Should I stay or should I go now?

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Lane is the more organized one in our marriage. If ever I forget this truth, I need only look at my calendar for the next upcoming flight on my horizon. It will be the morning of that flight, as I am furiously trying to find things I need to be packed and shove them into my suitcase, that I will be reminded of this truth.

I want to be organized. I crave order. But I am the kind of packer who throws all of her stuff into the suitcase without folding and then sits on top of the case to try and zip it. I am also the person who packs chaotically (half-crying, half-cussing) and then, on the way to the airport, is surprised to find I need something in the suitcase. I will be standing there in the drop-off area of the airport unpacking and repacking as Lane kisses me goodbye and tells me all of this would be simpler if I would just take the time to pack my bag the day before.

Deep sigh. I can’t seem to get better in this area. I picture myself folding things neatly and really thinking deliberately about what I want to bring my trip. The reality is way more chaotic: I pack way more than I need. I pack all the things I haven’t worn in 2 years. I end up wearing approximately one outfit out of the 5 I’ve packed. I forget things. I bring the wrong shoes. I bring too many shoes.

I received an email the other day from a reader currently in the middle of “Come Matter Here.” She asked a really good question, one I’ve wrestled with a great deal.

She wrote to ask, “I was wondering where you draw the line between planting your roots down to grow and “being where your feet are” and let’s just say, for instance, moving to the beach for a year. I love to travel and be spontaneous and I guess I was just wondering if it is bad to do that?”

First things first: nope.

There is nothing bad or wrong about being a spontaneous person, wanting to travel, or liking adventure. My husband Lane is continually reminding me to change the language I use when addressing circumstances in daily life. He encourages me to stop wondering if things are always “bad” or “wrong.” Without even knowing it, I can begin to spread my worry and fear into all areas of life.

When I adopted the motto “be where your feet are” before moving to Atlanta, I was at a point where nothing could satisfy me. I could have picked up and moved to the beach for a year and still, I would have likely missed the present moment. I don’t think there is anything wrong with packing your bags and traveling if you can (I actually would highly encourage you going out and seeing the world) but I think you have to be willing to ask the question: Am I running from something? Am I going somewhere because I am ready for a great adventure or am I leaving because I think it would be easier than staying?

You’re either running from something or you’re running towards something. There’s a difference.

If you are running from something then I would encourage you to dig in before you decide to go anywhere. I would ask you to dig deep. I would tell you to deal with the baggage before you go somewhere new because that baggage will surely follow you. It will show up in your beach bungalow. It will wave to you from the back of the packed car.

Admittedly, there was a ton of baggage I did not unpack before moving to Atlanta and let me tell you this: it was so much harder to deal with it when I was 1,000 miles away from everyone who really knew me.

My first few months of Atlanta were full of meeting new people and awkward first coffee dates but there was limited depth and I appreciated that. I appreciated that because I honestly didn’t want to know or face the depth of my mess. I wanted to be okay— even if it meant only on the surface— and fool people into thinking I was doing just fine. I tricked myself into thinking I didn’t have to deal with the parts of me that were disappointed with God.

People who really know you— they know your darkest parts— will ask the scarier questions: are you running from something? Have you talked to God lately? What are you really afraid of?

I have one friend who answers all my whiny statements with the same answer, “Go back to God.” Gosh, this friend frustrates me sometimes. I want to kick and scream and say, “NO! I don’t want to go back to God! I don’t want to meet him in the quiet of my room. I don’t want to hash it out. I want to stay mad and distant. I want to keep my pain. I want to fix it myself.”

But friends, she is never wrong. In all the years I have tried to avoid what is truly bothering me or tried to avoid taking that thing to God like an offering, my friend has never been wrong. I have always needed to go back to God even when I think I haven’t walked away. I’ve got a heart that is prone to wandering and Lord, oh Lord, do I feel it.

We all have a bag. We all pack differently. Some of us are traveling light. Some of us are secret hoarders who’ve never parted with a memory in our lives. I think we are all called to figure out how to carry our bag to the best of our ability, how to unpack it, and how to face the mess. I think part of growing up is learning how to sit down the floor with all your things and figuring out what to take with you and what to leave behind. It’s learning to do the hard work that comes with dealing with the messy.  It’s being wise enough to take that inventory and ask yourself: am I being held back? Am I really free? Is there something I’m still refusing to let go of?

Mind you, “dealing with the messy” isn’t an overnight quest. You likely won’t put it on your to-do list and check it off within the week. Life is always getting a little bit messier but I think we learn to fold it. We learn to deal with it. We learn to find order in the chaos and peace in the storms.

I’m not promising anyone they’ll encounter a day where life doesn’t throw a curveball and deal you a healthy serving of mess. I’m simply saying this: you can learn to sort through your mess with God. You can learn to wade into the mess and through the mess and come out as someone different on the other side. You can learn to run towards the mess rather than run from everything that scares you.

I guess I haven’t done a very good job of answering that reader’s question: is it wrong to want to pack up my life and go somewhere new?

The short answer: no. No, it isn’t.

You were created with adventure in your bones. You were created to encounter miracles. You were created to rejoice. But there is deep and satisfying work in opening the suitcase and figuring out what you’re really carrying before you go.

A hotel is for sale on Baltic Avenue.

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She asked if I would rewind.

If I could go back and rewind to a portion of life that was filled with boxes and suitcases, would I choose to never pack them? Would I choose to stay, instead of leave, New England? 

I was sitting on the countertop barefoot when her text rolled through. Half of a kale and grilled cheese sandwich on a plate beside me. I was waiting for someone to show up at my house and teach me how to garden. Dishes sat in the sink, content to soak a few hours before getting scrubbed good and hard. A candle burned, the smell of sandalwood filling in any parts of the kitchen that hadn’t felt like home just yet.

I stared at the screen for half a second. I wondered if this was the sort of thing we ever imagined would get sent in a text message. Like, when SMS first started, didn’t we always think it was going to be meant for quick communication? Like, brb. And see you in ten. But no, now I live in a world where text messages carry existential questions and I am forced to wonder about “what if” in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon where I really should have mopped the floor better.

If that text had showed up six months prior, I would have answered “yes.” I would have probably broken the phone by tapping those three letters– Y-E-S– so hard onto the screen. If it had been November, instead of April, I would have never even needed a moment to think and say, “Yes, I would have stayed. I would have never packed the car. I would have never chosen to be introduced to the antichrist known as IKEA furniture. I would have learned how to live in the same place I’d existed in for my whole life. The journey would have never happened.”

 

“If I had to rewind,” I answered back to her.

“I would have done everything absolutely the same.”

That text message alone– the confirmation of “delivered” on my screen– is proof that I am growing far more than I am shrinking these days. 

I would still choose boxes, I have decided. I would choose hard goodbyes. I would choose Siri speaking directions into my ear for thirteen hours straight as I navigated down Southern highways and stopped for sweet tea as a sign that hospitality was about to bear hug me tightly. I would choose the new furniture. The awkward conversations that eventually became “friendship.” I would choose to leave instead of stay.

 

I want to be clear on something.

Really clear. Because my mama is the devil’s advocate to every little word that comes out of my mouth and I love her fiercely for that. We all need the advocate for the “other way to see things.” We all need to be told every once in a while, “No, you aren’t always right.

If I had written this post a year ago, before I even packed to move, I probably would have tried to jam the idea of suitcases down your throat. I would have told you that you need to be brave. You need to leave. You need to heave yourself straight out of your comfort zone with no map and no manual.

I don’t feel that way anymore. You don’t have to go anywhere if you don’t want to. Some people want adventure. Some people want roots. Some people want an escape. Some people want a treasure hunt. We all want different things that keep us coming and going and staying and living. It’s better to just say, “You do you. You be your own manual. You be your own compass with the help of God that you want– the portion size you’ll take of Him. But I won’t preach at you with a suitcase in my hand. We all have our reasons for staying and leaving, and that’s just fine.”

