one. It’s isolating. It’s like coming across a Taylor Swift song you really like, listening to it on your own for a solid ten years because you think no one else will get it the way you do, and then figuring out that everyone else knows the words too. Your fear— the one that feels so catered to you— is actually lurking in the hearts of a million, billion other people. It’s a ballad and we know all the words to it. You’re not alone. You’re not off on some island. You’re not solo on this pilgrimage. We know all the words, J.

Secondly, your fear is a jealous lover. It wants you to sleep alone with it at night. It’s greedy. Your fear doesn’t want to share you. It doesn’t want you to go out there and talk to the others. It doesn’t want you to have hard conversations, and solid dinner parties, and community that refuses to leave your side. Fear wrote you a story a long time ago and it doesn't want you to outgrow the plot line.

And though you know you deserve better than a lover who controls your every move, you still stay. You stay because no matter how jealous fear can be, it wants you. And we like to be wanted. You stay because, after all these years, fear has become comfortable and rhythmic in your life. It’s become reliable. You know its motions. You know how it will shut you down. You have stood in the face of fear so many times and it has tried to tell you who you are and you have believed it. 

Lastly, your fear— while I’ve just talked a lot of smack about it— is necessary. Fear is basically synonymous with Russell Crowe in Les Miserables– he was always meant to be a character, sure, but someone let him sing too much.

Don’t look back and think, “I wish I hadn’t let fear beat me up so badly.” You needed the bruises. You needed the battering. In that, you figured out that there had to be something more. Only when the fear is smothering and we can’t sleep at night, only when the fear has taken from us over and over again, can we even dare to imagine that something might be better than this. Fear is the birthplace of courage. Fear can be a catalyst towards God. 

 

I’ll say it again: Fear can be a catalyst towards God.

And as you push closer towards God, you will realize that he isn’t fear. A life shrouded in fear does not come from God. Quite the opposite: he is love. And love— when you allow yourself to get close enough to it— will not resemble fear. Just like you gave fear the permission to grow, you have to give love that same chance.

Because love? Well love is ten times a better builder than fear ever could be. The structures are strong. The foundations are solid. The shelter is reliable. When you speak out love instead of fear, people actually get brave. They get hungry for victory. They transform and it's wild. I used to only write about fear on this blog. I liked the idea of love but I didn't actually know it. So any attempts to write about it were noble but fleeting.

Letting God be love, instead of fear, has made every difference to the way I stand and walk today.

 

The date is November 17.

Tomorrow is the 18th. November 18. And I can’t begin to describe to you how that date on the calendar is such a benchmark for my life and the person I’ve become in the last year.

It will probably be a normal day. I’ll do some work. I’ll buy some groceries. I’ll visit a coffee shop and people are never going to know or see that November 18 is such a huge day for me. I’ll be celebrating inside though because November 18  is forever a day to remember that the darkness didn't win.

My friends and my family know what happened on that day, how my life flipped upside in the worst way possible and how the charade I was putting on for everyone took its final bow. Whatever was left, that’s what I had to work with.

It was a lot of fear. Paralyzing and crippling fear. It was doubt. It was worry. It was a stealthy attack. It was one step forward and two steps back again as I plunged deeper and deeper into myself. I could not use my brain. I could not eat. When the darkness was the heaviest, I didn’t eat for 12 hours at a time. I would get these brief moments of perspective, a chance to breathe, at the end of each day. I would cry in my mother’s arms— yes, at the age of 26— that I didn’t want to have to go back to sleep because I was afraid to start all over again the next morning.

Still, I would take the sleeping pills and go to sleep. I would wake up to the darkness waiting at the foot of my bed. And we would start the wrestling all over again.

I chose to wrestle with the darkness morning after morning. I was determined to find its roots and expose its tricks. I was enamored with the darkness. Now, looking back, I see that I was wrestling with the wrong thing.  Why wrestle with the darkness when you can wrestle with God? Him and I, we were the real problem. I had prayed an honest prayer to really know him and have him show up for me. He honored the prayer, my act fell apart, and I was unwilling to meet him in that. I was unwilling to come out of hiding and say, “Here is who I really him. Here is the reality. Here is what I can’t stand any longer. I don’t think you are who you say you are. I’ve made you too small and I’m the one who does not believe.”

When the darkness pushes us into ourselves, there we figure out what we truly believe about God.

The God in my brain was flimsy and lukewarm. He was jealous and wrathful. He was angry with me and disappointed constantly. I was always falling short to the God in my brain.

The bible writes a lot about idols. Did you ever think that the wrong image of God— the one you constructed— could be an idol too? We could spend our whole lives falsely worshipping the God we built in our brains just to keep us from humbly opening our bibles. Opening your bible is an act of humility. It’s laying down your lies in order to seek a truth that could go on without you.

 

Open your bible, J.

Open your bible. Keep opening it. When you feel like it and when you don’t. When you want to and when Netflix sounds a lot more appealing. The bible is rich and fatty and good for you and still the culture tells us the bible is like lettuce. It’s not flashy. It’s not proud. But it is the living, breathing word of God. If you want to hear him speak, it’s a whole book of him just talking to you.

Meet him. For ten minutes or an hour. As corny as it is to make this comparison, it's like dating someone who is obsessed with you from date one. They've been waiting for you. From the start, they want you so badly. And you, J, are guarded and careful and unsure. But you've heard good things. And other people seem to like him. But still, you aren't sure. So would you plunge right in? No, probably not. Would you trust him immediately? No, probably not. And yet this weird sort of longing exists inside of you to be loved carefully, to have someone come along and scale your walls. That longing has always been there. So you creep closer and what do you do? You resolve to know the person. To understand them. To hear their side of the story instead of always screaming out your own. Your own story is not going to teach you about someone else's. To know someone else is to shut up and listen.

You would do all these things for another human, J, so what about God? What if he is one who is obsessed with you? What if he is the one who has been waiting for you? What if he is the one who wants you so badly and yet you're still unsure? What if it is his name that keeps coming up in conversations and makes you long for something more? Resolve to know him. Understand him. Read him. Hear his side of the story instead of always screaming out your own.

Open your bible and realize that as long as we try to fight for God or analyze him or measure him, we miss the point. We gear up like diligent soldiers ready to go after the heart of God and he just pauses the whole story and says: this isn’t about you. Wait. Look closer. This is how I fought for you. And how I won for you. Take heart in that, child. You want to fight but I already won. 

 

You asked how God brought me out of the darkness— was it sudden or was it gradual?

It wasn’t sudden, J. It was seriously gradual. It was hard. It still is hard. And there are still days when I want to pick the world over God, but I know what I left behind. It was sitting with the bible when I didn't want to. It was writing down scriptures, though they didn't thrill me, until they seeped into my heart and did some sort of transformation I cannot take credit for. It was like taking medicine-- though I didn't want it, it promised to heal me.

I remember talking with a guy from church who I look up to and asking him what I should do, because I was tired of fighting and I just wanted to be out of the dark.

"Bread of life, babe," he said to me, patting me on the back. "Bread of life."

