Story Time: Chasing Dandelions Excerpt


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Hey babes–here’s part of the rough draft I’m still working my way through, Chasing Dandelions. Thought I’d share a little bit of the part where Charlie’s adventure begins. Basically what happens in these partial chapters is Charlie and his girlfriend are chilling out, maxing out, relaxing all cool….and then he gets in a life-changing accident and meets a metaphorical person who represents misplaced grief that’s turned into bitterness. CASUAL. It’s an everyday sort of event.

sidenote: all names, dialogue, descriptions subject to change. 

chapter four. 

“There’s this movie that I think you’ll like;This guy decides to quit his job and heads to New York City; This cowboy’s running from himself;And she’s been living on the highest shelf.” -Vance Joy

Our back-and-forth was really like a round of poker. She knew it and I knew it. We both were betting high, waiting for one to call the other out. Unfortunately for her, I had a poker face straight from hell, and sometimes I didn’t even know if I was bluffing or being real. That’s what we were there talking about, that night over vegetable lasagna and spaghetti, but neither of us wanted to spell it out. This deep part of me knew what she only suspected: I wasn’t really the sort of guy she needed. I didn’t really do this. Whatever this was. No one belonged to me and I didn’t belong to anyone either. Not that it was particularly what I wanted, but it was how I understood life and it was an easy formula to understand—business, really. Here’s how it works:
If you want to get hurt, belong to someone. If you want to live free and uninhibited, belong to no one.

But the thing is, life is one hell of a business man: it’s an even trade. You belong to no one, but in return you can never have someone. It’s cold and it’s cruel, but that’s what you accept when you’re afraid to lose control.

Our love story wasn’t quite what I expected out of love stories. It wasn’t kissing in the middle of a road, you know…in the rain. At night. After a blow-out fight. Or whatever it was that Nicholas Sparks inflicted upon the entire American population. Our love story was quiet. It looked a lot like coming home at the end of a long day, passing smiles and catching up with the person on the other side of the door. It was star-gazing and talking about everything—everything that hurt, everything that pulsed, everything that hoped. I was four weeks in when I knew it was official. I was four months in when I knew it was love.
As for Victoria, she probably knew the whole time. She’s always had a way of knowing these things.
The night it happened, well. . .it was late March and the whole world was holding its breath, like something big was about to happen and we were all just in the middle of the page-turn, waiting for something, anything, to happen. I’ve found that as a character in a story, we see more of the white spaces than we do the actual lettering and it’s beautiful, maddening, heart-stopping, breath-taking, all-of-the-above story-telling. It was a mad hatter sort of night—the moon dipped in gold and tilted to one side, the corners tipped into a mischievous grin. I swear the Cheshire cat was back there somewhere, daring me to dream. I was hand-in-hand with Victoria, beachside, watching the tide pool in and out. She was leaned into me, my arms wrapped tightly around her, neither of us saying much of anything. It was a “beautiful night” here and an “mhm” there, the sort of night where the sky does all the talking for you. I hadn’t meant to leave that night so wordless, but it seemed to be the only thing to do. Had I known what was about to happen, I would’ve filled the moments with words. I would’ve told her what she meant to me. Had I known how many moments were about to be empty, wordless, hopeless, I would’ve restored all faith. If only I’d known.
But I didn’t. In life, that’s the hand you’re dealt sometimes. The future, mysterious though it may be, isn’t ours to own, which is why we’re always reaching for it, always pressing into it. If we knew everything life would send our way, there would be no future, no passion, no hope, no game. On one hand, I wish I could go back and provide more closure for the following two weeks in Victoria’s life but on the other hand, I wouldn’t change a thing. What happened grew our relationship and how could I regret that? How does anyone regret growth, even if it hurts for a time?
So I sat there wordless, thinking through cognitive theories and mapping out what I had left to do for my exam Monday morning. Laced together, we watched the waves dance under the stars. I don’t know how many wordless hours passed, but eventually they were gone and we were left with the decision to stay or go. She elbowed me slightly in the ribs, “Hey Charlie?”
“Yeah?” I smiled to the dark.
“I have a pretty early morning tomorrow,” she began, trailing off.
“Mhm.”
“And…so do you…”she continued.
“Mhm.”
“So…maybe…we should start towards the car…” she tilted her head towards me.
“Mhm.”
“Charlie!” she grabbed her phone and smacked me with it.
“What?” I laughed, shielding myself playfully.
“All right, you lose your privileges. I’m making an executive decision,” she rose and grabbed her bag and my keys, “I’m leaving with or without you.”
I feigned a sad face, “How will I get home?”
“You’ve got legs, sir,” she said, starting to run towards the car. I caught up to her in a moment and grabbed the keys from her hand, “I call shotgun!”
“Charlie!” she tried to catch up to me, but I was faster. I reached the car first and hauled myself inside, “Sucker.”
“CHARLIE,” she was fighting laughter, pulling at the door handle, “Unlock the door!”
I rolled down the window, cocking my head to the side, “I’m sorry, ma’am. But hitchhiking is not a victimless crime. Might I suggest an Uber?”
“No thanks, I’m already driving home with one creep for free.”
“Who said this was a free ride? A guy’s gotta have his standards.”
She stopped, folded her arms, and gave me a death-glare, “Fine.”
Uh oh. I grinned at her, “All right, all right, hop in,” I leaned over and unlocked the door but as soon as she opened the door I shot off into the dark, with her running behind me.
“I am so done!” she yelled, “You’re such an idiot!”
I laughed, “Okay, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”
She stopped, “You promise?”
“On your life,” I said sincerely, giving her a puppy dog face.
Giving me a stern look, she finally blew out an exasperated breath, muttering,“Okay,” as she tossed her bag in through the window and started for the door. I took off again.
She ran after me, “I’m going to kill you!” I slowed down and she caught up, gripping the door handle and swinging herself in. Instantly I was being smacked, “You big jerk!” she laughed and gave me a final swat.
“I thought you were in!”
“Bull, Charlie. BULL,” she turned to the window with her nose up high, “None for you, buster.”
“Aw, don’t be like that,” I grinned mischievously, “You know you love me.”
“Yeah, yeah, love is patient, blah, blah, blah.”
I blinked, “Are you…quoting the Bible to me?”
“It gets me through the hard times.”
And that was the last moment I remember before it happened. I was laughing, looking over at her as I merged onto the highway. It was a truck in the far right lane that hit us and I didn’t even see it coming. I saw her face, mid-sentence, paused in shock, and turned to witness the bright lights as horns blared and darkness took me. Looking back, the scariest thing was I didn’t even have time to stop. It scares me how life works that way sometimes.
Slipping into darkness, I heard outlines of my own name, “Charlie! Charlie! Charlie, wake up!” But it was too late; I couldn’t pull myself to consciousness no matter how much I struggled.

chapter five. 

“People say that I am heartless; I’ve just learned to use my heart less.” -Neon Jungle

I was riding a wave, hardcore, running my hand against the shield of water that was taking me somewhere. It was like I was lucid dreaming, that sensation where you know you’re not dealing in reality but something else. But I couldn’t wake up to save my life. At times it was like I heard hushed whispers, someone saying, “Charlie! Charlie!” But I couldn’t make it to the surface to save my life. Instead I went deeper in, following the rhythm of the waves, my board under my feet. But it wasn’t my board. I couldn’t feel anything. I was there, but I wasn’t. I was alive, but this wasn’t real. Something was happening and I could feel it pulsing in every vein. I closed my eyes for a minute, praying I woke up when they opened.
I opened my eyes and the pipeline was coming to an end. I came to the end and was quite literally spit out onto shore. I leaned onto my elbows, sprawled on wet sand, and looked around, “What,” I muttered, “the hell?”