I only say that because I’ve sat at a table across from my mother and she has said to me, “Not everyone wants what you want.” And I was forced to swallow hard and see her truth as truth– not everyone wants to get out. Some of us are wanderers. Some of us are fine where our feet are. Some of us wander in the hopes that our feet will finally whisper, “Stay right here. Here is where you need to stay.”

Staying is just as remarkable as leaving if you learn to white-knuckle-grip the perspective that lets you look at life and think, “We’re all going to find our way to gold. I believe that. I hope for that. We’re all going to make it out okay.” 

 

But me? I needed suitcases.

I needed suitcases one last time to finally unlearn how to be the girl who always wanted to leave. And not stay. And not endure the waves. And not feel the shards of a broken heart. And not sit with myself. I desperately needed a home that was hundreds of miles away from everything I knew to be true and safe if I ever wanted to get honest with myself and say: you’ve been running for a really long time, girl. Are you tired, yet? Are you over building walls, higher and higher, just yet?

I didn’t know any of that as I moved into my first Atlanta home. I didn’t know the next year of my life was going to be anything more than a honeymoon stage with a lot of cute boys in flat brim hats who hold the door open for you when you get into the car. I didn’t know that sometimes God drags you (you’d use the word “drag” when He’d probably use the word “lead”) to a place where you are forced to admit all that you are afraid to admit, “I don’t like unpacking suitcases. I don’t like staying. I don’t like letting my guard down. I don’t like being seen.”

Isn’t that just irony at its finest: when the girl who always “sees” people is too afraid to be seen for who she really is. 

 

I don’t know who I really am.

I am learning but I am not quite there yet. It feels like I have been playing some ridiculous and frustrating game like Monopoly for most of my life. I have passed “Go” half-a-hundred times without ever saying thank you for that two hundred dollars. I have been betting all my earnings on railroads and hotels on Baltic Avenue because I never had the courage to admit I wanted Park Place. Let’s be real, we’ve all wanted Park Place but it was easier to lift our heads to the ceiling at night and whisper, “I’d be fine with Baltic Avenue.”

I’m selling my hotels. The ones I built on Baltic Avenue, I am selling them for sure.

You know, I had a million ways to end this piece and every single one of them was preachy. Straight. Up. Preachy. So I said to myself, “Scrap it, girl. Scrap and tell someone what is real today.”


So what is real today? Today what’s real is that I am scared. I am scared straight over typing these words. My heart is nearly pounding out of my chest. I am scared because I am determined to make baby steps every single day that give me a life that looks a lot more like “living” instead of just “existing.” I am scared to find out that I moved nearly 12 months ago and it feels like I haven’t even put the foundation down yet. The foundation isn’t the good part, it’s the necessary part. I think I might be getting to the good part. Soon. Soon. 

I am scared because going forward, without looking back, isn’t an overnight thing. It is an everyday thing. An every hour thing. And I will not sit here and fake the process.

I cannot fake this process. This process is already breaking me. I won’t take an ounce of this year back– this journey to get right to the spot I am in right now: the moment of feeling like I get to start being really real. I get to stop looking for the suitcase handle and I get to start building a life. 

 

I want a life.

More than anything, I want a life. I don’t want boxes. I don’t want a geographic location. In the end, I did not move for a spot on the map. I moved because I wanted a life, not a place to live. It had nothing to do with people. It had nothing to do with apartments. It had nothing to do with what a location could or could not give me. It had nothing to do with cute, little coffee shops propped on the corner and neighbors appropriately named Little Bit. It had to do with myself– the one I have always been afraid of– and if I was willing to admit that nothing could change or budge or move inside of me if I did not just surrender.

And the only way to get to that point of surrender was by saying, “I relinquish control to all the things I know and find comfort in. I am choosing to let those things go if it means I am going to come alive.”

That’s what I want more than anything– not a house with a brown picket fence, not a countertop that snakes around the kitchen, not neighbors who bring me jello. I want to be alive. I want to be able to read that passage in Ezekial, the one that is overused in every worship song ever written, the one about “dry bones.” I want to read about those dry bones, the ones in Ezekial 37, and actually believe that things can go from dead to alive.

I want to look at all the dead things and be able to whisper, “That used to be me.”

I want to look at all the living things– all the pretty living things– and finally be able to whisper, “This is me. Finally I am saying it: Me too. Me too.”

The fight to bury you.

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The salesman at the AT&T store wasn’t equipped to handle me.

He’s equipped to handle phones. And tablets. And angry customers who drop their phones and crack the screens. I am 100% sure that he is equipped to handle such things. But me? No, certainly not.

I imagined he’d probably gotten up that morning and slugged a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee without any plans of ever encountering an anxious malcontent in a bright red hat who was hoping to get an upgrade and a clean slate– all in one sitting.

“Do you have everything backed up?” he asked me.

“I don’t think so,” I shrugged and looked off to the window. “Does it really matter? Do people actually do that?”

“Ummm, well…” he looked at me, as if staring long enough might be the key to me cracking a grin and telling him I was just kidding. I wasn’t kidding.

“Yea, they do,” he said.

“What would I want to keep?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Pictures? People usually want those. Notes?”

“Does that really matter? I mean, we are all going to die anyway.”

“That’s one way to look at it,” he laughed nervously. I mean, really nervously. I didn’t flinch.

“Let’s not back it up,” I told him. “Let’s just start fresh. Start clean. Haven’t you ever wanted that? A new start? A chance to just begin again?”

“I guess so?”

Like I said, he had no idea what to do with me. I think if his facial expression could translate itself into words it would have simply said: I am genuinely terrified of you, girl in the bright red hat. I am genuinely terrified, and yet somehow intrigued, all at the same time.”

I wish I was kidding right now. I wish I did not have to sit here and tell you that these are the exact words (verbatim) that slipped out of my mouth the other day as I waited on one of those bright orange AT&T stools to get my iPhone 6 upgrade.

You’re probably all like, “There’s Hannah and her morbidity again, lounging back and creeping out men who really don’t want to approach existentialism over tiny metal phones.” You’d be proud of me though– I made no references to the sinking of the Titanic and that, to me, is a pretty big win.

 

But really though, haven’t you ever wanted that? That one sliver of a solid chance to just start over. To clear the slate. To say, “There are things I am finished with and I am digging my heels into the ground and deciding to be done with them.”  Please just tell me I am not the only one who has ever been so tired of the way Yesterday stays crumpled on the floor by the bed like an old lover’s sweatshirt. Please just tell me I am not the only one who wants to forget sometimes.

An old lover’s sweatshirt.

That’s what I think about these days. It keeps coming up. People keep making references. It’s kind of strange– actually. Because it always pulls me back to a navy blue sweatshirt with a big ol’ First Aid symbol on the front of it. He’d spray cologne on it so I could burrow my nose into the material and pretend he was with me when distance came in like an unruly dinner guest and ripped us both apart.

I remember that navy blue sweatshirt and how it held me together. It’s crazy to think that. I mean, I wonder if the hands that made that sweatshirt ever juggled with the idea that an eighteen year old girl, probably countries away, would one day grip that sweatshirt like it was oxygen and her existence all mashed up in the cotton material. I wonder if people ever see the fragility of holding something tighter when you can hold someone no longer. It’s painful. It’s real.

Even when we broke, even when I could not steal his voice through nighttime phone calls any longer, I kept that sweatshirt in my bed. I kept it beside me like it was the lantern to give me light. Like it was the hand to feed me. Like it was my worth and my purpose and my identity all wrapped into one hooded thing that once cost the boy too many pretty pennies at Abercrombie & Fitch for a girl who stole his heart to just go ahead and take it.