I remember I hated that answer. It was just him telling me to go back to the bible and back to the bible and back to the bible. Why did I hate it? Because still, God was whispering through that advice, "To love me fully is to lose what you thought actually mattered. And even as you let the things go, you're still going to want them to matter more than me." 

It's going to be long, J. It's going to be slow. It's going to be bread and life though.

Following God is not a romantic comedy. It’s not funny and capable of playing out within two hours of your time. It’s a lifelong dedication. It’s, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “ a long obedience in the same direction.” It’s the start of new habits and the killing of old. God isn’t the one you meet in the drive-thru, he wants to meet you at the table and teach you how to make real meals.

I went to church when I didn't want to. I opened up to others when I didn't want to. I opened the bible and started with John, then Matthew, then Mark, then Luke. I looked for clues of who God was in these stories, not who I was supposed to become. Turns out, he's bigger than my hopes to be a better person. Still, he is bigger than my fear and my ego combined.

So I guess that life long dedication begins with you deciding you will stay and let God meet you in a world that will tell you the key to getting out of the darkness is to run. Don’t run from it, J. There’s light ahead. And there’s love. And there’s real relationship. And hard conversations that break down the craziest of crazy, high walls.

You could be a new person if you’d just let someone scale your walls for once.

You could come to the table instead of hiding in the woods. You could finally, finally eat.

I'll hold you in the light.

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 3.41.31 PM I.

One of my girlfriends invites me to yoga and I say yes immediately. Before I even know the time of the class, I am finding my Nike tights and wrapping my hair into a bun. I am checking the trunk of the car for my mat.

I agree to go to a hot yoga class for the simple fact that I don’t like yoga. Not even a little bit. The breathing. The stillness. The presence. All of it makes me nauseous and panicky.

I walk into every class always optimistic that this will be the day when I fall in love with yoga. When I become one of those people who can’t go a day without getting on the mat and knocking out a few downward dogs.

It’s always the same pattern though: I’m only on the mat for 10 minutes, in the stickiness of a hot yoga studio, before I want the class to be over. I wonder why I agreed to this.

I mean, what is yoga to a woman who is impatient and squirmish? What is a yoga to a woman who is thinking 5 hours ahead and 2 years back always?

So it would make you wonder: why spend the money? Why take the class? If you already know you’ll hate it, why go? Why submit yourself to the torture?

Plain and simple: just because I don’t feel like doing something isn’t reason enough to not do it. There’s a mountain of things in my life that I don’t feel like doing and I do them anyway. Yoga is just a 60-minute reminder that if I push past my feelings then something better will win.

II.

The whole yoga class, my mind is on prayer. We are pushing up into positions and holding a posture. We are balancing and my mind is racing with the thought of knees-on-the-ground prayer. Don’t mistaken me for the holy-- I wasn’t actually praying during the class. I was rolling around in my mind why prayer is so hard for me. As we keep moving posture to posture, and I try to remember to breathe, I keep thinking that this restlessness and desire to move which I feel in yoga class somehow mirrors how I feel when I go to pray.

It’s the same restless, I-don’t-want-to-do-this feeling I get with both yoga and prayer.

III.

I’ve only written about prayer once before and it’s one of my favorite things I’ve put in this corner of the internet.

But I must reiterate that: I’ve only written about it once. I’m the farthest thing from an expert. I like to write about the things I have decent experience with and prayer just feels like a practice that fails me. I pray, yes. But I wish my prayers felt more active, less forced. More powerful, less staged.

 

IV.

There are three people on my heart today who need something-- one wants a baby, one wants a love story, one wants a miracle. And I keep thinking of these extravagant ways to pray for them. I keep thinking that I should devise some plan that will keep me in prayer mode and I can then be able to measure how much I prayed. How long and how hard and how diligently I prayed for them.

And while my brain runs wild with ideas, this little voice inside of me speaks, “Why don’t you just start? Why don’t you cease thinking about the idea of praying for people and just say their name out loud? What is holding you back?”

Fear, I guess. It’s not even fear that my prayers won’t be answered.

For years, I told people I was praying for them but never really doing it. It was like a default answer when something would happen, “Oh, oh, I’ll pray for you right now.” No, those prayers never burned in my palms or my brain. No, I never cried out in desperation to God.

I guess, as a result of years not doing what I said I was doing, I wondered if people didn't really pray for me either. I wonder if they faked the motions too.

It’s a combination of that and the fear that my faith will never grow. That my prayers will never be bold enough. That I’ll never be one of those warriors-- one of those people who can write the answered prayers down and, at the end of each day, cry out in awe of the faithfulness of God.

I want proof to hand people that God is working but my fear stands in the way.

V.

I’ll hold you in the light.

That’s what the Quakers say when they want someone to know they’ll be praying. I’ll hold you in the light. I think I really like that. It says without saying it, “I see you.”

I see you.

You’re right here. Your arms might be flailing and your body might be restless but you are right here. The dark might seem endless, but I am holding in the light. All of you might want to give up but there will be light, baby. The light will come.

I’ll hold you in the light. When your faith is failing. And your lungs want to give out. And you don’t understand God-- how he moves and how he operates. And you know what? I don’t get it either. There are those mornings, and those nights, where I want to kick and scream and just give up on God. But where I would go? Where would I go that it wouldn’t be darker?

VI.

Sometimes you pray and sometimes you are the prayer.

Your scars aren’t mine until you show them to me.

VII.

I have a friend who, for the years leading up to the time he met the love of his life, would pray for this person every time he came across a dime. In change piles. On the sidewalk. In between couch cushions. He would pick it up, mark a “P” on the dime, and then pray for that girl. Short, quick silver prayers.

On the day he asked her to marry him, he dumped out jars and jars full of dimes. Jars and jars full of prayers, said in advance for someone he didn’t even know when he first started praying for her.

I like to think about what it felt like to be that girl, the one with all the jars full of dimes poured all around her, to have someone show her, “I prayed this much for you. I prayed this wide for you. I prayed this thoroughly for you. Even if it was just picking a dime off the ground by the train, it was a thought I drew captive and dedicated it to you.”

What’s more beautiful than someone who holds their own thoughts hostage long enough to draw your name in the lines?

We could be those sorts of people. There isn’t even a need to do something extravagant when it comes to prayer. We don’t even need the dimes. It just requires we show up. We stay when we don’t feel anything. We keep whispering a person’s name out loud until this faith grows inside of us that we are heard.

We are heard. And we are wanted. And we are seen. We are heard. And we are wanted. And we are seen.

 

VIII.

I keep thinking I must light a candle. I must posture myself for prayer. But God wants me in the car. He wants in the grocery store. He wants me anywhere that I am standing to just ask him for help. No big productions. No grand proposals. Just him and I and all the honest conversations we’ve yet to have.

Honest conversation with God #1 (AKA prayer):

Make me want you.

I know that sounds like a rap song but it’s all I want to ask of you: make me want you. Make me think about you. Make me draw back to you. Make me want to ask you for help before I go out and seek to stitch my own cape.

Here is my honesty.

Here are my bare bones.

Make me want you.

Make me want you more.

The Elvis in the room.