Dusting myself off, I saw a gangly girl sprawled out on the sand several yards away. Facedown, she didn’t move a muscle as I cautiously approached her and nudged her with my foot, “Hello? Ma’am?”
She didn’t move.
Something had happened here. I surveyed my surroundings, carefully—wreckage was all around me in heaping piles of storm-torn pieces of wood, glass bottles, torn pieces of yellowed-cloth like from the mast of a ship. A ship? I strained my eyes, searching the horizon for any clues but the fog was too thick.
Turning my attention back to the slender girl laid across the sand, I sighed and rubbed the back of my neck, “Look,” I might as well have been talking to a brick wall, “I don’t know if you’re playing possum or if you’re actually listening, but…”
She woke up suddenly and stood to her feet, “Gone,” she said, “Where?” She turned and looked at me, her eyes growing wide in recognition, “No,” she said, “No.”
I took a few steps back, completely confused, “Uh…hi,” I extended my hand because what else was I supposed to do in this situation? “I’m Charlie.”
She stared at my extended hand and looked back up at me quickly, her gray eyes looking a bit familiar, “Not how things are done here. Wrong timing.”
“I…uh,” I didn’t know what to say, “I’m not from here.”
“Obviously.”
“Can you tell me where I am exactly?”
She picked up her bag that had been tossed, scattering scraps of paper everywhere, and I took a minute to glance over her. She was brunette, pale, tall, skinny, hardly any flicker of life behind a blank face, and dressed in all black. She dusted off her black jeans, dug her heeled-boots into the sand, and gathered the scraps of paper and placed them back in her bag, turned to me and folded her arms, “What?”
Stunned, I grasped at more words, “I…uh…”
“You said that already. Please just leave.”
As if I could. “Wait. What’s your name?”
She looked at me, “Penthos.”
Blinking, I asked as nicely as I could, “Penthos?”
“Yes. That’s who I am.”
“Well…I’m Charlie…” I trailed off, “Can you just point me in—”
She held up a hand, quickly running out of patience, “Look. I have things to do.”
“Believe me, I get it. I just need—“
“Go away,” she turned on her heel and stomped away.
I’d had enough of her nonsense already. “Hey!” I yelled, “I’m not exactly asking for much here. Just tell me how to get out of here and I’ll leave. Or did you forget the part where I’m not from here?”
She turned back to me and coldly responded, “There is no way out, okay? You’re in the subconscious, Chelsea, and whatever it is that brought you here is the only thing that can take you out. Got it?”
“First off, my name is Charlie and I think you know that. Secondly, what do you mean subconscious?”
She ran a hand over her face, “Look, Chad. I don’t have the time or the patience to run through all the inner workings of the human brain with you.”
At least she’d gotten the correct gender this time. “It’s Charlie and thank you for insulting my intelligence.”
“Well, Chuck, I just make observations. But I suggest you just suck it up, buttercup. Because life just dealt you a bad hand,” she made a small bow, “Welcome to the club.”
“Any club you’re part of I’m sure would be a real peach, but no thanks. I’ll just find my own way out.”
“Good luck and all, but I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
I turned back to her for a minute, “What makes you say that?”
She turned coy, “You’ll see.”
I really hated Penthos. “See what?”
Penthos smirked and turned on her heel, “I have a feeling we’ll all know when you do.”
“Do what?”I ran after her and grabbed her elbow, “You have no idea what I’ve been through.”
She stopped and turned to face me, eyes darkening by the second, “What you’ve been through? What. you’ve. been. through,” she spoke darkly, placing emphasis on each syllable, “What do you know about grief? About pain? Tell me what you know.”
Her rage startled me and I took a step back, still indignant, “About as much as you, I’d guess.”
“Grief,” she snarled, “is all I am. Tell me you know it like I do.”
The familiarity I’d once seen in her eyes was clouded over by rage, “I mean…I’m sorry. I didn’t know…what do you mean it’s all you are?”
“Penthos…” she stared at me in disbelief as if she couldn’t imagine someone not knowing all the meanings to all the names in the world.
I stared back, “Y…yes?”
“It’s Greek, you idiot.”
“Oh. For grief? I mean, it’s just a shot in the dark but I mean…”
“For the love of all that’s good and holy,” she muttered, rubbing the bridge of her nose.
“For the love of all that’s good and holy? Huh. That’s a funny name, but if you say so…” I grinned, watching her light up with anger.
“No, you idiot!” she snapped, “Penthos does mean grief. I just couldn’t believe your idiocy.”
“Well forgive me for not being fluent in an ancient language.”
Shaking her head, she looked me over, “Charlie…it means free man, huh?”
“I don’t really know to be honest with you.”
“Free man,” she sounded it out like she was examining it carefully, before tossing me a look, “It’s really all you are too, isn’t it?”
“Sure, whatever,” I rolled my eyes for the first time in years, “When I said I don’t really know, I guess I should have added that I don’t really care either.”
“Ah, I know,” she was looking at me like I had two heads, her gray eyes turning cold, “You never did.”
At the flicker of her eyes, I started putting pieces together—the face was distant, but the eyes were somehow familiar. Realization was hitting me hard and I looked deeper into her eyes, studying any signs of familiarity. “I’m sorry…do I know you?”

-Chasing Dandelions, Amanda Russell

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Poetry | They Call Me Quiet


Weatherman said it would be foggy outside but I don’t mind—it feels like home to me,

Because if I were brave I’d tell you: I am a sponge and my thoughts are the sea,

So no matter what happens out there I go back home, throw back reality and settle into my skin,

But I just got up from a winter nap—this is just the home I woke up in,

See I wear dandelions around my neck because I don’t want them flying away,

See I fall in love with things that always fly away,

If I’m real I’d fly away too, but if I’m brave? My body is a feather stapled to a piece of paper,

And if I leave who would love the paper?

So I go on adventures in my head—that’s fine with me because I can see fine from here,

The view’s not great but the rhythm is clear,

I like my dreams up loud where I can see them,

They’re like a party in my own mind, a sound system turned up loud, my own anthem,

You’d know if you asked but you look right past,

Ask me questions like how are you?

How am I? I’m a library of adventures on mute—childhood on adult,

Shh, no talking please. Use your inside voice please.

If I’m brave I’ll tell you my inside voice is a volcano,

That’s a secret l keep to myself like a dinner party only I’m invited to—

But my mind knows how to throw a party let me tell you—

It stresses and picks me up and drops me off at my own door crying,

But I’ll smile and tell you I’m fine until the day I am dying,

My world is a plot twist but hey, I’m just along for the ride,

I’m the oldest reader I have—I started running away when I was five,

Now you peek into my world through peepholes, ask me if something’s special here,

But I don’t know the answer to that —I just live here,

Some days my nerves are like strung-out Christmas lights,

All lit up I fight silent fights—no silent nights,

But words are my heartbeat; I like them out loud,

Words have no meaning when they don’t have sound,

And I place them in packages I don’t even understand,

Speak them still, write them bold—it’s how I hold your hand,

Sometimes I write things and sometimes it stings,

But my mind’s on its mission: to say all the things.