Maybe that’s the common thread I didn’t see up until this week. If anyone ever asks you, you can now say with full conviction, “Yes, there is a common thread between wiping away all the memory you neglected to back-up and the hoodie of a boy with blue eyes who owned a laugh that left you as fringed as blue jeans. There most certainly is a common thread.”

The common thread is this: You get choices.

Every single day is stacked with choices on more choices. You get to make decisions. You get to stand at the crossroads of your own life and decide if you want to change, and let go, and forget some things, and walk away.

You get to decide if you want to forgive yourself. Because you, like everyone else, deserves to be able to bury your past in a bright tin box in the backyard and never look back. You, like everyone else, deserves to be able to say, “I could hold on for ten thousand more years. I really could. But I choose to let go and give myself permission to just be okay with never having all the answers.” Just because you can hold something or someone longer does not mean you should.

Here’s the thing: we are feisty humans who want all the answers. We want to play God and doctor up the mystery that is simply meant to just be “mysterious” to small things like us. We want to know why our memory fails us. We want to remember just the sweet things. And then the reality hits us like a car, head-on: It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t going to last forever. It was going to end, like all and most things. And you couldn’t stay in that spot forever. Though it would have been easier. You know, it’s always easier to cling to the things that used to keep us alive with false senses of identity. It’s so much harder to admit the truth: your past is not a name tag you wear on your chest. Your past is not who you are when someone reaches for your hand at a party. Maybe you’ve acted like it could be though. Like some story or some poem or some other set of eyes could actually set you free. You know what’s really freeing? Looking forward instead of clinging to the rearview mirror like a lifeline. It’s not a lifeline. It’s simply over.

This will always be your fight. It will always be your choice.

It will always be in your power to shred the name tag or give away the sweatshirt or clear the memory of an old phone so that you, too, can taste “beginning.”

Some would call that “grace.” Some would call that “forgiveness.” Some would call that “finally letting it go and sealing it with an “amen” to wash that thing away.”

New girl.

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“Clothes,” I say.

“Plans,” he rattles back.

“Seasons.”

“You hair color,” he laughs.

We keep going back and forth. Ricocheting against one another. Only the roaring of the washer standing between our breaths of silence.

This was our favorite game. Categories. The game where you exhaust one another with all the possible types of cereal and sports teams you can think of before someone gives up and someone wins out. This was our own version of Categories. The category on the table: things that change.

“College majors,” I said.

“Shoes.”

“Shoes fall under clothes. I win.”

“Not true,” he denies. “Changing your shoes is completely different from changing your clothes… Keep going.”

“Fine. Profile pictures.”

“Good one,” he says. “Twitter bios.”

“Totally gave you that one.

We could go on for days like this, I kept thinking to myself. We could go on bantering and joking and having one another in this playful little way and nothing would need to be examined for a second or third time.

“Seasons,” I tell him.

“Kind of the like the weather but I will still give it to you,” he nudges me playfully. “Your coffee order. Definitely your coffee order. For instance, will you be a skim latte today or will you go for pumpkin?”

“Us,” I cut him off. “This.”

He doesn’t say anything. I let the silence fall on top of us like a blanket. All I can hear is the washer still going: whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.

“You ruined the game,” he said. “This was a dumb category anyway.”

“You picked it,” I answered him silently.

“I wouldn’t pick this,” he said back. His eyes were on the barren walls. The space that didn’t hold my things inside of it anymore. “I didn’t pick this.” 

Change isn’t just in the aftermath of falling in love or falling apart.

I’m learning this. I’m so used to pairing change with love stories that haven’t worked out in the creases the way I’ve wanted them to that I forget how change is so much more than that. It’s a location. It’s a best friend. It’s a person who raised you. It’s a place where you and I used to meet up and suddenly, suddenly, there isn’t room for one another anymore. Change is always wearing different costumes. It’s always wearing different makeup and capes and teeth. Change is just this thing that never fails to make me feel like I am standing in the Halloween aisles of Target, trying to figure out how it will dress up and show up at my door the next time.

Months ago, I would have lied to you. About this whole change thing. I would have acted way more gracefully and told you: change is a good thing. It’s necessary. We need it.

I still believe all those things but I think I’m giving up the graceful act— I know I am clumsy when it comes to change. I still fight this thing inside of me that doesn’t want to move. I still cling. And there was this one time when I spent a whole day in the library— a whole stretch of day— with every book I could find on butterflies flapped open and lying on the floor. I felt like a crazy person. A literal crazy person. Still, I spent that day tracing every step in the transformation process. Caterpillar, cocoon, butterfly. Caterpillar, cocoon, butterfly. Looking for any clue that something as dumb as a caterpillar could know the potential it had to actually fly. I stayed in that spot on the floor just until my soul could be fed with enough reassurance: even something as pretty as a butterfly clings to its old life as long as it can. Because it has no idea what will happen next. And all it can see is the dark of the next step. So no, you’re not wrong to cling. It’s okay to cling.

Change is not a trick-or-treater.

Isn’t that the scary part? Change knows exactly what it wants when it comes to your door. It’s you. Your whole body. Your whole being. The parts of yourself you said you didn’t want to release so soon. That’s change— always looking different and always asking for the same thing when it reaches you: the permission to come ripping into your life to shove you around like furniture. For the better. For the worse. For the chance to leave you different than yesterday.

It’s okay. Really, it’s okay. Don’t be afraid if you are changing. If you are not in love any longer. If you are stretched too thin. Don’t be afraid.

This whole thing— this entire journey— is about change. It’s about an equation you’re not supposed to be able to solve. It’s about dreams that feel too big for your body because you need those sorts of things. We all need things that are bigger than our bodies to keep us hopeful and to keep us going.

This whole thing is about learning to tell yourself ‘yes.’ And ‘no.’ And ‘stay.’ And ‘don’t stay.’ And allowing yourself to let go of the lie the world tries to feed you, the lie that tells you you cannot become someone different if you want to be. You can. I promise that. You can. It starts with change and a lot of little action verbs: breaking. changing. morphing. molding. doing. letting go. laughing. enduring. fighting. leaving.

Don’t be afraid. This is all a part of the process.

Today is the first day that I actually believed it.

The first day I actually believed fall might be a real thing in Atlanta. That people weren’t just lying to me when they told me that one day, one day soon, the leaves would shimmy and turn and crumble to the ground. The temperature would dip low and give the southern humidity a one-way ticket to go somewhere else for a little while.

It’s like I want to tell everyone around me who has an ear to hear it: This isn’t October the way I am used to. I am a girl who grew up watching the summer die. I could watch it in the trees. I could see it in the air. Summer dying, where I come from up north, is the most remarkable treasure you never had to pay for. It’s given unto you. And I hope I never take it for granted again.

There’s just something about those leaves though. Watching them change. Watching them cling to the green until the brown and yellow and red take over up until the point when they can’t hold on any longer and they fall to the ground.

It gives me hope. Like hope that I could become as good as change as those leaves. That I could stop clinging long enough to become a different shade or color of myself. That I could stop whispering the lie in my own ear: things don’t have to change, they can stay the same. 

Things don’t stay the same. They just don’t. People move. They leave. They don’t become who you expect them to be. You grow out of one another. Friends leave. We all shut doors. We open new ones. We shut more. And goodbye sometimes brings heartbreak and it sometimes hauls miracles into your life.  You have to let it fall off your lips sometimes just to know.

You will still watch the leaves fall off the trees whether you witness it with open hands or arm crossed over you in resistance. If you are anything like me then you need to be the one to beg yourself not to miss out on one of the most back-breaking beautiful things of this lifetime: you get to change. You. You. You are not forgotten in all of this. You get to become something new too.

And maybe that’d seem nicer if you could see the change before it pushed you into newness. But then again, it must not work that way for a reason. There’s got to be a reason why I have to be someone new but I can’t know everything about that new girl yet.

Maybe it’s the process. The unknown of the process that gets you good. Turns you gold and all that stuff. Maybe it’s the process– not the destination on a map but the dotted lines that get you there. 

