Things fit: a note to those "flying solo"

Lane texted me last week from a shoe store in Utah. The store sold primarily Nike products. A picture popped up on my screen of an awesome pair of grey Nike sneakers.

"7.5 please," I texted back, not actually thinking he would buy the shoes for me.

A few minutes went by before he responded, "The smallest size they have is a size 8!"

It wasn't until recently that I figured out my natural shoe size is a 7.5 and not a 8 but I've been wearing shoes in size 8 for years so I knew I could wear these too. However, if Lane had texted me with the news that they only had a size 6 or a size 7, I would have been out of luck. The shoes wouldn't have fit me.

 

I think when it comes to relationships, we want things to fit as seamlessly as shoes. We date with the anticipation that things will work out. We work hard to make things fit with the person across the table. And sadly, not because it's anyone's fault, sometimes things just don't fit. Two people don't click. One person has more work to do. You both don't see the same future. It's okay to be different. It's okay to realize you two want different things.

The wicked step sisters in the story of Cinderella were notable for trying to wedge their too-big feet into the tiny glass slipper. The original fairy tale actually illustrates the step-sisters cutting off portions of their feet so they could fit into the shoe. Bloodied up, they still didn't get the happy ending they wanted. It simply wasn't their story to live. This wasn't their person.

Throughout my dating years, I knew myself to be guilty of trying to wedge myself into a box just so a guy would choose me. I thought that was the most important thing, to be chosen by someone. Being chosen is beautiful but making a choice because you know it's the right one is an even better feeling. If dating leads to marriage and marriage leads to the long haul, you'll want to be sure of the investment your making. You will want to be sure of that person's character, ambitions, capacity and how they respect you.

 

People have asked me to write about marriage and I honestly don't have words yet. I think I should wait another 20 or 30 years before I ever try to claim I have wisdom on this topic. However, I know one thing to be true: Lane and I entered under the contract of marriage because we knew we were a fit. We asked the tough questions. We investigated any red flags. We held the relationship loosely, knowing if things were meant to crumble before marriage became an option then things would definitely crumble.

We wanted to the relationship-- our unique partnership-- to be more important than our own personal needs to be chosen for an ego boost. I can confidently say that if Lane or I knew things weren't fitting then we would have walked away. It would have broken our hearts but we vowed to never wedge ourselves into a space where a love story wasn't meant to happen.

 

If you're impatient, it's okay. I wish people would stop saying "when you learn to be content with your singleness, then the right person will come along." That's garbage. I honestly don't think half of the people who say that even mean to phrase it that way-- that's just how we've packaged it in the last few years.

I hope what people are trying to say is that it's okay if you don't like being single. You don't have to like it but you have to be careful not to hinge your life, your joy, or your completion to a relationship status. You were fine yesterday. You are fine today. You will be fine tomorrow.

Waiting for the day when you enjoy singleness actually may never happen. I can't honestly say I ever looked at my singleness and thought, "I am absolutely loving this right now. Bring on more nights where the only spooning I do involves the one I am shoving into this huge vat of ice cream by myself."

I never once became okay with being single. I learned to be independent, yes, but I never liked the solo life. I remember crying to my mom through the phone after a breakup two summers ago. This was the guy I dated before I met Lane.

"I'm not even upset about the person so much as I don't want to have to go back into the game," I cried. "I don't want to have to play the dating game anymore." I didn't want to resign myself to a chair again and wait for more glass slippers to come along.

 

Lane came along shortly after and I remember being so impressed with how easy we were with one another. It wasn't forced. I wasn't trying to wedge myself into a place where I didn't fit. When it's the right person, there won't be all this grey area, fog or confusion. That doesn't mean it will always be easy or you two will never fight. Fighting-- healthy fighting where the two of you learn how to communicate-- is vital to a relationship. A relationship is two people who've lived a separate life coming together to build new territory together. That's a heavy and light mission. When you find the right person, they'll carry your heavy and you'll handle their light.

 

I've been writing about fear so much lately because I am realizing just how much I allowed it to narrate my stories for me. If you allow fear to narrate your "flying solo" story, it will try to convince you your person isn't out there. This isn't a forever sentence. I can't tell you when it will end or when that person will walk in. I can't tell you how you'll meet or what it will feel like for the first time. But I pray you'll give someone a decent chance to create a new story with you.

Don't try to wedge someone into an old story. Don't be constantly checking to see if they measure up to stories you've lived before. This is something new. Something golden and new. Treat it like its sacred (because it is).

All of this happening right now-- the lonely nights and the days you cry for no reason except for the fact that you thought you should have met that person by now-- is all part of the story. It won't be discounted when you two meet. It will only help you treasure the person more.

Stop thinking you're in the wrong place. Stop thinking you're getting off the wrong exit. Stop thinking they're in another city or at a different coffee shop. Just stop and live the life you want to live. Be the person you imagined you would be before fear gave you other agendas. That person is going to love you when they find you in your element.

They will love you. You'll breathe out relief. You won't be striving or pushing. The two of you will just fit. Don't worry, things fit.

You should go and love yourself: Part 2.

 

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One year ago, I became a gardener.

Here's the thing about me: when I start to become obsessed with something, I give my whole life to it. I vow to love this thing more than any other thing for an eternity. I will devote my whole being to said-thing for approximately two months until the next best thing shows up to steal my attention. This is just the way I am wired. In 27 years I've been unable to change it. 

So I dove head first into gardening. It was love at first seed. I bought every plant possible. I got myself a watering can and some rain boots. I even created an Instagram account for my baby plants. I spoke to the veggies like some sort of Kale Whisperer. I debated a whole new blog on gardening alone. My life as a solo, single green-thumbed gardener. It was going to be beautiful.

But you want to know what happened to the garden three months after I planted it? It died a slow, miserable and inhumane death. I murdered my own garden.

It made no sense to me at first how it even managed to happen. I watered the thing regularly. I bought a gardening hat. I went out to talk to the kale in the morning. But then I let a few days slip by... and then a few days more... And, before I knew it, the peppers were wilting and the lavender was shriveling up. My little garden was dying and I felt helpless to save it. 

...

A few nights after admitting defeat to my green-less thumb,  I was at a birthday party for my neighbor Rachel. Her husband offered to take me outside and show me his garden.

“How is yours going,” he asked me.

“Not so well,” I answered.

“I figured.”

“How did you figure?”

“You haven’t posted a picture of it in a while," he smirked at me as he unrolled the hose from the side of the house. 

"I just don't know how to take care of it," I told him. "Your garden is so much cleaner than mine." I surveyed his garden as he began hosing down the plants.

“You have to weed the garden,” he told me, as if he already knew the issue at hand. 

I didn’t even know what of my own plants were considered weeds and what were actually flowers or vines or whatever garden things there are.

“If you don’t, the weeds that grow will literally steal nutrients from your plants. Your plants can't grow because weeds are taking what they need from them.”

I thought about the tiny jungle of weeds sitting in my backyard and how they were strangling the life out of my little garden children without me even realizing it. 

“You think they are harmless,” he continued. “Until you realize your plants could have so much more life, and be much healthier, if you just took the time to uproot the weeds.”

“And this is why I am a writer, not a gardener,” I said.

“Yea,” he said. “I know you’re not going to hear another word I say after this. You're going to write a blog post about me. It's okay." 

...

My neighbor is right. I barely listened to a thing he said about the garden from that point forward. I was too busy thinking about the weeds.

I got so used to the weeds in my garden, sprawling and growing, that I never thought to pluck them. They looked like plants to me. 

My little garden suffered all because I neglected to put some gloves on and ask myself the simple question, “What here is a weed and what here is a plant? Which of these things belongs? Which of these things have never belonged?"

...

What stands in the way of loving yourself-- a lot of the time-- is the lies you tell yourself. You tell yourself a lot of lies, A. You whisper them in sweet voices and yell them in loud tones. You whisper lies so frequently that eventually you can't tell the difference between a lie and a truth. They start to look the same. Your brain lounges back in the comfort of lies.

 Just like the weeds, I never thought to uproot the lies after they'd dug themselves deep enough into my brain. The lies became crutches. They slowly and sneakily covered up and smothered what truly mattered.

What you feed grows. If you are feeding the lies more than you are feeding yourself truth, the lies are winning and growing bigger.