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 6.46.43 PM

I met a woman just the other day who had a pretty stealthy obsession with Elvis. If I ever claimed to be infatuated with the King in my earlier years then I am sorely mistaken and sorry to have claimed that. I could not even hold a lighter to the massive Elvis candle this woman was burning.

She had tattoos. A car. A jukebox in her basement. She named her child after Elvis. She brought Elvis into numerous conversations during the solid 7 hours that I spent with her filming a video for a brand. If Elvis hadn't been worked into the conversation yet, she was finding a way.

The only time in the span of the whole day where we didn't talk about Elvis was when the camera man was interviewing me and he requested that I looked directly at the woman, directly at the producer with the Elvis obsession, and talk to her instead of the lens.

The questions got deeper and deeper. We went there.

I could have chosen to stay stuck on the surface but I kept looking into the eyes of that woman and I could see some sort of pain and hurt. It was like I could trace holes inside of her that she was never going to talk about. Or maybe she would. I don't really know.

She was crying, tears dribbling down her face as I said to her, and only her, "It's okay. You got up today. You got up today and so it's okay."

In that moment, I wondered about her, and God, and Elvis.

...

People always say it's best to acknowledge the elephant in the room when we see it and we can call it by name. Friends, there was an Elvis standing in the room that whole day. And even now, there is a Elvis standing between you and me-- something I have wanted to write about but have been fearful of the outcome.

It's time I brought it up.

...

There are holes inside of me. Let's just start there.

I feel them. Sometimes they feel bigger. Sometimes they feel smaller. But I've tried to be a hole-filler for a really long time. And trust me, I have tried to fill the holes with everything but a weighty and spiritual God-man.

After years of practice, here is a semi-extensive list of things I’ve realized do not fill the holes:

  • guys.
  • guys who text back.
  • looking to the mirror like it’s going show me something different.
  • alcohol.
  • Netflix.
  • Gilmore Girls (I’ll come back to that one).
  • carbs.
  • guys.
  • gossiping so that I can feel bigger.
  • rules.
  • restrictions.
  • people you text to just stay distracted.
  • dating apps.
  • compliments.
  • accomplishments at work.
  • accolades.
  • “likes” and “retweets.”
  • followers.
  • guys.
  • shopping.

That’s a long list of hole-fillers and I’ve managed to blow through the whole lot of them (some two or three times). It’s like there's still this hopeful naiveté inside of me that one day soon one of these above things will hold. It will work for me and I won't need God. I’ve tried to work this formula for nearly 5 years and for the longest time I was just plain disappointed to find that only God was supposed to fill those holes.

It says in Jeremiah 29:13, “Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.”

That whole scripture used to disappoint me. I didn’t actually want to get to the place where I wanted God more than anything else. That place seemed boring. I feared it would turn me into the type of person who chained herself to flag poles and did weird stuff in the name of Jesus. I have never wanted to live a life that was strange or set apart. I don’t like coloring outside the lines that much. I didn’t want God if he wanted me to be different than the world. I loved the world too much and the empty applause it gave me so I gave my leftover affections back to God.

...

I would say my life started going drastically downhill on October 1, 2014. I can mark that date on the calendar because it is when the rest of the world started flipping out that Gilmore Girls was now available on Netflix.

I’d never watched the series before but it seemed easy enough to slip my life inside of— a mother and a daughter just trying to wade through the waters of prepubescent boys, family issues, and survival with a domestic twist. I think sometimes Netflix series with a lot of episodes are just a really long and winding distraction to keep us from facing our junk. And that’s exactly what Rory and Lorelai helped me do— they helped me avoid myself and all the symptoms of depression that were coming on strong like a tidal wave.

I would go to my office space on Friday and Saturday night. I would light a candle and try to spend time with God. The bible would stir nothing in me. I would give up after 15 minutes. And then I would reside to my swivel chair where I could pretend that I was the second sister to Rory, taking my coffee black from Luke, while waiting for my mom to come through the door of our favorite coffee joint in Stars Hollow. That’s what I loved about Rory and Lorelai— they were always reliable. You could always count on the coffee being fresh in each episode. They didn't change their plans or becoming wrecking balls-- no they always managed to stay pretty predictable. They always made you feel welcome, even if from behind a screen. To me, Rory and Lorelai were more reliable than God.

...

Some of you have emailed me and have either loved or hated the fact that I’m writing more about God. Honestly, I cannot help it.

I want to be really honest about this topic because I can still remember so clearly, 5 years ago, when I sat at the kitchen table in my dorm apartment and gave God a pretty stern talking-to. I was in the midst of finding him and he was starting to move the pieces of my life around but I didn't want to talk about him. Maybe I would talk about him in person but I was definitely never going to be forward about God on my blog.

In my eyes, God was controversial. He was offensive. He was an easy way to lose followers who didn't want to read your words cloaked in Christian rhetoric. I'd personally been turned off by people who were way vocal with their faith and I didn't want to speak too loudly about God that I, in turn, turned people away too.

I cared more about followers than actually following something with my whole life.

Still, to this day, I don't want to turn people away. There is an anxious little people pleaser forever burning in the core of me no matter how much I try to wipe out her embers. I, like everyone else out there, just want to be liked and accepted. But something has shifted for me recently. Something has happened that I cannot ignore: I've finally accepted that God is bigger than me.

He's just bigger. Maybe that's not surprising to you but you would not believe how long it has taken me to push myself aside and actually figure out how to stop jamming God inside my back pocket.

...

This morning was the first time, in my entire existence, that I was able to look at the bible and say, “Okay, God, you’re big. You’re far bigger than me. You're enough for me." 

It's crazy to admit that, after being a Christian for nearly 5 years, this is was the first moment in my faith walk where I actually felt like God was bigger than me.

The God of the bible is not half-hearted and miniature. He isn't a God that is cool with a fraction of you. He wants More on top of More with an extra side of More. He wants that thing you hold on tightly to because you are so afraid he won't deliver. That's the way me and most of my friends used to see God: we were told to love him and so we tried but we were still so afraid that his love was fickle and changing like New England weather forecasts.

But honestly? Why give your whole life to it then? Why give your whole entire life to God if you are afraid of him, if you think he isn't good, if you think you can do better than him? Why worship a God that you made? What's the point in that?

I'm only asking all these questions because they are the same types of questions that roared through my brain in this last season of life: do you actually know God, Hannah? Do you actually want to keep giving your whole life to this if you don't even know it's real?

...

Here's what happens when you actually sit down to get to know a person better-- you actually meet them. You figure out if they're real. The veil drops. You learn about them. If you are smart, you ask questions. You can approach God with the same mindset of a journalist-- he'd rather you dig for the details than take his sound bites and run.

As I sit with God daily, I am learning that he isn't intimidated by me. He isn't afraid I am going to enter some locked room in the house that we don't talk about. He just wants me to give up the fear. Leave the fear at the door.

Someone reading today is on the verge of giving up. I know it. I can just feel it because I see it and I understand it every single day: it's easy to want to give up. It's brave to stay. It's even braver to stay when you don't know if God will pull through for you, if you don't trust him but you've wanted to for a really long time.