Maybe we should go and see.

Maybe, let’s just go and see.

:: photo cred ::

Riding in lifeboats with ghosts.

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With permission, I have posted the email below.

Afternoon Hannah,

I’m moving to Athens, GA in three weeks. I know absolutely no one. I’m taking out a loan to start graduate school after I worked so hard to pay my way through undergrad to be debt free. And I’m going into a field I’m not 100% sold out on. And when I leave this Texas town that I’ve called home for the past four years I’m leaving behind my best friend. Only, he doesn’t realize it. He ended our relationship right after graduation in May because he doesn’t have his life figured out and cannot ask me to wait around. We were friends before we ever dated and have remained friends even after. But for whatever reason, the guy who shared my common desire to talk deep things and look beyond the surface level, he isn’t that person anymore…not with me anyways.

And that’s the thing. I woke up one morning in June and realized that I’m going to be okay. I’m ready to move on and let go. And I’m so excited to venture into the unknown. But like how a ticking clock ‘s tick becomes louder when you start to listen, this nagging in the back of my mind still remains. He was my friend…and still should be. The world awaits for me and I see him settling for mediocrity. Staying where it’s comfortable. And I’m torn. What if I’m the one person who can speak into him? Should I? People are happy that I’m ready to move on. Heck I feel pretty good about myself too. But I can’t watch him sink in the clear water of conventionalism while muddy challenges are meant to be seized. What do I do with someone who always asked me to hold them accountable, talks of appreciating those who are willing to say the hard things? Am I crossing the line? I’m supposed to be “letting go”. I don’t know if this is the right thing to do and I don’t know if anyone else would do it. I don’t even know if he would receive it.

But I have two-ish more weeks. I’ll see him at church and when we go visit the old lady we’ve been seeing every Friday night for the past two years. And then August 4th will come and he won’t see me again. And he doesn’t even realize what he’s losing (at least it appears that way).

Any words?

Future Georgia Newbie


Dearest J–

I have this friend from Atlanta who thinks we all have ghosts. That is exactly how he said it to me one night as we were driving through the mountains of north Georgia: “We all have ghosts.”

“Mine has green eyes,” I told him. I didn’t even flinch. I knew exactly what he meant. I knew I was guilty of my own ghost hosting— keeping someone around to haunt my memory. Finding threads of him in love songs. Dwelling on the “what if.” Letting the “what might have been” rock me to sleep at night. 

People notice when you have a ghost. Not always but usually. Some people see it quicker because they have their own ghosts.

And while I’m not an expert or a ghost buster, I think a ghost gets born out of a constant wish that maybe you and another person might have more to say to each other. Like maybe you never reached the point of finally saying everything. And maybe, just maybe, if you can manage to keep a person in your orbit or your memory a little while longer then you’ll never have to face the real truth: you can’t fix everything. You are a human. Not a fixer. Not a maker. Not a lifeboat with enough seats to save a slew of green-eyed boys if you needed to. 

I’ll write that again: You’re aren’t a lifeboat.

There is a savior mentality stitched into most of us. We want to save. We want to fix. Because thinking we can be saviors and lifeboats is so much easier than letting go of someone we learned how to love with our whole body.

And this guy probably doesn’t need saving. I could be wrong but I think I might be right. You just want different things and that’s hard to swallow. Maybe you two are the pretty, yellow parallel lines in the middle of the roadway— you’re both going somewhere but you might not touch again. 

And I only say all of this because I used to think I was a lifeboat and I used to (wrongly) think the whole world— my family, my town, my friends— were for my saving purposes. There was a harsh little wakeup call waiting for me around the corner of that prideful purpose I’d given myself: Not everyone wants what you want. And not everyone wants to save the world. Some people want air. Some people want a family. Some people want dreams they can’t even touch. Calling is different for everyone but the mistake is made when we start thinking the way we measure our own success defines what other people’s mediocrity looks like. 

You want something different for that guy of yours. You might be willing to fight for it, struggle for it, and claw for it. But, sadly, that doesn’t mean you’ll win out for him in the end. He has to want to win himself. And we don’t get to put our own definitions of “winning” onto someone else. 

It took me a long time to stand in this space of believing all of this for myself. I wasted a lot of time telling a love story that always ended the same— that green-eyed boy never went back to who he used to be. I really should correct that for all my years I said it wrong. While it’s true he never went back to who he used to be, I really should have been saying something different all those years, “He never became who I wanted him to be. And that’s the expectation I should have never put on him, this expectation that he was supposed to please me with his becoming.”

One random Saturday night in college I met a boy at a party.

I was two years into having a ghost with green eyes. This guy was tall. He was Irish. I think for five minutes I thought about how Irish our babies would be. I was just happy he wanted to talk to me. You know that feeling, it’s just really nice to feel like the center of someone’s universe within a sea of red solo cups. I liked the way he leaned his head against the door frame and watched me talk. We left the party holding hands. I remember there was this strange fog that seemed to sit in the air that night, as if there was some sort of shelf we couldn’t see holding that fog at eye level. We got to the spot where our paths split and he kissed me at the bus station. I wasn’t really used to kissing strangers but I liked the way his eyes looked when they were on me.

And then he pulled back and stared at me.

“Someone hurt you really badly in the past,” he said. “I can see it in your eyes. I’m sorry.”

He released me from his grip. “I don’t want to be that guy to you but, if we keep this going, I will be.” 

At that exact moment, Joey Potter and Dawson jumped out from the bushes and screamed, “YOU’VE BEEN PUNK’D!!!!!!” 

No, that didn’t really happen. Not the Dawson and Joey part. But yes, he said those words. And yes, you are right, I think he was probably hiding the fact from me that he wrote the scripts to Emmy award-winning dramas when not in biology class. I mean, those are Dawson’s Creek words. 

I winced when he said that because I already knew the ghost standing in my own eyes. And I wanted so badly for the ghost to release me. 

I turned to walk away from him. I trudged up the hill to my apartment with tears in my eyes. I pulled my laptop out off of my desk when I got back to my room and I started to type a letter to him— the ghost. I wish I could remember all the words but I know somewhere in there I said what needed to be said for the last few years: I had expectations for you. And you didn’t meet them.

It had always been his fault to me until, in that moment, it wasn’t any longer. It was no one’s fault: We loved one another once. And then life brought us in different directions. And we would both be okay. He just wasn’t mine. I just wasn’t his. And maybe a ghost gets born on the day you can’t accept the hardest fact: someone else will love them, someone else will love them in a way you know you can’t. 

And then it was over, J. Like that. It was over when I finally found the final words. I still thought of him, yes. I still found him in random songs, yes. But I let go when the truth tumbled out of me: you can’t always love someone how you hoped to after they choose to become someone other than who you thought they’d always be.

Some people call that forgiveness. Other people call that closure. Sometimes it’s just letting go. Letting someone off the hook you built for them. Final words shift the atmosphere though. 

If it’s going to kill you to not say something to him then say it.

Maybe write a letter. Send it or don’t send it. But try your hardest to find final words for this because your mind is already made up on certain truths that trump your hope to keep you both standing in one place: you’re going away. You’re starting something exciting and new. It’s gonna be good. You don’t love him the way you used to. You both have different callings. The past is a square tin box that looks smaller every time we go back to it. But no, it isn’t your job to try to fit yourself inside of it.

And as for that boy not seeing what he is losing? I guess we don’t know. But you should take the inventory when you walk away for good. You should know exactly what anyone in this world loses when you walk out of the room– not in a prideful way or a boastful way, just in a “you’re kind of awesome” sort-of way.

