Tuesday, December 6, 2016

To Let Go of the Ugly

I am not sure when a child begins to become less of a child to their parent and more of a protector. I've never NOT needed my mom. She is the voice of reason when anxiety personifies into a cloaked lurker prepared to shed the meager ounces of security I possess. She is willing to run to the grocery story when I'm out of coffee creamer and can't make it there myself. She has always been my protector. If my mom is near, if I can smell her gardenia perfume or hear the squeal of her giggle, something within me mends.

But lately I find myself stepping into a role I'm not entirely familiar with. My mom is strong. She isn't afraid to use her voice and she never loses her cool. So when my propensity is to scream until I'm hoarse in anger or heartbreak, she has the ability to pull someone near and very calmly say what's needed without ever getting red in the face. Recently someone hurt my mom. Someone who has relied on my mom's selflessness and kindness, someone who has been capable of doing things themselves, but instead asked a woman who already caters to far too many people, myself included.

Someone hurt her and it  broke something inside her - I witnessed it with my own eyes. And as something broke within the woman who has always picked up my broken pieces, I realized I was done.

I do not understand unkindness. I do not understand a lack of empathy, the void of sympathy. I am not  familiar with blinding selfishness - to the point of being incapable of understanding other people are walking through fires.

I do not understand.

I cannot.


This time of year really is my favorite. I love Christmas. For the magic of a newborn Savior. For the twinkle lights and the smell of a fresh evergreen. For the gathering that happens within warm homes. I love this season.

But my heart feels so heavy these days.

My Bible sits next to me now - and I can feel its pull. I need to open it. To read through devotions in this season of Advent - to understand the all-consuming grace that comes with a King taking the form of a human. I need to be consumed by this story, this grace.

But something rages within me.

I don't often feel bitterness. Sadness and I are regular dance partners. And anxiety lives beneath my collar bone - it nestles in between the discs of my spine and keeps my back rigid. But bitterness isn't a flavor I am acquired to.

I can't brush my teeth enough to rid this bitterness circling my taste buds. I don't like the residue it leaves in the back of my throat.


I don't know that there's an uplifting message to be found at the conclusion of this, friends. I believe in vulnerability and raw emotion - it's become the binding of my story. And in that belief, I think sometimes you just have to say the ugly things so they no longer reside within you.

Sometimes, in the middle of a season you've long held wonder for, you're reminded this world, and the people breathing within it, are broken. So there will be people who cut deep with their words. Your heart will break because you finally realize the one you always hoped would eventually be what you wanted and needed them to be just isn't capable. Some people just aren't capable.

In the weeks before your favorite holiday, before the Christmas tree is up at your house, you'll understand joy and heartache can, and will, coexist in a heart. You're living it out just now as you type this and bite your lip to keep the tears in.

At some point, in the middle of a rain drenched day that soaks cold to the marrow of your bones, you'll realize the only healthy option for your story is to protect the woman who has always stood in front of you and to let go of a relationship you never had to begin with.

Sometimes, when you've always pushed through, forgotten how you've been hurt, and continue to hope something will change, you have to settle for walking away.


This is heavy and cryptic. Forgive me for the darkness. But I would vulnerably ask for prayer, if you are reading this. This heart needs prayer. Know I am thankful for you. So very thankful.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

To Me at Eighteen

There's a road I drive down sometimes in Dayton - it's the quickest route to the grocery story I go to. It's lined with really beautiful trees that, when the season is right, are a host to the most beautiful, buttery yellow leaves.

I drove down the road a couple days ago and the tree was losing its leaves. The wind was smart that day - fast and sharp against your skin . . . one of those days in which, I can imagine, nearly every woman thought to herself, "why did I even do my hair today?" The wind was hurriedly rushing the sunshine leaves off the trees on the road. And normally, I don't feel too strongly one way or another over trees losing their leaves, but these yellow leaves - as they fell and blanketed the street - were mesmerizing. I found myself, in childlike wonder, wanting to go lay in the pile on the ground and let the rest fall on me. There was something . . . magical about the ease with which they fell and the pool of liquid warmth they created on the street.

I didn't, of course. I kept driving. But then I started to think about those trees and the leaves they were losing.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. -Matthew 5:4

I remember when I read this verse for the first time. It was written in hand on a journal page that had been given to me by a woman I've respected and looked up to since junior high. It was January. My family had just experienced, collectively, the most devastating blow - we were all in the midst of coming back from the slap sting that occurs when breath is cut too short. But, you don't ever really come back from that then, do you?

This verse, though, was written on the page, along with others. This was before I really knew Jesus or understood the comfort that can come from a knowing God who I can't physically sit with each day over coffee. Janet had handwritten verses of comfort to me, with a small note about the wonders of heaven and how safe Nick was now. I will be honest and say the comfort I felt from that note was less about the promises in the verses and more about that a woman I loved had taken the time to write them down.

But I have come back to that verse so many times since then. I've shared it with others and I reminded myself of these very words when the woman who first wrote them to me went on to meet her King. It makes my heart warm to consider perhaps her and Nick share a porch swing every now and then.

I am familiar with mourning in the larger sense. When you lose someone the same age as you before either of you have learned how to legally drive a car, something within you shifts and it doesn't return to the original placement. Life becomes a string of measurements between what is safe and what is popular - and you hope like hell some of them fall on the same page. Adventure becomes a calculation of risk and whether or not it's wise to dance with the risk.

I understand mourning.

When I drove by those trees, again, nearly all the leaves had danced off. This verse was in my mind because I'm studying the Beatitudes and I began to wonder if trees mourn when they lose their leaves. Like a woman with long, beautiful hair, do the trees start to furrow their brow when the first leaf falls or do they think plenty more where that came from.

Do they mourn?

At 29 years old I imagine sitting down with my 18-year old self to try to describe to her what is to come.

Hey, kiddo. Are you ready? The blue eyed boy you love won't be a part of the coming pages for too much longer, but it'll work out well for the both of you. You're going to say yes to some things you cannot even fathom right now - push through the fear and please don't even consider saying no. You will make some decisions that, for a season, will come to define you, but I promise you'll rise out of the hell hole you've decorated and called home. You'll end up with a career that is more challenging and incredible than your current mind is even able to imagine. But tread through the jobs that drain more than they fill up, okay? Because it'll all lead to this.

But here's the big thing. Are you listening? Things are not going to turn out the way you want. You will get to 29 years of life and you will have so much. But the house you dream about now and that wedding you're planning and not wanting to admit to planning? It won't be a part of the history. More surprisingly still, it will not kill you.

You're going to learn how to live fully on your own. You're going to learn who your real friends are and who to hold at a distance. You'll navigate living a full life with sometimes crippling anxiety, but you'll make it. And you're going to learn that, if this particular life - with no weddings or shiny rings - is what is to be, you are going to be okay. You will be okay. In fact, you will thrive.

I imagine I'd have more to say, but this feels the most important. Because life is not a string of events that you perfectly planned at 18 coming to fruition. That is not typically how the story goes. And while I think mourning belongs largely to this big losses and hurts, there is something to be said about mourning what you thought you'd have all along.

Maybe it's the baby you can feel in your arms before they're there yet. It could be the wedding you've been planning since you got your first kiss. Perhaps it's the career you worked diligently for all through college.