So here's a prayer. It's simple and it's not wordy. You can say it beneath your breath in a coffee shop and no one is gonna look at you strange. It's a prayer I prayed this time last October and it set my world upside down: If you are real, God, then be real. Be real in my life. I can't fake this any longer.

You might meet God tonight. You might meet love tonight. You might meet a person who is even cooler than Rory Gilmore (and Rory Gilmore is really freaking cool). And all that being might ask of you for tonight is to place your armor down, quit fighting the fear so much, and just love someone hard tonight. Hard.

Loving someone should be hard and active, not easy and passive. When you sign up to actually love people-- no fakers allowed-- then you sign up for a life of runny noses, awkward car rides, hugs that last too long, pauses that demand no noise, and admitting you were wrong. If you want to actually love people then you have to be willing to be wrong.

Love is forgiveness. And it's atonement. And it's basically like putting your soul in a washing machine-- it's not some gentle cycle, it's a fierce whipping that rings you out good.

It makes the stains fade.

Best of all, it fills the holes.

Sam, will you go to prom with me?

Dear Hannah In almost all of the blog posts I've read, you always write about how God spoke to you and helped you when you felt lost. You talk about him whispering revelations in your ear and sending signs like the spiders.

I'm not a religious person. I don't go to Church. I don't get on my knees and pray. I believe there's a God in a superficial way, like how we say 'oh my god' and 'please dear god don't let me fail my exam!'

When I was going through a tough time in my life a few years ago, I turned my head to the sky and just started cursing at him. 'Why do you let these things happen to me? What did I do wrong? I hate you for doing this'

I know now that it was wrong to blame him.

Recently, I had to make a difficult decision. I say difficult, but really, it's quite superficial. I didn't know whether I should seize the day and do something that would be uncomfortable but possibly worthwhile, or, whether I should just sit back and wait for the boy to come to me. I asked God if I could have a sign of what I should do. I thought about your blog posts, and how God gave you epiphanies, and I asked if I could have the same

No one whispered in my ear and nothing fell out of the sky. But I did get many people telling me to just go for it. So I did. It was nerve wracking and made me want to throw up because of all the adrenalin flooding through me. But I did it

I have yet to find out whether it was the right decision, but all I want to know is- how do I know if God is talking to me? How do YOU know?

Love A

 

A,

The other night I was driving. It was close to 9pm. I was sitting beside someone I really, really care about. I am sure you have that type of person in your own life, A. They make words hard to fumble with. They’re the person you want to call after they’ve just left you because you spent the whole car ride home coming up with a dozen more sentences just so you don’t have a reason to say goodbye so fast.

And I will always remember how full the car was with questions that night. Tears streamed down my face. It was dark outside. The yellow lines in the road were more pronounced than ever.

I wasn’t crying because of anything this person did, I was simply crying because I had this overwhelming sense that the words playing over us-- coming through the speakers of the car-- were actually true.

Love laid its breath against my chest My skin was thick but You breathed down all my walls

Hallelujah Oh hallelujah I found Your love when I lost my heart to You

I can’t really describe the moment at much more than that, A. I didn’t hear God audibly. No part of the car ride was interrupted by a booming PSA from the heavens above. But something within that dark car prompted me to pray to myself, “Be in this car. Be in this car.” I could feel some sort of thick presence. It grew stronger and stronger.

I have to believe prayers open doors where we cannot. I have to believe that a prayer of only four helpless words might be better than a long and stringy one. When my prayers are at their shortest, I believe God has more room to come in and breathe into the spaces where I am lacking.

...

I replayed the song on the way home.

Hallelujah Oh hallelujah I found Your love when I lost my heart to You

I just am a sucker, like the rest of the world, for getting found.

...

“It looks like it’s time for you to get lost,” the text message read.

It came in this morning after I’d vented out all my frustrations to my friend Nia about the walls I keep hitting in preparing for the second book. Lucky am I have to have a friend who knows that the remedy for not being able to find the words is, instead, finding a place to get lost for a little while.

“You’re right,” I replied. “Where can I find the woods?”

Not even an hour later, I was walking through some trails 25 minutes outside of Atlanta with a backpack on my shoulders, my notebook inside, a flannel tied around my waist, and my hair knotted into a bun because I couldn’t find an elastic.

You see, when some people are stressed they seek solace in the gym. Nature. The beach. A reliable view of a city skyline that never dares to change on them. I release and unravel fully when I go off into the woods and I can get a little lost.

I like to find the maps posted in the ground along the way. I like to find the “You Are Here” dot.

Today, when I checked for it, the square blue dot that was supposed to help me see where I was had faded off the page. There was no indicator of my whereabouts. I just had to pick a trail and keep on walking. I walked beneath a bridge. I noticed these pillars with letters drawn on them. One said R. One said O.

I stopped, pulled back, and noticed that there were four pillars with a letter etched out on each one. They spelt out P-R-O-M. One bigger pillar in front of the four had scripted, “Sam, will you go to prom with me?”

I stood there for a minute surveying the grand gesture. I thought about taking a picture but chose not to. I know prom-posals are a big deal now. I actually don’t remember if my boyfriend even asked me to prom or we just assumed we would go together but now there are floats and big productions and students trying out-do one another. It all leads up to this one pivotal high school memory that is either the “best” or “worst” of all time, or just supremely average. As for me, I will honestly have to tell my children one day, “All I remember is that I looked like a hooker (my mom should have never let me wear that dress) and the chicken tasted like rubber.”

Back to Sam and her epic prom-posal...

...

I don’t know Sam. And I don’t know the person who went through all that trouble to ask Sam to prom but I have to believe to that it wasn’t easy for them. Just the location of those pillars, at the top of a steep and rocky hill, was difficult to get to. The letters were massive. The energy exerted is definitely commendable.

For a moment I just stood in Sam’s shoes and I was thankful that someone, somewhere, decided to make Sam the center of their universe. I think that’s one of the most special things to see: when someone makes someone else feel like they are the only one.

I had a girl just the other day tell me over Skype that she isn’t big into faith and God but she likes to put her faith in humanity some of the time. I had to agree with her. For as faulty and messy as we are, humans have this commendable capacity to choose one another in deliriously great ways. It’s one of the most beautiful things to witness. One of the best restorers of hope and faith.

So I can only imagine that Sam, in that moment, didn’t feel like an accident. She probably didn’t feel forgotten about. I’m willing to bet Sam felt really chosen.

I’m willing to say you’ve wanted to be chosen too, A.

I wonder if you are anything like me, A. Anything like a girl who for so long let her questions and her anger get in the way of God. Anything like a girl who, even if God was screaming at her, she would have never heard him because God speaks in a language of love and she only thought the bible was a language of rules and "get better & holier" attitudes.

I think sometimes God just whispers, "chosen," and we only have a view of him that makes us hear, "less than."

...

As I kept walking into the woods, I could not help but invest too much energy into Sam and her prom date. Did she have a good time? Did that person win her heart? Are they together still? This one, elaborate gesture on a pillar was making me plot out the existent or non-existent history of Sam and her prom date’s love story in my mind.