The lies you are putting up with right now-- the things you tell yourself on repeat that you think are harmless or small-- are legitimately sucking the life out of you. You are tolerating lies and they are making you grow smaller and smaller.

You aren't winning. The world isn't winning. It's just that sad and true.

...

A, you are the sole decision maker when it comes to whether you are going to stand around and do nothing or you are going to move forward and beg on the world for direction by making small and steady choices.

We are all afraid to move. We are all afraid to try. We are all a little shaken to the core when think that someone sees us, that someone might be coming in to call our bluff and make us feel known.Whatever the lie you are feeding today-- cut it off. Cut it off at the root. It serves no purpose but to strangle you and steal life from you.

We cannot have that. We cannot tolerate that life-sucking any longer.

And another thing, I know it's not enough to say, "just feed yourself truths instead of lies." It's never going to be that easy. For anyone who has ever tried clean eating then you know that the hardest hurdle to get over is retraining your palate.

Retraining your palate is the very first step.

If you eat a ton of processed foods then your body starts to crave those sugary sweets and delicious salts. Even if you wanted kale to be your main bae, it wouldn't be. You must first retrain your palate and get to the point of craving unprocessed foods before the lifestyle change completely occurs.

In the same way, if you do not start eating some of the truth-- spoonful by spoonful-- then you'll never know the taste of it. And if you can never figure out the taste of truth, your palate will only ever be trained to crave the lies. The lies are salty and sweet until the day you feed on something that makes you feel alive.

...

We are dealing with lies, A. When it comes to loving yourself well, we have a bunch of lies standing in the way like weeds sucking out the goodness from a garden. We must sink our knees into the dirt and start to pluck-- weed by weed-- until there is no dead life remaining.

It won't be easy and you are probably wondering how. I'm coming back this week to write more about ingesting truth instead of lies. I hope I'll find you on the page again soon. This whole thing is just beginning... welcome to the fight.

A PRAYER YOU CAN STEAL

Lord, I need to see the lies in black-and-white. Strip out their fake & concentrated colors and help me see the lies in black-and-white so I can start to do the work of uprooting them. Where are the weeds in my life? Show me, show me, show me. I want to be faithful. I want to be alive.

You should go and love yourself: part 1.

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Hello Hannah!

This won’t be too long. I just have a thought that’s been sitting in the back of my mind for a while but I’ve only recently begun to feel its weight. I remember hearing it first on a Christian retreat when I was a senior in high school and I adamantly refused to agree with it. After opening up about a heartbreak (which I had no idea would serve as the first domino in a sea of self-doubt and fear. Yikes.) our group leader said something along the lines of, “You know, you will never be able to love someone fully if you haven’t learned to love yourself.”

And I struggled to believe her. “Can’t some wonderful guy teach me how to love myself?” I thought in high school. In college I moved on to, “Well of course he won’t be THE reason I love myself, be he can love pieces I haven’t learned to love yet. He can teach me what I can’t teach myself. Right?” And today, at age 23, I still wrestle with that so-called truth.

I do not love myself yet. It’s been a pretty rough battle, especially within the past few months. I’m seeing how this emptiness affects my relationships and work and well-being, but I know I won’t be able to reach self-love on my own. I know now, without a doubt, that (true, balanced, pure) love of self happens as I learn to love God and accept His (underserved) love for all of His children, including me. But I have a feeling I’ll struggle with this whole self-love thing for a while. I still think I’ll need people, good and gracious people, to point out the beautiful parts of me I’ve criticized until I can scarcely recognize them. Isn’t that why we’re all here? To breathe love and life into others who struggle to see it for themselves?

I’m really curious what you think about this truth: “You have to love yourself before you can love someone else.”

As always, please take your time. Sending light and love your way,

A.


Sweet A,

When I first moved to Atlanta I wanted to live in a loft. Come to think of it, I’ve always wanted to live in a loft with high ceilings and industrial-like beams standing in the middle of my apartment like inconvenient road work, serving no true purpose but to look chic and edgy.

I triumphantly announced to my best friend that I would in a loft when I got to Atlanta. She proposed that I try out a house instead so that I would not be isolated. After a year spent living in a house with a roommate that had no dishwasher or running washing machine and dryer, I told my friend I would finally move into a loft. She proposed I give a house another try.

At the time I did not understand why she was persistently squelching my lofty dreams (no pun intended). I wanted a loft where everything would be taken care of for me and she kept proposing houses that demanded time, energy, and yard guys. It didn’t add up.

...

I live in a house where sometimes there are ants. We have a big backyard but it constantly needs moral support in the form of a lawn mower and a weed wacker. I am learning that steam from the shower leaves drippy stains on the wall and the best solution to get rid of the steam stains is a sketchy bottle of concentrated solution they only sell at the dollar store. This stuff gets out any stain. Blood. Wine. Whatever. I call it “clean the crime scene” juice. It’s legit like that.

The washing machine overflows sometimes. Cracks in the ceilings need to be taken care of or else they will turn into a bigger mess. Sometimes I fall asleep to the sound of the house whining like a needy girlfriend, “Take care of me. Please take care of me.”

Houses are unruly. They require constant care and upkeep. Living in a house is process that is never done, never through. One thing gets solved and another problem shows up by morning.

The process of taking care of something— be it a house or a body or a relationship or a thought process— overwhelms me. I would avoid it on every account if I didn’t think the daily upkeep of people and things molds me into a better human, slowly but surely.

...

My roommate is a few years older me. She is much better at managing the household than I am. She tells me it took her until she was 30 to get her life together and start to become a responsible adult who knew how to clean her own bathroom and own dishes. She gave me lessons on cleaning the bathroom while I bit back the urge to cry into the broom and dustpan.  She tells me this is just life. You learn as you go. I give myself another handful of grace and go back to the dollar store for more “clean the crime scene” juice.

...

Learning to love yourself is like moving into a house you are forced to take care of for the first time, A.

I think it’s even harder because we are living in loft times, A. I say “loft times” meaning we are living in an age where we get told on the regular that everything worth getting can be gotten quickly. The “bikini body” comes in 8 weeks. The clean house comes in 4 “easy” steps. You snag “the one” in 30 days. It’s all these mathematical solutions that rarely ever work and yet it is all we ever get fed. We are hungry for the instant. It’s like being fed french fries for six months that you never have to wait more than 10 minutes for and then being introduced to the concept of cooking your own food. It’s jarring to step inside of a role where you must use your hands and do the hard work for yourself. It’s easier to watch someone else. It’s easier to expect the french fries than to start peeling the potatoes yourself.

I don’t have to wonder why everyone is so enamored by the show “Fixer Upper.” I’ve never even seen it but I know how much we crave turning something ugly into beautiful. To watch someone else have their ugly turned into beautiful leaves us hopeful our turn is coming soon.

A house— ugly or beautiful— is your responsibility and that is two parts terrifying and one part beautiful. You will learn the good and bad of that house. The fixable and the not-so-fixable. You will know the cracks and the maintenance required. It’s where you keep your suitcases and bobby pins, your love notes and party dresses. It’s where you park your car and cry over your losses and rest your weary body at the end of a day. It’s where you clean the dirt of the day off your skin. It’s where your care packages show up and where eggs get cooked and community happens on the wood floor. It’s where love finds you, where love shows up at the door with flowers.

Most of all, it’s yours. Take off your shoes.

Welcome home.

...

A, I hope you won’t hate me for doing this but I am going to stop the letter here and come back on Monday. Hold me to coming back on Monday and continuing. I think this idea of “loving yourself” can’t be unpacked in 700 words. It needs time, prayer, discernment and space. I’ll start part two on Monday and we will take the world by storm from there.

What "Single Ladies" never told me.

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 1.31.03 PM It seems like every time I write about my singleness the floodgates open up. People call me. People text me. They leave an absurd amount of comments on Instagram. For a long time I felt like God was poking me, pushing me to write about the topic, but I always refused. I’ve been fine to write about anything else but I’ve never written more than a few lines on my own singleness.

The thing is, I’m not single. Not anymore. For a while I thought God was going to keep me single until I finally wrote about it. I thought he was waiting to use me to be some single girl vessel to the masses and then, when I finally broke the silence about my lack of plus ones at weddings, he would bless me with some handsomely rugged man.

