Wednesday, December 30, 2015

On Showing Up

It's a wet and dreary day here in Dayton. It is the eve of New Year's Eve -- that day that ushers in a new year; we of the human variety, with our starry eyes and resolutions loaded and cocked for that first day in January, we can tend to await this day with frazzled anticipation. This'll be the year we will shed those extra pounds and be a healthy eater. This will be the year we become organized and cook every meal at home versus going out. This will be the year we find love, stop being a doormat, cease with the choosing of those so blatantly wrong for us. This will be the year we think before we act, pay off those bills, shed the calloused skin of the version of ourselves we'd rather not sleep with at night anymore.

Hear my heart, these things are not bad. These desires for our little lives and hearts and health are not deplorable. They are not bad ways to want to kick off that new year. But could we consider a different approach?

Roll with me a minute, here. What if we stopped starting out each new year with a laundry list of half-hearted attempts at making ourselves "better" or "more whole" or simply distancing ourselves from who we were in the year we're stepping out of? What if we took the time to really consider what all those days and hours and minutes of the closing year did to shape us?

I feel as though, every year, I say "this was the biggest year of my life" or something in the vein of "so much happened, I'm so changed." And each year it rings with truth. But 2015 feels alarmingly different in comparison with the years that came before it.

2015 found me ringing in the new year alone, on my couch, with pizza and New Girl. 2015 was the year my grandmother was diagnosed with leukemia; it was the year my great grandpa Floyd got to see his bride, again. 2015 was tightly laced with lessons on what it means when your next door neighbor, turned best friend/first single friend in Dayton, meets her person and gets married. This was a year when not one, but three, of my tribe members were called outside the confines of the area code we all used to occupy together. 2015 saw me getting on a plane and flying to Hyderabad, India; she saw me falling in love with a 13 year old boy and recognizing that my heart really can't be mine if it is to receive what it needs - it must be wholly in the hands of my Maker. 2015 taught me that a diagnosis of depression, on top of that anxiety disorder, can't extinguish my flame if I don't allow it. 2015 was filled with dark, cobwebby corners that bit and scratched and scathed the skin. It warmed me from the inside out with new friendships, four hour phone calls, FaceTime dates, and the reminder that the whistle to ring in a time-out isn't necessarily best in my hands; protection sometimes looks like scalding pain in the moment, but it is something I must welcome warmly.

2015 found me a girl too afraid of her own thoughts and desires and dreams to be alone with herself and she's leaving me a woman who has come to know the faithfulness of a God who holds all those things tight to His chest because He knows when the cards need to be played.

There are certainly things I want to do in 2016 -- the bills and the weight, I'd surely like to shred them. But I no longer want to be a woman who believes she has to resolve to fix so much about her life. I showed up in 2015 in ways that I never believed I would. I showed up and bore the brunt of what I needed to in order grow. I showed up. And then I lifted my eyes and found myself not alone, but surrounded by people who chose to show up, too.

There is power in showing up for people and having them show up in return. There is meaty muscle in people choosing to stay.

I don't know what your 2015 looked like -- often times what we watch other humans walk through is merely a fraction of what their life feels like from the inside. I don't know if you're making resolutions or simply resolving to no longer resolve. But I think we - the pumping organs and fire-fueled blood wrapped in feeling flesh - we should breathe in the knowledge that we made it through another year. And those scars and burns and battle wounds turned killer life-tales, they're worth remembering and guarding. There are moments I would like to forget from 2015; people I should've said no to instead of the bated breath of a yes; there are plot lines I wish I could've experienced much sooner than I did. But I won't forget the moments, I will accept that saying yes may have been misguided, but there is nothing to be done now, and those experiences happened in the most timely manner, no question. It is with complete certainty I would say no to the offer of hitting the backspace on any minute of 2015 because, let's be real, Jesus wrote each of those dances on my queue card for the most explicit of reasons. 

If 2016 begins and you feel like you need to slither out of the skin of 2015, then go for it. But I find there to be great and powerful worth in knowing that it's okay to search out the grace of the wounds and the victories. You aren't required to make resolutions -- you are not a problem. You showed up. You made it.

And that, that right there is what we should be celebrating.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Letter to 27

You started out in similar fashion as many of the years before you started -- me thinking that THIS would be the year.

You were gonna be the year that changed my status -- That changed the nudity of that left ring finger. You were going to be the year that I was able to finally stop praying so desperately within.

You surprised me a great deal, you know.

Twenty-seven turned out to be the year that changed the course with which my heart beat upon. The desires of all the anxiety riddled years before you came into a fine focus two months before the end and collapsed under the weight of more beauty and freedom than I ever understood to be relevant in this life.

You, year twenty-seven, put a screeching halt to all the amusing ways I presumed to know better for my life. You laid out the most magnificent of crashes and up in the flames of it all was the debris of everything I had clung to so tightly; with one fell swoop, my ideas of a life worth living were detonated.

I still find myself wondering if you had known of the ways you would solitarily wreck me so I could become a tailor fit human for the life being written for me.

You certainly never took it easy on me. You watched closely as I continued to make poor decisions, as I put my values and hopes on the line for anything resembling a loving human with a pulse. You stood to the side and watched carefully and then you ripped the seams out of what I had haphazardly strung together; you took a jagged edge to the horizontal slant of a twisted version of what I thought I needed.

You continually broke things down, made room for Someone more worthy of putting a heartbeat to the blinking cursor of my existence.

You followed me to India, 27. You flew across oceans and traveled through time zones and when I stepped off that plane in a foreign land littered with smells and sights and sounds I'd never had the intelligence to imagine, you ordered me to breathe.

And I did.

I breathed in and out came the knowledge that I was so twisted if I was under the assumption that I had a clue about what was good for me. I breathed in and finally saw that I was never really willing to trust Him with my life or my heart.

Hey, 27? You came crashing into those walls and obliterated them. [Hallelujah]

This time last year I was convinced you would be the one to bring me love. I wasn't necessarily wrong. I was simply misguided in what that should look like.