And all I could think to myself was that I hoped her prom date knew that big gestures are cool-- just like big signs from God-- but it’s the little stuff that will win a heart and grow a person’s trust in you.

It’s little choices. Little moments when you decide to fight for someone. Saying it anyway. Doing it anyway. Showing up. Figuring out how to say. Opening a door. Sharing a secret. Pushing past a barrier. Letting someone in.

I think this all becomes the sort of evidence you could place on the table of a court room. If the evidence was good enough-- strong enough, recorded well enough-- then a jury would be convinced of whether or not a person chose to fight for you.

A, I don’t know you. You don’t fully know me. And I am sorry if I ever made it seem like I was hearing God audibly all the time. There have been times when I have that undeniable push in my gut and times when I have felt a whisper. But at the end of the each day, I am just left to account for and record the evidence of when I felt like God had fought for me. When I felt like he stepped out on a limb to get to me. When, even in my suffering, he surrounded me with people to lean into.

I, too, have screamed up at God and asked him why he would allow something like “this” to happen. But I already know the answer: if I was a whole person, if I wasn’t someone prone to suffering and falling out of my own faith, I would not need God and I would not need people.

And why create us-- why even be here-- if we don’t need one another to push into tomorrow?

...

A, whatever you chose to do, I am proud of you. I think you made the right choice and I am usually, always, the advocate for taking the route which makes you feel like you are going to vomit. It’s not the easy way but it makes you feel alive.

I think God wants that too. I think he wants us to make choices and feel alive-- as opposed to dead and exhausted by this world-- at the end of the day. I think he wants us to open up our eyes to the little moments and find a way to treasure those.

Not every moment with God comes with a prom-posal. It just doesn’t. It doesn’t always come with a whisper either. Sometimes there are just moments where you feel okay. Or you feel at peace. Or you whisper to someone holding your heart, “I don’t have all the answers.” And it’s a safe place when you both can agree that there are no answers pulling one of you ahead of the other to win this race faster.

This is not a race. This is not a fight for fireworks or whispers. This life is just a collection of evidence that a fight took place, if you ask me.

You won’t hear him all the time. You might not see him everyday. But please still look for the evidence. You still standing here, somehow making it, is good evidence to start with.

tying you closer than most,

hb.

Take me to church.

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Last night I attended the church of the kitchen floor.

It was me and a handful of my girlfriends all curled up into one another. The episode of the "Bachelor in Paradise" stood paused in the background. We had managed to move 6 or 7 boulders out-of-the-way before we even pressed “play.”

Admittedly, this is why we have gathered for the last year. We have gathered— all thirteen of us— every Monday to watch girls and guys pass out roses. It’s cheap television but we’re still hopeless romantics. We laugh. We crack jokes. We let no other occasions touch Monday nights on the calendar. This is sacred— not because of the roses, but because of the community it took us two seasons to build.

We built community after every episode. Between every commercial break. Within every group text. And now, a year later, we gather on Mondays for one another. We wear sweatpants and we don’t bother putting on makeup if the day wiped it off. We are unapologetic when we get to one another and we are ready to admit bruises from the last seven days. Sometimes nothing heavy happens beyond a few guys getting sent home in a limo. And then sometimes church spontaneously combusts on the kitchen floor.

It’s a beautiful and hard thing when you are able to look around from grief-stricken face to grief-stricken face and realize that this is church. This stuff is church. At the end of a Monday that has sucker-punched us and won, we are a bundle of questions. We are a thread of unanswered beings. We are anger. We are misunderstanding. We are resentful. We are pained. We are wanting someone to drive home. We are hoping someone else will come back to life.

We’ve invited God into this place on the kitchen floor. We are reading promises from Isaiah with tired voices. And this is church. This is the church I can attend without feeling like I need all the answers and all the perfect things to say within a world that is hard. Often too hard to stand inside of without falling to the kitchen floor.

I am a regular attendee of the church of the kitchen floor. Admittedly, I sometimes sit there more than I sit in pews.

Monday beat me yesterday.

It wore boxing gloves and it managed to ravage my insides before noon.

I worked as much as I could. I went home. I sat wrapped in a sunshine-yellow blanket, crying to my mother, and read pretty words on grace. I wondered if my heart had fallen from my chest in traffic and I would have to go search around East Atlanta Village for whatever was left of my left ventricle. I ate french fries that I wished would grow arms long enough to wrap me in tight and spoon me.

My mother is 16 hours away from me. But she is still the constant I’ve needed her to be. She waits. She lets me bellow. She lets me curse about adulthood. She answers me simply, “Less words, more work.”

That’s what she tells me: less words, more work. Cry your tears, pick yourself up, and go back to work. She isn’t talking about spreadsheets. She isn’t talking about articles. She means the kind of work that is expected (but not actually acted out by all humans): the work of being Jesus to people. The work of being the church.

This is why I love my mother. One of many reasons. She is never going to preach Ben & Jerry’s ice cream at me. She’s going to remind me, “If God breaks your heart then hallelujah. Hallelujah— you’re finally relatable and not so puffed with your own pride that you miss the others.”

...

Just a day earlier I agreed to participate in a survey about the Western church.

The qualitative research nerd inside of me swooned. My undergraduate years were crammed full with research. I was ready for this person’s questions up until I wasn’t.

With a microphone dangling next to my lips, I didn’t have nearly the amount of answers about church that I thought I would have.

I’m sure the individual conducting the survey meant well but the questions asked were invasive. They were blunt. They carried an agenda that I could not quite put my finger on. They pried into dark rooms. I would argue that half of the questions had very little to do with church and maybe that’s what they were going for. I don’t really know.

But when it was over, when they stopped recording the conversation, all I could do was get into my car and weep as the lights turned red and green all the way to the Westside.

I cried out in pain, screaming “what the hell” prayer on God over and over again. What the hell. What. The. Hell. What. The. Hell.

Anne Lamott believes there are three essential prayers out there:

“Help,” “Thanks,” and “Wow.”

I’d add one more: “What the hell.”

What-the-literal-hell.

"Why?" Better yet, "I can’t even."

I feel like I could pray the “I can’t even” prayer seven times before dinner.

There are so many instances in the world today that permit the “what the hell” prayer to be used. It’s my way of saying to God and the ceiling, “I don’t get it. I don’t understand it. I don’t know what’s the point. The point of this pain. The point of our ignorance. The news we watch. The cruel things we do.  I can’t even, sweet Jesus. What the hell do you want me to do?”

God is big. I think he can handle the moments when all I want to do is scream and cry and sniffle and say, “God, if you orchestrate apologies then I hope you are planning a big one.”

My doctrine doesn’t say that God apologizes. My doctrine has a lot of questions that leave themselves unanswered. And where I think it all goes wrong? When we start looking for answers more than we sit in the questions— and all the grey of them— with others.

I don’t care how much black and white data you want to gather, life starts when you can no longer fill the grey area of someone’s pain with your faulty existence.

Maybe that person will get all the data they need but I see too many broken hearts on a daily basis, too many people already bruised by church, to know that tactful answers to the culture’s questions won’t help or heal a soul.