That’s a problem for a lot of us: we think God is some cruel scientist who has hid our cheese at the end of a maze. We think God is withholding until we learn “x” amount of lessons. We think he will eventually have good for us when we finally get our stuff together.

I am 4 four months into a relationship. It’s Valentine’s Day this weekend. I think I’ve only told Lane once how much I hate this holiday because I told my last boyfriend so many times that he took to an anti-Valentine’s Day screamo concert featuring angry feminists singing Alanis Morrisette. We broke up the following day.

I don’t actually hate Valentine’s Day. I just didn’t like a holiday that seemed reserved for couples, no matter how much you emphasize the “love is for everyone” juju feelings. I know how hard that holiday can be for people. This post is for the single people. It’s all the words I should have said months ago and just wasn’t brave enough to do so.

Here it goes. Love is not a club. Entering a relationship isn’t the same as wristbands showing up at your doorstep the week before you head to Disney World. Finding a person who fits you and refines you, all at the same time, isn’t a race. You are forever a process. Thank God, you are forever a process. And, whether you like it or not, your singleness is a part of that process.

Don’t believe the lie that a person will complete you. A person can never complete you. They will add onto you. They will show you reality. They will push you out of your comfort zone but they will never complete you. If you are looking for completion in the form of two blue eyes, it isn’t waiting for you there. Go look elsewhere.

Someone-- no matter how good-looking they will be when they finally come along-- is not going to step out and live your life for you. Your singleness ending won’t mean the improvement process will cease too. No, it will only get harder.

So if you want a damn adventure then you must pack the bag and go. Buy your own coffee. Make your own playlists. Plan your own road trips. See the things you want to see just for the simple fact that they matter enough to you. A match on Tinder will not live your dreams for you. Your singleness is not an accident. Your singleness is not God’s blindspot.

Before you can be sure of another person you must be sure of yourself. I cannot say this enough. You must be willing to bet on yourself. This does not mean you have to be perfect or anywhere near it. But it does mean this: a partnership with someone else is not going to fix all the cravings inside of you to be better. You’ll still want to be better. You can always be better, but are you enough? There’s a difference between being better and being enough.

You are allowed to be bitter. You are allowed to be sad. You are allowed to be all of these things but it does not necessarily mean that they’re the best feelings for you to harbor. Bitterness is an ugly thing. It makes time to root itself and even more time to pull up those roots. Even when someone walks into your life, that bitterness won’t completely go away. It will simply get placed somewhere else.

You’ll meet someone one day. You might meet several of them. You might fall in love and break up and fall in love and leave. It might be a few good tries before you find someone who makes you want to stay in the mess of your unity. That’s okay. Don’t let your heart freeze up. Don’t let your jadedness be the thing that makes you believe there are no good ones out there. Don’t give God every shred of you and neglect to give him this. Give him your hurt and give him your worry. You don’t need to sugarcoat the truth. He’s God, he can handle the moments when you feel like your life is the ongoing, never-ending sequel to 27 Dresses.

Just stay honest. Stay open to a love that might not be what you expected. Stay real with your people. Find new people if your people don’t let you be real.

Say yes to awkward first dates when they come along, even if you don’t know for certain if they’re “the one.” I don’t think “the one” is a feeling that tramples over you like a Pitbull. The one is just a person, like you. They will be imperfect and salty. They will let you down and forget important dates. They will burn the toast and they will sing out of tune sometimes. The one is just a person in your life who gets your extra portions of grace. The one is just a person who gets the majority of your texts, tears, and prayers. They pick you. You pick them. It’s like picking your kickball team every morning when you wake up: you pick them, even when they have a bum ankle.

Love is not a club, it’s a choice. Love is not running for presidency just because you have a need to win. Love isn’t getting every vote. Love is being a candidate. It is a long stretch of victories and defeats. You keep running hard. You keep running fast. And one day you crash into someone who sees you and they see your issues like you always hoped your issues would be seen: as their own.

This is just the night talking.

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I just want to be truthful with you.

On this quiet Tuesday night, I want nothing more than to just sit here— my fingers curled around a fresh cup of coffee (I am trying to adjust to this whole ‘getting dark early’ thang — and just lay down the truth, as if you and I were the type of people who had been doing this sort of thing for years.

If you ask me how I am doing in this moment, I have to say one word: “Blessed.” Not in some cheesy way. I am blessed. I don’t always feel it in my core but I also think I need to stop giving my feelings so much credit. I am blessed, even if I don’t always feel blessed. The things around me are good. I live in a beautiful city. I have a beautiful, little home. I get to come to my own office space every single day and create around other creatives. I am working on a second book. The holidays are just around the corner.

And I just need a space— a place to be honest— where I can say that I have grown so much in the last few months. Since starting and finishing my first memoir, since moving to a new place, my heart has grown and broken and reassembled itself and been made new. And so much of that is because of you.

I don’t say that to butter you up. I don’t say that to get more readers. I could honestly care less about readers coming back to a page. I don’t even want readers— I just want the kinds of people in my life who’d show up at a diner at 2am and eat pancakes with me if I needed them there. Are you one of those? Tell me, for real: blueberry or chocolate chip?

I have had the utmost pleasure for the last few years to get to know people all over the world.

It’s like a secret second life I don’t talk about that often but, if you get me going, I will never shut up about it. Ever since I wrote a blog post on October 10, 2010-- saying I would write to anyone who needed a love letter-- my life has never looked the same. My inbox stopped being an inbox and it became a place to find your stories & triumphs & heartbreaks & songs sitting and waiting for me every single day. I don’t say it often enough but that is my favorite part of this whole thing— getting to read you and know all about you. I seriously gush about you to all the people who circle in my circles. I can’t get enough of the things you tell me. I am strangely (and lamely) like a proud grandmother to all the little victories you drop into my inbox. You email me after first dates. You email me with successful (and terrifying) Tinder stories. You tell me about your broken hearts. I read every word because I know you are out there-- you are out there. And even if I can't see you or sit beside you, I have to be real: I'd give anything to see you if you needed to be seen. My god, I really hope someone sees you tonight.

You know, just to crack my heart open a little further, I got an email a couple of months ago from a girl who told me, flat-out, that she hated me. "I hate you sometimes," she wrote. "And no, I am not going to choose prettier words the way you always manage to do. It's my sheer, plain, simple truth: I hate you sometimes." She hated my fonts. And she hated my references to coffee. More than anything, she hated that I wasn't real. That she only could get virtual shred of me. She thought I was fake for that reason, that I claimed to see people even though I could not "see" them. There was just so much hatred spewing from her words.

I wrote back to her nearly immediately. I told her she was a really beautiful writer. She had fire inside of her. She should use those words for good because that's our biggest problem today: we know words have the power to wreck people and we all want the power to be a wrecking ball to someone other than ourselves sometimes. 

I told her what I ache to tell you everyday, face-to-face: I do the best I can with what I've been given. And I do my best to show up for people. And I mean every single word that I write in a way that it actually makes me chest hurt because it feels like something is falling out of me. I can't sit here and try to make you believe that but I would not be doing this if I didn't feel the dull ache every single day. I feel it. And I know the emptiness. And I just want to do something that counts. And so I take the people God has given me, and I take the blog space I have, and I take the pages before me, and I try to make something beautiful every single day. And I fail myself sometimes. And I don't feel like I've made the mark every single day. But I try.

But she was right, I wanted to tumble so hard into her life. But I couldn't. I can't. I want to be everything to everyone-- but I can't be. And if I always try to be, then I will miss the chance to be something to someone. I will miss the sacred chances to be "someone" to just a few. 

You might think it’s silly but I have read thousands of emails — thousands upon thousands.

They are all the proof in the world I need to just stand here in my corner office in Atlanta and tell you what I really think about you: I think you’re brave. I think you’re cooler than you give yourself credit for. I think you’ve been through a lot and you try to play it off like it’s not that big of a deal. It’s a big deal. And hey, it’s okay to cry. I cry about 16,000 times a day. I play this specific commercial to make myself cry. I have a whole folder on my desktop entitled “For when you need to weep, babycakes.” You don’t ever have to be ashamed of crying.