Want to know something, 27?

You are, bar none, the best year that has ever happened to me.

You took my basic fairytale dream, seesawed through it, and gave me a glimpse of the canvas being painted with my name on it.

Thank you for breaking me. For making room for Him.  For putting me in my place. For not giving me what I wanted, but bringing me to a land and a people I needed.

Thank you for always knowing when to be entirely too rough with me and when to sit back and chuckle as you whisper, "take a deep breath, you wild, wandering girl; get ready for your life to actually begin."

Monday, August 3, 2015

A Letter to Goutham

There is no way you could know of the ways you changed my heart. Before I left to come to where you call home I was diagnosed with depression and immediately felt the weight of all that I wouldn't be able to offer in the wake of a stamp like that on my soul.

Did you feel me coming?

I knew before I left that the Lord would work within me while I was in India, but there was no seeing, no telling of how He might conduct said change; there was certainly no way I could foresee you as the end of a story line -- a happily ever after of sorts.

You see, before I left I was consumed with "getting better" - because surely that meant that then I would meet someone and fall in love and I'd finally get to do all those things you're supposed to do at 27 with a husband.

I knew God would work within me in India, but I never anticipated you being the answer to the longest, most lonely wilderness of a season.

I'm usually pretty good with words -- I don't often struggle to string them together elegantly and shoot them off rapid-fire. But I arrived in India and all I could think was, "Come, Jesus." And then I met you and the words ceased to exist.

I don't know that I ever want children. Or that's what I've said for most of my adult life. So the idea of unconditional love has always seemed foreign to me -- there is just too much selfish humanity within my 5'3" frame to love another person without condition.

Those decisions and wordy declarations were slain on a Tuesday in Hyderabad, India.

You greeted me as all of you beautiful, small humans did -- by shaking my hand and saying, "Good afternoon, sister."  But in the moments it took you to walk up to me and extend your slender hand, I felt an assurance and knowing wash over me; it settled into my skin and nestled beneath my bone - it began to keep time with my pulse so I would come to know it as truth.

He is why I called you here.

Did you know you are an answer to prayer? In the time it took you to sit and make a tambourine with me I felt my Lord nudge me delicately and whisper, "See why I stayed so quiet all these years? You cannot tell me anything or anyone you were crying out for could be better than this boy."

He was right.

Jesus was writing our stories together long before either of us were thought of in this world. He knew I would become a girl broken and untrusting and blindingly adamant about what would make it all better. He knew He would make me wait for answers - that He would make me angry in that process. He knew He would create a beautiful boy 14 years younger than me with a smile that would stop me beneath the fiery heat of an Indian sun. He knew you would be kind and gentle, that you would want to be a pilot and that you would think of me and draw pictures for me long after I flew back to America.

He knew we would help each other; He knew that we would weave into each other's stories and nothing would ever be the same.

I think about the last night we got to see each other -- how each of our hands spread across the opposite sides of a van window. You watched as tears raced tracks down my cheeks and you kept whispering, "Don't cry, sister. I love you, sister" again and again and again. We stayed frozen, like that, until the van pulled away. I had to fight the urge to run after you. Every chord of life within me was silently screaming "I'll stay. Okay, ok. I'll stay."

How is it that I came to India with the intent of helping you and here you were comforting me?

Do you know how brave you are? How proud I am of you because of it?

I think of you everyday. I pray for you. And I am counting down the days until I return to see you face to face.

In the meantime I talk about you as much as I can -- because I want every human in my life to hear about the most beautiful boy who would become my friend and "son" and how he is so much more of a gift than the relationship and 'fixing' I was so convinced would right everything that was wrong.

I don't know if you'll ever understand how meeting you changed my heart. And I don't believe there are words for how much I love you. But thank you.

Thank you for being there, waiting for me -- even if you didn't know you were a part of this tapestry from the onset.

Thank you for being the balm to a cracked heart and the answer to a prayer I never truly understood I was praying.

Thank you for helping me to understand that my God is completely capable with my life in His hands, that He is worthy of my trust, and that He understands my wild and wandering heart more completely than I ever anticipated.



***Before India, sponsorship wasn't on my radar, but I arrived and the Lord ripped my heart wide open for it. By sponsoring Goutham, I am not only helping him financially, but I get to encourage him and watch him grow through shared letters and pictures. This process and getting to know Goutham has altered the way I think about and consider my future. There are many children on the Hope Campus in India that still seek sponsorship. If you are interested, or feel a tug on your heart, to learn more, I would love to talk to you.***

Sunday, July 5, 2015

When Your Happy Ending Isn't

" . . . sometimes the happiest ending isn't the one you keep longing for, but something you absolutely cannot see from where you are." - Shauna Niequist

I have thought long and hard over these words in the time since I've returned from India. I have reflected on who I was before I left and who I am now that I'm back. I have searched deeply for answers to the questions of "what parts of the before Steph do you want to hold on to? Which parts of her do you want to shed like dry skin?" I have found that the answers lie more within what defines a happy ending for me now versus what helped to shape it then.

I have been quite candid in the past about my desire for love. I am a thoroughly relational person, a monogamous person, a person who really loves love. It has caused deep pain, wide division, and many more lessons than I would prefer to admit.
In my pursuit of a relationship I began to find my comfort, my peace, in people -- my family members, my girlfriends, men who were undeserving of my time -- I believe I have put so much pressure on these people -- I have placed expectations on them that they were never designed to withstand.

I prayed for the wreckage of my beating heart in India. It manifested in ways I didn't, I couldn't, foresee.

When you travel to a third world country there are things you should likely expect, but that my first world brain did not calculate into the equation: internet access is spotty and difficult and unreliable on its best day; people are going to stare at you, let their eyes linger over you, because you are drastically paler than even the palest native; your body is going to be livid with you for dragging it through several time zones and not sleeping adequately when you were given the time to; caffeine will only slightly lessen grogginess and headaches because, ya know, the time zone thing; it will not be an easy transition - everything will feel wrong and off and foreign because IT IS.