Mourn what's missing.

Maybe you don't have your own space yet and are wondering when it might happen. Possibly it's the feeling that you're still not known and heard or seen in a role you most certainly should be. It might just be the feeling of loneliness and confusion because who you chose to do this life with somehow ended up not being who you wanted them to be.

Mourn it.

I guess what I'm saying is - I battle myself a lot over not wanting to feel what I need to feel. I guilt myself into feeling foolish because I'm sad over something I've never had before.

But isn't that the point?

If all along I felt sure I'd have this at almost 30, then can't I mourn not having it yet, a little?

I will not lose my life or be less of a person as a result of not having something I expected to have at this moment. But I can mourn it.

And then I need to pick up the hurt and name what's good and count hope over my story.

Let's live grateful and count hope over our stories, okay?


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Surprising Reminders

It may happen subtly. You won't be expecting it as you sip a beer you've never had before and think about what you'll do tomorrow - convinced this whole thing is simply friends gathering and that's all it'll ever be.

You won't be entirely wrong.

On a random night you'll take a drive, trusting the safety within the four doors because that's what you do - you trust without asking questions - and assume something regrettable will happen and then you'll get over it.

You will be wrong about that.

You'll spend nights, trying to fall asleep - fitful in your dance with the sheets because they're not cool enough to your skin - and you'll wonder just when you became an adult who actively made decisions instead of allowing things to happen. You've spent much of your time thinking about how much you long for things to happen organically and just when you stopped talking about it your life got to be about it.

Organic happenings. Who knew such a thing still existed.

In the age of internet dating and paying an uber to deliver your dinner for you, you can forget that sometimes, right outside your door, there are actual breathing beings who enjoy interaction apart from a keyboard that autocorrects so you sound smoother than you actually are.

In the age of internet dating and paying an uber to deliver your dinner, you'll step outside your door and meet someone you've "known" for a while now -- and you'll find you actually enjoy them, even in the midst of making a fool of yourself, allowing your tongue to get twisted and trip over your own words.

Who ever really liked eloquence anyway?

The realization that you had something to learn from an arrangement that was jokingly deemed a "contract" will hit you only after flames have taken over those hard and fast lines you insisted on drawing.

You'll close the door, deadbolt it for good measure, and sit on your couch before you realize how freeing honesty can be. You'll lay your head down on that colorful pillow you still admire after owning for two years and realize that some things have to end because there wasn't much of a beginning in the first place. And you will feel mostly okay about all of it.

Because at some point in this whole adulthood thing, you are beginning to learn that true friends don't dress the way they used to in high school. That sometimes, heavy eye rolls and inappropriate jokes can bind two people before anything deep is discussed.

You'll consider what has transpired these last months - in the midst of your international travel and figuring out how to creatively contribute to a global organization, you ended up finding a friend who taught you things you didn't think you needed to learn.

In the middle of you not accepting compliments and letting people now how long you go without washing your hair,  you started to consider that here might actually be something worth sticking around for.

Who knew this person could teach you that?

You flirt with crying over something that feels lost, but was never found in the first place. Then you'll pull your hair up and sit before the keys and pound out something only mildly comprehendible.

Here's the thing -- I don't know that anyone else needs to get it but you. And you finally do.

You are okay.

You consider that you always assumed these lessons would be learned in some sweeping love story. Maybe you always hoped for it to be that way, anyway. But you'll be wrong.

In the unexpected places - in the middle of ordinary conversations about books and religion and cracking a mildly inappropriate joke, you'll come to realize that those fairy tales were bullshit and Disney lies a lot.

Ain't no prince charming on a horse going to save anyone or restore any broken pieces of a heart you should've been wise enough to protect to begin with.

It'll happen without you even realizing it. They'll come in and surprise you with their intellect and charm and their incredible wisdom. They'll come in and you'll be convinced it'll be the way it's always been.

Only you'll both look each other in the eye and recognize there was something worth saving and so you cut shit out to be healthier for yourselves, not each other.

You'll be spending all your time waiting for someone to ride in looking to rescue when all you needed to realize is you were a wildfire that just needed some water and someone to remind you to chill.

There's no need to burn alive, dear.

Monday, November 14, 2016

On Learning

One of my favorite writers/bloggers, Hannah Brencher, has long been slaying me and putting me in my place with her encouraging words and calls to action. This morning she wrote about what she's learned in the last year and asked her readers to respond to her email with what they've learned this last year. I thought I'd share my response with you here. What are you learning this year, love?


After I read your email I sat for a while at my desk. I sat at the desk I write at everyday, looking  into the eyes of the orphans I get to share stories for. A lot can happen in a year.

 A girl can grow from the bed of miserable she's built for herself over being single and nearly thirty to some sort of flourishing she never knew existed within her. You see, I've written you before - about the sadness that built up within me like plaque on a tooth. It grew harder and harder with time, refusing to crack and brush away from the surface of my heart or from underneath my collar bone. It clung tight - making the air thicker and more difficult to breathe. And then, almost like whiplash, I realized I'd spent a lot of years praying for something - for someone - and I wasn't entirely sure it's what I wanted in the first place. And now I am here, feeling okay about my current status - feeling welcoming at what may come, but confident in the fact that this life thing is manageable and enjoyable on my own.

A girl can start a new job. She can work for four years with an organization that is making a difference and and changing lives, and yet never feel fully "fitted" for what she's doing. And then that degree she was convinced was wasteful, ended up getting her a job she never could've hoped for. She gets to work on the behalf of vulnerable and fatherless children around the globe - raising her voice for those who don't yet know they possess one.

And those are both major things. I have learned so much in this last year - about waiting and praying. About what I see for my life and what the Lord knows for my life. About pocketing dreams, assuming they've expired, and my world being flipped upside down while God says, "It's expired when I say so, kid. And that ain't just yet. You with me?"

But the biggest lesson I've learned is likely this -- home is places. 

I used to think the farm I grew up on was home, and always would be. And it's certainly a piece of my home. But how can one location only ever be your whole history? Sure the yellow walls of that childhood bedroom know about the first crush I had and how fun that first slumber party was. They remember how loudly my heart was beating when a boy came into my room for the first time. They know about the little girl who grew to be a wild weed and then figured out how to find some middle ground to avoid sudden death of emotion and recklessness.

But the dirt on a campus in India knows about the moment my heart willingly broke to beat across oceans simultaneously. The open roof of the girls' home knows of the salt in my tears as I begged my Father to stay, to just stay right here. Why did I have to go back? The clattering of dishes and the rise and fall of songs in Telugu know of the moments when a girl recognized the woman in her and whispered, "Thanks for showing up here, for this very moment. I think we're gonna be okay."

The little two story on Morton Avenue knows about the joy that is found in solitude; the walls covered in syntax and gentle reminders know about the coming of age that occurred when a girl who hated to be alone finally started choosing herself.

And then there are the people who have come in and chosen to stay - time and time, again - who make any place home.

So, home is places. This is what I've learned. A heart can stretch far and wide and still remain faithful to the people who have, and will come to be, pages in a history. Each place I call home always reminds me of where I come from, who I've become, and the beauty in recognizing that being willing to bend often stops some of the breaking.