Poetry| Found


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Hey friends! Adding some poetry to the blog this week. The first few are what I submitted earlier this year for a contest and they’re all about both finding things and losing things and coming to terms with the feeling of being a little bit lost.

|Solivagant|

There’s this really incredible word that I found recently, which completely fascinates me: solivagant. It means to wander alone. This short collection is a bunch of poetry that I’ve written in the past few years up until recent weeks and months, where I’ve been wandering by myself. In the past few years, I’ve fallen into the typical post-grad, twenty-something stereotype: a single, sweatpants-wearing, restless post-grad who hasn’t figured it all out yet. In fact, I took it in a totally new and different direction where I haven’t figured anything out yet. The only thing I know so far is that words captivate me and I’d like to use them to make people think about things in a different perspective, bring people together, and provide a safe space for people to feel everything or nothing at all. As I was putting this collection together I realized that there’s been a common thread in every emotion I’ve written about, which ties in beautifully with solivagant, and that common thread is this feeling of being lost. Lost in nature, lost in life, lost in relationships, a little lost in your own head and the list goes on and on. I think that when you’re younger you sort of dream about finding your place in this world, yes, but more importantly, we dream of being found by someone. And what I’ve found is that most everyone is still looking to be found again and again and again. If this little ten-page collection does anything at all, I hope it restores faith that whoever you are, reading this, you’re not alone and no, love, you’re not lost.

Here’s to being found.

I found my voice in brambles and thorns,
It sat in deepest forest, buried low,
I heard it crying, though no one was around,
It sobbed and fought the silence,
But no one heard a sound,
I sat there and I listened,
Though not for me it cried,
Nor for the life I had,
The rain came soon and its cries grew,
They grew until it was silent,
Fear and pain—the only melody it knew,
Suddenly I had no choice,
I rose.
And dug it out of the mud,
I turned it in my hand,
To see how it would fit,
How could something fit so well,
But yet, hurt so bad?
I tucked it away with whispers,
If nothing else, I hear you,
If nothing else, I won’t leave,
If nothing else, we’re together,
If nothing else, you’re found,
And so, in brambled wood we sit,
Making nothing but our sound.

Hey Babe: When You’re Drowning.


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“Sensitive people like you and me, we have stimuli constantly being funneled into our brains. We lead different lives, but interesting ones.” -my therapist

Twofoursevenfourteennineteentwentyonetwentyfivetwentyfivetwentyseventhirtythirtyfivethirtyninethirtyninefortyonefiftyfivefiftyfive. I’m counting street signs in the back of my mind, picturing myself somewhere different, somewhere I’m seen. 

Hands tap against the wheel to the rhythm, picturing myself somewhere else, doing other things. Red light. Can I turn right? No they’re too close. Oh no I’m making the guy behind me mad because we both know I could’ve made it. Please don’t honk at me. Oh no he looks mad. Oh no oh no they’re still too close. Tap, tap, tap. Okay, I can go. Okay, I made it. Oh no oh no, speed up or you’ll make him mad. No one likes a grandma driver. Music, loud. Stop thinking, stop thinking, stop thinking–please stop thinking. 

“Where you at, babe?”

Twenty-five, gripping the steering wheel, listening to music that fit the rhythm and speeding down a highway like I can outrun the ever-turning wheel that is my own mind. As if maybe I can outrun the stories, the words, the ever-present anxiety, the constant whir of emotions that comes along with being Amanda Russell. Anxiety is part of the small print that I must have overlooked when non-existent me was like, “Yeah, God, I’ll take the Amanda Russell package for nine hundred.” Because obviously I signed up for this. I mean like…GOOD GOING NON-EXISTENT ME; YOU LITERALLY HAD ONE JOB.

“Where you at, babe?” I’m finding my own self, lost in the dark of my own mind. Some days I feel like a teacher wandering down old, empty hallways, looking for the weeping child in the corner of the hall who can’t find her way back to the room. Some days I feel like I’m having to untangle myself from my own nerves, self-soothe my own self back to the light.

“Where you at, babe?” It’s the thought I think to myself when I’m having a moment or experiencing a deep emotion that I can’t get my grip on. Getting ahold of your own emotions is kind of like cleaning out a pumpkin sometimes: it seems like there’s always more and it seems like there’s always something to get your hands around, but it’s stringy. It’s messy. And you can never grab a handful of the pulp to save your life. Guaranteed.

There are days I wish I could just turn off my mind and think about nothing. See, if I could describe the sound my mind makes it would be simply: static. Echoes of lost sound scattering everywhere and I can’t find the mute button. I’m on my hands and knees wandering around in the dark, but I can’t find that mute button. It’s constant and my mind is constantly weaving stories, weaving words, thinking, rebuilding, counting, stumbling over itself. There is never a minute I’m not thinking, creating, or worrying over something I said, did, or didn’t do. There is never a minute I’m not feeling something and sometimes I’m like a stranger in my own mind, wondering myself what’s going on. And some days my mind is so fast-paced and feelings are so high (because…LIFE) that I can barely keep up. Those are the days I need support. Those are the days I need safe spaces and safe people. Those are the days I put my hands up, take a step back.

That picture at the top of this post? This was my moment for the day, sitting in a parking lot and letting a few tears stream down my face as I texted a novel to my therapist. Today was stressful. Today I was tired and over-caffeinated. Today I had too much on my mind. Today I ripped at the seams a little bit. Today I had to practice some self-care, some kind words for my own self.

Mental health is one of the most stigmatized issues in today’s society and moments like what I had earlier would be seen as weak and deduced to simply the sum of an overly emotional mind. This attitude towards sensitive people and individuals struggling with mental health is something serious and I believe it goes hand-in-hand with the presence of social media. The attitude of  indifference is what’s in and perceived as normal while everything else is considered weak, emotional, or attention-seeking.  And God help you if you genuinely struggle with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or so on. Even cynicism is on its own platform that we call sarcasm or just being real. It’s not being real–it’s being afraid of dealing with emotions.We don’t know how to deal with emotions anymore or engage in honest community and we don’t know how to fix the problem, so we brush it under the rug. As a result, society is weeding out the dreamers, the sensitive, the kind-hearted and the honest. We’re placing more pressure on people to be perfect and that’s funneling directly into mental health issues and exacerbating the problem. We’re replacing real and honest conversations with filtered-over lives and isolated people who find fulfillment from a screen.

If you’re like me and a little tired of social media’s magic tricks where it turns real into fake and if you’re like me and ready to tackle some of these issues head-on, here’s what I do, how I take care of myself, and how I interact with others.

How I Deal:

Safe spaces\\ When it gets tough, I go somewhere beautiful. I want to feel fully at peace and fully surrounded by something bigger than myself. I go for a drive. I walk around the lake. And, of course, Gilmore Girls and a large cup of peppermint tea doesn’t hurt either.

Safe people\\On the days when it gets hard, I reach out. I used to go to anyone with a pulse who would listen and affirm me, but that turned out to just be more damaging because they didn’t know the heart of what I was telling them had to do with my mental health struggles. To be honest, I didn’t even know. But now that I’ve ripped the mask off of anxiety and look it straight in the eye, I know better. I know how it feels. I know the signs. I know where I’m at on the anxiety meter. I have better coping skills and I have a better understanding of what’s happening.