I prayed for the wreckage of my beating heart in India. It manifested in not being able to reach "my people" whenever I needed them. It showed up in a hotel room at precisely 2 AM and allowed room for me to willingly and whole heartedly cry out to Jesus in a way the comforts of America didn't allow.

I was always less likely to run to Jesus when I could call mom or Stephen or one, or all, of my remarkable girlfriends. If I could physically hear a response or rest on a shoulder then crying out to the One who had the power to overtake it could become an afterthought.

Wreckage came in when running to God was my only option.

_______________________________________________________________________

Before I left for India my brain was focused on battling depression. My heart wanted desperately to be pursued by someone and my brain wanted desperately to not want it all so desperately. My happiest ending was in line with what the people around me have, and are, experiencing -- good jobs, falling in love, happy marriages. It was safe to say that my happiest ending certainly involved love -- I just assumed I knew the sort of love that needed to be written in to my story in order to obtain my 'happiest ending.'

India found me seeing and feeling God closer than I had ever experienced Him in America. He was in the bright colors the women decorated their bodies with. He was laced in to the laughter of young girls giggling at the way I waved goodbye to them. He was in the hopscotch game drawn in dirt with a stick. He was within the smile of a boy that held my hand tight and now has a piece of my heart forever. He was, He is, everywhere. I don't know why I had to travel through time zones and try new and spicy foods and feel so removed from everything I know and love before I could truly know and love Him in such a new way, but I am so glad for it.

I landed in India crying; I swore I had made a mistake; all I wanted was home and familiarity.

I left India sobbing. I didn't want to leave those kids, that little boy; I wanted more time; I couldn't believe things were finally becoming familiar.

I journaled much of the plane rides back -- recalling conversations with the children I met, trying to memorize their smiles and laughter and the way they said "sister" in their sweet accents. I didn't want to forget anything - I didn't want to lose anything that I had gained while I was there.

One of my last pages of reflection on India I wrote, "Lord God, if bringing a relationship in to my life is going to stop me from returning to India next year, I don't want  you to bring a relationship in to my life."

I go back to my journal and read that line almost every day -- mostly because I still can't quite believe the transformation that has occurred in my heart.

I think about that quote, as I attempt to end this post . . . You can rest assured that when I climbed aboard that plane to Hyderabad, I was completely and utterly blind to the happy ending He was writing for me. But it was there and He was penning it. They were both waiting for me to arrive.

Friday, June 26, 2015

When Words Won't Come

The henna on my right hand is starting to fade. The darkest parts remain on my knuckles, but I've begun to see the cracks of my skin pull the dark brown down in to them.

I like to look at it while I'm driving or as I lay down at night - under the glow of my cell phone or laptop screen. I look at it and recall the color of the dirt in India - the decibels of sound that were reached during long and bumpy traffic rides through the streets of a land foreign and complicated and unapologetically vibrant. I gaze down at the fading color on my skin and have to swallow hard and fast to keep the tears at bay; dear Lord, I have to bite my tongue so I don't cry aloud, while looking down at skin that somehow feels wholly different now.

The henna on my right hand is fading. Soon it will be a distant memory - absorbed by the skin and washed clean by the soap. But what it represents - the place where I got it - I can feel it begin to nestle itself beneath my collar bone; it has taken up residence in the center of my heart.

I've started and then deleted the body of words beneath these three paragraphs a couple of times. They all just feel flippant and un-encompassing - no amount of creative writing training or diplomas from expensive institutions will be enough to help me write about India and what she has become to me.
Certainly no amount of flowery language or edits and rewrites will help anyone to understand the way a group of dark haired, dark eyed children and their singing laughter wrecked my heart for the better.
I am wholly sure I don't possess the intelligence, clout, or capabilities to talk about the way Jesus used a thirteen year old boy to finally stop my wild wanderings and whisper, "this is why you didn't get those things you thought were the end all, be all, my girl. I've been writing this, I've been waiting for this -- we've all been waiting for your arrival, here."

It's not within me to write about all of this just yet. I will confess my foolish nature and then let photographs speak as much as they can; India and the call to go there came at the most perfectly precise time. It was inconvenient, uncomfortable, and against everything I believed would make a better life. I boarded a plane on June 12 believing that what I desired for my life was the best there could ever be. I returned June 21st with the understanding that the happy endings for my life are most likely not anything or anyone I can see from where I stand - they are more life-shattering, heart-wrecking, soul-changing than what I was designed to comprehend.

The henna on my right hand has begun to fade, but the imprint of Indian soil, twinkling laughter, and the most unforgettable smiles have just begun to take root.















Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Letter of Okay.

I do not have a predisposition for spontaneity. I like clear plans, set times, precise handling of who should be where and when. If things must change or plans be rescheduled, it is best for my mental stability and breathing patterns to know well before the day things are supposed to happen. It could be said I would prefer these hard-set rules to permeate every area of my life.

The morning routine will be offset by something, no matter the level of significance? I would much rather know a panic attack will arrive approximately five minutes after I pull into work and three minutes into a conversation with my mother.

That Sunday I blocked half the day out in order to hang out with someone? Yeah, would rather not make the plans versus being stood up for hours on end. Would especially love to avoid the painfully, over-critical, analysis of what I might have done wrong to make this happen.

But life isn't like that, is it? We don't get to know what detours lie in waiting. We don't have the option of knowing when we might be stood up, let down, rearranged.

I would have genuinely desired to know at 21, 22, 25, even, that at 27, I would be diagnosed with depression.

I would also, apparently, really desire for the superhuman power to change up the chemical balance in my head and completely avoid said diagnosis.

But I digress.

At 27 I was diagnosed with depression. And there were no flares shot up into the darkest darkness I've ever existed within to warn me that every waking moment I would desire to return to my bed. There were no hot flashes of lightening to warn me of the deepness of undeterminable sadness with which I would fall in to.