So here’s the inventory, the thing you get to pack when you head over to Georgia come August 4th: You’re whole. You’re doing this. You’re gonna be okay. You’re ready. That’s the big one: you’re ready. And after the “ready” comes the “set.” And after “set” comes “go.” So take the ready in your fists and make the set, J. And when you make the set, be sure to go. I guess that’s all that is left to say: You’re ready to go– without all the lifeboats and without all the ghosts.

hb.

I would appreciate if we could keep the conversation going for J. Please post a comment of blessing, a lesson, a mini love letter. Whatever you please. She is reading and I know she would appreciate it too.

Occupy new space.

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“Andy Jacobs,” I muttered beneath my breath as my hands curled up into fists at my sides.

I was standing in the center of what was once my living room, surrounded by black trash bags and packed boxes. I was wearing a bright yellow dress that made my mama tell me, “You’ve never looked more beautiful than this moment.” 

It was the only thing I could think to say when my roommate poked her head out from the refrigerator and asked me if I wanted to keep the kettle. Otherwise, she would throw it out. Just a few days earlier, this had been our apartment. It’d been home to us. Memories were taped up on the doors. The ceremony was over. I had ten minutes to gather the rest of my stuff. My mother told me my relatives were waiting to celebrate my graduation nearly 45-minutes away. I told her I needed more time for goodbyes. She told me I had ten minutes. I balled the cap and gown up into a brown Trader Joe’s bag. And all I could think to murmur in that moment was the name of my eighth grade boyfriend: Andy Jacobs.

 

The Great Romance of Andy Jacobs and I ended quickly with a swift and merciless breakup.

It was a sudden sting. I lied about that breakup for several years and told all my friends we both decided it was over. I was just that young and embarrassed by it. In actuality, I was over-the-moon during the days when I had a “someone.” The cool ones had a “someone.” And I was legitimately thrilled to check my AIM profile every hour or so to see my name sitting there in his status box. I checked that thang nearly every day just to see my name. And it was always there. Until one day it wasn’t. He’d made his status “Single and loving it” before he even broke up with me. He was eager to tell the world I was gone. When he called me on the phone to tell me it was over that night, my fingers tangled and shaking in the curly cords of the rotary phone, I whispered back, “I know.” Because I already knew. It was over. I proceeded to write super dramatic poetry in my diary. There would be no Hannah Jacobs. Ever.

But here I was again— surrounded by black trash bags and expired memories and the remnants of my college life packed up into cardboard boxes. College was breaking up with me. We were really over. The letting go was so quick, as if it was ready to release me all along. And I was surrounded by people who I knew probably understood but I still felt like no one understood. That’s what happens when you go through something that thousands upon millions of others have gone through before— you still find a way to convince yourself that you’re the only one.

 

People will tell you the first year after college is the hardest one.

It’s not the case for everyone but I’ve witnessed it to be a true statement for most. Makes sense, though. For the last few years, you’ve built up this solid sense of belonging. You’ve taken classes. You’ve invested in a campus. You’ve had those nights— you know the ones. And then life changes and shifts and the whole thing ends. It feels very unnatural.

And the weirder of the weird things— it goes on without you. Other people enter in as you push out. It’s like watching your ex fall in love with someone new. You knew you couldn’t stay there forever but it still stings to witness all that newness curl in around someone else for the very first time. You still see people enjoying what you once had and you start whispering things you know will never be true, “I could stay. I could really stay. I could live in the past of this thing. I could occupy this space forever.” 

Turns out, you can’t. Your life is not a Throwback Thursday. For lack of a prettier way to say this– It completely nonsensical to live in the space when things were better & brighter & sweeter than this. There is no backspace button. Very little of the time are we granted the redo. It was meant to be this way. We never got promised journeys with no turbulence. We never were told, “Well, you’ll always cry happy tears. And you’ll always feel like you belong. And you’ll always have the answers.” The tears will be ugly. The outcast feelings will be real. You’ll never have the answers. The answers are never the point. 

You’ll have a lot of downs. You’ll feel a bit like the shoes don’t fit on your feet anymore. You’ll ask all the bigger questions you never bothered to mouth when your friends were there, and the fridge was stocked with wine coolers, and the biggest thing on your brain was a term paper. When the moments are good, you never stop and ask: What is the point of my life? Where am I going? Where do I belong? How, oh, how do I do something that matters in this big world?

It’s like any breakup— you either live in the past of old sweaters and best nights and questions you can’t possibly answer or you refuse to be defined by a relationship you outgrew.

 

I met up with a new friend just the other night at a pretty little placed called Dr Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party.

She and I, we’d never met before. I’ve just come to accept that some of the best friendships— the kinds of friend who send you poetry in traffic jams— are usually an instant sort of thing. You both come into it with enough resolution to say, “This is where I’ve been. This is how I’ve felt. This is what I am looking for. I’ve got no interest in friendships that won’t be real to me.”

And we sat among stacks of books in a city I call “new,” pursing cups of tea between our hands and talking about the moment when you know it is time to go and breathe. The moment when you know, it’s time to leave.

“I had to leave,” she told me. “I had to leave and let go because it wasn’t my space anymore. Someone else would come in and they would do an even better job than me. And I would have to go and occupy new space.”

Occupy new space. That’s the sort of thing they should say when a diploma gets passed. When someone leaves a city they’ve loved with their whole body. Instead of good luck. Instead of, “it will never be this way again.” Someone should get up real close to you and say, “You must go out there and occupy new space. Whether you feel it or not, this ending is very much your ready-or-not moment. Choose ready.” 

 

Choose ready.

Occupy new space. Embrace the awkward momentum of something new. Get your feet wet. Don’t worry so much about looking like you have it all together— you’re more put together than you can probably see or notice. Be good to people. The real world is all about those real people. And no, there’s never a reason not to serve. Press into life with gusto and other Italian nouns. Commit to what is around you. Be grateful.

When people try to tell you that college will be the best four years of your life, politely decline that misconception. College should never be the best four years of your life— that’s a disservice to a future you’re called to make bright and purposeful. When people tell you that you can’t make a difference, politely tell them no. They’re wrong. Don’t listen. And here’s the moral behind every one of those conversations you have: not everyone will be your cheerleader. Not everyone will understand. Let people think you are crazy. Crazy is a good thing. Wild hearts are necessary. The world needs wild hearts. Stay thick with wanting to change the world, that will be your golden ticket one day.

Own it. Go all in. Lay it all on the line. In the end, there is no other option than this. You either occupy the space you’re in or you don’t. You either went out there and did it with all you had or you didn’t. Either way, the choice was yours the whole time.

You must go out there and occupy new space.

Whether you feel it or not, this ending is very much your ready-or-not moment.

Choose ready.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to say goodbye.

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Sometimes I write things with the clearest picture in my mind of who I am writing them for. It’s like I can see you. You, with the red lipstick that you just got confident enough to start wearing. You, the one who doesn’t really understand the unique thing that people see you to be. I can see you sitting there. Reading me. And I search the ground, sort of like an Easter egg hunt, for the things I think you’d want to read.

And then sometimes I write something just so that I can go back and read it. Maybe once. Maybe twice. I write the words for myself, pretending that someone else is writing them for me. I do this strategically. I do this so that I don’t have to feel like the one who is alone– her hands full of unanswered questions– in the middle of something I don’t fully understand.

 

Goodbye is one of those things.

One of those things I don’t fully understand yet. I’m no good at it. I’d rather not go there. I’d find it better to beeline the whole entire thing. I don’t want to miss people. I don’t want to know they are growing in my absence.

That’s the secret pain of goodbye: people still have the permission to grow into their own skin without you. And that feels very strange. And I’m tempted to just say, “No, you can’t. Please. Just don’t. Just stay as you are.” But that’s selfish. You don’t get to keep people, selfishly, just so you don’t have to be so fearful they’ll find a way to live without you.

The only thing I know for certain about this whole “goodbye” thing? You have to say it sometimes. You have to get real brave, and bite your bottom lip, and let people go sometimes. Fully, fully. Even when you don’t feel ready.