Monday, October 3, 2016

What Loss Does to You

You'll wake up on a Monday to a text from one of your best childhood friends. She'll have taken a photograph of a lined journal page with handwriting that is still trying to figure out who it's going to be.

October 14, it will read. I love Nick Duff.

She will share it with you -- talking about how she rarely wrote in it, but his name showed up. And so did yours. And she wanted you to see it.

You'll wake up on a Monday to a text from one of your best childhood friends and realize that you've been apart from her more than you've been beside her in the last ten years. But she may understand your spirit more than even you can sometimes.

And something inside you that's felt loose flirts with feeling grounded for the first time in a long time.

You'll answer her - he was so easy to love, wasn't he?

And it's true. Because he was.

You'll think about the trajectory of your life since that cold, January day when you weren't asked if you were ready to say goodbye, but just said it anyway - the finality of the compound word weighting your tongue down in a way that left you deciding you didn't want to ever speak again, if it meant you would have to utter it more than just this moment.

You'll think about all the days between that one and now - the girl you were and what she believed in. You'll think about the relationship that flourished as a result of a life cut short and you'll feel conflict rise underneath your collar bone - because how can the most difficult experience of your life also have been the event that led you to getting to know your favorite human?

You'll think about the boy who wiped your tears as they laid your beautiful cousin in the ground and have to bite back a laugh at the knowledge that those two people would never know each other the same way ever again.

Because that's what loss does to you. It breaks off pieces of who you were mere seconds before the life you once knew detonates. Every moment following that is deciding whether you have the time to budget and the energy to spare to get to know the people who held you up when everything crashed, again.

You'll think about that boy - Nicholas - and his now nephew who looks and acts and speaks like him. You'll think about the growing boy you never see enough, but love more deeply every time you do, and you'll pray high and hopeful he will one day hear Nick stories that make him giggle and want to know more.

He was so easy to love, wasn't he?

You'll think about the boys since that day - friends and lovers and boys dressed like men who sling stones of ignorance at beating hearts. You'll forget the ones who didn't deserve your love and then you'll ponder those who were easy to love like Nick was.

You'll look at a picture of a blue-eyed man who took you to Dewey's on your first "date" and then somehow became your best friend and person and complete confidant. You'll feel a pull in your chest because he is the easiest to love, but your story - you and his - they don't play beside each other in the same zip code any more. But he makes your life more rich than you ever knew to ask for.

You'll think about a brown eyed boy - growing and getting to look less like a boy everyday - who calls the other side of the world home. Your heart will physically ache - daily - because the story called you two into the same narrative, but a God who knows better is asking for you to be comfortable with the distance. He is a selfless kind of love you didn't believe existed within a heart torn and ragged like yours.

You'll wake up on a Monday to a text from a childhood best friend and you'll realize that time changes everything - feelings and intentions and the very souls our skin folds around in this world begin to transform and disfigure. You'll start coming to terms with the fact that there are relationships and moments in your life right this very minute that are morphing and there isn't anything you can do to get them back. So you lean into the hurt and trust that it'll be okay. You'll wonder how easy you are to love and then roll your eyes. You are difficult. And that is that.

You'll wake up on a Monday to a text from a childhood best friend and you'll think about her wild, curly hair and the ways everything is picked back up right where you left off every time you're together. You'll consider that the two of you - your spirits of wild and wandering - are far more alike now than they ever were when she wrote that little note in her journal so long ago. 

You'll wake up on a Monday and realize loss is simply a part of the storyline. Time and distance will require adjustment. Annual trips will help to make whole years apart easier and so sweet. You've said goodbye before - you are not immune to the mortality or finality this world requires us to shoulder.

You'll wake up on a Monday and get in your car. You'll drive to the first place that was home - simply to find footing in a season that feels unsure and scary and untethered. 

You'll admit you feel lost. 

You'll confess that sometimes you like it. And other times you're convinced it will surely choke the life right from your chest.

You'll wake up on a Monday to a text from a childhood best friend and, without even realizing she's doing it, she'll pull you back down.

She'll pull you back down.

You'll wake up on a Monday and you'll allow it.

Monday, September 26, 2016

On a Case of the Butterflies

I am a big believer in butterflies. The ones lying dormant in the lining of your belly - waiting, just waiting, for a reason to explode into thousands of quick, tight movements. You know the ones.

When's the last time you had butterflies explode in the pit of your stomach?

There was a time in my life that I was convinced only boys could provide those butterflies. I remember the first time I ever went to a movie with a boy... his name was Taylor Bryan. He was tall and blonde and had blue eyes I wanted to coast in for the rest of my life - way before I ever understood the fundamentals of 'the rest of my life' or that heartbreak wasn't just something they wrote about in songs. We saw She's All That and I remember his pinkie finger grazing the top of my hand and I. thought. I. was. going. to. explode.

Because there's just nothing quite like getting your hand held for the first time. I've held many a hand since then - I actually really love holding hands, in transparency - but no other hand holding moment has ever lit my skin on fire the way his did in that darkened movie theater (where my mom was sitting two rows back, chaperoning.)

And then there's your first kiss, right? You watch people on TV and in movies and they're locking lips left and right and, because I came out of the womb analyzing, I could not stop thinking about my first kiss. The hand on the face and the swelling music and let's hope I can figure out how to breathe when all this damn magic is happening without snotting on him.

There was no swelling music. And if I remember correctly, our hands were both at our sides because we were sweaty pre-teens who had no clue what they were doing. But good LAWD it was magic, if I've ever felt it.

So for most of my high school and college career, it was boys who gave the butterflies. And then a four year relationship ended and a season of singleness set in and I spent, am still spending, hours and days and months slowing admitting to myself that butterflies from a dude are cool, but there's a whole lot I'll be missing out on if I keep waiting for the next swell of them to erupt over some guy who wears flannel and knows how to maintain a beard.

Who said a girl has to be confined to butterflies in her ribcage because someone wants to know what her mouth tastes like?


I have this print on my wall in my living room. It was one of the first things I ever bought for myself as I was moving into my house in Dayton. It's a dictionary page that has a ribcage stenciled onto it in black and white and just beneath the ribcage - where the proverbial belly lies - are colored butterflies. I remember scanning Etsy, looking for art for my new, all my own, home and when I saw this particular print, I obsessed over it until it arrived in my mailbox. It remains one of my favorite pieces in my entire house.

I think at first it was aesthetically pleasing to me, but the longer I live here - within the mustard yellow walls where I burn cinnamon candles year round - the more it becomes a reminder of what I should be expecting, what I should be looking for, for my life to be.

I believe this life should be a continual case of butterflies.

When I get to sit on my back porch with wine and a book to devour, my skin should rise with goosebumps.

When I get home from work and Addy is waiting at the door for me, my cheeks should hurt from smiling at her joy.

When my brother texts me at 8.30 at night and says, "hey, stepher," elation should be written on my hands.

I spent many years getting lost in people who told me I was pretty and wanted time with me - sometimes for all the wrong reasons - and my joy sprung from that. That girl - the one who waited with bated breath for his attention or affection - she didn't know the dirt in India was going to one day be what beckoned to her heart.