I think you carry around these broken pieces of yourself for too long sometimes. I mean, who doesn’t? And I think some of you are afraid to let someone really wonderful in. Someone who could shake up your entire existence and that scares the living snot out of you. Because changing seems scary. And love seems scary. But fear is not a driver. No, fear cannot sit in the driver seat when it comes to your life. That’s not fair to the parts of you that have always deserved joy & good things & that strange-somersaults-in-your-stomach feeling when you sit beside someone wonderful.

I think you’re a boss. And a baller. And all these other words that you’ll probably just laugh at but I wish you could see it as truth. One of you emailed me a few months ago and you told me he walked away last Tuesday and you feel like the strength came back on Sunday. And another person emailed just to follow up and say, “I beat it. I really beat it.” And cheers to you— you beat cancer. You’re amazing. You’re freaking amazing. I am just so honored to be beside you in these moments, even if it is miles and screens and years and life that keeps us from knocking knees beneath the table.

I think and I know and I believe and I see that some of you are stuck. You are stuck inside of this box that other people have constructed for you. You feel trapped. You feel alone. You wish you didn’t check your phone so much. You wish you were really living but life feels like a waiting room more than anything on most days. You don’t realize the power you hold. You don’t see how capable you are. This isn’t some fluffy, juju pep talk, this is just the honest truth:

You. Don’t. Get. To. Do. This. Again. Really and truly. We don’t get to plan things. We don’t get to say when the time is up. And we wait too long to get brave. We wait too long to gather up the threads of our lives and just call them all gold. Because that’s what you have in your hands right now. You are carrying gold. Your struggles. Your insecurities. Your hopes. Your ambitions. The fire that sits inside of you and burns so hot and you think that no one understands it. But I do. I do understand that feeling.

I know that feeling of being unable to sleep at 2am because everything you want to do is rattling inside of your brain and falling out of your chest because you just want to be seen and known and valued and told that you’re worth it. That you could do it if you tried. And I don’t know how to do much more than just cheer you on in that. Because I do believe in you. I believe in you even if we’ve never met. And my reasoning for that is simple:

Once upon a time, I desperately needed someone to look me in the eye and tell me I was golden. I needed them to tell me that I could go out there and I could do amazing things. It would have never mattered to me if it was a loved one or a stranger, I needed to hear it all the same.

So maybe this is for you (and please know that I write this with everything inside of me): I think you can do it. I am betting all of myself on the fact that you can do it. It will take discipline. It will take a devotion you haven’t tapped into just yet. It will take everything inside of you but I know you can do it. I know you can. And I will show up every minute of every day if it takes just that to push you from that same old spot you’ve been standing in for too long. That same spot, where you never move and you never breathe and you never go, is heartbreaking. Your heart is supposed to be broken like bread and passed all around, not left in pieces on the floor.

I met a girl named Sarah a few months ago at a youth conference I spoke at.

I came off the stage to find Sarah waiting for me. And before I could even catch my breath to say anything to her, she was rattling off every shortcoming she could name. “I’m not good at this… and I hate myself for this… and one time I did this… and it make me feel this way… And I cut last week… And sometimes I don’t think I even want to be here.”

There was this strange sense of awkward insecurity in the way she spoke to me, looking down a lot and fidgeting with her hands, as if she were waiting for me to turn in the other direction and walk away.

Instead, I grabbed her shoulders. I literally pulled her in for a bear hug, of sorts. I drew her in as close as I could. And I just whispered into her ear so that only she and I could hear it, “Sarah, you’re okay. Stop looking for a reason to not be okay. You got up today. You’re right here. You’re okay to me.”

It was this really quiet, grace-filled moment where I was surprised to find I reached out to grab onto her so tightly. And she just broke down into my arms. She was sobbing. And we just sort of rocked back and forth together for a short spell of time. I don’t really know how long we rocked for. I think all the words in the world stopped working for a little while.

And this is the strange part— the really strange part— where I wish, more than anything, that I could just force my arms through this screen and grab you tight. Seriously. I wish that more than anything— that I could just give you enough truth to carry you through this week:

You’re okay. Stop looking for a reason to not be okay. You need to make a step this week. That’s what I need of you— one step. One step that you’ve been afraid to make. One leap that you know is the thing that must come next. I need you to go out there this week and I need you to take that first step.

And then come back to this space and let me know what you did. I want the email. I want the report. I want you to know that someone is in your corner. And, at the very same time, I want you to know you were not made for the corner. It’s time you let that insecurity go.

You’re right here. You. Are. Right. Here. And yes, I know you fight up against the fact that it doesn’t matter, that it wouldn’t really matter if you were gone tomorrow. I think we all fight that sometimes. And I think it would matter. I do think you matter. I think you need to be here now.

hb.

Girl on "Wire"

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They said grace and let the soy sauce roll.

Rows of sushi stuffed with salmon and avocado lined the plates in delicate, little rows, ready to be prodded by the chopsticks of girls gone hungry for communion & conversation.

They settled in their chairs, relaxed into the rhythms of one another’s stories. They were old friends, all too familiar with the way that distance could rap on the door frame.

“My girl wire got the best of me... it definitely did this time.” 

She stared down at her plate and looked up for some kind of forgiveness from her friend.

The two turned to laughing. They cleared the air of apologies. It wasn’t too late. No, it was not too late. 

 

One of my best friends and I refer to it as the “girl wire.”

The girl wire is best defined as “the ability to lose one’s footing, balance, and sanity, in a frenzy of obsession over a guy.” It’s a common prince charming syndrome. It’s acting out of emotion, out of carnal “accept me” motives, rather than grounded soul & assurance in your own worth.

It's the abandoning of all the confidence & assurance you've carved into yourself for the approval of another. It's letting that approval dominate your thoughts. Your actions. Alter your beliefs. Making you go back on the person you said you wanted to be all along.

Together, we’ve learned the tightrope walk of balance between being completely smitten over the existence of another beautiful soul and what it means to pack up and move straight into the Valley of Gone, Baby, Gone. A Valley of Straight Up Losing Yourself to Another. Checking the phone incessantly. Finding value in his words. Sizing yourself up by the comments he makes and the breath he bothers to take to speak life into you.  

The feminist that sometimes stirs in me would say this desire to be accepted is engraved in our roots.

The feminist inside of me would banter about young women raised to be praised as “pretty little things.” Raised to be small. Raised to be weak. Raised to be waiting by the door for a savior. Or by the window for a prince. And, when that prince comes, we pour out ourselves like a basin. We swab the decks of that Yesterday Girl to be whatever another person wants out of our Tomorrow.

But the plain old girl inside of me, the one who still doesn’t know if she prefers tea or coffee on a rainy Tuesday, would just say that we are all looking to be loved & accepted, and we are willing to give up a lot of ourselves to get there. 

 

Now I ain’t saying love is a bad thing.

I ain’t saying that falling into the arms of a Somebody who devours your quirks like pancakes on Sunday is a sin. I’m just saying that we is human beings. We is fragile. We is broken. We is never prepared to handle all the parts of someone else; we were never designed to be such holders. 

And. yet. we. try. like. the. dickens.

It’s instinct to throw ourselves into another. It’s hope strung like Christmas lights around the barn that another person could be all the arms we ever needed, all the love we ever prayed for, all the acceptance we gave up on giving ourselves. It’s affirmation & confirmation & admiration & and all the other “ations” we crave to keep us from staring in the mirror and finding just what it might take to go weak-kneed over our own reflections and the life that surges from inside us.

Oh, if we stopped shoving off that power. Oh, if we realized that our hands are so very small for a reason; and that a guy can come along and hold our hands, and kiss our hands, but they cannot hold the whole of us in such little hands. Oh, if we only cut off the “girl wire” and just sank into the skins of a girl on fire. 

Know this: I’m not here to pour poetry out onto your soul. Watering your bones with almond milk syllables will never mean a damn thing if I don’t just simply say, in one single sentence, what I have learnt to be true in all these years: your completion does not rest in another. It’s not lock-and-keyed into the heart of another. Or a 6’3 stature. Or the glow of a screen. Or the sounding of a text.

It’s already stitched inside of you, as beautiful as the dust of a Creation Story that knit you in secret spaces out of spiderweb silk. It’s there, there in the deep of you already, no matter how much sludge & hollow & pain & abuse & resentment has covered it up in all these years.