These days I have two contacts I know I can reach out to at any time, but even with them I do it sparingly because I’m aware of co-dependency and I acknowledge that’s not what I want for my life. I acknowledge depending on others for my own fulfillment is not part of the game plan. These two people are the only ones I trust with all the ugly, messy emotions and both of these people I trust explicitly with my feelings because a.) I know they’ll never give up on me or make me feel shame for the way I’m feeling and b.) I know they love me unconditionally and want to see me happy and healthy and c.) I connect with both of them in a way I don’t always connect with other people.

Kind words\\ I think one of the biggest issues with having someone in your life who struggles is not knowing what to say. Not knowing what to say is okay. Trying to get to a point of compassion and understanding is okay. Sarcasm, cynicism, or patronization is not okay. Invalidating someone’s emotions is not okay.

Here’s what we need from others:

  1. I love you.
  2. What do you need?
  3. You’re okay. You’re okay. You’re okay.
  4. I’m here. I’m on your side. You’re not crazy.
  5. You may be feeling kind of crummy, but that doesn’t take away your value. You are loved. You are wanted here. You know that, right?
  6. I’m hearing you say this one thing–what do you think you mean by that?

Here’s what we need from ourselves:

  1. I’m feeling _________________.
  2. I’m feeling this way because ____________________.
  3. The root of this feeling is ____________________.

Make it gold\\ LastlyI turn it into something productive. I write it into an Instagram post. I blog about it. I weave it into part of my language when interacting with those around me. I’m not saying I have it down or I’m good at saying the right thing at the right time, but anxiety (for better or for worse) has made me into a better, more-compassionate person.

So hey, babe? I don’t know where you’re at. But your feelings are valid. Your mental health is important. It’s okay if you’re caught in a spiral right now because you don’t have to stay there. Reach out. Get help if you need it. Even if you’re not struggling with mental health per se, you still need to take care of yourself. You still need to find people who will always have your backs. If  you have reached out or gotten help and you still feel like something is off, don’t be afraid to go a different route. Find people who will take care of you. Find people who don’t view your emotions as a burden or make you feel like you’re too much. You’re never too much and people who can help you become the best version of yourself do exist. Keep reaching out, keep speaking up, and keep building on community. 

Because at the end of the day, we need to take care of each other. At the end of the day, right now, the only people you have for certain are the people around you. And at the end of the day, we all matter significantly more than what we know. 

Hey Single: to the boys that broke and built me.


img_0180Hey single:
I think a lot of times we’re mistaken for indifferent when it comes to finding love. I think a lot of times we’re mistaken for not having a lot of feelings or being the ones left behind in the dust. But none of it’s true. Because the fact is we do have our own stories. We do have our own hurts, disappointments, and insecurities. We’re not always YOLOing our lives away. And for the love of all that’s good and holy, Eat, Pray, Love is not the anthem to singlehood or finding yourself. In fact, it’s a very rare anthem. Being single has a rhythm all its own and it’s different for everyone.

This is not a post I’d planned for the week, but something in me knew it was time to tell these stories. For better or worse, these are the stories of some of the guys who both broke me down and built me up and taught me a little more about life and what I wanted out of it.

Without them, I wouldn’t be able to take myself out on my own ice cream dates or know what I’m looking for or finally be comfortable in my own skin.

Part I— To the boy who took me on my first date:

It wasn’t a big deal. I acted like it wasn’t a big deal, but oh, to me it was. It wasn’t actually a date and I knew that. Because in reality, I’d crushed on you since the summer I was sixteen and you were my brother’s friend who probably had no idea. Because in reality I’d wanted to ask you to the dating outing flat-out, but I was so scared that you’d say no that I randomly brought it up one day while we were both in a group of friends and said I wanted to go with a friend. It was only because another friend pointed at you and asked, “What about him?” that I was even able to muster up the courage to ask, “Would you?” You shrugged and said, “Sure.”

But on that November day, you showed up when I’d been pacing around the house all day, mentally preparing myself for you not to show up. Because who’d actually go to a dating outing with their friend’s awkward sister? But you did. You showed up on time and came up to the door. You waded through the awkward moments where I was shaking so bad, I could barely mumble, “So how was work?” You made the conversation easy when my heart was pounding in my chest.

Then when it came time for the pumpkin carving contest, you just examined our very basic pumpkin and said, “No, we can do better than this.” So we made it into a Frankenstein pumpkin and won. Like the nineteen-year-old bosses we obviously were.

And so, to the boy who took me on my first date: you offered me your jacket and talked about how much you loved your sister. You taught me what respect for other human beings looks like. You taught me what kindness looks like. And most importantly, you shattered the illusion that guys have to be detached, indifferent, or cocky—that whether feelings are involved or not for his side, there are guys who will still be kind and still show up. You set the standard and I’m thankful you did.

Part II—To the boy who kind of knew:
I remember the day she told me I’d have to work with you one-on-one and I told her no. I asked if there was a way around it because I was always so awkward around guys and I didn’t want the awkward encounters. There was no way around it. My friends all laughed at me because lord above, they knew how single I was and that you were one of the popular ones. I remember the first time we started working together, how you had this look in your eyes like you were picking up on all the nonverbal cues being passed around between me and my friends. But despite myself, you became my friend too and I found myself hoping that I would be the one to change your mind about staying single for the rest of your life. But that simply wasn’t my role.

I also remember the day you walked out for Christmas break, how you never said goodbye. I remember how I felt when I realized you weren’t ever coming back. And I remember when I ran into you and the girlfriend I didn’t know you had, how I, at 21, stopped believing that anything good would ever happen to me.

So to you— the boy who taught me about sarcasm and not caring about other people’s opinions: you were my friend. You listened when I spoke and shook your head, saying, “Of course you did,” when I told you about accidentally finding out about my surprise birthday party. You taught me about not taking life too seriously. And lastly, you showed me that even when I feel a connection to someone, it doesn’t make it real. It makes it a dream.

Part III—To the guy who drove me cross-country:
Most people don’t do stuff like what I did—23 and accepting a temporary traveling job where all the videographers are packed into one hotel room, strangers or not. They wouldn’t have said yes despite all the red flags, despite the fact that the first and only travel job involved traveling 13 hours with and staying in the same hotel room as a stranger they’d only met twice. They wouldn’t go out and have their first beer with two men they barely knew just to look cool. But I was so determined to travel, so determined to be seen as cool, so determined to be detached from my good girl roots that I said yes even though everything in me said, “No, no, no.” I simply packed my pepper spray and texted the tag number to my parents and got in the car, driving into Louisiana that November night. The next morning, over orange juice, we sat in sullen silence and I watched a bible study from a few tables away, realizing at that moment that I was directly opposite to everything I’d ever been in my life. I followed you out of that cafe, holding onto my bag and feeling like a fake.