She hadn't yet figured out that the crinkled pages of a brown Bible would center her in a way nothing else could.

She wasn't aware that a road trip with the oldest friend of her life, on a random weekend in October, would make her dizzy with excitement.

She didn't know. She couldn't have.

There are parts of me that so badly want to go tap that girl on the shoulder and tell her to say yes sooner, get out of that relationship faster, get on more planes - now, now, now - because she is missing out. Because life is happening while she's stagnantly waiting.

But timing really is everything - I learn that more the more time I spend breathing on this planet. And I think she had to figure out how to get out from under the thumb of thinking she needed to need someone in order to be someone.

Hey, guys? We are someone. Right this very minute, each one of us is a someone. With dreams worth fighting for and injustices to raise our voices over. We, each one of us, is a someone. Who get to travel, who come to understand that time zones don't matter when a heart feels home for the first time in a life. You are a someone. With hair that needs to be let down and a right to believe that you're worth it - even if every fiber of your being says you're wrong. Hear me, now. You are worth it.

We are a someone.

And you don't need a mortgage or a baby or a husband or wife to be so. You don't need a passport or a full tank of gas or the job of your dreams to believe it.

You don't have to have it all figured out. And you don't have to be happy every second of every day.

You are a someone. 

What's giving you butterflies these days, love? If it's a relationship, then I am so thrilled for you. But I think we all need reminded that there are corners of this world that have our names stamped on them - and they are just waiting to be discovered by the lens of our eyes.

There are corners of this world with your name drawn on a back, dirt road just waiting for your feet to plant down.

There's a song waiting to be heard and a book that's worth the reading.

There are pieces of yourself, parts of your life, waiting to become known by you.

I hope you find them.

I hope you sit down in corner coffee shops by yourself and become acquainted with her.

I hope you drive too fast down an unlined country road and learn to laugh with him.

I hope you discover new flavors and sounds, unwrap foreign colors and flirt with wearing them around for a while.

I hope you get a little lost trying to decipher who it is you were made to be.  And when you leave behind the skin of who the world told you you should be, I hope you feel something ignite within you.

I hope you come to realize home is relative, family isn't always blood, and that you are good company to be around.

I hope you choose yourself.

I hope you know you are someone.

I hope you learn how to chase the butterflies.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

On Colors

Everything is blue
His pills, his hands, his jeans
And now I'm covered in the colors
Pull apart at the seams
And it's blue
And it's blue
Everything is grey
His hair, his smoke, his dreams
And now he's so devoid of color
He don't know what it means
And he's blue
And he's blue

Anyone who has known me for any amount of time will tell you I can become frantically obsessed with music. I'll be watching a season finale of a show and the beginning chords of a song will play, one or two sentences crooned across the speakers, and I am a Google'ing frenzy - who sings it, when was it released, and for goodness sake, can I buy the song yet? (See Rivers and Roads by the Head and the Heart.) And then I want to share the music with everyone I know. Friends will receive random, middle of the night texts that simply say "Let's talk about - - -" or "If you know what's best for you, check out - - -" (See She Burns by Foy Vance) I feel music, as I feel most things, deep and viscerally. I remember songs from certain times in my life - snapshots of moments that have been freeze-framed in the lining of my heart's memory; I can hear the beginning of a song and instantly be in a yard surrounded by people I grew up with, releasing balloons and whispering rushed prayers - convinced they would only be heard as long as I could see the tail of the ribbon I had just let from my grasp. (See Hear You Me by Jimmy Eat World) So it's no surprise when I was listening to music the other day and a song came through my ear buds that made me type the same word three times in a row because I was so distracted by the lyrics being sung. Halsey has the type of voice that can unnerve you. It's throaty and cutting, which coincides with the words she's singing quite nicely - many of her songs have language that isn't considered clean - so if you're easily offended by language, maybe Halsey isn't for you.. BUT, you should definitely check out the song that made me type the same word three times in a row... because anything that stops the flow of words from someone who writes for a living has to be worth at least a listen, right? (See Colors by Halsey)

She begins to sing about a man - presumably someone who was once her lover - in the shades of color that represent him. He is blue, like his pills, his hands, his jeans; he is grey, like his hair, his smoke, his dreams. He was red - and she was blue - and then she becomes lilac and he decides purple isn't for him and there is something electric about this, to me. I started to think about colors and people; I began to consider my "persons" and what colors they were in my life; I began to try to identify myself as a color and then became incredibly disheartened at the range of color I so often feel within a 24 hour span of time.

As it turns out, my emotional range can lend itself to me feeling like that grayish/brown blob that develops when, as a child, you attempt to mix two or three different colors to create a new, original color exclusive to you. You start out imagining the words inventive and extraordinary and unprecedented will be applied to your mad color mixing skills, but when it's all said and done you're left realizing that sometimes yellow and purple and that mint green color you want to lick like ice cream don't look much like anything, mixed together,  other than what you imagine the color of the pit of your stomach is when your heart's broken for the first time.
So I don't know if I'm blue or purple, green or orange; I want to believe I am the softest, warmest shade of butter yellow, but my anxiety rings in at an alarming red and the depression I unsuccessfully try to kick to the curb sits steadily at the most bland shade of brown. 
I'm not always warm. Or inviting. I'm not always laughing. Or wanting to talk. And I'm learning that's okay. The people pleaser in wants to apologize even when I don't need to, to make sure everything is okay, even when I know for certain there's no reason for things to not be okay. And slowly - the warm yellow that wants to give light feels sucked dry and begins to resemble more of the dried sweat stain on that white t-shirt you used to wear all time.
I guess what I'm trying to say... what I want to leave here on the page . . . is that we cannot continually be everything to everyone - and we should not expect it of others. It's not realistic. In fact, I'd argue it's harmful - both for those of us who expect that consistency and to those we are consistently expecting it from.
This is something I'm learning, y'all.
We cannot always be the one being checked up on. Sometimes we need to reach out and do the checking in. We cannot always be the one expected to bring joy. Sometimes the joy needs filtered in to the grey spots.
I think grace needs to be a shade we extend much more often than we do. This is something I'm working on. I cannot tell you how many times I've said to myself, in the last month, 'get out of your head, Duff.' Are things hard right now? Do they feel heavy? Do I feel a little more lost, relationally, than I have in a long time? Sure. But I cannot walk around in a constant state of puke green, feeling sorry for myself. There comes a time when ya gotta let the light in.

Let's let the light in, love.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

On a Scattered Mind, a Wandering Heart

Fifteen years.

Fifteen years ago I sat in Mr. Greher's American History classroom. I was a naive, selfish 8th grade girl. My best friend, Lindsey, sat behind me and to the right. She and I, we were pretty convinced we'd conquer the world. And truthfully, there was no one else I wanted to conquer the world beside. Fifteen years ago, I didn't know anything of war, other than the black and white photos bracing the text books that always took up too much space in my locker. Fifteen years ago, I listened to my mom share about how she remembers, vividly, where she was when JFK was assassinated. How sad for you, I remember thinking. How sad for you. Fifteen years ago, moments before a tower was struck with selfishness and evil and a warped thought process of freedom and standing up for one's belief, I sat entirely untouched by pain, devastation, or sorrow.