 

They always make the point of goodbye seem so romantic on the television.

Someone is always waiting by the terminal. Someone is always asking you to stay, hurdling suitcases so that they can clutch your face. I used watch Dawson’s Creek and imagine I’d get to have all the long, grueling departures one day, just like Joey Potter. I thought that would be the real golden duck of adulthood– when people found it terribly hard to release me.

It isn’t. And Joey Potter should have just been honest and told us all the truth, “Goodbyes suck. And there’s no eloquent way to say that. There is no poetic way to talk about ugly crying on someone’s nice shirt. There is nothing in the moment that makes walking away seem reasonable. It’s just hard.” And you awkwardly just sort of hope that someone will tell you not to go. Because maybe you would listen to them. Maybe a big white poster board with the letters “STAY” written in black Sharpie would convince you to do just that. Just stay. For little while longer.

Because goodbye is hard. Goodbye is the starting point you don’t see because the finish line is so piled high with tears and last words and fears that this– this thing you have right here– will never be the same. Don’t fear that. Don’t fear that because it’s already true. It won’t ever be the same. It could be over. It could be final. But it could be better than the two of you could ever predict. That could happen too.

And yes, it feels like something in the room is dead or dying or about to die. And the scary thing about that? That’s already true too.

Something is dying. We can’t even ignore it. It sounds so morbid but goodbye is really just admitting that something is dying. You two came together– for a month or for a year or for five of those years– and you built something. You breathed your whole little life into that thing. Your secrets. Your fears. Your laughter. All into that thing. That friendship thing, that “I’ve never really met someone like you” sort of thing. And then, out of nowhere, it feels like something comes along and lobs the whole thing into pieces. That’s what a goodbye will do.

Goodbye is the fear– temporary and real– that we’ve carried for years up until that one word– short & stout– made it all tip over and all pour out: I am afraid to leave. I am afraid to change. Can you just keep me here? Can we never move? I’m afraid you will forget me. I’m afraid I’ll be forgotten in a room full of people who always seem to be remembered.

When I stood at the door to say goodbye, I muddied up the whole thing.

I let the fear speak louder than the genuine thing inside of me that knew goodbye was the only road to take.

“I hate goodbyes,” I told her. “I’m sorry. I’m just so bad at them. I wish they didn’t exist. I want to be like an octupus who has 8 arms and can just hold onto everything always. I wish I could just go in the night.” It was all my fears and insecurities that I would never have it this good again, all mounted and stored up inside of that word.

She stopped me. “It’s goodbye,” she said. “And then you get over it.”

That’s all she said before she pulled me in for a hug. And then she let me go. And everything about her gesture of letting me go so quickly– nearly like a band-aid you rip off and pretend there is no sting– seemed to hum the truth:

You, I believe in you. That is why I am so quick to let you go. Trust me, trust me, the human thing inside of me wants to keep you right here. Right where I can see your eyes and I can hold your hand. But even if you can’t see it, I can see it and I can ignore it no longer: you are ready. It is time. If I held you back, I’d be the one doing a disservice to the parts of this world that so deserve the blessing of “you” for a little while.

So cry your tears. And say your last words. And when you are emptied out, let me go. Please let me go. Don’t live in your memories, making tents and tiny houses out of the way we used to be. Something really wonderful awaits you. I need you to step inside of it.  Say goodbye because something new is about to start right here.

And me? Well I’ll carry the thought of you doing just fine. I’ll carry the thought of you meeting new people, and holding new pairs of hands, and clutching people closer than you ever clutched me. I’ll remember that when you came to me it was a blessing. A temporary blessing that we’ll one day see if we can make permanent. But for now, it’s you and all the little lives you’ve got to go out there and touch.

You’re ready. That’s why I’m letting you go. And everyone else? Everyone else who gets you for this next little “I’ll see you everyday” sort of while? They win. I don’t feel like much of a winner in this moment, but them? They absolutely win.

Though they never touch.

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Her away message went up first.

He quickly followed suit. Ten minutes later, two consecutive door slams came bustling from the computer speakers. He signed off. She signed off right after. Slam. Slam.

She’d typed the words “It’s over” to me and I knew that she and him had just been huddled up in their own corners of their bedrooms, crying and breaking things off in the most delicate of ways possible. Her fingers maybe curled and anxious, tangled in the wires of the rotary phone. Tears strewn all over this portable, hoping his mother wouldn’t pick up on the other line and hear him pleading for the girl to take him back. Please. Rethink it. Baby. I love you. Baby? Baby?

These were the rhythmic motions of a high school breakup before the days of text messaging, cell phone plans, driver’s licenses that let you hurl yourself into the car and drive across town just to stand outside the basement door and wait for the other one to prop it open and let you in. You could hold each other for 10 minutes and say nothing at all and try to convince your heart– your 17-year-old heart– that it would never need to let this one go.

One day I’ll get to tell my children that there used to be legitimate sounds of a front door slamming when someone would sign off the Internet for the night. One day, their mouths might halt wide open to learn that you used to have to listen to the dial up sound on the computer, never fully knowing if you’d get online that night because of too many busy signals. The most glorious word you could hear in those days was “Welcome.” You were on. You were online.

One day I’ll tell them that away messages used to read like Facebook statuses and that on the day my best friend’s heart got mashed up and served like applesauce, I waited for her to list “single” in her AOL profile before scanning the internet for Kelly Clarkson lyrics. I’ll tell them I took those lyrics, copy and pasted them into a word document, and dyed them all sorts of funky colors before printing them out. I sat there– before this tiny tin box– and I decoupaged the lyrics of that ballad all over it. Long, skinny strips of lyrics making that tin box seem not so naked anymore:

I’ll spread my wings / And I’ll learn how to fly / Though it’s not easy to tell you goodbye
I gotta take a risk / Take a chance / Make a change / And breakaway

 

I used to think those little lines of pop girl wisdom were all the words she’d ever need to read.

I thought breaking away was just that– taking a chance, making a change, and learning how fly. If you’d told me it was more than that, my 15-year-old heart would have never been able to take it.

I didn’t know that ties didn’t cut without making a mess. I didn’t know that breakups are quite literal– in the sense that sometimes you feel everything inside of you crunching and breaking. I didn’t know the lines of that song, the one that won’t stop flooding the airwaves, was really probably true, “Only know you love her when you let her go… and you let her go.”

One day I’ll tell my children that the sound of a real door slamming will hurt them more. The slamming of a door that isn’t automated or a sound effect that tells you when your buddies have signed off for the night. I’ll tell them I first heard that car door slam when I was 19 years old. Facebook was a new thing. Away messages were starting to become the “passé” thing.

I knew that I loved him. I suddenly knew that loving someone isn’t always enough. For a moment I prayed the door might never slam. And then I prayed for the resolve to know the truth: there was no other way.

It was after I reversed my car down the steep driveway, after I was driving away, that I noticed the two yellow lines on the roadside for the first time. I could see them before me. I could see them in the rearview mirror. They didn’t touch. They were going in the same direction but they didn’t touch.

I parked my 1999 green CRV on the side of an abandoned road because I didn’t want to go home and fall asleep without good night messages. It was two in the morning. And, as dumb as it seems when it’s not playing out before you in a scene from the Notebook, I laid in the road and got bits of concrete stuck in my hair. And the moment didn’t feel romantic. And no one laid down beside me and held my hand.

I sat up eventually, tucked my legs into criss-cross position and laid my hand down on the road. My hand fit right between those two yellows lines painted on the roadside. My hand was like a bridge to those two, bright yellows lines that were parallel, parallel, parallel.

 

Honestly, I felt like a loser in that moment.

I’d just gotten my heart-broken. I’d just made the first not-so-clean break. And all I could think to do was lay down in the middle of a road I knew no cars would come down and just be still. Just be still in knowing that I made the right choice.  Just be still in knowing that even though I made the right decision, it didn’t mean my insides would not stay yelling, Come back. Please come back. I can fix this. I promise I can be better.