There was no warning for the way the desires that once consumed me would dissipate and only exhaustion and guttural desperation for Jesus would remain.

There are no warnings.

And even knowing all of that - that I would never be privy to when panic attacks would take over, or plans would change, or someone would simply change their mind - I was never good with the simple 'okay.'

All my life I have been raised and loved by those who were alarmingly okay with the okay; last minute cancellations? No problem, other plans can be made. A person changes their mind about the role they'd like you to play in their life? No issue here, plenty more fish in the sea. A call ten minutes before something is happening with an invitation attached? Yes, okay. Let's do that.

And I was very likely the one in the corner rocking slowly and proverbially chewing her hair because something changed or went wrong and just what the hell was I going to do NOW?

Okay hasn't ever really had a space in my vocabulary.

Until it did.

I'm not sure I could tell you what changed. Words like jagged glass were thrown at me and something, somewhere inside of me, chipped off and, glory be to God, I think that is just exactly what I needed.

Isn't it funny how absolutely broken we must become - how decimated our innards must be left - how catatonically miserable we must find ourselves before the spirit can be built back up, again?

The pieces lay still where they fell and I felt a rolling heaviness move in and settle right beneath my undetected collar bone; everything felt too hard to manage - breathing without the hiccup of a sob was nearly unfathomable. And all those desires for love - for a relationship, to be seen - they were replaced by the most alarming want to just feel normal.

I started seeing a counselor not too long ago. I managed to make it through an hour and a half session with only crying three times. She laid down the D word and said, "but you don't have to live like this."

I felt myself nodding my heavy head and just whispering, "okay."

Okay, I am suffering from depression.
Okay, I am allowed to break.
Okay, I am 27 and single.
Okay, I want to be Stephi again.
Okay, a relationship isn't a top priority right now.
Okay, I will wail and cry and tear at this darkness and tie myself to Jesus if it means this will get better.
Okay.

Who woke up this morning and set out to do just exactly what their 18 or 21 or 25 year old self thought they would be doing at this age?

Anyone? No one?

Not me.

Not me, who fell asleep at 8.30 last night and woke up feeling more exhausted than when she laid down.

Not me, who lives alone in a house with rooms decorated all by herself.

Not me, who went to school to be a writer and have her name be known.

Not me, who really, truly, didn't know Jesus until year 26 and is a mere 10 days and 2 hours from sharing Him in India.

Not me.

Because somewhere along the line I miscalculated and led myself to believe that not only was I factual in what I wanted, but also in what I needed. I misjudged what I would know and what I would still need to learn. I made the mistake of thinking that I wouldn't change; that my heart wouldn't transform; that what I wanted at 21 would be, tied and true, the same in all the years after.

This life will wreck you. It's a guarantee. And there will be mountaintops - oh, there will be seats on peaks with sorbet colored sunsets that you can reach out and tickle your thumbprints into.

But there will be valleys, too. They will hurt. They will place their palm over your chest, leading you to believe they're there to soothe, and they will walk away with tattered chunks of your too much feeling heart held tight within them. There will be darkness. And labels. Diagnoses and people you want to forget you ever handed hope to.

Get yourself a tribe. Surround yourself with people who knew you before the dark and twisted moments got reigns over your soul and mind. Make sure they are willing to fight for that person - even when you don't want to be in the ring anymore.

Tie yourself to the belief that there is purpose and authorship behind all of this that serves Something and Someone so much greater than these divides of the darkest hours.

Be okay with what has to come, what has to manifest, what has to be left behind, in order to reach the you that is ahead.

Become acquainted with the knowledge that one night you might be sitting at your kitchen table, eating by yourself, reading notes about how to break through the darkness, and you will find gleeful joy at the knowledge that for the first time, possibly ever, you just want to be whole and healthy and a better version of you.

Be willing to be okay with the things, the circumstances, the people, that will change and alter the course you find yourself on. Be willing to be okay with the unexpected things of a life to become center stage of your life. Be willing to be okay with ending up becoming a version of yourself you could've never imagined -- because it'll likely be better than anything you could've wanted to dream up.

Let's be okay with ok.

Okay?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Letter from Me.

It has been a long time since I've sat down and just wrote directly to you. I've been working on a series of letters these last couple months as part of a bigger project I've been dreaming of and praying over - and those will continue to show up - but I think I needed to just write and be extremely raw.

I've been looking at this screen for some time, watching the cursor blink in and out of vision, attempting to formulate a letter for where I'm at right now; it won't come. The words aren't particularly cooperative lately . . .

If you were to find my journals lost on a sidewalk somewhere you would hear a girl who is desperately praying for a break in the darkness, for a change of season, for different desires. Because this season feels heavy. There is a weight to these days.

So I probably could've sat here a little longer and come up with a letter subject with which to disguise the feelings I'm having behind it, but I won't.

I leave for India in twenty-six days. In exactly twenty-six days I will be doing something I swore I would never do; if you would've told me at 18 that I would one day willingly go across the world to share Jesus with Indian children I would have laughed in your face - or vomited. But it will be a reality in less than a month. And I am feverish with prayer that the Lord just explodes - that He just wrecks me in the most incredible way. Because, guys, I want to want His plan and story and authorship for my life more than anything I could attempt to desire for myself.

And He's slowly doing it -- as I knew He would. For the first time since I can remember in my twenties a relationship is not something I am losing sleep over. I still desire it, but it feels so much less urgent than it ever has. And I feel free.

I wish I could say every area of my life feels free . . . but things are dark right now. There is purpose, I know. I also realize, for the first time in maybe ever, that He is good - even though things don't feel really good right now. I find myself looking for Him in these days. And I find Him.

I suppose I didn't turn this into a letter of some sort with a fancy, spectacular title because most of the time I do not feel fancy or spectacular. And that's okay. I don't need to feel those things, or be those things, to have a good life.

I also think this letter is the most bland I've written because honesty can't always be flowery and vast in its vocabulary. I want there to be freedom in being able to say "this is incredibly hard right now" and people hear and understand it the same way as they would if I engaged that Creative Writing degree I worked so hard for.