And then a T.V. screen was bombarded with plumes of black smoke and I had to choke back cries of terror because I wasn't even entirely sure why I was called to cry in the first place.

Fifteen years ago I become one person in a generation of many who would be defined by a historical event that I would eventually teach to developing third grade minds in an inner city, public school.

The sun is shining today. There isn't one single cloud in the sky and I find myself trying to name the blue in a new and poetic way. The sun is shining. It's warm and encompassing and I should be exuberant with joy.

Something lurks in the corners, though.

My mom can always tell when it's going to rain. Her knee aches in a way that feels differently from the chronic pain she experiences from bone pushing up against bone. She will walk into the kitchen and whisper, "rain's coming," because she must baby the joint that gets her from place to place differently than how she normally would.

Depression and anxiety are similar to a joint devoid of cartilage, in that way. My stomach and thought patterns seem to know when the sun just won't brighten the haziness of a heart. The very pit of my gut, he knows when extended ours of sleep just won't make me jump out of bed ready for the day, but rather burrow deeper into the mattress and attempt to further cocoon my body with a quilted blanket.

I have a good life. I don't want to, at any point here, allow anyone to think I am suggesting things are bad or wrong or hopeless. They are not.

But I suffer from depression. And I exist, nearly twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, in a perpetual state of panic. No, I do not know why.

But my gut - you know, the one who reminds me no amount of sleep will ever be enough? He has been especially unkept lately. I'll be going about my day and will be overcome with this foreboding feeling that I should be dreading something. And so I mentally pace. I pace and pace and pace - up and down the hallways of a mind that never shuts off to begin with - trying to define what it is I'm supposed to be dreading. And I often can't put my finger on it.

So then I get anxious. And I revolve around this anxiety. Hoping like hell I will figure out what it is I'm supposed to be dreading.

It would seem, when anxiety lets her hair all the way down, she makes it nearly impossible for celebration to make a home within me.

Monday, September 5, 2016

On My Momma

There isn't a number for the amount of phone calls she takes in which a shaky voice on the other end whispers, "I need to talk to you about something. . ."

I can't imagine the fear that likely swells in the walls of her heart - wondering what the green eyed girl will share with her this time - in what ways might both of their worlds shatter or alter, skip necessary steps or pull back in a reversal that just shouldn't be.

She always takes them with stride, though. Her reaction - I've memorized it along with the smell of baby powder and gardenia that immediately helps me understand her presence in the room. A deep, belly-deep breath in and she calmly says, 'okay. go ahead.'

And she always has an answer, a solution. She always knows the next steps to take. She always does.

There is no calculable measurement for what I owe her - monetarily, but also with time. The amount of crises she detours from hitting me, the tears she patiently wiped when I, yet again, trusted a sneaky eyed boy with my heart and was given mere fragments back when he chose the blonde over me.

No prose in the world will properly encapsulate the times she came swooping in - a super heroine who never wanted recognition or title, but to simply be called momma and be loved deeply.

She is both of those things. But she also has the full capability of changing the world. She's certainly changed mine.

Recently we were discussing how much I've changed in recent years. I recall a time when powder pink was my entire universe - all the Barbies, all the Barbie homes, all the Barbie limos - and I was unapologetically GLEEFUL over the sparkle of the world she created for me.

And when the Barbies took a backseat to first kisses and holding hands with the tall, blue-eyed athlete, she did what she could to let me tip-toe into maturity, but she was always there. She was the ever watchful eye I resented up until the day I realized just how much I needed it to survive in a world designed to break me.

Of late, I cannot formulate, in words, the degree of panic she has probably felt over the questions that have traveled from my lips, through the phone line, to reach to ever bending ear.

"What if I moved to Dayton?"


"What if I took a job in which I had to create a ministry team?"

 "What about a longer stay in India?" 

"Could I spend Christmas in India?"

She listens patiently - never hesitating to lay her fears, her concerns, on the table before me. But don't be mistaken - she never once utters the word no. She never thinks to close a door on the frightened whisperings of an over feeling heart.

As I collect years and become more acquainted with this woman God wrote a story for, she watches her little girl grow and make mistakes. She holds her when life is too much or the darkness grips too tight. And she is the first to squeal through the phone is pure delight over something beautiful on the page.

As I collect years and become more acquainted with this woman God wrote a story for, she stands firmly in the corner of her girl who, surprise, surprise, loosens the roots of those corn fields a little more each day. She backs every decision made to get on a plane - even if the destination haunts in its mystery. She maintains her role as loudest supporter as her girl falls in love with a land, with a little boy, with a culture far from where she originally raised her.

As her girl cries for more room, lets loose her lengthening hair, and slowly unwraps from the binding anxiety who has riddled every movement of her adolescence, she gets out the watering can and, with tears rushing down her face, pours life back into the dry places so the green-eyed Coco can flourish as she was designed to.

No essays or books or poems could encapsulate a love that continues to grow like a weed. I watch her be a momma - she is a momma in the ways I imagine her momma was to her. She is strength - visceral and innate. She is a warrior - standing tall and speaking firm. She is unconditional love - her wild children push their limits, test the boundaries of a world counting on them tripping up - and she remains the warm embrace, the tender answer, the landing place.

She watches as I refine the wildness within me - unapologetically testing patience and seeking out passion - and she never once considers stifling what is within me.

She is cultivation personified - harvesting the wonder and intensity inside and wrinkling up her beautiful nose in joy when I, by God's purse grace, get it right.

She is my momma. She feeds the luxuriant. She loosens the free. She ruffles the skirt of my natural. 

She waters my wild without hesitation and still allows my return when something goes awry.

Friday, September 2, 2016

On the Unhinging of a Heart

A large portion of my life lies in the doubting. I doubt my ability to stir movement with my words. I doubt my role within relationships that are real and raw and good. I doubt I am noticed. I doubt whether a 14 year old boy will remember me when we spend nearly 365 days apart between visits and our communication lies in hand written letters most of the year. I doubt that God is concerned with my trivial desires and hopes.

Of a couple of those things I am realizing my doubt is ill-advised.

As I write this out, I'm doubting I'll ever be able to write about India well.

But here's what I know.

India moves me. It moves my blood and steals my words, but it's okay...

I cannot explain to you with words the ways the brown eyes of the children shoot straight into the center of my soul and refuse to budge.

I can't explain the light rain that falls anytime a little girl walks through the slum with belled anklets bracing her delicate feet.

I cannot verbalize the joy I obtain by being around growing girls with deep, raspy voices who ask endless questions and tease with confidence.

I don't have the training to properly share the innocence coming from a 16 year old boy's voice when he asks me about my hobbies in America.

I cannot articulate the beautiful ache that comes from sitting with an 8-year-old coloring and admiring the impossibly tiny, thin, gold band on her middle finger.

There aren't enough verbs or adjectives or creatively combined metaphors to illustrate how a foreign land, and the most beautiful people I've ever laid eyes on, have become a source of home.

But there it is.

I doubted, last year, when I boarded a plane to India for the first time that a country so far removed from everything familiar to me would be good or pleasant for a girl who hates change. And now I can't imagine not having these stories, these faces, these moments as a part of me.

I can't describe the way I am moved, but I pray - high and loud - that you have a space that shakes your blood like India does mine.