It never goes away. It never buys the next train ticket out and decides to leave you standing on the platform alone.

You might forget it. You might lose the muscles it takes to believe in it. But everything you have ever needed is already inside of you. It’s sprawling like bucketfuls of wildflowers. It demands a watering can that’s only ever craved your fingers wrapped around its handle.

Your completion does not rest in another. If I know a single thing to be true in this crazy, whimsical life... it’s that. I don't always believe in it but I know it is true. 

If Loveliness writes chapter books then here she signs her name.

Chapter One.

That boy--though never he may know it--will forever be tethered in my memory beside the moment I rediscovered Loveliness knocking at the door.

Him & all the parts of him. The bright blue high top sneakers. The backpack wedged between his knees. The Red Bull poking out the netted side pocket and the straw jutted in where lips normally purse the sugared sweet. The curls of his black hair pulled back into a ponytail. The dark in his eyes. The ear buds in.

Sitting across from me on a Manhattan-bound 4 train, our Stranger status fell away with toes tapping & lips whispering the lyrics humming into each of our own hearts.

We smiled at each other once.

It was enough to tie him close.

Chapter Two.

A canceled coffee date on Friday morning left the grounds of my day planner barren for the morning hours. As if it had been the plan all week long, I swiped my metro card and headed for the Uptown 4 train, shuffled onto the subway and waited for the buildings & bricking of the Bronx to flood the windows.

I moved away from the Bronx a year-and-a-half ago--bellies of my suitcases packed tight with knits & wellies--feeling like a failure. Feeling like depression got the better of me, like she won.

I moved away thinking that one of the street vendors of the souvenir shops might think to mail me a t-shirt that read, "I Lost my Loveliness in New York City," with a note that scribbled in chalkie Sharpie, "Don't come back. You failed, girl."

That's how it felt. And so I didn't go back. Not to visit. Not to say hello. Thinking stepping on that concrete once again would just remind me that I was never good enough to gain back the Loveliness. That the delicate word that I'd long stapled to tea parties & porcelain dolls could never again be applied to such a ramshackled mess as me. A girl tattered with tears & heartbreak & self hatred could never, ever know a thing of Loveliness. It would never be hers, it would never be hers.

Chapter Three.

Loveliness. I've struggled with it. Like sand that pours through the cracks in the fingers & hands sunk deep in the sandbox, she has escaped me time & time & time again. Just a word--and yet she means something true to me. That I could be worthy. That I could deserve to be standing here today. That me-- my beauty, my voice, the thoughts in my head & the prayers in my folded fingers--might mean something.

That they be delicate. That they be the kind of things that make me matter in this world.

Loveliness. I thought I had lost her. That I'd never get her back. That she'd forever be the kind of word used in melodies & symphonies, sonnets & serenades. But never me.

And I'm learning a hard, swallow-your-spit kind of lesson these days: things don't disappear into the air just because we don't talk of them no longer. Memories don't turn to dust. Old feelings don't retire to rocking chairs in nursing homes in Alabama until their little limbs need oxygen and they turn blue in polka-dotted nightgowns.

Life has never thought to operate in that manner.

We've only just convinced ourselves that if we don't talk about something, if we keep the matter bolted closed, if we just forget it for a little while longer-- then it will be gone. Gone with the wind. Gone for good.

The memory always floods back. Be it a song, a conversation, a quote within a book, a feeling... The issue always unfolds again. We are always reminded eventually, somehow & someway, of the pockets full of pain we've carried and the tears we used to cry, hoping that they might be released and we might be relieved.

We always reach a point where it is time to drop down to both knees and somehow uncover the art of picking up pieces. The art of revisiting.

To finally relearn. & finally discover & rediscover & rerediscover all that we once were before the Hard Time swept in with a handsome grin and a nightmarish lullaby ready to sweep us off the stage like Clara in the Nutcracker.

Chapter Four.

I went back to the Bronx Friday morning.  Fear swelled & heart tender, I went back.

I saw familiar faces. We laughed in too tiny of rooms. I made jokes about my student loans and how I felt like each new one made me feel like a mother just finding out that she had another child in this world. They missed me. I saw it in their eyes. They asked me why it took so long. I said I had some weaving out of junk to do.

They smiled. Saw a new person in me.

I walked away feeling whole. Unshakeable. Like parts of the past weren't hidden chapters any longer. Like I'd picked up pieces. Like I was strong enough for my memories.

Chapter Five.

"I feel lovely just the way that I am," the song trickled up through my ear buds. "Yes, I, I feel lovely just the way that I am."

The boy across from me beat his heel against the subway floor. He kept glancing upward.

I feel lovely, I thought to tell him. The boy across from me with the blue high tops and black hair pulled back into a ponytail. Just like this. Just like this. I feel lovely.

My past is perfect. The darkness is cleared. All the sadness that broke me & all the depression that swept me clean made me who I am. Stronger. Ready. Lovely-- like the first one to ever know the word. Lovely--like it were a living room that we could lounge in for days & days, sipping lemonade & laughing from the belly & thinking to never leave. Lovely, just like that, I thought to tell him.

We never spoke. I formed no sentences. He heard every word.

We smiled at each other once.

It was enough to tie him close.

I'm in a relationship... I thought maybe you should know.

If I took this little "relationship" to the Land of Face & Book, I'd be the first one to break the "Like" button. Mark Zuckerberg would call me personally and say, "Darling, Hannah, do you need me to invent the "Love" button?"

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Littlest Lullaby, you go ahead and name it when you’re ready.

Self love is a concept more tangled to me than the mess of Christmas lights now harbored up in my attic for another 300 or so days. I’ve struggled with it. A lot. And every time another letter request comes to sit in my inbox, outlining the tracings of a girl who just doesn’t know how to value herself, I am reminded: I might not be so equipped to write this love letter. Some days I am. Other days, I need it myself.

Step One is always to write to her. To let her know that I am rushing to reach her mailbox. Her fingers. Her hands.

Step Two is to step back and find a way to speak love into my own arms.

Step Three is to write it all down.  

Look up, look up,

For you are the littlest lullaby of New York City.

You are as brilliant as the sound that streams from the Old Man’s saxophone in Central Park.

You, you are as striking as the Sunday Times front-page photo, shot from the lens of a clever journalist who was standing right where he needed to be at midnight. To prop a digital to his eye and snap, snap, snap the Man who wore a uniform that told He’d Been Gone Too Long as he kissed the girl who wore a smile that simply said My Soldier Has Come Home.

You are as alive as the city that surrounds them, as the world sings down to twelve o’ clock and the confetti grabs and tangles in their hair.

You are as precious as the Little Girl with the ALDO shopping bag, the one bigger than her body, slung over her shoulder. She chews the ends of a noisemaker and lays back in her Mama’s Arms, leaving a subway to wonder, Did She Make it To Midnight Last Night? Or did her Little Girl Eyelashes fold into one another, like prayer hands, at 10pm?

You are as delicate as the antique camera the Boy holds in his lap. Stroking the grooves, thinking in Peter Pan fashion, “What magic will I capture on this first day of 2012?”

You are as unstoppable as a Café that holds a Floor that holds a Table that holds Two Chairs that holds Two Dreamers who hold the Power to Change the World deep within them.

And what’s more unstoppable than that Café that holds a Floor that holds a Table that holds Two Chairs that Holds Two Dreamer who hold the Power to Change the World deep within them is that they’ve realized, over Two Coffee Mugs and a Stack of Stationery between them, that they are Unstoppable. And they’ve decided to Never Stop.

You, you are as lovely as a page torn from a book, folded and carried beside Lip Smackers and Wrigley’s gum in the purse of a Lady headed towards 72nd Street. As lovely as the words she Reads & ReReads & ReReReads to herself on the days where it seems God forgot to put the color into the sky. “You your best thing,” she reads. “You your best thing,” she ReReads it again.

And Darling, you matter. You matter in the way that rain to the sunken soils of Africa matters to the Ones who haven’t felt the drops on their sunken shoulders in 17 months.

You matter in the way that the Girl with the rip in her tights and feather in her hair matters to the Boy who hurdles suitcases and becomes a running blob in a photo of the Korean bride as she kisses her fiancé at the top of the stairs in Grand Central Station. And he ruins perfect Save the Date photos just to find His Girl waiting at Track 26 for a southbound train, moving towards Away. He pulls her in by the arms and he tells her he’s made mistakes but this? Well, this would be his Biggest, if he let a train and his own fears rip His Angel away.