...

If someone you love dies, you are never going to thread through your issues on abortion to make it better in that moment.

If someone you love leaves the family without a note, you are never going to need a debate of sexuality and the church to mend your heart.

The church was made for the broken-hearted.

The church was made for the ones of us with different questions: How do you put your faith in God? How do you pray? How do you know God is even here? Or good? I need a church that teaches me to say, even when I don’t fully believe it, “And if not, God, you are still good.” If not, you are still good.

If you take this away from me, I will still follow you.

If people beat me down, I will still follow you.

If I am left broken and broke, single and alone for the rest of my life, I will still follow you.

Teach me how to follow something— when life kicks me to my knees and makes me cry out “what the hell”— and I will actually stay. Teach me how to follow, and I will stay and figure out how to be your light.

...

The year is 2015-

We have enough questions and angry Facebook rants. Enough anger. Enough pain. The media is full of wanting the church to answer questions. We all get a little cray with our megaphones and character counts. And I rarely ever speak up but I have to say this- the God of the Bible didn’t grill people on their political stances. The Jesus of the Bible didn’t sit and wait for someone to sit and hash out their sins to a jury of their peers. The Jesus I read about had one simple question and one command to follow it:

Do you love me?

He asked that three times to Simon Peter.

Do you love me?

Not, are you perfect? Do you never sin? What is your view on sex outside of marriage? What is your view on homosexuality?

These questions will never lead us into an answer that can actually help a hurting world where people feel scared and unsafe and already not belonging.

Do you love me?

That’s the simplest and question: Do you love me?

And if you love me— if your answer is “yes”— then feed my sheep. That was his command: Feed my sheep. Show up for my people. Listen to their stories. Cry when you need to. Step away when you have to. Give until it hurts. Until it breaks you. Until you think you can’t go on any further. Stay in the mess. Stay in the trenches. Look for the holes. Dig in the deep end.

Feed my sheep. Stay up through the night. Get them breakfast. Meet them at diners. Sit in their questions. Give them your shoulders and your tired arms. You are not the answer. And you cannot save a person from their darkness but please don’t ignore it and act like it does not exist.

Stay up. Wait for them. Just wait. Be a light that is still on when they finally come home.

Everyone comes home eventually.

We’re all just wondering if someone will leave the light on for us when we finally start to find our way back.

An open letter to Joe.

I’m never going to be able to go to God at the end of this and give him an inventory of my faith that consists of a cross, and a bible, and a pew. I am going to say the inventory of my faith was a lot of uncertainty, a few bad Tinder dates, a good mother, the feeling of grace, a yellow room, the play Les Miserables, a slew of coffee shops, and you.

Read More

Good morning Baltimore.

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I take two white pills every night before I crawl into the sheets. They are a reminder to me, more than anything, that November happened.

...

November happened.

And so did December. January. February. A collection of months I wished, for so long, I could scrape off the calendar. I thought I knew darkness before those months. In a lot of ways, I didn’t know anything until those months came crashing on top of me. Sometimes you think you are fine until everything around you falls apart. And then you see the truth: everything was not fine. You were dying inside. You were clinging to other people to complete you. You were desperately in need of rewiring. 

...

I think there are times in our lives when we need an upgrade. Or a software update. And then there are times when we need all the little things inside of us to be rewired. I held it all together on the surface. I claimed I was fine. Really, I didn’t know how to turn my head upward to God and just be “enough” for my own self.

If you claim you love God and then don’t somehow commit to that most basic gesture, there’s probably a lot of wires inside of you that you’re resistant to let anyone touch. 

 

...

I went through depression once before.

Everyone told me afterwards to be thankful for it because a movement of love came out of it. I am thankful. But it doesn’t make me hate the dark any less. 

I didn’t know the statistics. The statistics say if you’ve struggled with depression once before then there is an 80% chance you’ll go there again. I kept telling myself it would never repeat itself. Bad things don't repeat, I whispered.

I refused to see a counselor. I began to close myself off. I fell deeper into sadness as September danced. I ignored the warning signs. 

A girl at my speaking engagement last night asked me, “How can I make sure I don’t go through it again? The depression.”

“You can’t,” I told her. “But you can keep track of the warning signs.”

 

...

There were warning signs. Usually there always are. There was sitting on the floor of my office space-- after consuming an ungodly amount of cups of chile-- crying.

“I think everything will probably turn around in March,” I told one of my best friends. It was October. I thought if I could just push hard enough into a "new season" then God would follow suit.

She only looked at me. Nodded like she wasn’t convinced. “I don’t know if that’s true.” I hated her for being honest. Today I love her for only being honest.

There was Halloween night, surrounded by all of my best friends. I was wearing a T-shirt with the letters “LIFE” across my chest. A fitting role for Life, I passed out lemons that whole night-- plucking them out from a plastic Jack-O-Lantern bucket and planting them into the hands of strangers at the party.

I remember being surrounded but feeling completely alone. I drove home crying that night (no surprise). I remember wishing I didn’t have to wake up in the morning. There was no reason for getting up.

There was sitting in my car on the morning of November 18th. My best friend didn’t leave my side. I slammed my hands against the steering wheel and screamed, “I don’t want this.” 

“You are not going to get out of this until you learn to be content.” She had told me this several times before.

I didn’t want to learn to be content. It seemed like such a distant and unattainable feeling-- the feeling of contentment. 

“I am content,” I told her. “I have given God everything.”

“You are not content,” she snapped back. “There is so much you are not letting him have.”

All of these things-- and then a dozen more-- were warning signs. Warning signs that I was tumbling right back into the darkness.

 

...

My life broke into two on the afternoon of November 18th.

It’s a day on the calendar I will never forget. Nearly 9 months ago. People ask what I mean when I write “broke into two.”

Here’s the truth: some things in life don’t come with all the right words to describe them. All I can tell you is that I remember sitting with a friend in the conference room of our workspace. I asked her to pray for me because I was so sad lately. She prayed. I kept my head down and tried to convince myself that the prayers would actually work. At that time in my life I prayed to get attention and to make the Varsity team for heaven, not because I actually believed God was listening. 

I remember how she started talking about something after she said Amen. I was listening. And then pain. Sharp pain. All across my body. This sweeping feeling covering me from head to toe. All of a sudden, I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t move. My mind started racing.

“I feel so sick,” I told her. “I have to go home.”

Really, my mind was begging: What’s wrong? What’s going on? What’s happening? 

Sharp pain. Heavy fear. Tidal waves of anxiety crashing mercilessly into me. I didn’t understand. I thought I was going insane. Can life actually flip in a minute? 

The intern outside the workspace tried to bring me into a conversation about the time he went surfing with Rob Bell. I was trying to get in my car and leave.

“I’m sure Rob Bell is great,” I told him. “I’m sorry but I have to go home.”

I got into my car. Got home. Crawled into bed. Pleaded with God that whole night but the voices were stronger than I’d ever heard them before, “You’re no good. You’re a liar. You’re a fake. You are nothing.” 

I fell asleep shaking. Shaking with no answers.