Maybe it requires long plane rides and a list of ways to be respectful in a culture you don't quite yet comprehend. Maybe it's right where you are, in the spaces between work and play - kisses hello and cooking dinner. Maybe you haven't found it yet. Maybe you don't even know you need a place like this - that stirs something within you hadn't realized you possessed; a place that brings out pieces of yourself you hadn't yet met, a place that releases the wild within you.

Fight to be the most wild version of yourself, friend. Find the place that stirs and moves, asks you to bend and bow to new customs, new foods, new sensory experiences.

Fight like hell to create space to meet new pieces of yourself. Then plant yourself there, even if just for fleeting moments, and make it home.

If you're anything like me, you've long needed someone to show up and tell you to stop doubting that there's an element within you that needs unhinged.

Unhinge yourself.


Because my words won't do, here's a look into a place that makes me feel the most free, the most wild, the most unhinged.

Here's to you and your untethering.

Monday, July 18, 2016

On a Rushing, Throbbing Heart

The rain pelts my windshield. I watch the wiper blades, one slightly askew from the winter ice -- a subtle peek into the manipulation made possible by frigid cold; I watch the wiper blades and wonder what might happen if they swooshed so fast they unhinged off my car. My eyes try to keep time with the rhythm - wa-WOMP, wa-WOMP, wa-WOMP.

I wonder if that's what my heart sounds like from the inside out.

The looming light finally evolves from red to green and I take the left turn cautiously; rain makes my fingers tremble over the steering wheel. I think I might live in perpetual fear that, like my life oft does, the car will hydroplane in an intersection of where I'm coming from and where I've yet to grasp.

The left turn is made and a family of geese totter slowly, carefully across the street. I feel impatience well within me; I am already late. Sleep, like it so regularly does now,  evaded me last night. I slip hard into slumber and then the deafening quiet wakes me -- beckons me to think about those things I so desperately want to avoid.

The damp, inky night siren-cries at me to share with her the secrets lining my clavicle, and when I refuse, the temptress leaves me wide-eyed and chasing rest.

So I am late to work, having just made a left turn, and am accosted by having to wait on a family of geese leisurely making their way across the road.

They do not rush themselves - even when idiotic humans around them beep their horns to rush their travel. I shake my head and the windshield wipers provide monotonous sound track music for the journey.

wa-WOMP. wa-WOMP. wa-WOMP.

These geese - they are not bothered by being creatures who prolong a commute. They will not hold guilt over needing time to get where they need to be.

wa-WOMP. wa-WOMP. wa-WOMP.

It occurs to me the many instances in which I truly do need to rest, to take leisure, to attempt to sedate the manic within.

The geese waddle, treading lightly, in the midst of the downpour, and I feel every fiber within me wanting to rush.

I hasten towards the horizon of each day, convinced tomorrow must be the day something will finally happen that's needed to happen all this time. I charge into the setting sun, wholly certain taking time, diligent and intentional, will gain me naught.

wa-WOMP. wa-WOMP. wa-WOMP.

The geese family finally reaches their terminus and I step lightly onto the gas, turning up the speed of the skewed windshield wipers. The rain assails my windshield and I detect my pulse picking up rhythm.

What is it about the deceleration of a life that makes me queasy to the point of inhabiting the skin of a flight risk?

wa-WOMP. wa-WOMP. wa-WOMP.

I am a flight risk.

The slowing down recently has shown me this. All the rushing around and desperately gnawing at skin, all the attempts at saying what I want and wanting what I feel, it's succeeded in captivating me so effortlessly that I am missing entire pieces of myself.

I am absent in the interview process over the beating organ beneath my clothing.

wa-WOMP. wa-WOMP. wa-WOMP.

The geese family, long gone by the time I end my day and traverse the drive home, continues to pulse just beneath the surface of my thoughts. Slow and steady. Prolonged in travel, unhurried, leisurely in pace, they get where needs going on time and safely -- they do not exist in the propensity to rush head-first into calamity.

wa-WOMP. wa-WOMP. wa-WOMP.

My hearts thrums evenly on the drive home; no rain to blitz my windshield, no family of geese unabashedly requiring my anticipation in their arrival to the destination.
I am met, in the afternoon sun, with roads unwinding, imploring for acceleration.

And I . . . I am petitioning for a slow down.

Monday, June 27, 2016

On Watching (And interesting imagery about armpits)

My hair has been getting caught in my armpits lately. If all 600 pounds of my locks are loose and untethered, I will go to turn my head or look to see if it's safe to switch lanes on the interstate and it will pull because it's caught in the crease of my armpit.

I've been trying to grow my hair out for some time now. I was always that girl in school who would SWEAR she wasn't going to cut her hair and then would watch some reality show like Dancing with the Stars and Julianne Hough would cha-cha across the stage with her perfect coif and I'd be furiously googling photos to send to my best friend, who also manages my mane.

"I thought we were growing it out, Stephi," she'd say.

I know. I know. I changed my mind.

But recently, I've stuck to my guns. I've only gotten it trimmed and when people see me who haven't seen me in a while - or anytime I FaceTime with my favorite married couple in Cancun - they remark on how long it is.

A few months back, right before I left my previous position and transitioned to my new job, I got lice. The school I worked at is filled with sweet babies who love loving on you, but they sometimes come with friends... I'm not going to not hug a child and so I was found with lice. After several treatments of olive oil and shower caps and frying my skull from washing with Dawn dish soap, a coworker suggested I cut my hair.

"NO!" I semi-shouted. I'd worked too hard to get my hair this length. There was no going back.

And so, with my mermaid hair, I got rid of the lice and now am prone to getting it caught in my armpit.


I am reaching my one month anniversary at Back2Back. And it is a job filled to the brim of everything I've ever hoped for. I am learning new rhythms, gaining new sleeping patterns, and attempting to figure out what it looks like to output creatively approximately 8 hours a day. It's glorious and exhausting and I've never felt more full, professionally.

But I come home to an empty house at night. Sometimes Saturdays come and I stay at home and read into the night. And most of the time, I love it. Like I love my long, and still growing, hair.

But sometimes, I feel like I'm stuck in the armpit.


That's the thing about chasing after what you want and having the privilege of holding it in your hand; it's not going to make every other pain disappear. There will still be moments in your days filled with the aching for something that didn't come along with the bigger dream.

You still might struggle with depression. Or painstakingly complete homework assignments from your therapist. You will more than likely have to admit that it is not all sunshine and pure joy all the time.

I would like to be naive about how to treat hair with lice. But I am not.

I would like to know what it's like to have someone else to consider when planning, or not planning, a meal. But I do not.

And it's okay. Most every day, it's okay. Because my hair is growing. Because I have my dream job before I'm 30. Because there's a little boy in India I get to return to in a little over a month from now.

And ya'll? It is good. It's so sweet.

But, I have to remind myself there is space for me to still desire and pray and hope and watch for. I have to whisper to myself there will always be something more. Because if it were all to be mine, then what is there to look forward to? How could I trust in a King who delights in being all I need. Because He is. I don't like admitting it sometimes. There are moments I cover up in my stubbornness and think, "You won't be enough. I won't have it."