I felt like a loser. But it would take that. It would take being the loser to find everything else. It would take losing to find that we were made to be losers. We were made to lose: friends, lovers, ourselves. Not always, but sometimes. It’s a natural process in life. It hurts like hell but it happens just as quickly as strange little reptiles shed their skin and cocoons get broken and we stop clinging to “what might have been.”

It takes losing to find out you couldn’t fix it. Find out that you aren’t some supreme fixer upper who sits in the clouds and restores the world with happiness. It’s not your job to make someone better. A relationship– love, or whatever you call it– isn’t a reason to play doctor to the person you kiss long and slowly at night. A relationship isn’t laying there, curled up in your corner of the bed, hoping you can change them. We, humans, we change on our own. Life changes us. Whispers change us. But only when we are ready. And only then.

It takes losing to find out you that mythical characters like Hansel and Gretel were actually quite smart. They were strategic. Diesel, little German children. They left breadcrumbs scattered all around the woods. And while it seems like nothing, it probably meant everything when it came time to trace their way back to a place called home.

It takes losing to find out that sometimes things just don’t work. There’s no rhyme or reason beyond that. Someone– somewhere out there– once sat at a drawing board and decided that on every little roadway they would paint two, bright yellow lines. And they’d have to keep coming back to refresh those lines with new paint. But the color would always be yellow. And those lines, they would go a lot of places. They would certainly weave and bob and push into a lot of new places. But they would never touch. They would never cross paths. And maybe there was no reason at all for that beyond that just being the way things go sometimes.

It takes losing to find that maybe we’ll never know the reason why those two yellow lines never touch, but does it really even matter? I guess making them overlap and become one isn’t nearly as important as the truth: though they never touch, the two always seem to get to exactly where they need to be.

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Since some Mondays are worse than Sallie Mae, I created a little breakfast club/secret society to help kick Mondays off right. You are reading me right. Every Monday. Me. You. We roll out via email and your morning brew. I promise to meet you with only the good stuff. Highly recommended for movers, shakers, and original gangsters. No rules. You feeling me, boo?

click here to join the wait list for the Monday Morning Breakfast Club Email

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Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 10.39.19 AMfacebook. twitter. instagram. email.

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Don’t bring anything more into the web.

With permission, I have posted the email below.

Hi,

I think your blog entered my life at the most perfect moment. You see, I am 25, and this past January, me and my boyfriend of 8 years broke up. I thought it would be the best thing for us, after being together since we were 16, and have only dated each other. Now that I am in the dating world, I am absolutely miserable. I miss my best friend, my boyfriend, my other half. But now he has moved on to a new girlfriend. It is absolutely heartbreaking. I have good days and I have bad days.

I am now afraid of being alone forever. I am afraid no one will love me the way he did, or look at me the way he did, or treat me the way he did. And yeah everyone says… You are young Gabby, you have plenty of time. But I am still scared and I cant help it. There is this guy in my life, he is the most up and down, hot and cold man I’ve ever met. I think the challenge of him makes me put up with it. But in reality, I need to realize he will NEVER make me his girlfriend, rather he will just keep me around until I smarten up and realize I’m worth so much more, and I deserve someone who wants me to be their girlfriend.

Now I know you are not a therapist or a counselor, but do you have any articles that help with either of my situations? Any articles that will help me realize my worth and that I shouldn’t settle for someone who treats me like an option? Or any articles that will help me realize I’m young and there is a big world out there and I wont be alone forever?

Thanks for listening,

G
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Dearest G,

Have you ever been on the “missed connections” section of Craigslist?

It’s a virtual message board, almost like one those bulletin boards for all the “missing persons,”  for all the people who see someone– in a coffee shop, a dive bar, the grocery store, wherever– and they wished they had more courage to say hello.

Hi. Sup. Nice to meet you.

All those simple, one syllable words that suddenly get blocked from your lungs when you see a stranger from across the way whose blue eyes look like coming home.

It’s a booming collection of people who missed out and they are grabbing for another chance. I saw a “missed connection” the other day from a boy who posted a picture of a note left on his lap while he was sleeping in one of the libraries of NYU, nearly two years ago. The note said something like “Hello sleepy boy, I wonder what you are dreaming of. –The girl who sat across from you on the couch.” For two years he could not shake the girl who left him the note while he was dozing on piles of textbooks.

He’s just one of the millions of us who stay wondering about a person we’ve never met or known or shared so much as a coffee with.   A site like “missed connections” works because a) we’re human. b) we crave connection. c) there is something dually haunting and beautiful about the idea what might have been. The “what if”s. The “maybe”s and the “perhaps,one day”s.

You can stand straight in the pits of missed connections, dear. No one will ever tell you to get gone or keep moving. Half of us don’t know how to get our feet unstuck from the muds of it either. But life is not a slew a “what might have been” moments. Life is exactly what you made happen. Life is what you did when you showed. Life is the choices you made. Life is the redemption you gained. Life, more than anything, is action steps. The times when you swallowed your fear and you said hello to the girl in the bright red cap reading Walt Whitman poetry.

It’s not thinking about leaving. It’s not wondering if you’ll ever meet someone again. It’s whether or not there are actually shoes on your feet. It’s whether or not you actually walk towards the door, twist the handle, and go.

I’m going to share a story with you.

I’ve never written it down before. I’ve shared it maybe only three or four times. But I am gonna need you to believe in crazy things– like God speaking to his little children– for you to tag along.

I dated a boy in the sliver of space between graduating from college and moving to New York City. He was wonderful. Really. I should have been happy. Even at the start though, I wanted to go free.

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. It was there to chisel me good. I could feel my insides stirring every time I picked the book up. I honestly never knew that God could stir you in a way where you feel it physically. But there was demolition underway. Bright, yellow caution tape up all around me.

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, G. 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 stopped. The stirring in my stomach fell away.

 
Weeks later, it ended. I left. It ended 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 said goodbye. I wiped the tears from my eyes. 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.

You have to go this alone. The voice inside me stirred again. This is not a matter of geography or what you can or cannot pack into a suitcase, this is a matter of who you’ve always wanted to be.

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

G, this is not a matter of geography or what you can or cannot pack into a suitcase. This is a matter of who you’ve always wanted to be. You’ve answered all your own questions right in your email. As Cheryl Strayed has written dozens of times, “You don’t need a reason to leave. Wanting to leave is enough. Be brave enough to break your own heart.” You’ve got to trust all the words you’ve already written.

I’ll close by saying this,

I hope you leave. I genuinely, genuinely hope you walk towards the door today, or tomorrow, or the next day. Not because I wish to see you alone. Not because I think you need to be alone. Just because it would break my heart seven months past September to know you are out there, never fully knowing the weight of your worth or stepping into the person you’ve always wanted to be, because someone on the other side of that relationship was too stupid to see that you’re a light. And that lights don’t belong under blankets. Lights belong on trees. Lights belong on hills. Lights belong in all the little places where people can see them and they cannot say anything more than, “There is a light. There she is, there she is.” You might never know the micro tears– the hundreds & hundreds of them– that will form on the inside of you just by staying there.

Lights belong where people can see them, G.

Don’t bring anything more into the web.

hb.

I would appreciate if we could keep the conversation going for G. Please post a comment of blessing, a lesson, a mini love letter. Whatever you please. She is reading and I know she would appreciate it too.

 

Blessings & the barren places: What I know of letting go.

With permission, I have posted the email below.

Dear Hannah, 

I just discovered your blog like a week ago, I couldn’t even tell you how it happened, but I definitely needed it. You probably get a million of these emails all the time, but I am writing you because I am just in the worst place right now. I feel like I have the world’s hugest broken heart, and I’m constantly fighting it, day after day. 