The weekend couldn’t have gone worse as far as work goes. It was my training weekend and you were the only one there to show me the ropes, but the venue was large enough that we needed a team of five but there was only you and me. On our way back from Houston, we were both stressed out and mad at each other. But you bought me Subway and listened as all the anxiety-ridden stories flowed out and I blabbed at least half-way back to South Carolina. You told me about your past and I told you about mine. You taught me how to grow up but you taught me a couple other important things:
1. Grab the keys. Empower yourself. Push yourself to learn.
2. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t be so afraid to get something wrong that you freeze up on the job.
3. People are much more complex than they typically let on.
4. Even if it turns out fine and you learn a lot, don’t ignore red flags. Don’t say yes to things you’re actually uncomfortable with.

Part IV—To Mike from LA:
I don’t even think I’ve told my mama about you, but you were my virtual flirtationship. (Sidenote for the readers: Yes. 22-year-old me had what would be referred to as a flirtationship. You should know I’ve pled the blood and washed my walls with holy water. Jesus, take the wheel.)

If you had to know anything, you should know that I got the app out of loneliness. You should know that I only ever wanted to talk to someone. I got the app because I was so tired of never having anything interesting happen that I downloaded it just to see what would happen. And you were the only one I ever messaged with who was actually a kind person. Sure, you might not have been who you said you were and you might have just been a troll but I didn’t mind. I never had to block you because you never asked for pictures. I never had to hide who I actually was because you just built me up and said things like, “You seem like the kind of person who has the determination to lose the weight. But I bet you’re beautiful,” and “If you lived in LA, I’d take you out.”

(Another sidenote: No, I didn’t have to hide who I was. At that point, it was PURELY recreational.)

At that moment, I really, really wanted to live in LA. Because no one likes being 22 and alone. But you were good with my standards and happy just to talk to me, even if it took me days to reply sometimes. And it was me who said goodbye to the whole friendship after scrolling through the messages and realizing how dead it was—after realizing I didn’t actually know you and it wasn’t actually real. But you respected my decision and taught me that even strangers on the internet can be a positive thing and I’ve never let go of that lesson.

And also, I would’ve gone on that date. One hundred percent.

Part V—Finally, to the guy I met on Bumble.
You didn’t know this, but I’d never been formally asked out. You didn’t know that I was a 23-year-old kid who was just trying to figure out if there was a space in the dating scene for me. You didn’t know that I was more or less just looking for a friend. You didn’t know that I didn’t actually believe I’d meet someone for me on that app. And, lastly, you didn’t know that at the time I’d lost 20 pounds and was actually pretty proud of myself.

I didn’t get what I wanted in that situation—I got someone who made me cry instead. I got someone who called me obese and said I wasn’t pretty enough to be picky. And all because I told you I didn’t want to go to your house after a ten minute conversation.

You taught me two things:
1. You made me think. Anyone who has that high of a standard for someone else, must believe they live up to that standard themselves. When they fall from that standard, they lose everything about themselves that they feel is important—they lose identity. I learned I’d much rather be comfortable in my own skin than struggling to live up to an ideal. So thank you.
2. You taught me compassion for anyone who’s struggling with appearance because I’d never been fully rejected by someone based on my own appearance. It had only been a fear of mine, to be rejected. So thank you. You showed me that I could live with a full rejection and be perfectly fine. And I hope you find some compassion for your own self too.

Psst– hey, single? Before I leave you with these, you should know that these are the stories I’ve kept locked away for a long, long time. I don’t know if any resonate with you or not—this was just what I knew I needed to say tonight, to you. I’m sitting here at 2 am and I don’t know if you can remember a time where you wanted to speak up but didn’t or if you fell hard for someone who chose someone else or if you ignored red flags and went anyway or if you had a little thing with someone only to realize it wasn’t real or right. But if you have ignored the warnings or stayed silent or gotten hurt, you’re not alone in it. Your feelings are valid and you have full permission to mourn the loss of a dream or the loss of a friend.

But you don’t have permission to stay alone because you believe that’s the only way for you. Don’t be afraid to get back up, love. Don’t be afraid to fall again. And don’t be afraid to just see if there’s anything there. Because maybe, maybe not, but you’ll always wonder if you never go for it.

And for lord’s sake, don’t be ashamed of your own story, even if it did result in getting hurt or, even worse, regret. Your story matters. It matters so much because it matters to you. 

 

What I Did Instead of Date.


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“I would do anything for you, sir. Anything that was right.” -Jane Eyre

 

I. Part one: where I’ve been.

Pink and white checkered shirt, short-sleeved. Sunday night. Twelve years old. I’m standing there in front of my mom’s mirror, studying my own body and pressing on my waist like maybe if I applied enough pressure the excess fat would magically go away.

I think I could have a figure,” I thought, “…if all this would go away.

(Thirteen years later. )

“What’s wrong with how you look right now?”

Wednesday nights are my therapy nights. My therapist always looks directly at me, like she’s noting the way I speak, the way I look off into the distance when the words won’t come, the way I rake fingers through my hair when I’m nervous. She’s one of two people who’s ever asked me that question specifically, asking me to dig deep inside my own thoughts and figure out why I don’t feel beautiful right here, in my own skin.

I hear my own voice speak, slow, “Well…it’s not beautiful.”

“Why?” she doesn’t negate what I say or head into motivational-speech time, just keeps eyes on me, waiting patiently.

“Uh…” I trail off, waiting for the lightbulb moment, “I…don’t know.” It just always had been that way, since the moment family members started noting the unusual weight gain at eleven and the way I’d watched my friends slip into the junior section like it was nothing at all, while I was headed into this in-between where I didn’t know what would fit me. Since the church elder told my dad that my sister and I wouldn’t marry more than Ingles bag boys if we didn’t slim down. Since the brown-eyed boy who’d offered me his jacket that night and partly because I’d been afraid it wouldn’t fit, I declined. Since the boy who looked like Peter Pan all grown up ended up with someone who was everything I wasn’t when I wanted him to be different–when I thought I needed him to see me.

“Why don’t you think about that this week?” my therapist suggests. “Why is having more fat on your body something that takes away from your beauty?”

And she leaves me with, “I wish you’d have more compassion on yourself.” It’s a shock to the system when she tells me things like that because no one ever tells us to be kind to ourselves, especially not in a world where Facebook threads are on full-alert and nothing is ever said without the political edge.  

II. Part two: what I’ve done instead of date.

Being in a relationship would have ruined me. 

This realization is one that’s come slow, like a deep breath you don’t want to take before plunging into deep waters. But once you take it, you realize it’s good and right and life-giving. For a long time, I blamed how I looked for why I was so alone. Nothing was right–not my hair, not my thighs, not my stomach, not my slouched-over appearance from trying too hard not to look like a giant in the crowd. I felt huge. I felt ugly. I felt unloveable. But you know what? I know now that I couldn’t have been further from the truth. I know now…had I gotten what I wanted, I never would’ve had what I have now.

When my dream world came crumbling down in 2014, it made all the difference in my life. At 22, I’d finally learned that no one was going to do anything for me and I started doing the things I wanted to do.

I went to the state fair. I got a henna tattoo. I rode a camel because I wanted to.

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I got a pixie cut. And I looked the boy who made me so sad directly in the eye for the first time.

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I made amazing friendships and got to be there for them in ways I never would’ve been able to had I been in a relationship.