And He laughs. I'm sure of it. I'd like to think it's His pleasure to watch us being every inch of stubborn and controlling as possible, all the while thinking, go on, girl. We'll come to agree on this eventually.


What do you want - this very moment? Is it a new job? Or a new car? Maybe it's to be someone's Mrs. or to hear a developing voice whisper Mommy into your ear.

Maybe you want a dog, or to write a novel. Maybe you want to travel the world, learn to speak Spanish, fill up your passport.

Or perhaps, you just want to be able to rest.

Keep hoping for those things. Pray hard and diligently over every molecule of your desire. And watch for it. Watch for it as if you're expecting it.

Because isn't one of the best pieces of living for Him knowing that you can thank the Maker before He's gifted you this part of the story?


You're not alone in the wanting. I can promise you that. There will always be more. Always one more mile to go. And it's good that way, I think. Even when I pull out strands of my hair or end up falling asleep at 8.45 because I don't have someone to talk to.

I'm learning to be okay with what I have before me and within me. He's created me for just this very moment. You, too.

But let's keep watching.


Friday, June 10, 2016


Her face lit up my screen as I typed out words, lacing together a story, attempting to illustrate for future readers just what makes this little girl come alive.

Her eyes are this impressive combination of dark brown and creamy caramel. And they're laughing eyes. Her smile isn't one that stays on her lips, it spreads all the way to the pupil of her eyes. As I was sharing her story I couldn't help but think, stay glittering just like this, sweet one. Stay sweet and sure  of what you want out of this life.

Because you see, against the backdrop of a culture that is hell-bent on taking what does not belong to it, I can't help but look at the faces of the children I'm serving and not think of all the promise they have and how deeply I want them to be able to carry it through their lives. I want them to be on the cusp of 29, at their dream job, and not have to worry about how damaged they are and wonder if it shows in the cracks of their smiles.

I think about the college student who was raised within the confines of a life that set him up for success and somewhere along the line, he got the misconception that a passing stroke across his back was permission to enter where one must really hear a firm yes on before penetration. I think about the mugshot of his, flashing across news stations and social media outlets and all the ways people are rising up against and on behalf of him. 

I am disturbed.

In the midst of this I look up at the pictures on my desk and see a picture of the sweet boy I love that lives in India. There are days when I go before the Lord and I am so speechless with privilege of being able to love him that I just have to say, "Father, help me pray well for this boy, even when I can't find the words." These last days, though, I just lay verbage on a hamster wheel and let it spin and spin and spin - it's still spinning. Dear God, let him choose You. First, last, always. Let him chase you, Jesus. Allow him to be so enraptured by Your love for him and his love for You that he would only ever think and act, say and perform pure kindness.

I am not a parent. But I think about G and his dreams and his capabilities and I want them so desperately for him. I want him to remain good and kind and whole.

Last night I was watching a video on Facebook of a man who decided to attempt kidnapping a young, teen girl from her mother in a grocery store. I go red just typing that out now.

When did we become a race of humans that think everything is up for grabs?

I am a woman who, by the grace of God has never been snatched or stolen, beaten or physically broken. No one has mistaken a pat of friendliness for permission to assault. 

Yet I maintain my fury.

I've had just about enough of the taking.

Young man of privilege, from an area of my current city, do you feel remorse? I read her account of what you did to her, the ways you broke what wasn't even intended to be bent. Your forceful approach on something so sacred makes me ill. Are you sorry?

Will she ever go  out at night, again? Ever trust another man who looks at her for longer than .2 seconds? Will she ever be able to be intimate with a man who does, actually, love and respect and treasure her? 

Why did you feel it necessary to rob her of something never meant for you to begin with?

Man who certainly should know better, what were you thinking when you attempted to snatch a thirteen year old child from her mother

What made you think a mother, fierce and protective, fiery and in love with her child, wouldn't rip entire limbs off your body before she let you leave with her baby?

When did we become a society that welcomed entitlement in and slid into it like a second skin? Just who do we think we are?

Sweet girl, with the liquid chocolate eyes and dreams of being a chef - keep going. Because you are what you Father says you are. Valuable.

Young woman, recovering from assault of not just the body, but of the heart, soul, spirit - keep fighting. Surely you are one of the most prayed over women in the world right now. Keep fighting. Because you are not what the world says you are - disposable.

Thirteen year old child, doing what I used to love doing with my own momma - try to trust, again. Because you have lions protecting you.

Women - victims and advocates, fighters and frightened, voiceless and pissed off, we have names. And they have nothing to do with our hair color or pant size. Not one thing to do with the tightness of our clothing or the measurement of our cup size. We are not to be identified by our promiscuity or our virginity, by our self-defense skills or our affection. They are not associated with the level of sass we put out or whether or not we take shit from people.

We are not a product of our pasts or what someone else has decided we deserved. We are not an ornament for someone else's enjoyment and our soul's and their sparkle will be what change this world. And if we are going to continue to have to live in a world that is broken and abusive and insists we must listen to whistles and cat calls, "hey baby's" and risk the chance of slaps on the ass, then we better pray high and loud for Jesus to return - because, oh God, we need Jesus' return; we are crippled until His return. And we need to start speaking up for one another. I want to leave this world better, and more in love with the Savior, than I found it; I want to take part in a generation of women who stand on the front lines for each other and know brothers who flank their sisters on all sides. Let's stop slut shaming and name calling and fighting over who gets what, or who, and let's defend. Let's protect. Let us honor one another.

She is not a dog, stop whistling.

She is someone's child. Someone's best friend. Someone's sister. She is someone's future wife. A child's future mother. She is the daughter of a King. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

On Risk (and quite a vulnerable look into the current state of my heart.)

It started last year. She came to my little table/classroom in the too loud hallway and quickly got sassy with me in this really beautiful, ornery way that made me catch a glimpse of myself in her.

"Whoa, now sister. Take it easy and have your ears open." She made direct eye contact with me - that sparkle that people always talk about was there -- reaching out at me. I could've never known it was going to seep into my heart and plant itself firmly with no intention of leaving.

From that day forward she would tack on "sister" to just about any sentence or phrase she could when it was directed at me.

"Good morning, sister."

"Sister, I have a question on this math problem."

"What's your favorite color, sister? Your middle name, sister? Can I sit next to you on the bus, sister?"

And she became a student I not only loved dearly, but also found myself rising to defend, lovingly correct, and garnering the ability to reprimand, when necessary, with just a simple look.

She's a fourth grader now. That means she rarely comes to my table/classroom because she has surpassed the requirement for extra tutoring, but she always seems to find herself a reason to stop by. This morning she plowed into my back, full force, giggling musically.


And then ran back to her classroom.

We have cried together not just once, but many times over the course of this year in regards to me leaving. She had a bad day and we took a time out in the hallway to talk and she placed her hot, damp, tear-riddled, olive skinned face against mine and threw her body on mine, hanging on with a vice-like grip.

"What will I do when you aren't here next year to calm me down?" she whispered in my ear and then bellowed, deep and guttural, into the crook of my neck.

Oh, my little sister, but what will I do?


The swings sang a rusty, twangy, Conway Twitty-like song on the playground. The sun was warm on my cheek, my name had been screamed out across the soccer field three times in a row now, and I was taking a moment before my name would, inevitably, be called again -- most likely because of those two Turkish boys fighting over a pink football and the fierce and feisty spirit of the Julianna girl who never stepped down because a boy told her to.