In this season right now, writing feels harder than it ever has -- and I think there is a lesson to be learned in that. And I'll be honest -- sometimes the lessons overwhelm me and I just want to throw my hands up and say "Just quit with all these things I am to be learning, please." But who really wants to be stagnant and unlearning?

I don't know what the days will bring. I'm unsure of what the school year ending will lead to. I am unaware of how India and its children and my King will change me. I don't know when the darkness will lift - but I know it will.

Life can hurt. Be kind to each other. We're all fighting a hard battle.

-sd.


Monday, May 11, 2015

I Wish My Students Knew . . .

I remember, not so long ago, walking into that classroom and believing that I had everything within me to teach and mentor middle-school aged students with ease. How hard could it really be?

I was so terribly wrong.

Stepping up to the front of the classroom I was convinced I would teach them so much; I would help them grow; I would help mold them into better boys and girls.

Who knew the stepping up would entail the breaking down of an attitude that claimed to be the wise teacher. Who knew the stepping up would mean becoming the one who was taught.

I could write one thousand letters to the students I've worked with the last three years and it would never wholly cover all the important and invaluable things I've learned.

Because here's the thing - when you decide to teach, when you decide to graduate from school and return to the classroom, you will educate, but you will continue to receive an education, too.

There will be more like this - because there are just too many small humans who've wrecked me in the best ways to only write one; here's where it will start, though.

You are every kind and good thing I've ever hoped people would see in me.

You pulse talent with every flicker of your hand and stomp of your foot.

You have the sort of infectious smile and laugh that I am sure tunes the soundtrack of Heaven.

I see me in you. In the way you don't want people to see you cry, in the way you want to make sure your tribe is good and secure, in the way you listen when we ask you to.

You have the voice and style and grace to live in the spotlight. I surely hope you change the world with it.

Meeting you was one of the greatest occurrences of my little life.

You challenge me to be kinder, to be wiser, to think of myself far less than what I do.

Did you know I admire you? The way you love people and want people to know they matter -- because they matter so, so much.

Sometimes I'll hear you laugh or give grace to your classmates and I choke up a little -- you are the little sister I never had, the child I love the way I imagine a parent does, the heart I want to protect and nurture and help tend.

I want you to be a game changer; for the East side of Dayton, for our heart of a state in this country, for our world.

I believe you will set this place on fire with your determination and wildly free love.

I love you. I appreciate you.

Thank you for changing my heart, making me better, helping me to know what love actually is.

Fight for who you are.

Stay true to the desires of your heart.

Don't conform. Dear God, don't fall in line.

I am wholly convinced your creation was on purpose, full of purpose, and laced with world changing abilities.

I cannot wait to see your heart light up this small spot on the map.

I believe in you.

Goodness, I am for you.

Thank you for changing me. Thank you for trusting me.

Thank you.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Letter on Behalf of Her

She is not your property. She was not created for your commands, your politics, your twisted sense of correct behavior. She is not defined by monetary value or by how much of her skin is concealed or revealed.

She is not your entertainment piece. The way her hair lays, the curves of her body, the way her clothes look upon her - none of that was crafted in order to be looked at with lust craven eyes. She is more than breasts in a shirt and an ass in jeans.

She is not your slave. Her heart was threaded, and is thrumming, with passion for life, love for the world, and a desire to know people. She is not a skeletal system with skin on in order to carry out your commands. She is designed with purpose.

She feels things. Even if you aren't privy to them. Your words have the ability to break her spirit or set her wild soul on fire. She is not an idea of a person, she is an actual person.

She is not at your beck and call. She doesn't need to be. She has a life - she had one before you and she can have one after you. Let her live. She'll thank you for it later.

She isn't weak because she wants to know you. The fibers within her, they are braided with honest, raw, good intentionality. She does not take the time to get to know you on a whim. She does not ask questions to pry - she simply longs to know your story.

She is not deaf or blind or insignificant. She is magic, fire, sinewy strength.

She is not a trophy for you to parade around.

She is not a toy that was crafted for your pleasure.

She is more than something for you to crave and capture.

Stop mislabeling, assuming, and mistreating her.

Keep your hands to yourself. Keep your words soft. Stop whistling.

She isn't a dog. She's not up for purchase.

She doesn't need you in her life. If she's giving of her time, it's because she wants you there.

She is your sister. Your best friend. Your future bride.

She is somebody's daughter. Somebody's champion. Somebody's confidante.

She's the girl behind you in the check out lane. The barista making your latte. The small voice in the back of the classroom.

She has dreams that matter. A voice worth listening to. A creative process that is as beautiful and timeless as her unkempt hair.

She has a past. But so do you. She's got a future, too. She'll make you laugh and she's unforgettable.

She is me.

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Letter to the Farm

The sky is always a sorbet and taffy-colored concoction over your thriving or barren fields. Why do I always taste candy melting on my tongue, breathless before you, in the back yard of the aging buildings?

I walk the long, rock-littered lane and suck in the fresh air as if my life were dependent upon it; I suppose there are fine moments between the arriving and departing that it does. That back barn - an empty cavern of high squeals and lost memories of children clad in Carhartt trying to figure out how to live like daddy - be like daddy. I look in between the rust bars and swear I can hear the laughter of the little girl still somewhere within me; she never knew how the return to all of this would both fuel the fire within her and develop an ache that was never to be localized and abandoned.

You gave me my first friends. We would arrive in a copper colored truck and wait for instruction, wait on a pointed finger . . . sometimes I think I'm still waiting. I look at the hills and the structures sitting upon them - I can still hear his raspy voice and the pull of the little brother - and the girl I so often looked up to. They were the world I knew - it rotated and spun around the ticking by of those days - I'd trade a heartstring to return to them - those days and those babies who thought the whole world would unfold and forever really would be eternal.