You matter in the way that bright lights matter to a City of Insomniacs who came here mostly because the bright lights assure them they, they too, were made to shine and shower light. In Some Way. Some Day.

You matter in the way New York City matters to a girl who has cut and pasted a world of high fashion & beauty how-to’s along her walls, waiting for the day when she won’t just stitch jean pocketbooks in her bedroom. Won’t just scan websites for internship opportunities in Manhattan.

You. You. You.

You are bright as the sun that peeks from behind the buildings-- tall like players who make a life out of jumping up to wrap their Big Hands around the Rims of a Net. To slam-dunk and dangle for a while.

You are bright as the stars that jut through the skyline like the tips of lead pencils poking through black cardstock. The light pours & pours with each poke.

You are something bright, something rare, something I cannot quite name all by myself. As timid as Adam the day he found  a dove and struggled just to name her right.

But it's lovely, whatever you are, it's lovely. So name it when you’re ready.

Littlest Lullaby, you go ahead and name it when you’re ready.

We can plant a box in the middle of town and, on days when we are feeling lovely, we could pour the loveliness in.

Thought I was writing this letter for a girl in Starbucks after I could not help but eavesdrop on her phone conversation... She walked away and I just sat there, staring at the words I wrote to her. The letters jumped from the page.

Turns out I was writing it not just for her but for me, my best friend and a slew of other young women just trying to find their place in this life.

If that's you today, then this letter is yours. 

I’m sorry but I could not help but sit within your phone conversation.

I’ll admit it right now. Up Front. I totally sat somewhere between the iced coffee in front of you and the mess of paperwork surrounding you.

Somewhere between the iPhone to your ear and the Words that Seemed to Shatter Against the Starbucks Window you sat beside.

I stayed and lingered for a while. Hanging off the words you said to someone who should have been better to you.

“You know… I am doing OK.”

A Great Pause.

“It’s just tough… I am going to have to prove myself… I just need to be relevant in some way. The way I was in LA… It’s been hard to be nothing at the end of the day.”

And gosh, I don’t know you, so I guess this is where I wanted the most to break into the conversation and awkwardly make some comment about how much I adore your blouse. The green really fits you.

I don’t really care about the green blouse, I just have a tough time blurting out to strangers that I think the world is better because of them.

And all I really want to say, beyond silk and satin compliments, is that I am in your shoes. That a million of us are in your shoes today. Wanting to feel adequate. Loved. Wondering if we should start jumping on tables and yelling in the middle of the Fresh Produce aisles of Target just so people know we are here. That we exist. That we matter.

You know, if I were a psychologist I might attest that it all traced back to our Little Girl Days…Beside toys & dolls with frilled dresses, we became Girls Who Cared Too Much. Lived Too Little. Tried Too Hard to Win Too Little of Love than the Great Love We Truly Deserved.

If I were a sociologist I would say it stems back the Mean Girls. To the cold shuns of lockers closing & twisted teeth, neon metal filling their mouths, who slur secrets to one another about the way we dress and the hairs on our heads. That’s when we became Slaves, Shackled to What the World Thinks of Us.

And if I were an anthropologist I would say this goes all the way back to Eve…. Even in her fig leaf ensembles, I am so certain if she had been handed a resume, an LSAT study book, a pair of tweezers and a beauty magazine she would have found ways to sit by the water when Adam wasn’t looking, stare into her reflection and whisper out loud, “Be more, Eve. Be more.”

But strip from me the “psych” & “soc” & “anthro” and I am just some Ologist who is dying to tell you that you don’t have to be alone in this. That we can figure out this mess together. Day by day. Even minute by minute if it takes us that long. But we don’t have to go it alone.

I say we, and not you, because already—even if you don’t believe it—I’m determined to not leave you alone in this.

We can get an army going, for I know there are a lot of pretty girls this side of the town who would gather alongside us.

We could plant a box in the middle of town and, on days when we are feeling lovely, we could pour the loveliness in. When you are feeling beautiful, you go ahead and pour into it too. Pass that love to the box for a girl who’s feeling less Lovely & needs a lift the next day. We could seesaw love… back and forth to one another. It could be a beautiful, radical thing that would keep us away from coffee shops that leave us spilling self-worth out from the seams of phone conversations.

We could laugh about this one day over too many glasses of wine. We could cock our heads back and snicker for several hours over the silliness that’s now stitched to the days we called ourselves Worthless. Not Good Enough. Inadequate. Irrelevant.

Snicker, snicker, snicker, I think I’d like to laugh about this one day, to reach a point where I could stand before a mirror and laugh until my head falls off, saying to the girl with brown hair looking back, “How did I ever abandon you? Cut you down? Push you into boxes far too small? 

I love you, and I adore you. I love you, and I adore you.

You are my best friend and I won't forget to remember that… you are my best friend and I wont remember to forget that."

Kaleidoscope Lifetimes: 9/11. We Remember.

I spent precisely 73 minutes, curled up on the tile floor of the New York Library-Bronx Branch, crying yesterday. Book Propped In Front Of Me. Knees Folded. Pages Playing Tear Catchers.

I half expected a librarian to approach me, befuddled by my sinking the library with Titanic-like tears. Ok, maybe not Titanical Tears. But certainly rowboat tears.

"Excuse me, are you alright?" She would've asked. Clearly feeling awkward upon the sight of me.

"Oh, yes... Don't worry," I would've replied. "I do this all the time, no need to be alarmed. I always plant myself in the nonfiction section when I am having a bad day."

I wish I were kidding but we all have quirky ways to remedy our bad days. I am just more open to admitting mine. Something about the nonfiction section of a library holds me at hard times. The Shelves Quake as I envelope myself in stories that are not my own. Stories that remind me the word "Alone" can disintegrate with two steps in nearly any direction. We are not alone. We are not the only ones having tough days. We are striving so hard to be Individuals that we lose track of Sameness. Sameness Matters. Oh yes, it does.

I cried for a silent waltz between Individuality and Sameness bound up together in a hardcover. 1,901 portraits.1,901 Individuals Who Lost their Lives in September 11, 2001.

Mothers. Husbands. Teachers. Students. Fathers. Brokers. Aunts. Business Men. Fiances. Waiters.

All Different Lives. One Common Ending.

A day when Two planes Took To the air. Took down Two Towers. Took Too many.

If our lives look more like a waiting room than a kaleidoscope today then we are doing something wrong. If we are hoping life will begin someday soon then we are wasting time. If we are allowing words inflated with Doubt, Negativity, Hatred and Defeat take the reins in our vocabulary then we need a new dictionary.

Because 2,996 lives never found tomorrow after September 11, 2001. Over 200,000 lives lost the chance for a better life when the Earth Quaked in Haiti this past year. More than 4,000 soldiers gave up any form of a future to fight a war in Iraq. Why? So that we could have the future. Planted in our Hands.

We need only stare at a cover of the New York Times to slap our own wrists with reality: We have been given a gift. Gifts are never required. Nor guaranteed.

A volume full of single stories, each one begging to burst from beneath their byline, reminds me of the great nobility of everyday existence. In riding the 4 Train to work daily, where Doug Jason Irgang met his future bride-to-be after seeing her daily on the commute to work, reading her paper. They were set to be married in December 2001. In the pots of rice and beans cooked by Jorge Velazquez every Saturday for the homeless and hungry of Manhattan. In the spaces between the breaths of Janet Alonso as she called her husband to tell him That The Office Was Filling With Smoke. That She Could Not Breathe. That She Loved Him.

And then the Buildings Broke.

I am reminded on an every day basis that it will never matter which titles we held or the amount of money that our bank accounts digested. The fibers of our existence are counted then accounted for in the hands that we hold. The well intentions we wish. The prayers we send Upward. The compassion we sent Outward. The love we welcome Inward.

I hold a thousand secrets and I cannot share them all. But here's one. Lean in closer. Open your ears: The only promising promise exists in this very moment and what we make of it. Ready. Set. Go.

 

To a woman who leaves a trail of adoration wherever she goes like the glitter upon greeting cards that always ends up on your Fingers. Your Dress. Your Face. Your Notebooks. Your Collar. Your Lap.