And the swings kept their melody going; cacophonous in the midst of the rustled grass and occasional bird, but I took joy in their tune, anyway.

Three Hispanic sweethearts racing against their 15 minutes of recess time to get high, higher, highest on those swings, all the while, speaking fast and passionate about something sounding remarkably like the root of happiness and adolescence.

It is my last Friday like this. It just kept beating in my blood, with each thu-thump of a heart that is perpetually learning its own rhythms.

Oh, my sweet, crazy, too much attitude for your own good, middle schoolers, but what will I do?


She walked into the cafeteria in the chaos of snack time - that rush of adrenaline on a Friday between freedom from the school day and actual freedom to leave the school. She's pure grace, when she walks. She always has been. And you see her hair before you get to her heart-stopping smile - because it's all degrees of the best kind of curly and it's got a bandanna around it all in a way that most females dream about being able to accomplish.

She was a part of the first after school class I taught on my own. Her sweet nature and kind ways made me love her immediately and then we both realized we were kind of kindred, just many years and cultures separated.

She's so grown now. She's a kid, but she's growing fast; boys notice her, girls adore her, and she always finds time to come see her old teacher, kiss her on the cheek, and then head up the street to home on her own.

"Miss Steeeeeeeph," she says in her eloquent, accented speech, "I leave in less than two weeks! But I'll come see you before the last day of school is over. I promise, girrrrrrl."

She hugs and kisses me fast and hard and prances out the door.

Vivacious, full of life, spirit, but what will I do?


Humble baby girl has no idea how stunning she is; her hair is piled high in her signature 'do and she rocks Converse high tops like I dream about filling. She's still innocent; her momma protects her, has rules for her, and she follows them. And she's funny.

We talk about music, inevitably, everyday.

"Check out this new song, girl," she says, pulling out her phone that she has simply for music. And we dance and sing off key.

She is the little girl I was and wish I would've been smart enough to fight to hold on to. I see myself in her - in her smile, in her attitude, in her desire to  honor what adults in her life think and say about her.

Her rotten, but undeniably lovable, brother comes to get her and she rushes over to me and bumps my hip. "Girl, I will see you Mondaaaaay." She winks and walks away.

Little mama, but what will I do?


He is, by far, the hairiest eight year old I know. He walks, no stalks, down the hall, fists clenched at his sides, trying to look lean and mean and full of fury.

Sometimes he is all of those things and it scares me.

But the other day, they all brought stuffed animals in for a point of view assignment and he was allowed to borrow one from his homeroom teacher; he gripped it and made it dance to the corny POV song we were playing for them. It was in that moment I saw a glimpse of the little boy he should always have the permission to be.

He doesn't like me; he tells me nearly everyday. But he races to the seat next to me.

"You give me one million dollars, I answer this question," he barters. Rolling his r's in only the way a young, Turkish man can roll them. He wiggles his eyebrows and laughs. HAH-HAAAAH!

I let third grade know a couple weeks ago this was my last year with them. He looked at me, grinned the most terribly ornery and infectious smile and said, "Good! BU-BYE!" and then found a reason to reach for my arm.

Young, impossible, lovable, rotten man, but what will I do?


He is the perfectly coifed young dude. He came late in the third grade year, speaking very little English, but his clothes and hair were impeccably on point.

He started "sneaking" up behind me humming the Mission Impossible theme song (duh, duh, duh-duh, duh, duh, duh-duh . . .) about three weeks ago. It always hits the climax of the song when he throws his arms around my neck and whispers, "Hola!"

I receive a hug every morning when I walk into the room; and the Impossible Mission occurs right around lunch time every day. He enjoys asking me to repeat things in Spanish and I've realized I should only oblige when my college-level Spanish classes come back to me enough for me to know what he is asking me to say.

He hopped up, at the end of the day today, as I walked into the room and snuggled up against my side, squeezing tight, his little arms around me.

"Good weekend, Miss Steph-a-neeee." And that smile.

You little, handsome man, but what will I do?


Little sister, my middle schoolers, you full of life spirit, sweet, little mama, that lovable, rotten man, my little handsome -- you will never know the ways you shaped me. You may never understand the detailed ways you changed me. But I pray you take chances, you believe in your own power, you remain good and kind. And sweet Lord, I pray you know that, with all my guts and nerve-endings, I love each of you in impossibly large ways. And that's forever.


I am realizing, in these final days, just what I'm walking away from. And it terrifies me. More often than not, they make me crazy, but their little arms and mighty voices - always fighting to be heard and embraced in return - they've found a way of thumbprinting on my heart. And there is no coming back from that, I've come to see.

Without question, what I am stepping in to is by design, crafted intricately for me by a King that knew just how hard and painful this was all going to be. These very moments - with the sneak attacks and the tears of confusion - He placed them in the rise of my story so long ago.

So I will trust Him. I will trust this new page.

But I will go into it slightly tender; the days to come will be doused in the bitter and the sweet. It is a strange and wondrous thing to want to bottle and capture so many personalities and little loves to keep with you forever.

I just started this book today called Wild and Free and in the Foreward it says, "God designed us for adventure because He knew following Him would be one. . . . It isn't wild in rebellion; it is wild in obedience. And it isn't free to do whatever we want; it is free to do whatever He calls us to do."

And then, "Risking for God is the greatest choice you will ever make."

Y'all, when I accepted that job back in September, I accepted it as a girl who was feeling more like the shell of her former self than a woman who was following a calling. I felt Jesus, no question, leading me to that decision, and I felt His assurance as I said yes. But I was under a horribly bad assumption that I could no longer love my current job, or allow myself to think about what I might miss, because then it meant I wasn't all in with the next one.

You know what they say about assumptions . . .

And in transparency and vulnerability, guys? I wasted a lot of time this year wishing for May to be done and June to arrive because I had convinced myself, I had believed a story in my head, that I couldn't be joyful in the current job while anticipating joyfully the next one.

And now May is preparing her leave and she is ushering June in and I am the most complicated and beautiful trembling mix of terrified and utterly hopeful.

These characters you've just met, they're just a few of the multitude. And each of them, for better or for worse, has altered the map of my heart and the trajectory of my future.

God designed us for adventure; my time at Ruskin has been to the brim full of it. And I will carry each of these kids, each of these memories, and the friendships I've built ,with me forward. They're stuck with me, whether they enjoy it or not.

Risk is a good choice, it turns out. And this is such a blatant, thrumming, intoxicating risk. This job is all I've known since college. My coworkers and these children, they've become my family. It is a harrowing, terrifying, sometimes crippling, risk of a leap. But I'm all in.

I'm in because, in these last days, I've realized that this was all molding me for this next step. Each beautiful, obnoxious, laughable minute of this has been preparation.

But what will I do?

I'll keep coming back. I'll fight like hell to maintain what I've been privileged to build these last four years within the walls of an elementary school. I'll choose to show up. And I'll keep showing up.

He called me to this four years ago and now He is calling me to the next adventure in His name. And I'm in.

Because risk is a four-letter word I can't be afraid of any longer.