I watch these next pieces of the generation, scream-counting and gut-laughing, "READY OR NOT, HERE I COME!!!" and my heart - it threatens to implode on itself. I want the magic of this place in a bottle. I want the truth, deep down into the roots of your soil, to never be out of reach. Laugh, babies, I whisper, feather quiet, laugh and soak it in, and remember. Dear God, please help them remember the ties that bind.

The corn field has been left empty; cleaned out from the last harvest, but it will all flourish soon. And I suppose that's what this place is - emptied for seasons and then poured back into - with the laughter and the bickering -- it remembers who I was long before I knew it would be imperative to know where it was I came from.

We are grown now - living lives near and far from this farmhouse nestled in the land. And yet we return - to feed a hunger, to fulfill a duty, to celebrate and mourn; we return. You leave me longing for more; more of the yesterday, more time in the shared moments of today, more time with those who never got enough of the time . . .

You know where I came from - the red barns and the wide open space; You kiss my cheek with your sun scorched, orange skies. Giggles race against time as they run up to the house, screen door slapping back in to place.

Ready or not, here time comes . . .


 





 





Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Letter To You.

Look up. Stop looking at your feet. It won't matter, in the end of times, whether your hair curled perfectly when you took the wand to it; it will matter how your heart stood up against the fires of a world gone awry.

Cry it out. Don't stifle what your heart wants you to feel - the universe doesn't get to label you weak or broken. Feel your hurt. Your anger. Your loss. Let it wreak havoc if it will help you stand back up, again. Because you need to stand back up again. Let it go. Then rise and get ready to go.

Let go of the things, the people, that belittle the intricacies of your soul song. No one holds a life so long that there is time to fret over why he won't look at you the way you want him to; no one holds a life so long that there are moments to spare wondering if you might have more victories if your pant size was in the single digits; no one holds a life so long that breaths can be wasted defending the pursuit of what makes you feel alive and real and purposeful; no one holds a life so long that abuse, dismissal, and mistreatment should be mainstays for survival. No one holds a life so long. Life is not so long.

Sing off tune. Paint, even if it isn't aesthetically pleasing to anyone but you. Write poems, sonnets, love songs for the ages. If there is a tide in the pit of your belly festering to swell, please teach yourself to ride upon it. Stop standing for the critical analysis of a culture stuck in perfectionism to control what you create.

Fight for your story. It is yours. Written specifically for you. Quit shying away from the parts that are especially fragmented. Stop censoring the boulders in that valley that ended up shaping you far more than the peaks you stood upon on the mountain. Who might you reach, touch, rally by sharing the dark and dingy parts of the roadmap on your heart? Don't allow a whisper lead you to believe that the cobwebby parts of the narrative are unworthy of being told.

Wear the thick framed glasses. Pair the stripes with your grandpa's old flannel shirt. Demand the right to dress for who you truly are. No one's life will be more or less damaged by you wearing two different colored neon socks with your Chuck Taylor's. Stop apologizing for being an original. Stop treating weird like it's a curse word.

Laugh loud. If people stare it's most likely because they want to be a part of what is so infectiously hilarious. Talk in accents and treat bearded men, Jesus followers, and the quiet ones clinging to the wall with love. Love the ones without facial hair and those who don't know Jesus and the extra extroverted folks, too. Love people - because it is medicinal.

Remember you are worthy. You are beautiful. You are precious. Your story matters, your actions matter. Your words have the power to impact a generation. Rise up to meet who you were created to be. Meet your potential face to face and ask it to dance.

Forgive yourself. For the words that slapped and stung when you spoke in anger. For those times you allowed jealousy to control your heart. For that relationship that ruled over you in dictatorship. For staying chained to patterns of behavior long after you realized they were unhealthy and ugly. For believing the lies. For uttering the lies. For living in fear. Let go the shackles of guilt and rest in the grace.

Keep hoping. Don't cut yourself short of believing the dreams you've been tied to won't ever be realized. Whisper fervent and desirous for what your heart longs for. Those longings? The desires? They make your eyes more full of light.

Say no to what doesn't build you up. Welcome in love and light and joy. Stop apologizing for what isn't in your control. Be wild. Stay wild. Learn to love yourself.

Please.

Fall in love with the pages of your own history.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Letter to Insecurity

So not too long ago, I graduated from a small school in a small town and, for the most part, I knew most everyone that came and went through those halls. Not because everyone knew me, but because that was just how Casstown was, and is, - you knew people, you had heard pieces of their story, you knew their names because your dad graduated with their mom or took their dad's cousin to Prom 'back in the day.'

There was a girl that went to that same school; we weren't ever in the high school together, but I recall hearing her name and seeing her smile at sporting events I still went to from time to time. She is related to two of my friends. But I only knew a couple of things about her. She was pretty. Not the kind of pretty that is made up and accentuated, but the really natural, deep down - just born this way - pretty. And she was incredibly kind. She still is. She's still pretty, too. Probably more beautiful now than she ever was then, but only because I know her heart.

But I didn't get to know this girl until recently, after stumbling across her blog and requesting to follow her on Instagram (hi, I'm steph and I've been basic for six months now.)

Reading her words and looking through her pictures led to coffee dates, long text conversations, and a snail mail relationship that rocks my world.

Her name is Whitney. And guys? She is just remarkable.

 She's a fighter. She loves Jesus with every inch of her skin and soul. She's getting married in September. She loves encouraging women and reminding them of their wild worth because of Whose we are.

She is a missionary, a cat momma, and she love her some coffee.

She is my sister. She is my friend.

She shares stories and struggles and how good Jesus is over on her blog. {Head on over and let her lift you up}

And tonight, she decided to drop the mic on something we all battle with everyday, even if we aren't readily admitting it.

I'm psyched for you to meet her and I'm honored she's the first guest blogger on Girl's Life in Ink.

Enough of me . . . check this out.

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Dear Insecurity,

We need to talk. And yes, you should be concerned.
 
To put it nicely, Im over you.
 
Im over the way you lead me into competition with my sisters. Judging beautiful women Ive never met. Im over the way you tempt me into comparison, never letting me celebrate my identity.