Sashay. The word is sashay.

It might be the only word in all of the dictionary brave enough to take on her way of walking.

The only word without knocking knees when it comes to embodying enough potential to describe the poised motion of my mother as she floated from crowd to crowd at her surprise 60th birthday party this past weekend.

Sashaying across the floor as if she were still 22.

I was on the way to the doctor the other day because of chest pain that thankfully was just reflux,” she told the group of nearly 100 guests . “And I am driving and panicking, wondering, ‘Did I tell everyone that I love them? Did I?’ But you are all here tonight and I have chance to tell you now!

My mother is rare in that sense.

In the sense that she is given a party and she uses it as a chance to let others know that she loves them.

In the sense that her own world could be finding ways to crumble and she'll stay wondering if the people around her know themselves loved enough.

She is rare in the sense that she will have you tripping over Piles of Love on your way out to the grocery store; in the sense that you will end up making a list of all the people in your life that need to hear "I love you" today instead of remembering to put the apples in the cart or check granola bars off the list.

She is rare in the sense that she could point out just how many times in a day we may say "I Love You" but that it really pales in comparison to showing it. In order to love, and love really, we sometimes need to ditch the words. Leave the Love Letters Behind and Raise Up Our Hands To Love In Action Like Shadow Figures Upon the Wall. Bring Love Forth With Presence. Awareness. Kindness. Understanding. Loyalty. Patience. Even when we would rather just say three words and move on for the day. Especially when nothing inside of us brews with an inclination to show love to others.

She is rare in the sense that she only needs to move three steps before she is shaking love off through her sway and leaving others absolutely wrapped with her easy companionship. A woman who leaves a trail of adoration wherever she goes like the glitter upon greeting cards that always ends up on your Fingers. Your Dress. Your Face. Your Notebooks. Your Collar. Your Lap.

She is rare in the sense that she only needs 30 seconds or so to prove to you that "to love" is to Love in Color. Love Out Loud. Love in Silence. Love in Motion. Love Regardless. Love Unconditionally.

She’ll make your fingernails ache from loving others.

She’ll make your elbows sore from loving so fully.

And she will give you every reason under her bright, bright sun to believe that you don’t need a holiday or a box of chocolates to begin right now.

 

Happy 60th Birthday Mom.

Short & Sweet. But as I wrote before: it is not so easy to find words confident enough to represent you. After a good deal of coaxing and bribing words out of the crooks of the dictionary I was able to find a few. Regardless, it is already very clear: There are no words when it comes to you and all you have instilled within me.

Love & Miss you already.

 

 

A guru at equipping souls with a Simultaneous Sense of Eating, Praying & Loving, once wrote that we cannot expect to win the lottery if we don’t first buy the ticket.

I spent two years stealing love notes from my brother's bedroom just to admire the handwriting styles of his girlfriend.

I may or may not have contemplated stapling the letters to my trendy Unicorn sweaters of the time and wearing them around with my jacket unzipped. Not to expose any juicy secrets, of course, but  to show people what eloquent handwriting looked like. The kind of stuff Hallmark Illustrators gnaw on for breakfast.

Instead, being the slightly neurotic ten-year-old that I was, I took out my Lisa Frank planner and scheduled a time slot from 4-5p.m., Monday thru Friday.

Handwriting Practice.

Yes, yes. While other girls read Tiger Beat Magazine and gushed over the Backstreet Boys, I holed myself up in my bedroom, unfolding love letters from their paper football form, to master the technique behind a round & full lowercase “a” and the precise swoop of an uppercase “Y”.  The anticipation of one day seeing these same delicate letters parade on my very own book reports and love notes was enough to keep me diligent for two entire years. Close to 300 hours or so of handwriting practice.

I've grown up keeping this notion closer to me than I would my purse on a packed subway car: If we want something then we need to work hard for it. Every Single Day. Every Single Day we carve out time for that Dream of ours. We don’t merely coo at it or coddle it, we bring it into this world. Loud & Rapturous.

I also grew up cursing the God who put a great deal of distance between Point A & Point B.

Why not connect them closer, God? Why not give me what I want right this very moment? It would probably make His Sky High To-Do List much shorter. More manageable.

It would be much easier this way, if we could pick up our deepest desires from the racks of the department store & plop them into a cart.

Chances are, a lot more dreams would live to see their realization if we were able to skip right from Point A to Point B. If Time, Energy, Hard Work, Rejection, Struggle & Discernment were not so adamant in demanding a seat in our Ambition-Covered Wagons.  

I’ve written it before but I still believe that our dreams are very much like infants. We conjure them up in diaries and during long commutes but we have to then step up to be teachers to them. Teach them to Walk, Talk, Sing, Dance, Shake, Shimmy, Move, Be. Understand their weak beginnings. Understand their wobbly legs. Covet the progress. Smile at the Baby Steps.

But the one thing we cannot do if we ever hope to find them as a reality, sitting across from us like a familiar stranger who knows how we take our coffee, is belittle them. Degrade them. Find small boxes to shove them in. Let them collect dust on a shelf within our memory.

You see, one day our dreams being labeled as "unreachable" won't cut it anymore. They will grow stale. They might fall apart. They will tire from us putting “Cannot” and “Should” in front of them in line. And they will slink into a slot just as forgotten as the lone sock, abandoned under the bed and left praying for some sort of companion who understands their wool & texture.

Elizabeth Gilbert, a guru at equipping souls with a Simultaneous Sense of Eating, Praying & Loving, one wrote that we cannot expect to win the lottery if we don’t first buy the ticket. I don’t know about you, but I have some tickets to buy… some dreams stored up inside of me that need to start sending their resumes out to reality.

So here’s to taking some coins, sunk deep from our pockets, and listening to the sounds they make as they clink on the counter.

 “One ticket please,” I say. “Matter of fact, make it ten.”

Here’s to finding Point A together, no matter how opposite our directions are from one another.

Here’s to kicking Struggle & Rejection, Doubt & Animosity, out from the cradle that our dreams slumber in at night.

Here’s to picking back up that piece of chunky purple chalk and writing our dreams out to the world. Fine Handwriting Practice or None.

Here’s to placing Point A down on the map and finding one way today to make a sudden movement.

A Baby Step.

A Crawl.

Even just a shoulder shrug.

On our way.

To Point B.

Dear 2011, We have our Bright Yellow Knickers on and we are coming right at ya....

It would be too simple to cast the blame on my mother for this holiday season's most embarrassing moment. Far Too Simple. So I am opting to blame Venezuela instead.

That's right, Venezuela. I'm not so fooled by you, sitting so smug and innocent right between Brazil & Colombia. You are the very reason that my whole entire family ripped through the wrapping paper at the same exact moment on Christmas morning to find a pair of yellow underwear, as if we were going to match as quaintly as the Duggar Family. It was you, Venezuela. All you!

My new pair of yellow knickers  is proof that if you give my mother "Google" she will unearth some crazy South American superstition to help ring in the New Year more efficiently.

 This year's tradition comes straight from Venezuela where the people of the country wear yellow underwear on New Year's Eve to bring them good luck in the twelve months ahead. Perhaps we think its a bit crazy but we are the ones running around frantically making lists to change our lives at the stroke of midnight. As if our will power and years of habits will suddenly shift on the first of January.

I have never been a big fan when it comes to New Year's. You can string me up with Christmas lights or set me loose in a yard on an Easter Egg Hunt but the old famous anthem of the New Year has always picked a strange cord with me.

1999-2000, now that was bound to be a good New Year. I can still remember putting down my Titanic picture book an hour before midnight, positioning the Y2K hat on my head and sitting before a buffet of crackers and orange juice. Waiting. Waiting for the world toend. I kid you not, I was absolutely giddy over the prospect of the clocks and computers malfunctioning and the world turning to darkness. I even went so far as to bake a Y2K cake for all of my friends. Can you tell that I was extremely popular?

 So back to that Yellow Pair of Knickers...