I graduated with my friends, road-tripped, took a traveling job and went to Houston with a stranger (note: I’m not saying I was the brightest bulb, but here we are anyway. BLESS.) I volunteered with a nonprofit I was passionate about, found other talents I didn’t know I had, started taking long drives just because, found my own voice, and started the book. I learned to date myself. I learned that I liked rom-coms more than any other movie genre ever. Give me McConaughey or Hanks over De Niro any day. I learned that It’s A Wonderful Life is better in July. I learned that red lipstick is my thing…or at least the thing that I want to be my thing. I learned that red hair is not. I learned that I could do things I never thought I could.  I learned that men’s pajamas are way better than women’s.  I learned how to ignore the trolls that want more than you’re willing to give. I learned how to laugh at the guys who take themselves too seriously. I learned how to be alone. I’m not the least bit afraid of being alone. And I’m not going to give someone the time of day if the only reason I’m with them is to avoid being alone.

Forget. That. 

And finally, finally–I learned I actually liked myself, even when I was having an ugly moment. I learned I liked being in the skin I’m in.

Also, yes I got that cat. And she’s adorable. A little weird, but you know…consider the source, people.

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Most importantly, though, I got to know my sister, my brother, my mom, and my dad better than had I just shot off into whatever relationship I thought would bring me the ultimate happiness. I’m so grateful for getting to know them better.

 

So, hey, babe? Here’s the deal:

  1. You’re going to have a lot of feelings about being single. You’re going to be lonely sometimes. You’re going to be tempted to shoot a message to that jerk on Tinder. Maybe you’re even going to want to backtrack to the last relationship you had and beg for a do-over. The single best piece of advice I can give you is simply: if you find yourself misplacing your value, put it back where it belongs. Your value is yours. It was given to you long before you ever took a first step. Don’t forget it’s there because of something  somebody else said.
  2.  You’re going to be given a lot of advice as a single person. Don’t necessarily listen to all the advice that’s thrown at you. Don’t listen to the people who tell you you’re running out of time or ask you personal questions about how you live as a single person. Don’t even pay much attention to the people who tell you, “Hey, he’ll come along one day. Don’t give up on your prince charming.” BLAH.
  3. He/She might not show up, love. You might not find someone. I might not find someone. But do you know what? I’m still going to get up every morning. I’m still going to write books. I’m still going to show up for friends’ birthdays with cracker candy galore and coffee mugs because THIS IS HOW I SHOW AFFECTION. I’m still going to love every aspect of journalism. I’m still going to be passionate about making a difference and the destigmatization of mental health issues.  I’m still going to send out Christmas cards in mass and dance around my kitchen to Lorde. I’m still going to be me. I’m still a package deal, including all the bits and pieces that no one else will ever know about. And you get to be who you are too. He/She might not come along, but you still get to be here. You get to live out purpose no matter what. That, my friend, is everything.

Make the move. Go for the coffee date. Date around, make friends, don’t think too much, live your life. But don’t settle until it’s right. Don’t settle until you find the one who’s good to you. Find the person who makes you laugh harder than anyone else and sees you for you, even on your crummiest days. But for now? Be yourself. That’s your one and only job: to do what’s right for you in this moment and be present in your own life, with your crazy, loud friends and the cat who definitely loves milk and lounging on the roof more than you.

III. Part three: where it all ties together.

And you know what else? It’s been about a month since I was first asked to define beauty. Nearly a week ago, my therapist asked me to finish some sentences for her.

She started, “I am…”

Immediately, a word popped into my head and I found myself frowning, tilting my head to one side. That can’t be right, I thought. 

I looked at her, “Does it have to be the first word?”

“That’s preferable, but you don’t absolutely have to.”

“It’s just…” I shook my head, “I don’t know where it came from. I don’t think it’s accurate.”

“What was it?”

Sheepish smile, I said, “Beautiful.”

She nods, once, smiling, “I like that.”

 If you asked me what I’ve done, in conclusion, instead of date, I’d tell you simply: I lived. I found my own beauty. But, hey, babe? If you don’t know where your beauty is at the moment, give it some time. You’ll find it. I promise you’ll find it. 

 

Coffee Date: When God Doesn’t Email Back.


img_1060(I started meeting you here for coffee every month the end of last year, courtesy of my brilliant friend, Erin, who is one of the beautiful minds behind Coffee Dates. As always, please feel free to write your own Coffee Date or email me here. I’m always here and the coffee’s always on at my place. So come on in, love.)

Hey babe, let’s do coffee. I hope so much that you meet me here.

Me: Hey, Mom, if we were on a coffee date, where would we go?

Mom: Not Starbucks. 

So, coffee date, if we were on a coffee date, we’d be at Atlanta Bread Company (although if I’m honest, I’m currently sipping a pumpkin spice latte. From Starbucks.) One with a fireplace. And one of us would have to get hot chocolate. Mom’s orders, but she’s probably 100% right. As always, you can meet me in the comment section or the email. I’m always, always there.

If we were on a coffee date, I’d ask if you’ve ever read If You Find This Letter. This book, guys. GAH. With as long as I’ve followed Hannah Brencher, it’s a shame I just got around to reading her inspiring memoir, but I think sometimes we put off reading the things that will move us the most. I still have a few pages left, but it’s got me wanting to leave love letters all over this city of mine. I’ve already left a few in the hands of close friends and family to let them know I see them, but I’m craving more love letter writing. My mom got me these greeting cards for my birthday and I’m planning on using every, single one of them to redeem that start to 25. Sometimes God does that, doesn’t He? He provides little things to redeem big issues.

PS, coffee date? Do you need a love letter? Shoot me an email. I’ll respond. Tell me what you need, coffee date. I’m italicizing and bolding because I want to know how I can write to you. Any day, any time, coffee date. 

If we were on a coffee date, there would be zero pause before I told you about my emails to God. In fact, even when I’m praising that book I’m itching to talk about the emails. Because as I was reading Hannah Brencher’s beautiful words, I found where she started an email address to God–one that only she and God could ever see–and just started shooting off emails as a tangible way to reach out when she felt alone. It took me approximately four seconds to decide I wanted that too. I needed a space to just go crazy, wild and say all the things I’ve never said or almost said. I needed an action with my words and pressing that send button was everything. I think I’ve sent five. I ask God about the things that were spoken over my life, I ask God about last spring, I ask God why the person I thought would be here by now isn’t here yet.

If we were on a coffee date, we’d get real personal for a minute, coffee date. Because I think I need to. And maybe you do too. In these emails, sometimes I get really angry at God. When I even think to send them, it’s not pretty. I’m whiny. I’m angry. I’m messy. I’m not devout or full of grace or love or compassion. I’m nitty-gritty, why-do-You-let-this-happen–zero black and white, just questions full of colors. But I never invite God to a coffee date. I forget He’s more than a checklist. I forget God doesn’t exist to make everything better. I forget that there’s no secret message in Hebrews that I can decode to read, “Amanda. On this day you will fall in love and on this day you will finish the book and on this day you’ll get published and on this day your words will spring forth into the world and everything will be fine. Go get yourself some coffee, girl, and work on your autograph.” And you know what, coffee date? Sometimes it hurts when–not only does He not send answers to my immediate situation, a lot of times He gets really, really quiet. The sort of quiet where He’s looking right at you, but not saying anything. It hurts because I know He could–but you know what? He always reveals why He doesn’t turn things around. It’s quiet, on time, and a carefully constructed response. He doesn’t lower Himself to meet my emotions, yes, but neither am I left hanging. I still don’t know about the dreams I’ve experienced or the things that have been spoken over my life or the feelings about specific people I just can’t shake, but I do know about God. And He’s got me. Somehow, some way He’s got me.