My love story, if it were still intact, was truly a fairy tale. In short, I reconnected with my best friend from middle school over the internet, we quickly became best friends again, 6 months later decided to date, had our first kiss 2 months later on a New Year’s vacation, and eventually he decided to quit his job to move and be with me in the town where I am currently finishing graduate school. He got here, he struggled to find a job, realized that he still had a lot of self-searching and passion finding to do, and he left this town, and left me.

Rationally, I understood it all. It’s been about 2 months now, and I’ve always understood his reasons. But he never said that he didn’t love me, and he still hasn’t said that, but there is NO WAY that he is coming back right now, and perhaps not ever. You said in one of your more recent posts that when you had your first heartbreak you tried so hard to fix things and bring him back, and in a lot of ways I feel like that is where I am right now. And I AM becoming more embarrassed of myself as time goes on. But it is so so incredibly hard to let go. Especially because he truly was my very best friend, long before we started dating. Anyway, you don’t need to write me my own letter or anything, but I feel like you have to have written something that explains how you let go. And if you could somehow help me, I would really appreciate it. Because I am just a horrible wreck right now.

With gratitude,

K

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Dearest K–

Words fail.

As I get deeper and deeper into the trenches of what it means to be a writer, I realize more regularly that words fail. They’re never going to be what I truly want them to be. I can’t morph them and make them into tables and chairs. I can’t turn my words into a plane ticket to fly across the states and just sit down beside you. If I had my way, my words would be a canopy. A canopy of white silk, or something very pretty like that. And we could sit for hours & hours & hours together. And I wouldn’t talk if you didn’t want me to. I don’t have all the answers anyway. But we could just sit there. And you would not have to feel so alone.

The truth is, you aren’t alone. It’s hard to swallow that. It’s hard to admit that. Because last night you fell asleep remembering someone who is like a ghost to all the parts of you. And that will make a person feel very lonely. Very lonely and very alone. But count me as one of the people, one of the people who just said a prayer for you. And I drove around my neighborhood breathing in your story and listening to music I think you would like. And then think about all people who will read this letter next. They’re with you too. We all are. When you showed in my inbox, I whispered to you, “Babycakes, you are so far from alone. Let’s tackle today together.”

I am not coming to you as a writer.

I’m not coming to you as an expert or some advice columnist. I’m simply coming to you as a girl who once heard her first “I love you” on a Christmas night and it sounded like a cross between Elvis and angels. A girl who once thought she could give someone a yellow sweater– a dumb little yellow sweater– so that she could call him up from time to time and ask if he was still taking care of that sweater. She thought that maybe there was a way to tie herself to people like him forever. That’s who is writing this letter. I’ve turned the page over to her.

People will tell you in tandem and in chorus: Let him go. Let him go. Let him go.

You don’t have to.

That’s the best wisdom I have: You don’t have to let him go. You don’t have to let him go until you are the ready one.

For the longest time it hurt me to do anything but hold on. And maybe that’s silly, and maybe some would call that weak, but I am human and I won’t pretend like I could do much of anything else at that time. He was my best friend. He was my safer spot. He was every bit of “I want to put you inside of box and keep you there forever and believe we will never need to change. That’s where I want you to stay.” When they told me to let him go, I wasn’t ready.

I did all the basics. I got rid of his Facebook. I deleted his number. I got rid of his clothing. But if someone tries to tell you those are the ways to let someone go, don’t listen. It’s not true. That’s just the introductory steps within an instruction book that doesn’t exist. The real work is how you’re gonna learn to sew a song out of all the broken music notes inside of you.

I kept the memories of him tucked in my oversized pockets. I turned on “our song” just to cry and feel something. I wrote him letters from time to time, though I never sent them. I carried thoughts of him with me. To coffee shops. To libraries. To meetings and walks home at night. Every part of me was an anthem of not being ready to let him go and there was some sort of strange freedom in realizing I didn’t have to. I could hold on. I could hold on. And eventually, eventually, my fists would grow tired from all the clenching and I would let it go.

It would happen naturally. It would happen melodically. And though I could never control all the left hand turns I wanted him to take when he went right & right & right, loving him– and learning how to unlove him in a way that made me saner– was in my control.

At the crux of that breakup that ripped through me with the strength of an Alabama Roll Tide, I trudged through the mess of me with Elizabeth Glibert by side. As she traveled through the lands of Bali & India & Italy, I traveled with her and I swallowed parts of her wisdom like Kinder Bueno. Her memoir kept me stitched like a sweater quickly gaining holes that needed constant patching. And at one point she wrote this. And it changed the game for me. Read it carefully, my friend. This is a game changer.

“But I love him.”

“So love him.”

“But I miss him.”

“So miss him. Send him some love and light every time you think about him, then drop it. You’re just afraid to let go of the last bits of David because then you’ll be really alone, and Liz Gilbert is scared to death of what will happen if she’s really alone. But here’s what you gotta understand, Groceries. If you clear out all that space in your mind that you’re using right now to obsess about this guy, you’ll have a vacuum there, an open spot – a doorway. And guess what the universe will do with the doorway? It will rush in – God will rush in – and fill you with more love than you ever dreamed. So stop using David to block that door. Let it go.”

There it is. There it is. Part one: the sending off. Part two: more love than you ever dreamed.

When I loved him, when I really loved him with my whole frame and being, I wanted the world for him. I wanted laughter. I wanted joy. I wanted success. I wanted everything he wanted since he was a little boy. A heartbreak. Two people changing. Life throwing around unfavorable circumstances– these should never be the things that make us stop wanting goodness for someone we once loved with our whole body. That’s maybe childish. That’s maybe the first step in loss but not the final landing point. Who wins in that case? No one. No one.

You need to reach the point in your steps, and your conversations, and your everyday everything’s where you are ready to wish him light and love and then let him go. Not bitterness. Not hurt. Not questions. Not a quest for closure. It probably won’t be a final thing. It will probably be an everyday, every time he comes to your mind, kind of thing. It might still hurt. It might still sting.

But when he pops in, say hello. Wish him well. Say a prayer. Ask for blessings to go straight to him. Then let it go, let it, let it go.

You could keep him there forever.

You really could. They make movies out of those kinds of stories. The “ones who got away.” But your fists clenching rocks of what-used-to-be eventually defeats the purpose of two hands that were created to throw blessings in barren places.

Stop looking at the world and look down at your own two hands. People will tell you how to drown your tears in chocolate ice cream. They will tell you how to get bitter and seek revenge. They will tell you how to get smaller and smaller and burn the belongings of another to ashes to make you feel like you have “let them go.” But no one spills out the secretest secret of them all: To let things go, really let them go, open up your hands and bless others by the fistful.

You get decide if you want to be the empty cup that needs refilling or the full pitcher that overflows into all the other cups. That’s on you, babycakes.

But I know there is something, wadded & beautiful & glittering inside of you, that would give anything to kick down doors to let other people in. And I think you should go with that. Go with that dream of yours to be a blessing. To help someone. To open up your eyes to how God would use you in the moment. I don’t know about you, but I believe in a God who lets us use our tears to harvest. He lets us use our pain to make a feast for someone else. Don’t wait for the sadness to clear to be the blessing you’ve always wanted to be. I’m afraid you’ll miss out. I’m afraid you will miss out.

When I finally learned to open up my hands, it was all there waiting for me. And I thought of that boy– the one I have filled with too much light and love for his little lungs to handle– and I pictured him smiling. Because he had a great smile. And I stopped regretting how we broke. Because look at me now. I’m standing. Look at me now. I’m more stretched, and brilliant, and whole than I ever was before. And because of him, my hands throw blessings in barren places.

Open up your hands, babycakes. They were made to do the same.

hb.

 

I would appreciate if we could keep the conversation going for K. Please post a comment of blessing, a lesson, a mini love letter. Whatever you please. She is reading and I know she would appreciate it too.