Many of us will be carrying suitcases full of resolutions into the New Year. Hopefully some of us will decide to leave some baggage behind as well. I claim to not like New Year's Resolutions but I know that come 11:59p.m., while singles at the bars will be searching for a make out fellow for midnight, I will be searching my head for the Resolutions I would like to stick with for at least the first two weeks of January. If I look at the bright side of the New Year, it is a pretty good thing. The chance to start over at the sounding of twelve chimes, the freshness that floats in the air as we all open our new agenda books or take that first run of 2011. The Possibility of Change is always a good thing.

But this year I have decided to carry only one word into the New Year. One single word that I hope will carry me through 365 days and leave me better because of it. Now, I technically get two words because my Yellow Knickers count for Luck. But Luck, she needs a faithful companion. A traveller to snuggle with throughout the Cold Nights of January. The Arrow-Stricken Days of February. The Lucky Mornings of March. The Teary-Eyed Afternoons of April. Luck will need a confidante to share her Memories with in May. Her Juicy Gossip in June. Her Jesterly Jokes in July. Yes, yes, Luck will need a best friend to run through the sprinkler with in August. Sip Sweet Cider with in September. Carve Pumpkins with in October. Keep Carving til November, but this time a Turkey. And Christmas Carol with in December.

And maybe Luck & her buddy will have to part ways at the end of 2011, when the last day crawls to the front of the calendar. Or maybe they will reel in another Friend and form a 2012 Trio.

Picking the word to accompany Luck in the New Year was no easy task. I now know how the Bachelor feels with all those roses. I sorted through Confidence, Craziness & Comfort. I grappled with Resilience, Responsibility & Radiance. I tried on Elation, Ecstasy & Excellence. And I almost picked Laughter. Laughter, you were runner-up. But I settled on Serendipity.

Serendipity will be the Groom to my Luck this year.

Serendipity, one of my favorite words! The act of finding something valuable & delightful when you are not even looking for it. What a grand theme for 2011!

Thankfully the Luck & Serendipity are so compatible by nature, figured that one out without even employing the help of eHarmony. Everyone knows there is a little Luck in Serendipity already. But isn't that the secret to great lovers? My pal Rumi knew it best, that great lovers don't finally meet somewhere, they are in each other all along. Oh, Serendipity & Luck, welcome to sweet, sweet matrimony. My wedding gift to you two love birds is a calendar full of open spaces for you to play & gush & sing all day long.

So my friends, I wish you a wonderful New Year's Celebration. To the singles at the bar, I hope you find the lips of an angel to pucker with at midnight. To the Resolutionaries, I make a great cheerleader. Here's to a year full to the brim of Excitement & Spontaneity. Yellow Knickers. Love. Lessons. & Pearls, Pearls, Pearls. Pearls of Wisdom at every turn.

Now, if you will excuse me I have to introduce a dashing couple, Serendipity & Luck, to a brand New Year and reward my match making skills with a mimosa.

Now it is your turn, what "one word" will you carry into the New Year with you?

P.S. Don't bother looking at the GAP, they don't sell Yellow Knickers. H&M is a safe bet.

One day I will be able to say to my Little Ones: "This is how your Mommy came to write 207 Love Letters to 207 Strangers"

We sat in over-sized Alice chairs admiring the spouts of our teapots, appropriately short and stout, as they poured a sweet elixir into the bottom of our antique cups. We clinked our tea cups together and we made a toast. A Toast to Loneliness, Calluses and Love Letters. Two Months of Loneliness. Two rounded calluses on my writing hand. Two Hundred & Seven Love Letters Written.

Signed. Sealed. Delivered. I'm Yours.

I sat across from my Best Friend this weekend, a girl who has shown me a whole new dimension to what it means to miss someone in the last four months. We entangled the sharing of three cups of tea with dozens of Stories in one of my favorites spots in New York City. I moved my hands with each story, motioning all around me, to show her what I have learned from living in this Big City.

"I think I have learned Loneliness best," I told her.

Learned to greet Loneliness as if it were an old friend. Kiss it on the cheek and allow it to kiss back. Soft & Warm. Somehow Soft & Warm.

I never knew that Loneliness could be such a comforting feeling until it propelled me to write 207 Love Letters.  Thank You, Loneliness, for teaching a lost girl just how to script her Sadness into Love.

As you may remember, two months ago I began writing love letters to strangers on the 4 train. I became quite accustomed to the thrill of writing to strangers and leaving my letters behind as if they were my own personal trail of bread crumbs. Central Park. Grand Central Terminal. A Slew of Diners claiming to have the World's Best Coffee. Through these letters I learned to pour out my heart to perfect strangers as if it were the same fine brew that spouted from my teapot. Leaving Letters Behind. For Some Romeo. Some Juliet. Some Heloise. Some Other Soul Who Needed Words That Day.

But the true gift behind these letters unveiled itself when you became involved. When we all stopped talking about Love Letters and we just started writing them. Asking for Them. Yes, yes, it all began when you pulled up a chair at my Love Letter Tea Party. Sitting Snug Between Ink, Stationary, Loneliness and a Cluster of Forty-Four Cent Stamps.

I never imagined on the day I promised a Snail Mail Love Letter to whoever emailed me their address that I would find my inbox full that night. Full of Requests from All Over the World. From Japan to Utah. From Canada to California. Some with Stories Tied to the request. Some Sad. Some Happy. Some in Desperate Need of a Linkage. Over 200 Love Letter Requests.

"So what are you going to do now?" My mom asked me on the phone that night, knowing that I was already quite overwhelmed by promising a handwritten note.

"I'll start writing," I told her. Because as much energy as it takes to write over 200 full pages of letters, I think it takes a lot more courage to ask a complete stranger to write you a love letter. I sent up a prayer to God for Strong Fingers, Strong Words and a little extra help on the postage, and then I began writing.

Anywhere. Everywhere. Each One Different. Giving me great practice in seeing all the ways one can dress up a single word. Love.

Some days writing Love Letters allowed me to tuck away my own Loneliness. Other days my Loneliness did her own little Macarena all over the stationary. And on the best days, my Loneliness unearthed itself from Behind the Ink & Signatures. Emerging like an extreme makeover contestant, coming out looking Radiant. Looking Like Love.

To all of you who asked for a letter, thank you for giving me the chance to write to you. To shatter the word "stranger" 207 times. That is an absolute dream come true for a girl adores any chance to shed the skin right off of that word. That is the best Christmas Gift I could have ever hoped to receive. You gave my Loneliness a purpose and for that reason I will never regret a single swooping of my cursive.

Many of You wrote your own Love Letters and allowed me to do the honors of sprinkling them all over Manhattan. Thank you for letting me pick the perfect spot. The perfect chance for someone else to hold that letter well & good. A Table in a Cafe. A Shelf of the NYC Library. A Pew in St. Pat's Cathedral.

And a few beautiful souls sent stamps. They supplied the fuel for those Love Letters to do their own globe-trotting. Thank you for those stamps in the mail. For Pulling Out a Faded Book of Liberty Bell Stamps, Sitting Folded & Pristine in Your Wallet, and Handing Them to Me. Trusting I would put them straight to work in the corner of some envelope.

But one person in particular deserves the largest thank you of all. I have never been driven so quickly to try to tame my tears as when a box showed up at my Bronx apartment. Addressed to "As Simple as That".I knelt down in my hallway, and opened the unaddressed package to reveal a Full Box, Bulging with Brand New Toys.

This is to the guy who sent a box full of toys to my class of preschoolers who might not have had Christmas gifts otherwise.

You attached a message that said you were not one for writing love letters. I hope you see that you wrote the very best Love Letter of all.

You taught me with your Gift that we all can write Love Letters. Some with Pencil. Some with Generosity. Some with Ears that Listen. Others with Hands that Hold. One way or another, we all have great potential to send a Love Letter off into this world. To Write Our Lives Into  A Love Letter, with the steps we take and the lives we touch.

I grew up saying that I would one day become a Professional Love Letter Writer and maybe I have finally reached that point. After setting down 207 final points of punctuation, I think I am finally there. And what have I learned from the calluses, the loneliness and the inbox full of requests?

That we are all in need of a Love Letter from time to time. A reminder that we are doing o.k. We are doing just fine. That someone, somewhere is sending us Light & Love. Be it from the Biggest City or the Smallest Town. With the Loudest Voice or the Quietest Whisper. To the One With the Toughest Exterior or the Most Broken Interior.

Turns out the world really does need more Love Letters and it looks like we have only just begun writing them.