Quite frankly, youre abusive. Youve controlled me into avoiding circumstances that seem unworthy. You remind me how inadequate I am and how ridiculous it is for me to believe that Im worthy of a beautiful life.

Youve manipulated me every.single.night. as I replay images of my day. I pull my covers over my head, hoping to erase the memories of the wrong words I said or didnt say.
 
You endlessly remind me that I must fight to fit in, no matter what it takes. If fitting in compromises friendships, health, and stability, so be it. You tell me that what others say about me, defines me.

Im over our relationship, Insecurity. Youve robbed me of far too many friendships and adventures. Youve plagued me with fear and doubt and Im over it.

Were breaking up because Ive found Someone better.

Someone who says Im loved and worthy.
Someone who wrote my story and reminds me of My value; Who reminds me that I am BLAMELESS and Cherished.
 
So this is the end of us, Insecurity. Youve been replaced.
 
This is Goodbye forever. There will be no reconciliation.

 Sincerely,

 Whitney Kindell

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Letter to the Longing {Hiraeth, what is home?}

What is home? Is it the four walls you sleep within? Is it the dusty air of a place you've never actually breathed? Is it the ocean?
Do your dreams rake desire over your heart to wake a mermaid?

Hiraeth; a Welsh word without direct English translation that means a homesickness for a home you can't return to, or that never was.


I am left plagued by hiraeth.

I am homesick.

I think, quite firmly, that our desires can wholly manifest into problematic dreams that climb atop pedestals of their own free will.

One such desire of mine has done just that - and it has created an ache in me that has, in intervals of time, proven insatiable.

It all begins with a smell.

Smell has to be the closest tangible time travel I know.

And your smell is made from the woods. Spiciness and an earth that just won't quit - and wood. A lumber yard seems to possess the prowess to absolutely wreck me.

But you don't actually smell that way.

Your arms. Strong, sinewy, kind. I sit, I wake, still feeling an imprint of them around me. Safe.

Were they really every there?

There is not much gentle about you. But, from a distance, at the start and completion of these miles in between us, I easily remember you solely existing within the tender and soft.

The feelings that remain - their edges are jagged and cutting.

Your words never hurt. They remain without callous or coldness; they are soft like rain and warm from the inside.

But much salt has left this body over the processing of your dilapidated words - cacophonous in delivery - and bone dry, empty promises.

There are no words for the chasms of loss I have felt, and let linger, over you.

Yet I still don't know what love means.

Because I have found, time and again, you never smelling or saying or touching or feeling just as I happen to remember you.

It has all been left off-mark, too slow, just this way of indigestible.

And I am left with an illness for space between two arms that were never mine. That were never up to be had.

Because for all my words, for every yes ever uttered, I ended up being met with only an empty-bellied finality.

You say so many things.

I'm beginning to wonder if you would even know how to want to mean them.

This thing - it never truly was everything I desperately hoped it'd be. There were long winded minutes of me actually thinking I needed them to be - the very next breath was dependent upon the need of it all.

For all the moments of fighting for you to be home, for you to be my home, it never was.

It has always been.

It must remain.

Hiraeth.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Letter to India

I recall gazing longingly at photographs of your color and culture long before I knew we would one day meet.

The tiny humans, cloaked in colors bright and captivating; brown eyes smiling at the face of a camera they will likely never see, again.

I think I wanted to know you long before I knew to want it.

I recall the decision that was prayed over, talked about, stroked through with a fine-toothed comb so as to lessen the lingering fear and concern. And now I face you head on, merely four months standing between us.

I have come to think on and daydream about you as though a woman might regard her lover off at war -- I imagine the smells that will infiltrate the senses, the conversations I might have, the way my heart will feel and react to our initial meeting.

Only I do not know what to expect -- I am told there is darkness that permeates the air there; that the colors, the smells, the noises, they are all vibrant and bold. I sit before an empty journal page and try to wrap my head around how to prepare for you, how to pray to prepare for you, and I am left with a pen slick with sweat.

I am waiting with breath that is bated.

Of all the things I am unsure of, there are these things I know with certainty -- who I arrive as will likely not be the girl that leaves you; I will understand what it means to have the heart broken and poured back into simultaneously at the time of our meeting; you will wreck me, change me, transform me. Because it is not a coincidence that I decided on you. It was not happenstance that I prayed over you specifically. Your name was not whispered into my ear, breathed into my heart, by accident.

I have a feeling you will find me wholly overwhelmed, shedding tears, and wondering just how I went this long without getting to know myself in a place such as yours.

I look forward to being courted by the girl I will grow in to while in your company.

I am genuinely trembling at all the ways my eyes will see differently once I've resided in the heat of your embrace, listened intently to the laughter of your small humans, and come to understand life outside of the small radius of my current universe.

He picked us for each other, I feel certain in that.

Here's to the time between now and then, to the charged emotion, to the prayerful anticipation, to just a few short months.

Here's to obedience.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

A Letter to the Label

It is hard to escape you. Living, pushing, thriving in a world that is comprised of the many different faces you wear -- you are continually one step ahead of my runaway plan.

Sometimes you are gentle - reminding me of my femininity, of my privilege of being a child to two people and a sibling to another human.

But generally you taunt with biting negativity that can leave a heart feeling strapped to adjectives that were meant to be left lying to decay in the dust.

There are moments you won't let a memory forget.

That first time I looked the young girl  I was in the eye and called her fat - that beast rages loud from within me, still.

That first time I was called a bitch; there are no pain relievers to erase the gaping ache that still arises anytime the word is spoken.

The tears, still hot and salty, seem to have left an imprint on my lips to forever remind me of that initial taste of being deemed loose.

And what of all the words that go unsaid, but dance around each word that is?

Unworthy.

How many times have I felt that drive into my mind, settling in, and have just become too defeated myself to try to defeat it?

What happens when we begin to succumb to the accusations thrown at us? My head has grown too heavy for the weary neck to push it to signify the resistance. The shoulders heave, up and down, in a show of contemplation.