If we were on a coffee date, I’d ask the Erin sort of questions. I have this friend who fills my life with lots of laughter, tacos, and adventures every time she’s around and is hands-down one of my favorite people. A few weeks ago she sent me a text and said, “How are you doing? In all honesty.” She wanted the brave, the bold, the messy, the honest truth. And so, coffee date, in all honesty–how are you, babe? How’s life? Is it all falling apart? Because that’s okay. Falling apart is okay. Falling down is okay. But staying down? That’s not part of the deal. You have permission to fail, permission to be breakable, but zero permission to throw in the towel and stay out of the game. 

If we were on a coffee date, I’d tell you I’m learning to be brave. I’m learning to be really, really brave because it counts. Being brave doesn’t equate perfection; it simply means you don’t sit at home when you know you have work to do. You don’t let fear get a say in whether you go in to work or not or whether you go live on Facebook or not.  If you don’t leave the battle, don’t go home when you want to, it will get better.

So, babe, real talk. What are you afraid of? I mean, really. What’s stopping you from doing the thing you know you should do?

If we were on a coffee date, I’d tell you to do the damn thing. You know what it is: the gym, the to-do list, the budget cuts, the meal prep, the emptying of the cat litter, that one, stupid conversation you’ve been putting off, the studying, the book you’re elbow-deep into writing or reading or editing. Just do it. Make it smaller, then take out the task.

Side note: unless it’s giving your cat a flea bath. I give you full permission to procrastinate on that.

If we were on a coffee date, I’d tell you to find someone that writes into your story. I’ve always been in love with the idea of being written to because sometimes–if I’m honest–as a writer it feels like I spend all my time writing to other people. But when I sit back and think about it, I am being written to in unique and beautiful ways. Little cards from distant friends, little ‘this made me think of you’s’, friends asking if I want to head out to coffee, random texts, and the list goes on. Find your people, babe. Find people who will eat Taco Bell with you in random parking lots and go for coffee every Sunday night and But don’t expect the way they write into your life to look like what you’ve imagined in your own head. Let people be. Let them love you the best way they know how.

If we were on a coffee date, I’d ask about your end of the year. Is it going okay? How are you adjusting to these darker nights? We’ve got three months left of 2017, babe. Get out there and enjoy it while it’s here.

Last but not least, if we were on a coffee date I’d ask what your fall bucket list is. Don’t have one? Just give me three things you have to do for it to be fall. Give me the traditions, the baking recipes, and the scarf/legging combos. Go, go, go.

Hey Babe: Don’t Run Away.


img_1013Hey babe.

Sometimes it feels like the world should just stop turning.

I left work today, wondering how we all do it. How do we get up and go back to work, answer phone calls and drink old coffee and sit through five o’clock traffic, when it seems the world is crashing down all around us? How do we murmur prayers ceiling-ward when it feels like so much more is wrong than what could ever be right again? How does the world continue turning when there’s so much hurt, so much horror happening in this world? How do we gulp back the tears when we know the 8-year-olds today are being sent to school with warnings that we’d never imagined when we were their age?  How do we not press the ‘pause’ button, mourn in the streets and lay it all down for a day? Some days it feels like I’m numb to it all until I make myself click on that article–make myself look at the pictures. Even the pictures with warning labels, I make myself look at because I don’t want to be numb to it. I never want to be numb to this. I read their stories. I don’t give evil its platform–evil has had its time on the platform. I want to see their faces–the beautiful, honest faces of people who were just trying to live their best life in and out, every day.

The news is rattled with disaster after disaster, telling us story after story of how America is more divided than ever, natural disasters, politicized groups of people stacked against each other, each screaming louder to be heard. But the worst of it always hits us where we least expect it–in churches and school rooms and night clubs and concerts. Places where groups of people meet to worship, learn, and enjoy their lives. And the worst of it is I know there are people out there asking why? Why? What did I do to deserve this? There are still people from previous tragedies asking the same questions, searching for the same answers. I just want to cup faces and hold tight and whisper over and over until they believe me, “It wasn’t about you; it was never about you. I don’t know why. I just don’t know why.”

But, hey, babe? I’m young. I don’t know it all and I don’t have the answers. I wish I did. Something in me (and I think in all of us) wants desperately to shout the truth so effectively it silences all the fear, all the evil. For good. I want to step onto a platform in front of the entire world and just say, “Hey! Remember when we believed it could be good? We can believe that again. We can fight for it to be good again.”

But I think this is the part where we dig in when we want to run and hide away. I think this is the part where we find our strength in clasping hands, loving louder, and unraveling the ties that seem to bind us. This is the part where we say no to the darkness–that no matter how bad it gets, it doesn’t get to write the ending because we will fight it to its very core. This is the part where we find common ground and fight for it, choose kindness, bravery, and compassion over anything fear and anger have to offer. We will hold the late-night intercessions and have the uncomfortable conversations. We’ll keep watching the news and doing the research and fighting to effect change.

This is not about any differences that we might have.

This–right here and right now–is not about anything overly politicized by mass and social medias. This is not a Facebook thread or a Thanksgiving dinner conversation gone wrong. This is about people. It has to be about people from here on out or we’ll lose every single time. We need to reframe how we see people and we need to reframe the way we handle tragedies–this is not the time to run, turn numb, point fingers, or skim over rootless reasoning. This is the time to stay, to dig in, to have the conversations.

And maybe we’re just little lights in the dark. Maybe the only thing we’ll ever accomplish is chipping away at our own darkness in our corner of the world. But you know what? There’s always more room for stars to light the sky and if we choose to be lights–even if we are just little lights in the dark and even if we feel like we’re standing by ourselves sometimes–those little lights in the dark are infinitely more important than anything the darkness can hurl because we’re always there: living, breathing, pulsating hope on fire. Nothing can stamp out hope.

In honor of all the work that still is yet to be done, I’ve found a few ways we can all help victims of some of the most-recent tragedies along with a few nonprofits that are working alongside some serious issues and could always use more support. I’ve also included some local charities that I’ve been a part of over the past few years:

 

Coffee Date: Therapy and God.


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(I started meeting you here for coffee every month the end of last year, courtesy of my brilliant friend, Erin, who is one of the beautiful minds behind Coffee Dates. As always, please feel free to write your own Coffee Date or email me here. I’m always here and the coffee’s always on at my place. So come on in, love.)

Hey Coffee Date. It’s been awhile. I’ve still got stories of February and Atlanta and lessons learned the hard way, but for now let’s just be real with each other. Just for a minute. I still worry that I do this coffee date thing wrong–did I ever tell you that? It’s one of the biggest fears when I click that publish button–I’m always worried I wasn’t what you needed for a coffee date. The beauty, though, of coffee dates is you can say anything, let down all the masks, hand it all over for a few minutes to be real and raw. I don’t know about you, but I could use a little more of that.

But…uh…hey, coffee date? Before we go in, I need to clear the air.

*deep breath*

I am Amanda Russell and…I like pumpkin spice lattes. Cliche, frothy, sticky, other-worldly delicious pumpkin spice lattes. As in, I would GLADLY wear PTL for PSL t-shirts–in fact, I should set up a booth.