That night was empty. I was afraid I was hearing God say the words he’d wanted to tell me all along, “Hey girl, I don’t choose you. I just don’t want you. I just don’t choose you.” 

 

...

The next morning I couldn’t get out of bed.

Not by my own strength. It took me a solid half-hour to just rise and put on pants and a heavy sweater and a bright red cap. I had a flight at 10am for Baltimore. A speaking engagement.

I sat in my coffee shop before heading to the airport. I tried to drink a London Fog but my hands were too shaky. I kept writing down questions: What is happening? What is going on? Why do I feel so paralyzed and sick?

It was 0 degrees in Baltimore. The most I ate there was two slices of hotel pizza. My hands trembled the whole time that I spoke. I remember telling myself I would never go back to that city again.

I hid inside of an empty terminal- my body sprawled across three seats as I lay curled in a ball crying and shaking. Not really caring if anyone could see me.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” I texted to my closest friends. The ones I knew would pray. I’d been dealing with the paralyzing fear for over 48 hours now. It hadn’t ceased, only grown.

I vomitted several times in that airport. Out of fear. Out of terror. That would be the start of months of no sleep and no faith that God was coming back for me.

Nine months ago, Baltimore became a place on the map I never wanted to return to. In the next few months, a list of places I never wanted to remember again would assemble itself.

 

...

The paralyzing fear was relentless for over four months. You wouldn't know that if you scanned social media but life was utter darkness. I bring that point up only to say: we have to be extremely careful about assuming we know a person's life based on what they post online. We have to be gracious-- no matter what-- because everyone is fighting a battle we cannot see. Sure, we like the idea of being real & raw on social media but honestly only a few will ever feel safe posting the real mess out there for the world to see. We rip into one another too easily for that. But be gracious, please. And maybe sometimes remind yourself:  it's a lot of filters and pretty things but that's not reality. Reality cannot be cropped and contrasted. 

In those four months, I slept. A lot. I didn’t watch movies. I didn’t go to group events. I wrote down every "small victory" on sheets of paper. We planned my move back to Connecticut. The mornings were the worst. It felt like heavy blankets of despair were being piled and piled on top of me. I'd get up at 4am because I could not sleep and I would sit wrapped in blankets holding a Bible that I struggled to believe in anymore.

I went from the most driven girl to the one who could barely perform three tasks in a day. Doctors gave me all these drugs with long names. The parts of me that lost friends to drug addiction was terribly afraid to swallow them. They just wanted to calm me down. Stop the tears. At night, there was sleeping pills. My favorite part of the day was going to sleep because-- for the first two months-- nothing stole life from me in my sleep.

I slept on an air mattress in one of my good friend’s apartments for a lot of those nights. In the morning I would crawl into his bed and he would hold my hand as I cried. It felt like I was trapped in a tiny room with no windows and no doors. I would cry out in agony because I could not escape the fog.

“I just want to fog to go,” I would murmur through the tears. “I just want the fog to go.”

He would squeeze my hand tighter and call me “baby girl.” 

...

I remember being curled in the corner of a doctor’s office in Atlanta. The man kept asking me questions. Do you think about hurting yourself? Do you have thoughts of hurting other people?

I wasn’t doing my makeup anymore. I wasn’t doing my hair. I’d lost 10 pounds. I was tired. I was wired.

“It seems you have severe depression,” he said to me. That wasn’t news. I didn’t need another doctor to diagnose me-- I needed someone to grab my shoulders and yell loud, “You are coming out of the woods. Do you hear me, girl? You are going to come out of the woods.”

And then he stopped scribbling. He looked at me. I locked eyes with him. I didn’t want him to turn away.

“Are you a Christian?”

“Yes,” I whispered.

“That’s not a question I can ask,” he answered. “But my job aside, I want you to know-- the devil is rejoicing right now and we will not let him have that.” 

That man-- in his white coat-- was one of the many beacons of light that convinced me I could keep going. I could keep fighting. I could be like Moses, in that moment where Moses had nothing left in him but he let the others hold up his arms.

That’s what friendship is at the end of the day-- people who will hold up your arms.

 

...

I don’t have all the answers.

Not even a few. Honestly, I hate typing these words. I really do. Because I wanted to be passive for so long and believe in things like Karma and not ruffle feathers when it came to God. But as powerful of a source of light in this world that exists, there is also a powerful source of darkness. And if we don’t talk about the darkness, it starts to win.

The darkness can refine us but we cannot let it win. We must not let it win.

So let's be real: I never planned to write this.

Let's be more real: I am hesitating to publish it.

But I looked down at my plane ticket today and realized I was going back to Baltimore. A layover in Baltimore. And all I could think was, “I don’t want to go back to Baltimore. I don’t want this mess to take my body and my brain again.” 

And then, then I knew that I would write because no one benefits from silence. No one will talk about the darkness if we all try to act like it isn’t real, like it doesn’t matter.

 

...

It matters.

Mental illness matters. Warning signs matter. Not standing alone with your ghosts matters. You matter. And you are precious. 

I’m not saying that to be corny. I am saying it because I fought desperately hard for my life in the last few months. I fought really, really hard against mental illness to be able to be standing today. I wanted to give up. I suddenly understood why people even think of taking their own lives.

I've walked the line in the last few months of wanting all my memories of the darkness to leave me and knowing that I will never be able to shake the sleepless nights-- the dozens of stories I haven't shared yet-- because they made me. The darkness made me. It burned me up and shook me good and I fought until I could finally breathe and say, "No." No, the darkness cannot have me. There is far too much left for my little life. 

Life is such a precious gift but when a fog covers your view of reality it’s so hard to rest your body in the gift. It's easy to be ashamed of the fog, the sickness, the illness. But what if we broke the shame with words? What if we dismantled the stigma by figuring out how to hold up the arms of others?

So here's a baby step: Please talk about the fog. Please talk about the emptiness. Please don’t let yourself stand in the mess alone, so much so that you cave inward and you hoist up a white flag without anyone ever knowing you were dying inside.

Please speak. Please speak.

Don’t be afraid to go back to Baltimore.

Just don’t be afraid of Baltimore.

Why did the spider cross the road?

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 11.27.10 AM

I am looking for signs.

Always. Big and bold signs that tell me I am going in the right direction.

You see, here’s the thing with me: I am fearful. That’s not a shocker. That’s not something I am trying to hide.

I am a rule follower. I am always trying to do everything right. And I think it’s a great strength and also a great weakness. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that a sense of fear is normal, necessary and creative. However, you must be willing to face your fear and ask the question: What am I so afraid of?

What am I so afraid of? 

Maybe I am afraid to ask that question.

 

...

So when I was younger, I would pray for blatant signs.

I wanted brightly colored roadmaps. I wanted to turn the radio on and have God speak to me through a song. I only listened to rap music for a such a long time. If he was using the radio to give me signs then he only ever told me to “get low” and “move like a gypsy.” I don’t think that was God.

But I was persistent and adamant to “do his will” and “live in his path” and all these other Christian terms that left me wondering: is it really this hard? Is it really this hard to know what God wants from me?