I have grown docile beneath the crushing weight of a world intent on naming everything. Just each and every part must have its place.

I am fatigued.

Society tells us we are what we do, we are defined by a name change, our value is to be found in the numerical figure on a paycheck.

The pressure is building, the time to race against a clock is coming, just when will I be taken seriously?

It isn't worth it. The always clamoring to be seen, to be found understood, to be linked to the greats.

Life cannot be a constant string of superlatives and popularity contests. Sometimes it needs to stop being about the winning and become about the unfolding of an understanding that my heart has only become what it is because of everything I've done.

Maybe I am fat.

Perhaps within me a bitch lies dormant just now.

 There was a time I was loose with my body, not particular about the sheets I would lie between.

These are not the makings of a human not worthy. These are not the components of a life merely existing instead of living.

This is a cry to those being trapped by a name that is not their own.

Hear me now, you who have settled for closing the door on the box that others have trapped you within; it's time to break out.

It's time to shout back.

There are so many more things making me a daughter, a sister, a friend. Courage and bravery do not come from lying still beneath the hurtling judgments. There is no integrity discovered by accepting a label and only living within that space. Creativity is not bred in a moment of giving up.

I have been found weak and defenseless before.

No longer.

Let the failings, the miscalculations, the loss of clear thinking prove to be grounds for rediscovery of who you were designed to be.

Let the pure hurt, the bruises from the throttling, the sting of being left behind, overlooked, misjudged, let it all be the stones with which a new path is paved.

Let the hate-filled self talk and the abuse of the body and the gullibility of buying into being someone you're not turn itself into what you can use to meet others right where they stand.

Listen. The fighter within - the one who wants to hold fast to what they know is true, but is afraid of being called foolish - let that piece of you run wild.

This is a call - to stop buying into branding. To lash out at the name calling. To cease with the wishing for a different body, heart, face, life.

Let's stop bowing down and lying beneath who anyone else might say we are and start fighting to become just exactly who we're supposed to be.



Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Letter to the Baking

There is something about the whir of the mixer and the small puffs of flour attempting at escape as I mix in the hard things.

I find myself here often - before my countertop; grains of white scattered on the front of my shirt, whispered into my hair, covering surfaces of my kitchen. There is nothing neat about pouring flesh feelings into a mixing bowl and beating them into submission.

I feel the heat of the stove, gently nudging me to let me know its ready. There is patience to be found in the mixing, the scooping, the waiting for the perfect confection to yield to your demands of bake mastery.

Many times I've rushed it - wanting to get to the best part of consumption and they are left burnt and crispy on the bottom. There is not satisfaction in working toward something in a rush only to be met with the realization that you pushed before it was really time.

I look down at my tshirt and see a trail of dry ingredients reminding me there are many parts that go into the creation of something sweet. It must not be rushed, we cannot skip over parts - there is beauty in that, ya know.

I drop semi-sweet chocolate chips down into the bowl and consider that they may hold tiny fragments of my frustration and this is my will to eradicate such feelings from a choke-hold.

I spoon the mixture onto foiled pans and whisper to myself to do small increments at a time - you don't want to ruin this batch.

As the second tick past I feel a tightness in my chest dissolve and then catch a glimpse of my reflection in the window. The hair, the eyes, the counter space - it is wild. The life is wild.

And I laugh.

Because there is growth in the waiting.

Lessons lie in the cohesion of separates.

The heat of these things will make us rise.

Here's to the rising.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Letter to the Tension (Staying and Leaving)

I sat in a pew today at church scribbling furiously to keep up with the message being delivered from the front when you came up. He said your name and I held my favorite black pen, hovering, above the page waiting for the memories of what comes with you to become a little fuzzy, again, in my brain. I can't seem to make the two of you go away, so please know my preference is to simply view you both with the eyes of someone who is in desperate need of aid to see clearly.

Sometimes I'm not sure what hurts more - to view it all clearly and know it can never be what I've asked for time and time, again, or to view it all fuzzy and be left behind with a headache and the reverberating question of why, why, why?

Tension.

There you were. Open wide and pouring salt into the wound as you traipsed onto my journal page.
Paul has a tension between wanting to go to Jesus and staying with the Philippians. What the cup over this tension is, is his contentment in whatever he will be called to do.

(What is my tension?)
(Is joy cupping over my tension?)
You see, Paul and I have this in common -- a tension over leaving or staying. To leave behind who I was, who I have been, or to stay within the strangled confines of a label I crafted myself. You are right there in the thick of the middle of it; you are the heat that threatens to burn, but promises to warm, simultaneously.

You never keep your promises.

Do I leave behind the girl who found freedom in the letting go? Do I stay and hope that you'll eventually hastily exit and he will finally mean everything that he says? The air is laced heavy with your slithering lies disguised as hope.

And that's what it all boils down to. You are in disguise. I say I won't let you give me hope, won't hear what is said, only just nodding and keeping a full smile at bay - because you often leave a trail for me to find what I think I want only to collect it all up again before completion.

I'm not always sure what I want.

That feeds you, I know. It is the proverbial gasoline to your flame. I imagine you dancing back and forth, back and forth, as I create space and time and then lean full into the fallback. You dance circles around the knowledge that my desire goes on unrealizing what it is I deserve.

Joy is not the roof over the leaving or the staying. It is a wayward, poorly produced roof, laced with indecision and longing; it is saddled with words I pray for and words he plays with; it is a roof made of leaks and stains from the wounds.

You're really not welcome -- mostly because I know you should be irrelevant. I know what I should be doing. I know who I am now compared to that girl I was so many years ago. She is pieced together with the strength I've built within myself today. Lingering moments of naiveté creep in and I believe I have a decision to make.

I don't.

The quicker you dissipate the quicker I can get back to knowing that I don't deserve what lies on the other side of the leaving. I didn't deserve it all those years ago, either.

You can stay. Lie low within the ribcage of someone else.

I need my freedom. It is found in the leaving.