But it gets worse. I get ventis. I’ve tried pumpkin spice at every coffee shop I frequent and I can tell you with zero uncertainty who makes the best pumpkin spice lattes and who makes the worst. I even have pumpkin spice latte inside jokes from that one year my bestie and I were hyped up on life (because what kind of university makes sophomore/juniors sit through chapel services for an hour and a half right AFTER summer ends? It was torture.) and I walked right up to a Starbucks barista and asked for a pumpkin sposs latte. I still haven’t lived that down…

So, yeah, today if we were on a coffee date…

We’d be at Starbucks.

I’d swing open the door at 5:30, wearing the same holey jeans that saw me through a catastrophic spring and a foggy summer. “We did say 5:30, right?” I’d ask, draping my bag over the chair.

I use matte lipstick now–but not too bright because I’m not there yet. I arrange my hair in the mirror before looking anyone in the eye, brush it firm when you’re not looking because oh no, oh no, oh no my anxiety scars are showing these days–days and nights of job hunting and pulling added up until I finally chopped off brunette locks when I didn’t know what else to do but something needed to be done. Even in this, God gives me grace.

“Your hair will grow back,” my therapist is my newest voice of reason–she gives me goals for stopping my hair-pulling, but gives me permission to blow it. And I need that, coffee date. I think we all need permission to blow it sometimes–a verbal permission slip to make our mistakes and go on from there. I see her weekly, unpack emotions, make sense of them, pick up my bag for the week ahead, thank her endlessly for talking with me. I’m here—but not remember-I’m-not-a-burden-to-my-therapist here, if you know what I’m saying. But therapy is like a lighthouse I settle into once a week–one of the biggest forms of grace God’s given me. I’m not drowning anymore–I’m learning to swim.

I see my own anxiety these days, coffee date. I view it as a meter now and when I feel it go beyond a 6, I stop. I adjust. I take care of myself. I write myself a little note sometimes or press my wrists under cold water or use an essential oil–breathe deep.

This is where I am, coffee date, and I’m proud of me. I really am. This is good–this is beautiful. But, before you go? Let’s do a speed round to catch me up on where you’ve been while I’ve been out:

  1. Where were you for the eclipse? And did you see the ground snakes they talked about because I didn’t see ANYTHING and I was so freaking mad.
  2. HAVE YOU HEARD TAYLOR SWIFT’S NEW MUSIC? I am all the way here for her new era, Coffee Date.
  3. How’s your fall starting out? Busy? Colorful? Good? I want all the thoughts.
  4. Have you seen this? I’m late to the scene on this but it’s so good. Go watch it. Be good to yourself, coffee date.
  5. What are you reading/listening to? I’m currently working through The Ocean At The End of The Lane and I’ve been on a podcast binge from the church I’ve been tiptoeing around for a year and a half. Okay, okay…and also my go-to fall song is All Too Well by Taylor Swift. No judgments!
  6. How are you taking care of yourself these days? I’ve been journaling and watching Gilmore Girls like there’s no tomorrow. #teamlukeandlorelai
  7. How are you holding up during hurricane season? If there’s any needs you know of, I’d love for you to leave them below in the comments because I’ve been trying to help as much as I can.
  8. I want you to comment below with three things that are going good for you. Go, go, go!
  9. If we were really on a coffee date, what’s your poison? Are you into chai or pumpkin spice these days?
  10. Finally, coffee date, before I head out of here–what can I do for you? Do you need encouragement? Email me and I’ll send you as much encouragement as I can pack into one little page.

 

Hey Babe: When You Feel Unseen


 

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Hey Babe,

In the thick of my mental health struggles, for some reason, I always wanted someone to randomly come into wherever I was, sit down beside me, and say, “Hey babe–what’s wrong?” (Kind of like the aunt in Ramona and Beezus. Because umm…who wouldn’t want an aunt like that?)  With that, those two words have been swirling around in my head for the past couple months, so here I am, saying them to you. This newest thread of Not Your Average Coffee Bean is meant to be a hand-holder in the darkness–to encourage, uplift, and show love to anyone who needs these words. If you’re reading, the biggest thing I want you to take away from these little rambling notes is that you matter infinitely more than you know.

I couldn’t even look at her.

Twenty-one years old and face-to-face with the story I would mostly keep to myself (when, you know, I wasn’t using it as a bit to poke fun at myself because they ALL could see how much of a mess I was anyway so why not join in?).  It was a breezy day in March when I ran into the guy I’d had a crush on for MONTHS with his girlfriend during an afternoon walk. I’d been carrying my dog across the sidewalk near the lake, pulling at my blue shorts every ten seconds and regretting walking the half a mile from my house when I saw them. Me and him–we were friends, so of course I stopped and said hello, trying to act normal when in reality I was red-faced and feeling awkward.

In that moment, one of the things that sticks out in my memory is that I found myself unable to look at his girlfriend because I didn’t want to see if she was beautiful. Because what if she had something that I didn’t? What if she was better than I was? Don’t we do silly things to ourselves, infringe silly lies upon ourselves? 

The conversation was short–awkward on both ends before they turned and walked away, leaving me staring after them in disbelief at what had just happened. It would be five minutes before I called my friends and had them crying laughing, asking the infamous, “What are the odds?!” It would be ten minutes before I shot a text to my sister and asked her to please, please, PLEASE pick me up. But in that initial moment, I remember simply turning around and slowly sinking onto a nearby bench, letting Lucy wander around for a minute.

Unseen. That was the heartbeat that followed me after that day at the lake. Unseen, unwanted, unheard, repeat, repeat, repeat. And with every disappointment that came afterwards, it chipped away at any hope I had left that anyone really saw me or cared what happened to me. It’s taken years to see that lie, let alone begin to untangle myself from its grasp. Never buy stock into even one lie because it will set up camp, loves. It will stay as long as it can and steal as much as it can, leaving you empty and wondering how it took so much of you away.

The even lesser-known part of the story, however, comes an hour and a half after leaving the lake. I was listening to Pandora (it was cool back then, okay, kids?!) when a song that I’d never heard before started. In that moment, I tell you…it was like God sent me a lullaby because the words in that song spoke directly to every part of my aching, angsty, twentysomething heart.

“These are the scars,
Deep in your heart,
This is the place you were born,
This is the hole,
Where most of your soul,
Comes ripping out,
From the places you’ve been torn,
And it is always yours,
But I am always yours.” –Always, Switchfoot

I break my own heart from reaching for something that wasn’t supposed to be mine and God sends me a lullaby. I mean…TAKE A HINT, RUSSELL. You’re seen by the only one who really cares–and you out there, reading this? He sees you too. You matter to Him. You’re very much seen, wanted, and heard. He sees the good moments, the bad moments, and all the little moments in-between. He crafted your laugh. He stitched together every part about you. He picks you up and dusts you off. He’s got your names etched into his hands–He cannot, will not let you go. Ever. He sees. I promise.

He went on to graduate the same year as me and start a life. But I went on too. I went on to learn insane lessons from crazy after-college jobs and wipe away pumpkin from team members’ clothes and learn to laugh wild-crazy and write the book and push my body to its limit and embrace variety over a black and white lifestyle.

And hey, babe? Maybe that’s the best part of the story: we all go on. And we’re all seen.