I think that’s one of the reasons why people steer away from God. I mean, you don’t always feel him. You can’t always hear him. And you’re afraid he will strike you dead if you make a wrong move. No one wants to love a mute monster. I think some people need a better experience with God before they will actually invest their heart to follow. I know that was me. 

I needed to figure God out apart from humans. If humans have damaged your perceptions of God then it might mean you need more God, not more humans. God and I, we needed to create our own language.

 

...

I remember moving to New York City in August of 2010 and making my prayers more clear and desperate than the days before: Listen, I am not going to do this the traditional way. The traditional way has not worked for me. If you want to show up then show up. But I am not looking in a church. I am not looking in a steeple or a passage of scripture. Be real to me in the world around me. I desperately need that from you.

I don’t know how honest we can with God. I don’t know if there is a barometer on those sorts of things. A boy I like says we can yell at God because he can handle it. He says God already knows what's going on inside you. He’d rather us choose to expose things ourselves. I think he’s really proud of us when we can expose things ourselves and be brave enough to not repress it again.  That rolls back to fear: you have to choose to expose fear. Thaw it out. Unfold it. Refuse to let it stay unnamed. 

 

...

I dated a boy in the sliver of space between graduating from college and moving to New York City. He was wonderful. Really. Greek. Big Greek. I should have been happy because he picked me up for dates and kissed me softly and wanted to meet my mother. Even at the start though, I wanted to go.

Just because you are afraid to be alone doesn’t give you reason enough to keep someone chasing for your heart. 

At the same time I was trying to get down low to the ground with my faith. I was really trying to figure out this God character. I got a book out from the library. It had a black cover. I thought it would teach me a thing or two about Faith. Grace. That stuff.

Turns out, the book was really a construction worker disguised as a book. It showed up to dig in the trenches of my heart.  I honestly never knew that God could stir you in a way where you feel it physically. But there was demolition underway.

One day while nannying, I was reading the book among a battlefield of Nerf guns and blond bowl cuts with tan torsos flying through the backyard when I looked up to see a spider spinning a web in the corner of the kitchen window. I was captivated. Enamored. I could not explain it. For reasons I may never fully understand, I would have watched that spider spin its web all day.

It was the first spider of dozens. Dozens that I would see in the next few days. One after the other after the other. Make no mistake, those spiders had to be a sign. They started showing up everywhere. The front yard. The kitchen table. The window sills. My dreams. Spiderman toys. Plastic spiders. Everywhere I turned.

I went home that first night, put my palms down on the kitchen table and faced my mother: “I am going insane. Legitimately insane. Spiders. Are. Everywhere.”

We spent the night Googling spiders. Coming up with their origins. Trying to figure out the root of them. Wondering what they could actually mean. Looking in the Bible. Were there spiders in the Bible?

Tell me I’m not crazy, tell me I’m not crazy, I whimpered into the night as I tried to fall asleep. I woke up the next morning to find three spiders spinning a web of fresh silk over the coffee pot on the stove. The spider signs grew bigger and bigger and bigger. Every time I saw another one I could feel everything inside of me saying, “Let the boy go. Let the boy go.” I didn’t want to let him go. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to win. I wanted to somehow, someway, be worthy of being the center of someone’s universe. But still the whisper roared, Let. The. Boy. Go.

I closed the book. Hid it away. The signs stopped. The spiders ceased. The voices quit. The stirring in my stomach fell away. I didn’t feel full or at peace, but at least I didn’t feel pushed.

Weeks later, we ended.

I left. I took my stuff and went. It ceased over something as stupid as the color “yellow.” You could call it “bound to happen all along” but I just call it “yellow,” even to this day. I got in my car. I felt freedom on my chest. I drove to the ocean. I sat in the sand by myself and I reopened the book right where I had closed it.

Two pages later, I stumbled into a story about a woman walking in the woods. A spider web appeared. And she stopped to watch that spider spin. She could have watched that spider spin its web all day. And then she heard from God,

“I am spinning. You are not. Let me go ahead of you. Stop trying to drag your own mess into my intricate picture. Don’t bring anything more into the web.”

It had been there the whole time. Just two pages away from me. But I couldn’t see it, I couldn’t see it. Not until I was ready to stop dragging around my own mess.

Don’t. bring. anything. more. into. the. web.

 

...

I’ve shared that story once before in this space. And another time in a room full of high school students who were trying to figure out faith. Spiders are my comfort in a way no one will ever understand because it sits in the depths of me like rocks. Spider webs are a reminder to me, when I see them strategically placed, that he’s already ahead of me. I don’t have to be so fearful. I don’t have to be so afraid. I don’t have to create messes just to tire someone out with the constant need to tidy things up.

People get tired of your too many messes. I think that’s one of the strongest cases for needing God: We are too needy for people. Too messy to fix one another. There must be something bigger to whisper, “You’re okay” when human breath won’t cut it.

 

...

All this to say, I walked outside today. I walked outside, already too much in my head at 8am. And if you never stop and breathe then you don’t really know what you truly feel-- you just sit in the fog and wait for someone to untangle you. Maybe that’s another case for God. We need to be untangled. 

I opened the door to my house. I didn’t even take a step outside before I noticed a web spun wide across the door frame and the spider sitting there at waist-level looking at me like, “Come at me, boo.” I’d have to break the web to walk outside. There was no getting over or under the web that spider spun for itself overnight.

It’s like that whisper came back in that moment, “Girl, you are growing. You are growing beyond what you can even imagine. And so now, it’s no longer time to keep spinning webs and catching things with the hopes you can save them for later. It’s time to break the web. Break the web and walk on through.” 

Obviously, that whisper evolved throughout the morning. It wasn’t as clear and succinct until I sat down with my morning coffee and tried my hardest to focus on words on a page but all I could think of was that web. Strategic in its placement after a night where I tossed and turned with worry and fear.

“Stop spinning your webs, sweet girl. And just break the web. Break the web. Break the web. For so long you’ve lived this way-- you’ve lived this way of doing it as you please. You’ve loved me halfway because to get fully there-- to the part where you love with abandon-- would require you to let go. And you don’t like letting go and giving up control. Love is about giving up control and letting someone else lead. 

Stop dragging in your fears and saving them for later. Stop thinking you know what you need more than I do. Stop being the star of this show and see people in the way I need you to see them. People cannot be chosen when you’re off in the corner spinning silk out of your fears. 

And love, sweet girl, is all about choosing someone. For better. For worst. For all of it. Whether you understand them or not. Whether they talk a lot or not. Whether they’re perfect or not (they won’t be). 

Break the web. Break the web and walk on through.” 

 

...

Sometimes he gives us big, blatant signs. Other times, we get led slowly through pain and heartbreak and joy and uncertainty. With each bend of the road we get flattened and refined a little more. We drop the needs for signs and just listen in. We figure out how to find our way. Confidence kicks in. God stops being a roadmap with too many of the “do this” rules that make us feel woozy and fill us with a fear of getting lost. He starts leaning into us like a compass. We drop the rules. We get a little lost but the birds still sing. We just start walking. We walk on through. And suddenly, it’s not so hard to find North anymore.